“Urban Mountains”, March to May 2020

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I chose to follow the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer and postpone any trips to the backcountry. Now that it is mid-May and things are gradually opening up, many of my friends have resumed their hiking adventures. However, I now find myself in the process of preparing for radioactive iodine treatment as a followup to my cancer diagnosis and subsequent thyroidectomy back in January. As this is a specialized procedure that will see me go into isolation for a period of seven days (how ironic is that?), I’ve decided to stay away from the mountains until my treatment is complete. I’ve got to say, that if by the end of it, I can’t shoot spider webs and climb walls with my finger tips, I’m going to be really disappointed! 😉

Despite my hiatus from the backcountry, I’ve tried to keep my mountain legs by having fun on ‘urban mountains’, where I use the coulees in Lethbridge to try and mimic the distance and elevation gains of small mountains. Over the past three months I’ve made several solo trips from the front door of my house, clocking distances between 10 and 20 kilometres with total elevation gains in excess of 700m per trip. Though not the same as a real backcountry experience, each trip has been unique and I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the incredible landscapes that my city has to offer. Indeed, in recent days I have found a few special locales that have allowed me to rediscover what Frederick Buechner refers to as “the remarkable ordinary” – and believe me, I’ve needed this.

I look forward to being able to start posting trip reports about mountains in June, but until then, I will keep adding some early spring photos from my time in the coulees of Lethbridge. If you’ve never been to our little prairie city, let me tell you that it is a wonderful place to live.  🙂

Things are starting to green up along Six Mile Creek.

A good day for an adventure! Lethbridge has one of the largest urban park systems in North America.

Gazing back at Six Mile Creek from the skyline hill in the previous picture.

A myriad of paths can take you from prairie grassland to moonscape in a matter of minutes.

A unique and colourful rock on an otherwise dreary day. Oh, and did I mention that we have really strong woodpeckers (northern flickers) in Lethbridge! 😉

A dramatic cliff next to the Oldman River.

Why hello there! These mule deer don’t seem too concerned with my presence.

This prickly-pear cactus will soon be in bloom.

The subtle colourations of early spring.

The remnants of a barbed-wire fence are a reminder of the city’s agricultural past and present.

This emerging three-flowered aven or prairie smoke, signals the advent of spring.

Erosion has left this rock in a precarious position.

Frozen bulrushes.

Heading towards a more benign elevation gain.

Numerous cairns guide both hikers and bikers.

As much as I can, I try to go straight up and straight down the face of each coulee.

Brilliant prairie golden bean.

A wider angle of the previous picture.

Another look at the subtle colours that fill in the margins between seasons.

This rock is also in a precarious position.

A cool collection of boulders that have fallen from the coulees.

A small stream flows among fresh grass.

If ever a plant had a name made for jazz, it has to be the smooth blue beardtongue. 😉

A unknown insect (I’ll call him Bob) enjoys food and shelter inside a prairie crocus.

One of my special places.

I heard my first frog of the season call out from within these bulrushes. I think he was an internet junkie as he kept saying, ‘Reddit! Reddit!’. 😉

Yabba Dabba Doo! Welcome to Bedrock City!

Tiny moss phlox pokes out from under last year’s grass.

Another excellent opportunity for increasing those elevation totals.

Even in an unstable situation, the beauty of life can still be found.

At this point, I’ll take all of the scrambling that I can get! 🙂

A flowering saskatoon bush.

Golden currant.

A bee makes its final approach toward a prairie golden bean.

An old fence above Six Mile Creek.

Yellow prairie violet.

Leafy wild parsley.

Missouri milk-vetch (I think).

A saskatoon bush in the foreground with golden currant in the background.

Looking forward to those saskatoon berries later on!

More smooth blue beardtongue.

Three-flowered aven.

A chance to view the soil layers beneath the prairie grassland.

Springtime for the coulees; winter for Poland and France. 😉  Sorry, I couldn’t resist a little Mel Brooks humour from the Producers.

Is it just me, or is this early yellow locoweed looking back at me?

Butte marigold (I think).

Moss phlox with smooth blue beardtongue in the background.

A small bloom is emerging at the top of this plains prickly-pear cactus.

A wider view of the previous picture.

Looking down to the Oldman River.

Plentiful prairie golden bean.

The way this rock fractured is very interesting.

Erosion is slowly degrading the structure of this rock.

The Oldman River.

Hiking up and over moonscape.

Narrow-leaved milk-vetch.

This prairie crocus was in good shape.

Another view of the previous picture.

Lichen on an old fence post.

I’m pretty sure this is a golden eagle. I’m used to seeing them in the mountains at this time of the year, but I believe they also come this far east while migrating. It was huge!

The same golden eagle (possible) with its mate.

One last shot of some oh, so beautiful, smooth blue beardtongue.

More narrow-leaved milk-vetch.

A possible hadrosaur tooth found by my son during one of his recent coulee trips.

The reverse of the previous picture.

A possible jawbone section of a juvenile mosasaur found on the same trip.

A reverse of the previous picture.

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