A Downburst from the Inside Out

In the heart of the storm

Downburst: a strong downward current of air from a cumulonimbus cloud, usually associated with intense rain or a thunderstorm.

See Sun Breaks for 7/11/16 (Microbursts, Dangerous and Sneaky)

We’d been following Highway 2 that morning through Alberta’s high, rolling fields of grain and canola. The land lifted gradually toward the Rocky Mountains in the west. Somewhere east of Crow’s Nest Pass in neighboring British Columbia, high in open hills, thunder suddenly exploded above us. A thick murk blotted out the light. Along with it came a downpour that the wipers couldn’t clear.

We groped our way to the side of the road along with other blinded drivers, marveling as bigger and bigger hailstones joined the rain crashing down on us. I opened the door to try to grab a picture.

Water and hail churning the torrent pouring down the road

Water and hail churned into the air six inches or more above the torrent pouring across the road. I spent the next few minutes drying myself and the interior of the car and collecting hailstones from the floor. Then it was over and we joined the rest of the vehicles making our way gingerly through thick slush on the highway. A few hundred feet further on the road was sunny and dry!

In all the noise and excitement, we didn’t notice any wind. But if we were right in the center of a descending downburst, as I think we were, would we have noticed the usual wind barreling outward? Until someone tells me otherwise, I’m convinced we’d been caught in the very center of a mountain microburst.

Hail floating on the road

Proceeding with caution

Hail…melting fast

Storm over

What’s to See on the Road to Innisfail?

We’re finding it no longer as easy as it used to be to take long road trips, but it’s worth the effort when one shares the fun and the driving with good friends.

Bill and Barbara are not only good friends, they are cousins and our trip to Innisfail, Alberta, this summer was not the first we’ve shared with them. Bill’s sister Vicki and her family are also good friends and the 800-mile drive north to their home in Alberta, Canada, can be counted on to deliver lots of good times.

Here are a few photos from the driving part of the trip. We took the North Cascades route, past the Oso slide to Darrington and then over the mountains to Twisp so we could see for ourselves some of the damage left by this summer’s wildfires. From there we drove through the beautiful Canadian Rockies to Calgary and north over Alberta’s rich farmland to Innisfail, a small town with much besides its charming name to recommend it.

I’ll share some of our experiences in the next posts. Meanwhile, hope you enjoy the pictures!

At the Washington Pass overlook on the North Cross Cascades Highway

Barbara and Hank on the overlook trail

Weather beaten snags look down on the road we’ll soon be driving

Stopping for construction where fire, then flooding damaged the road over Loup Loup Pass

Following the pilot car past a washout and mud slides

A roadside picnic in southern Alberta

Passing scenery on the prairie near Innisfail

Heading home with the first snow of the season on the Rockies

Lunch with a view at Cranbrook, B.C.

A rest stop with a view along Route 93
The Columbia River has its source in Columbia Lake, behind us. It flows north, then south, west, south and west again until it reaches the Pacific Ocean.
There are cops and speed limits even on the wide-open roads of north-central Washington, While our driver explained our transgression, I snapped these combines harvesting wheat.

Whirlwinds  (dust devils) move dirt from one place to another.

A friendly horse outside of Waterville

The textures of harvest time

Shadows of evening coming off the Columbia Plateau near Wenatchee

Full moon over Leavenworth

A Different Kind of Vacation

At Owl Hoot Camp near Lac la Biche
l. to r. Adam (family friend); Troy & Clarissa Austin, Allen Shaw, Katrina Shaw and Aaron, William Shaw, Hank Husby, Vicki Shaw, Joan Husby
    For years my Canadian cousins, the Shaw family, have told us about their annual camping trips to Lac la Biche (Lake of the Fawn). This year Vickie e-mailed, saying “I know it’s short notice, but we have room for two more. Would you like to go along?”

     Would we? Yes, indeed! We dropped everything and drove 750 miles north to Innisfail, Alberta. There we joined Vickie and Allen, their young-adult children, Clarissa, William, and Katrina, plus Clarissa’s husband Troy, and Aaron, Katrina’s boy friend. They’re a lively crew who really enjoy having fun together.

    Among her many other talents, Vickie is a gifted organizer. She and the kids had prepared and packed five days’ worth of meals. We all helped load utensils, towels, games, fishing equipment, cameras, lifejackets, tools–well, everything needed to sustain the group for five days. Allan towed a boat, also loaded to the gunnels with supplies.

    We drove five hours north and east to reach our destination, an old fishing resort on the placid Owl River. The Shaws discovered the place years ago, when my Uncle Bill, Vickie’s father, visited them and expressed a desire to go fishing. It’s a beloved spot for all of them. The owner of the camp passed away last year, and his family is trying to keep it operating. Official rules no longer allow fishermen to catch walleyed pike in the Owl River. On the lake, only one northern pike per day is allowed. So fewer people come now. We were the only guests until the weekend.

    One of the red-painted log buildings is over one hundred years old. Campers boil the river water for non-drinking needs, and each cabin has an outhouse.  Only the trailer cabin, where Hank and I slept, has a bathroom. We all took turns using that shower. Aaron and William each set up his own tent, and we congregated in the largest cabin to eat and play games.

    Our boat held four fishermen at a time for the mile-long ride down the Owl River to Lac la Biche, one of Alberta’s larger lakes. Occasional farms dot the tree-lined shores. The shallow water, murky with algae and weed patches, is ideal pike habitat. Hank came back from his first expedition one happy man. He’d caught a 36-inch pike. Allan fried fish steaks for the next morning’s breakfast. Delicious, not fishy at all.

A peaceful moment on one of our walks

    Our days were long and lazy. That far north in mid-July the sun didn’t set until 10:30. Hank and I started each day with a leisurely walk. Sometimes we sauntered along the road where cattle congregated within sight of the bridge over the Owl River, sometimes on lanes that led through birch and spruce woods. Once a doe and fawn bounded away through a clearing. Another time we held our breaths while a buck and doe picked their way along the edge of the woods to cross the lane ahead of us. Mornings were enchanted times, with no human-made sounds, just the music of warblers and rose-breasted grosbeaks and mourning doves, punctuated by the drum-knockings of woodpeckers. Sometimes, when the rustling cottonwoods stilled, we heard a distant cow bawling for her calf.     When we weren’t fishing, we piled into vehicles to revisit the Shaws’ favorite spots, like a nearby lake where cormorants and pelicans had built their nests in condos one above the other in every tree on one small island. All that activity eventually killed the trees, and when we stood on the shore, we could see that not even one tree remained standing. Only a few of the birds circled the former rookery.
    Always before, our vacations have been “on-the-go” affairs, leaving us feeling as if we’ve covered too many miles, tried to see too many people and tried to do too many things. This camping trip was a leisurely adventure we never expected.

    The best part was having time to appreciate the other members of our party for the special people they are. I’ll tell more in future blogposts, but for now, I’m convinced: it’s never too late to try a different way of doing things. 

Allen checking out the boat at the Owl River launching site
Hank with the first two pike caught