Day 7 and 8, the mess in Alberta and then to Billings.

Part 1: Spirits of the Prairie, or Windswept Plains and the Waning Frontier.

Yesterday was tough. It started out well enough, but then as we approached, fought through, argued with, attempted to circumnavigate and finally passed by, the major population centers of southern/central Alberta it became more arduous. In fact, the early morning driving was rather incredible. The road, not quite straight, flat, nor level, was smooth enough, and given the allowable speed, and nature of the surrounding terrain, gave the unnatural feeling of flying over the gently rolling landscape.

But the the sun rose, we approached Edmonton, and all went to hell. So many people, all in a hurry to go nowhere obvious as it all looked the same. Big ass trucks, and shiny new pick-ups, and sporty sedans, all jockeying for position. After days of relative isolation, this was too much to bear, and combined with 7 days of road weary frailty, I was on the edge. The Wife says I was a grump… she is being kind.

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But then we hit Lethbridge, which sports an amazing old train trestle, and where, despite some initial navigational complications, we found a FANTASTIC dog park, that allowed dogs to run off-leash and was comprised of trails that wandered up and down the ridges of the local coulee (arroyo to some, river canyon to others…). Alas, we had trouble finding the hotel after, and the hotel was not much worth finding. We left early the next morning en route to the border into Montana, hoping they were as congenial as the folk in Beaver Creek so many days ago(they were, thankfully)

All that aside, there has been a resounding theme the past few days. The wind has been intermittent, although a contributing factor no doubt. Once we left the remnant logging terrain of south-eastern British Columbia and settled into the relatively unbroken agricultural region of this, the far northwestern great plains, one element has stood out to me over the miles; the resolute, yet failing, historic homestead structures. Well, that and the wind.

I started noticing them way back around Beaverlodge and they have been the oddly positive, consistent factor for me ever since. They all share certain characteristics; weathered silver/grey wood construction, no intact windows or doors, some level of structural failure, relative geographical isolation, often a penchant for striking a preposterous geometric pose, and a staunch refusal to collapse all-together. These are the ghosts of frontier past. They stand, against all odds, standing for the brash tenacity of those that initially built them; holding fast in the face of time, climate, and in fact, reason. Most often, they stand alone, or in small relative groupings, out amongst the vast rangelands. In one case — the amazing locale of Moccasin, Montana — where, until/unless I make the point of visiting again, I will forever regret not stopping to take photos, there was essentially a whole town, existing in this state. It was truly astonishing.

Alas, they are very difficult to photograph from the driver’s seat. However, I did manage to get some decent shots of the rather fantastic and varied Montana landscape. Should you get the chance to travel the road between Grand Falls and Billings, complete with dramatic mountain vistas, charismatic old towns, extensive windfarms, and the exceptionally scenic Musselshell River Valley, I highly recommend it!

Anyway, today has been infinitely better than yesterday. Where today there have been towns, and farmsteads, homesteads, and in fact whole regions of ranches and farms, yesterday there were terrors of ticky-tacky townhomes straddling a veritable wasteland of urban sprawl. Too many people, crammed into one place, gives me the heeby-jeebbies, to put it lightly.

I find that I feel infinitely more comfortable with the ghosts of the frontier past, than with the hordes of modern zombies, ambling through the strip mall/box store present.

Tomorrow, we cross over into and travel through the better part of Wyoming. I expect more wind on our way to Laramie and I hope to find a good ol’ cowboy saloon waiting there…

Until then…

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