Sunday, May 30, 2010

Specks in the Wilderness

Those two small white specks in the centre of the title photo are our outfit.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Into the Hills

Yaha Tinda camp view
There is a campground down in the middle of that picture that has no sewer, no water, and certainly no power, in fact not even designated sites to pull into, but when it comes to location this is “IT”. RV’ers talk about a site of having “it” while we all have a definition of “it” in our own minds, mine looks a lot like the photo above. This is the location that longtime readers have heard me brag on time and time again. And more than likely if I am lucky enough to be able to keep rambling on you will hear me bragging about in the future also.
We loaded our horses and jumped into our camper and headed for this little Canadian paradise for a few days away from it all. Although the scenery is great, the road in is usually a great deterrence to the faint at heart. It was actually pretty good this trip as the grader had just made its yearly trip into the ranch. It takes about two hours to reach the Big Horn Creek site from our place just out of Cremona and more than half of it is gravel road. Well if it was paved it would be full of big rigs and you probably wouldn’t be able to get a decent spot from breakup to freeze up.
Yep those shots above are all of the same scene at different times over the few days we were out there. The best part is they were all taken from my lawn chair and were the view we had out of our rigs windows every morning. Photography does not do this place justice. The whole time we are out here we feel like we are riding or walking through a painting. The shots below are some of the wildlife that are populating the ranch. Well except for Meg, she finds her way into most of our adventures and is looking forward to heading south this winter.

There is a wintering population of elk that number in the hundreds here on the ranch and in the surrounding territory and they will show up later in the story also.

Yaha Tinda Camp site-1
This is the rig we use to head to the mountains with in the summer and although it isn’t as big as the Discovery it is certainly great for getting to pretty spots. The shot below is taken from the top of a ridge we call “Lonny’s Hill” and the rest of the world call Eagle Lookout. We have a friend named Lonny who got married up here, why we don’t call it “Robin’s Hill” I am not sure. She was the other half of the wedding party and actually grew up right at the base of this high ridge.
Brenda, Rosie, and the Yaha Tinda in the background
Now the next two shots are different views of Eagle Lake and the surrounding landscape, the first looking east through the pass and the other looking back west at the main body of the Rockies and Banff National Park peering over the horizon.
Eagle Lake  Eagle Lake
Below is a shot of James Falls just to the east of Eagle Lake. It is a beautiful little waterfall that is one of our favourite lunch spots when we are over this way. Our friend Sheri always tells us to make sure to bring a little extra to feed the wee ones while you are here.
James Falls
Now just so you don’t think it was perfect it is important to remember that the May 24th weekend in Alberta usually has a little snowfall just to remind those camping for the first time that the weather is pretty unpredictable in these parts and although for the most part we had good weather the mornings were a little nippy and one afternoon we did have a snow squall blow through the country.
Yaha Tinda Snow-1
Now I told you we were going to bring those pesky elk back into the picture later in the story and that is about to happen in the near future. The shots below are not of the James/Younger gang but a good Canadian imitation the Schmidt gang a group of desperado’s that call Drayton Valley, Alberta home. Dave and Sheri are good friends of ours that we met here at the ranch a number of years ago and riding with them is their daughter Heidi and son-in-law Darcy Erickson.Schmidt's
Now nobody wishes more than me that I could get another shot like this the next day but an elk with a mission leapt up from it’s bed right under Sheri’s horse and after some commotion Sheri was left laying on the ground with a broken femur. Now this is one tough cowgirl and she can ride most anything with hair on it so I am thinking that commotion must have been a sight to see.  Dave is a pretty experienced mountain man and this is not their first brush with mountain emergencies so he had along both a satellite phone and a SPOT personal emergency locater beacon. He tells me that within an hour of pushing the button there was a helicopter on site with two more including the STARS, Shock Trauma Air Rescue, helicopter on the way. Now the STARS folks had Sheri on the way into hospital in Calgary and at last report she is out of surgery and probably planning her next ride at the Yaha.
Just as an aside, Sheri, I know some folks in the helicopter business and if you really want to get a look at the country maybe I can fix you up. On the choppers I use you can’t lay down but the ride doesn’t always end up in the same place either.

Friday, May 21, 2010

North of the Arctic Circle

So what would draw a happily retired person back to the grind. Well it is not really a grind, I have always loved my job and this seemed like a great opportunity to get to revisit some beautiful country and see a lot of old friends along the way.

I got a call from one of my old colleagues at Shell asking if I was available for a short tour into the Western Canadian Arctic to talk to three communities about our Alaskan drilling plans this summer. Now traveling with Kim Johnson and visiting these communities has always been one of my favourite parts of the old job so I thought what the heck, it is only four days, and off I went.

Now getting to the north has never been easy, and when the first European, Alexander Mackenzie, went down north on the river, that is now named for him, it took him all summer to get there and back. I was going to do it much faster but the odds are with a ticket price of nearly $3300.00 the budget was not a lot different.
This is the land of the mythical Midnight Sun and getting there is part of the process as I had to be up at 3:00 AM Monday morning to catch my plane. We left the Calgary airport at 6:00AM and arrived in Inuvik, Northwest Territories at 1:08PM in the afternoon after stops in Edmonton, Yellowknife and Norman Wells. The North is huge landscape but really a small place and I wasn’t even on the first plane before I ran into my first northern acquaintance. After that it was one familiar face after another for the entire 4 days.
The first official meeting was in Inuvik with the local Hunters and Trappers Committee and there were more old familiar faces there.

The shot below was taken at 12:30AM a couple of days ago, truly the land of the Midnight Sun
 Igloo Church taken at 12:30 AM
Maybe a little detail on what it is we are doing is needed here. Shell has a summer drilling program planned in the American Beaufort Sea and the Chucksi Sea later this year. What with the incident in the Gulf of Mexico with the Deepwater Horizon rig and BP, our senior folks thought it was a good time to enact a little belt and suspenders type of backup. Although the drill they are going to use to drill those holes has the ability to disconnect from a well quite quickly and is usually capable of doing its own relief well drilling, the image of the Deepwater Horizon burning up and sinking in the Gulf is pretty fresh in folks minds. Therefore we thought it would be worthwhile to reactivate another Ice Capable Drilling Unit we have in the Canadian Arctic as backup. That rig, the Kulluk, has successfully drilled wells in both the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic waters and is in a state of semi-readiness already so it will just take a month or two to bring it up to spec to move in, in the unlikely event something were to happen. Starting now will give us time to have it ready long before it will could possibly be needed. As a person who has developed a deep love for the North I like the idea of having a belt and a suspenders type of backup plan.

The picture of the Kulluk and her support vessels below was taken from

Tuesday we jumped on a little King Air 100 to hop over to Aklavik.
Mackenzie Delta in May
Although it is only a few miles from Inuvik, those miles are across the Mackenzie Delta, the 12th largest delta in the world, and right at the moment it is still in a mostly frozen state but the ice has thinned enough that the ice roads that normally access Aklavik are closed for the summer and it is still not accessible by water yet. We had a couple of meetings there first with the Hunter and Trappers and then with member of the community. We had meals along with both meetings, Reindeer Stew with the first and Caribou with the second. No red bits in the first stew so I guess Rudolph has survived for another Christmas flight. They were both excellent though and as always they had my favourite dessert, jello and whipped cream. Both of these meetings were populated with old friends and acquaintances. My first job in the Arctic some 40 years ago was just outside of Aklavik and some of the folks I met and worked with on that job were in attendance. Always great to see old friends again.

Now our third and final community was Tuktoyaktuk, the home of the famous “Tuk U”. After 40 years I am still not sure where the campus is but I have seen the T-shirts all over the world in my travels. We again flew up there for meetings with the Hunters and Trappers and their Community Corporation as well as a community feast. And a feast it was with a lot of families coming out to join us and listen to the presentation we were giving. Tuk is the closest community to the area where the Kulluk has been stored for the past number of years and they always have a lot of interest in anything that is going on in the offshore. They are the community that are most used for an operations base in the Canadian Arctic Offshore oil business as well as the fact that they depend on the ocean for many of their food products. While in town we saw some of the 15-30 pound Lake Trout that they are harvesting over in Husky Lakes as well as some of the Snow Geese that are going into their freezers for future feasts. Later in the summer they will be harvesting Beluga whales out of Kugmallit Bay. Once again a lot of old friends and acquaintances came to our meetings and the community gathering.

Below is a shot of our ride to Tuktoyaktuk, a Canadian built Twin Otter, as far as I am concerned the most reliable bush plane on the planet.
Twin Otter
Now the two shots below I thought I would include just to give you an idea of the price of things up here in Arctic. Yes that is really $12.89 for two litres of milk. And at $10 and something for apples you probably don’t eat a lot of fruit. Milk Prices Fruit Prices
This young lady helped my colleague Kim with his presentation and although he was quite entertaining I think she stole the show. I am sure that she is not commenting on his material…lol.
Now here are some of next winters sled dogs.
 Next Years Sled Dogs?
And for the birders in my readers, a snow goose that will supply some of these folks with sustenance this summer. Snow Goose Harvest Once our meetings were done we again chartered our way back to Inuvik for the night and on Thursday I had the great pleasure of visiting with my favourite politician, Nellie Cournoyea. In the north you just mention “Nellie” and everyone north of 60 degrees and anybody who has ever been to the North knows immediately who you are talking about. She is a former Premier of the Northwest Territories and one of those rare politicians who says exactly what she is thinking and leaves no doubt in your mind about it either. Unlike a lot of folks she also expects you to be just as open and forthright with her as she is with you and does not always need to be reassured that you see her point of view and agree with it. Over the years we have had some interesting conversations but I am honored to call her a friend. She has given most of her adult life to further her people and communities ambitions to join the mainstream of Canadian society. I definitely miss being able to bump into her on a regular basis and test some of my own odd ideas out on a constructively critical honest mind.

Now Nellie would never stand still to get a photo taken of her but her people have posted her photo on the bulkhead of the 737 that flew us back south. That is her in the lower right and the pilot in the upper left is another friend, Cec Hansen. Cec got his start flying bush planes in the Delta and graduated to 747’s around the world before coming back to work for his peoples airline, Canadian North.
Canadian North
Now one of the things that I heard constantly while visiting the community and asking about other friends who I missed seeing was “they are out on the land”, these are people who cherish the time they spend out on their land and I am glad to say that I have learned from them and today Brenda and I are going to head “out on the land” ourselves. First thing in the morning we are loading the horses and heading for the Yaha Tinda. No phones, no email, no crowds, just a beautiful landscape and peace and quiet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh NO, not again

Well this time I stayed retired 31 days. Got a phone call yesterday from an old friend and colleague who had an interesting proposal. He asked if I would be interested in a SHORT job. Because it was up into my old haunts in the Northwest Territories I couldn’t resist. I haven’t been back there since my first retirement way back in June of 2007. They threw me quite a shindig there and a couple hundred of my closest friends came to bid me farewell. I didn’t think I knew that many folks but it appears if you offer free alcohol to anybody goofy enough to wear one of those white cardboard cowboy hats you will have a lot of friends appear out of the woodwork.

Green, Johnson and Fabijan

Now those three stooges fine fellows I actually know and a couple of them were the real responsible parties at this soirée.

This is the kind of country that actually works its way into your soul. It is a harsh land and to the unobservant person a vast wasteland. But to those who live there and those of us that they are good enough to share it with it is a land of many different beautiful aspects. I first headed north in the fall of 1970 and never spent very many years after that without making a return trip. Most were for work but all were for pleasure and I was lucky enough to get to share it with my Dad, Uncle and Granddad when Grandpa was 94 years old a number of years ago. He is gone now but I am thinking he is still telling stories in that big campground in the sky about the land of the Midnight Sun and the size of the mosquito’s that hover around there.

Catholic Church in Inuvik

The shot above is the “Igloo” Church in Inuvik


And this is the small town of Aklavik one of my favourite places in the region. Aklavik used to be the main community in the Mackenzie Delta but it was prone to flooding and the Government of Canada decided to build a new town, Inuvik, in the late 1950’s.


The picture above is across the Mackenzie Delta and of course the Northern Lights dance up here but not much this time of year as the sun is up about 19 hours a day right now and soon will not set for 56 days around the summer solstice.

Northern Lights - I don't remember taking this photo so if I stole it I apologize.

Now here is a resident of the Delta that is hard to get a decent photo of, white on white is a difficult shot anytime.


I am actually hoping that this trip we will be flying as the snow is pretty near gone and it would be hard sledding this time of year.

 Dog sledding

Those fellows could move me along a pretty high rate of speed with just the hiss of the sled runners to disturb the peace.


Now how could you miss a trip that allows you to take photo’s like this one.

And the shot below is of Tuktoyaktuk from the air. Actually those white buildings with the blue roofs are the RCMP residences and local detachment buildings.


And here is a local cowboy, the grandson of a friend of mine.


And here is a photo of Brenda standing on the side of the Beaufort Sea when we were here in 2006.Brenda and the Beaufort Sea-1

  Now what would drag me back into the fray, we are going up to talk to folks about moving a drillship called the Kulluk out of it’s storage location and get it ready as backup for Shell’s Alaskan drill program. This little incident with BP in the Gulf will change how things are done around the world I am sure.

But just in case you think we are not enjoying summer here on the Northern Ranges here is your daily ration of Brenda and Rosie out for a ride. Well we will have to forego our trip to the Yaha Tinda for a week or so while I wander Canada’s Arctic we should still get some rides in before I have to leave next Monday.


New Photos-1

Till next time “Happy Trails”

Monday, May 10, 2010


Well we finally got shed of most of our snow and got a ride in today. We didn’t go far but just getting going is the first step. The weather is starting to smarten up and although it is not any where near hot it wasn’t snowing and for that we were pretty happy. Like I said a short ride but any ride is great.

Brenda got her new saddle broken in and I’m thinking she is liking the new seat. Guess they are moving fast because the focus is somewhat BAD.

 Rosie and Brenda 

Brenda and Rosie heading out.

Brenda and Rosie

And here is a shot of some old cowboy that we ran into. The horse, Blue, he is riding is Rosie’s colt and is maybe the best horse I have ever had. Well trained and just the right size, heavy boned and not to tall but tall enough to keep your feet dry on most creek crossings. For those that follow the Quarter Horse world he is pretty much Hancock all the way down the line. 

Blue and the boss

Tall horses are for kids, once you reach a certain age it is nice to have a horse that is big enough but still not to big to get on without looking for a stump, my jumping on days are past, unless there is a bear coming after us I guess.

Rosie and Blue 

Here they are again, above Blue is about a year old, he was a big colt, and below he is not yet a day old.

Rosie and Blue

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Winter Again?

Well this year winter seems to want to hang around for  awhile. I hope that means it will be gone a long time once it leaves. This has been a busy week here what with Miss Ella being here on the weekend.

Ella and the Coaster

Now here is irrefutable proof that Ella is Lacey’s daughter, she has traded her soother for a coaster and at such an early age too…

Sunday we got the horses all shod and we are ready to head for the mountains next week. As I always say God willing and the creeks don’t rise, well I guess I will have to add a line to cover off all the doctors I have been seeing. Now the dentist is finished for now, guess he made his house payment this month and my cleaning and the two fillings he replaced have helped him out with next months payment so he doesn’t want to see me for a few months anyway. My own doc gave me the green light but I have this pesky team of cardiologist’s who keep dragging me back to have another look. I think they are doing a paper on my heart and its somewhat odd pattern of beating. Last week I was in for what is supposed to be a pretty definitive test, a cardiac MRI. Well today I was in and the doc wants to send me for another shot at the MRI. Now anyone who has seen those machines know that what they really are is culvert that sounds like it has been laid under the Trans-Canada highway and they stuff you into the middle of it and then start running a string of transport trucks back and forth over top of it. Pretty weird stuff and if you were a little fellow it might even be interesting but those who know me know that I am not a little fellow and what with my shoulders being jammed in and the roof being about an inch above my noise it is pretty claustrophobic in there. Not to mention the fact that they keep whispering in your ear to stop breathing, it messes up the pictures, and then seem to forget that you are not breathing in that little tube and wondering whether or not one of those transport trucks that are running over you about 3 inches past the end of your nose are going to crush that little culvert. So I am really hoping that this time it truly is a big D definitive test and hopefully the last.

But enough about that stuff let’s move on to something else I can’t do anything about, the weather, once again this morning we got a little shot of the white stuff.

May 6th 

And here is the spot we are saving for Rod and Deb in just a few weeks.

Kendalls Spot

Well here’s hoping next time I have some photo’s of green grass and maybe a mountain or two.