Saturday, August 21, 2010
Smoke gets in your eyes
Tourists line the side of Highway 16, the Yellowhead route through the Canadian Rockies, frantically snapping pictures of the big-horn sheep grazing at the side of the road.
The shutter clicks are frantic because the sheep, about three metres away, are about the only fodder for photographers. Normally, the pictures would be of one mountain peak after another but on this day the roadside markers saying Mt. Robson, elevation 3,954 metres, were useful only to a leg-crossed dog.
The markers point off somewhere indecipherable in the smoke. A forest fire near Williams Lake, B.C., is belching smoke faster than anyone could anticipate and fire officials are bracing for a cold front coming through, preceded by 60 km an hour winds.
Remarkably, we drove through the Rockies in one day without seeing a single mountain peak. Luckily, we’ve made this trip many times and seen many peaks, yet still we felt cheated. Alas for the poor tourists, perhaps making the trip of a lifetime to see a North American Wonder of the World, only to find it veiled in smoke.
But we didn’t expect to hit the rolling foothills of Alberta, and still be shrouded in smoke. Nestled in a valley campground in Devon, Alta. on Aug. 21, southwest of ever-growing Edmonton, we see and smell smoke in the air. Radio tells us Calgary is covered in it, that the entire province is suffering from smoke inhalation. There’s irony in that, amid the smoke, campground fires here are OK, while in the untainted air at the B.C. beginning of our trek there was a campfire ban.
While air quality has improved slightly today and our eyes are no longer stinging, smoke is still there. We’re thankful neither of us, nor the cats, suffer respiratory problems. Otherwise, we’d be on a camping trip, trying to stay indoors.
We set out prepared for rain, snow, sleet and hail but not smoke. Forecasters say it should improve here tomorrow, as we pack up and head for Saskatchewan.
We’ll see if the smoke has managed to cover two or three provinces.