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Crowsnest Pass, Alberta

DECEMBER 12: MOUNTAIN VIEW

The GPS on my phone isn’t always reliable, especially in remote areas and in the mountains. So before I hit the road each day, I quickly scribble directions in a little notepad. Old school mapping in case of interrupted technological assistance.

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First sight of the Rockies

It takes me awhile to leave the city of Calgary as I fill up with gas and pick up a Starbucks breakfast. I drive south on the Deerfoot Trail and am awestruck — as always — by my first view of the mountains on my right. They sit prettily on the horizon, completely covered with snow. Eventually of course I turn west and slowly climb through them.

The north-south Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) leads to the Crowsnest Highway, a long, high, flat windswept road up to the Crowsnest Pass. Along the route, I lose my GPS directions. My phone tells me they’re not available because of road conditions, whatever that means. There’s a little bit of snow on the pass, but the weather is good and it’s sunny. Traffic is light and moving well.

The Crowsnest is a fairly low-elevation pass that crosses the Continental Divide of the Rockies. I drive by the site of the Frank Slide, a field rife with the rubble (and remains of dozens and dozens of buried residents) left when 82 million tonnes of limestone rock slid down Turtle Mountain in less than two minutes, covering part of the town of Frank, The Canadian Pacific rail line and a coal mine in the spring of 1903 when the region was still part of the Northwest Territories. A frozen piece of history.

In fact, the thriving Crowsnest community has a colourful history, complete with train robbery, shootouts and rum-running. A landmark is the 600-plus-year-old Burmis pine tree, twisted and weathered and dead for nearly 50 years, but still standing resiliently against the wind.

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The Elk Valley Highway

It’s slow coming down off the pass because there are plenty of icy patches on the road. The shiny blue-grey-green rivulets running through the snow-blasted evergreens are stunning, so it’s really enjoyable to drive at a quiet pace.

I only have another hour to reach my destination: the “Wild at Heart” Rocky Mountain town of Elkford, British Columbia, which sits at an elevation of 1300 metres at the end of the Elk Valley Highway 43 near the Teck Coal Greenhills coal mining operation.