Friday, June 17, 2011

Overnight field trip

Eric's grade 4 class (and the grade 5 class) went on an overnight field trip to Head-Smashed-in buffalo jump and Frank Slide. I went along as a driver for the luggage.

First stop, Head-Smashed-in buffalo jump. This is where for 5800 years the native people herded bison towards a cliff, stampeded them over the edge, then processed them on the field below. Up to 300 bison could be killed at once!

We ate lunch outside then went on a guided tour of the Interpretative Centre. The movie they play of the buffalo jump is excellent! Afterwards, we visited the gift shop (highly exciting to the kids! I bought some stone arrowheads and a small courage eagle metal) and walked the lower trail in our groups (I had a group of 3 boys, including Eric).

I've been there before, but there were 3 things I really wanted to see: the gathering basin, stone cairns, and the painted skull. I saw 2 of them.

Eric at the jump location. The cliff is currently 10 metres tall, with 10 metres of bison bone deposits at the base. You can see the lower trail.

The way the centre and trails are located just below a slight rise, you can't see over the rise to the gathering basin. And of course, you can't just leave the trail and walk where ever you want. Darn. :(

Luckily, there were stone cairns that you can see from the upper trail. The stones were gathered from the immediate area and were used to prop up tree branches to help direct the bison towards the cliff.

Lastly, I wanted to see the skull. According to the book "Imagining Head Smashed In" by Jack W. Brink, it was painted by Joe Crowshoe and is the most powerful object at the centre. It was painted for display purposes, but is now indistinguishable from one that would be used in the Sundance and other ceremonies. It has been blessed at local Sundances. Some native peoples think it is too powerful to be placed on display. Interestingly, the display case it is in makes no mention of the skull or the power it has. That is sweet grass that it is stuffed with.

The cliff from the lower trail. The interpretive centre is mostly built into the hill, and blends in well. You can't even see the centre in this picture, but right above the boy on the trail is the upper lookout from the first picture.

There are tepees in the field that can be used by overnight school trips. I liked this view because it hides the fence around them! The rocky mountains in the distance.

From Head Smashed In, it was an hour's drive west to the Crowsnest Pass, and Turtle Mountain, the site of the Frank Slide. I've also been to Frank slide before (twice).

At 4:10am on April 29, 1902, 82 million tonnes of rock fell from Turtle Mountain and buried part of the town of Frank. Between 80 and 90 people were killed, and only a few bodies were ever recovered. The slide covered 3 square kilometres of the valley in rock up to 30 metres deep. The mountain is still unstable, and the south peak (the left peak in the photo below), will also fall at some time...

Eric and the class on a walk through the debris field, with Turtle Mountain in the background. The part between and below the two peaks with no trees is the slide area. It is still unstable.

The debris field at the base of the mountain. The rock is hiding from view a river, rail track and the #3 highway. It's much more impressive in person. Especially driving through it on the highway. The slide also covered a mine entrance, trapping miners inside. The miners were able to dig through a seam of coal to the surface, rescuing themselves before the rescue party managed to dig out the mine entrance.

We spent the night sleeping on the floor of the interpretative centre. I didn't get much sleep between the hard floor and giggling girls! And then the sun woke me up early the next morning. The mountain in the morning sun was beautiful however!

And yeah, the gift shop opened in the morning, and the kids spent like crazy! I bought a pretty little half geode for Leah, a shirt and several rocks for Eric, and a fossil ammolite necklace for myself.

We spent the morning learning about two other disasters in the immediate area. First up, a tour of the Bellevue Mine. In 1910, an explosion killed 30 miners, and one rescuer. We put on hard hats, a head light and a heavy battery pack, and entered the mine with a guide.

Eric and I, ready to go in!

Inside the mine. Our head lamps are the only light. It's cold and damp inside, about 2c with water dripping from the rock and a stream flowing past on the left side behind the fence. It smells of sulfur.

The guide talking about the coal cars. This car has the miner's number written on it, and circled just above the number, his metal tag. The miners were only paid for the weight of coal they mined. They received no salary. Note the angle of the walls. At this point of the mine, the walls and ceiling were skewed, while the floor was level.

At the farthest point of the tour, we stopped and everyone turned off their lights to see how completely dark the mine is.

On the way out, we got to take a piece of coal. I am now the proud owner of my very own lump of coal! :)

And yeah, another little gift shop! Eric bought some more rocks, and I bought obsidian arrowheads (poorly made, but I've always wanted to have an arrowhead, and now I have two), and six magnetized hematite stones to use as cool and strong fridge magnets.

Next, we learned about the Hillcrest Mine disaster. In 1914, 189 miners died in an explosion. We were not able to visit the actual mine as it is now private property, but we did visit the general area and could still see the coal coming out of the hill where mine buildings used to be. Each kid was given a name tag with a miner's name and short biography.

We visited the cemetery where the miners were buried. The kids had to play a "game" where they answered questions about the deceased miners (what was his brother's name, how old was he when he died, what is the picture on their headstone, etc.)

The monument at the cemetery.

Eric was Dan Cullinan, a miner.

Dan Cullinan died in the explosion and was listed on the monument.

Dan Cullinan's headstone.
The view of Turtle mountain from the cemetery. You can see the slide area on the right.

It was a great trip, and the weather was just right. It was very windy at points, but that's normal for this part of the the province - there were wind turbines EVERYWHERE to make use of the wind. It didn't rain until we left for home.