Three of us drove down to the Crowsnest Pass on July 17 to experience RumRunner Days and take in Thunder in the Valley.
We started out the day at the Community Natural Foods Stampede Breakfast, across the street from the Chinook C-Train station. It was an impressive event, but I didn’t care too much for the flax-seed pancakes. They seemed somewhat dry to me, but I did eat what I could. There also were some really nice, plump and juicy pork sausages (I didn’t try the beef ones). The vegetarian sausages were long gone by the time we got to the serving stations. The whole event was billed as a “zero waste event”, so people were encouraged to bring their own plates and utensils, which we did. The only non-compostable item in the lineup was a muslei yogourt product whose container was made of plastic. After finishing the breakfast, we began our trek to the Pass, heading down Highway 2 to Fort Macleod.
I wish that I had stopped to take pictures of some of the windmills down along Highway 3, because they’re pretty neat and there are a lot of them. Our first stop was at the Bellevue Underground Coal Mine. Bellevue is a little coal mining town just east of the town of Frank (we skipped the Frank Slide Interpretive Center on this trip). The mine was decommissioned in January 1961 and is now used for tours and public education. Employees will warn you that it is quite cold inside, which is difficult to believe on a 24 °C day, but it is quite true. Many went inside wearing flip-flops, and I can imagine their toes were frozen quite thoroughly by the end of the tour. As for myself, I changed from flip-flops to shoes, so my feet were comfy warm, but my hands were rather cold by the end. We were allowed to take some of the (mid-grade, bituminous) coal from coal seam #1, and there is a lot of coal in some of the hopper cars outside. I managed to restrain myself from taking a great big chunk, and settled for my smaller pieces instead.
From the mine, we went to find some lunch. We ended up in Blairmore at a wonderful little shop called Stone’s Throw Cafe. It’s a nice little place with a home kitchen feel. I regret not taking some pictures inside, but you can check out their website for more info.
Just outside the cafe, on 20th Avenue, was the annual Rum Runner Show ‘n’ Shine. Oh, there were some gorgeous cars there! My brother-in-law would have loved it, so I took a bunch of pictures. They won’t all fit here, and I don’t (yet) have a Pro account on Flickr, but I’ll try to put some of the best ones up soon. Anyway, we walked around there until around 17:00, when the show cars were mostly gone, and then drove on to find some dinner. We ended up in Sparwood, BC before heading back to the RumRunner in Coleman, just west of Blairmore. The food was good, and the place was nice, but the service was very, very slow. Don’t go here if you have time-dependent plans.
After eating again, we made our way back to Blairmore to wait for the Thunder in the Valley fireworks show. Finding parking was a small ordeal, but was nothing compared to actually getting out of the town after the show. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The show itself was about 20 minutes long, and consisted of an intense onslaught of fireworks set to music. The unfortunate first song was the awful “Believe” – the anthem from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Otherwise the show was stunning and fantastic.
Now, Thunder in the Valley has been going since 1993 (this was the 17th edition). Organizers have had a long time to think about traffic management after the show. People heading west (towards BC) can leave only from the west highway access. People heading east (towards Lethbridge, Ft Macleod, Calgary, etc) can leave from the centre or east highway accesses. This works well, once traffic is actually moving. It took us about 2.5 hours to get out on the highway, heading eastbound, and traffic did not start to move smoothly until we were east of the town of Frank.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from going to this event. Just keep in mind that there are thousands of people leaving the town of Blairmore immediately after the fireworks. Patience is everything, which is difficult when you are tired from a long day of pancakes, coal, cars, food, and fireworks. We made the decision to drive home the same night, and ended up getting home at 05:00 Sunday morning. Next year, I think we will plan better and book a hotel/motel or bed & breakfast. Only thing is, you really have to book at least six months in advance! Unfortunately, this effectively precludes the use of services such as Hotwire or Priceline to book your room. Most likely you will end up paying full price (or more!).