National Geographic : 1966 Sep
packing a product that as a solid "burns as slow as string," but as dust can explode like dynamite. He was pumping gas through a 1,500-mile pipeline to California. And get ting to the gas and the sulphur meant drilling "where the geology is so smashed up you may be only a few feet or half a mile away from production." His strangest problem, however, was the southwest wind called the chinook. It to boggans down these slopes in winter, com pressing and thus heating the atmosphere, bringing weather so balmy that lilacs have budded in January. The air in a chinook is so warm it can jump the temperature 40 degrees in ten minutes, so dry it can evaporate a foot of snow overnight. It lengthens the farmer's growing season, bares grass for the rancher's cattle. But for Wood it can mean adjusting the process temperatures in his plant to warm fronts that have been known to move in and out several times in an hour. Fur Brigades Marched Up the Trench Back on the highway I headed west, past the spray of Lundbreck Falls. I paralleled the southern line of the Canadian Pacific Railway through small towns that jostle each other to tap vast seams of soft coal, one of the largest deposits in the British Commonwealth. Soon the swells of the cattle range began to lift into timbered foothills. The horizon shrank and I entered Crowsnest Pass, where I crossed the Continental Divide at 4,457 feet. From here on, the creeks flowed west, through Brit ish Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. And I rolled down out of the incongruous grime and beauty of the pass into B.C.'s extraordinary .valley, the Rocky Mountain Trench. The trench is one of the geological wonders of the world, a trough two to more than ten miles wide running the length of the Rockies in Canada, separating them from the older western ranges. It may have offered prehis toric man a corridor south. It did for David Thompson, greatest geographer of British North America, sent out in 1807 to explore the Columbia River for the North West Company. Its fur brigades later passed this way, their leaders resplendent in gold braid and attend ed by valets to impress the Indians. My route curved north along the Kootenay River, with the snow-veined western face of the Rockies on my right. Occasionally a log ging road, vanishing into the forest's green folds, emphasized the loneliness of the heights. In the trench, by contrast, cattle grazed on parklike slopes speckled with sage and 364 with the young firs sold for Christmas trees. Now I wound above and along the blue green headwaters of the Columbia, which flows northward here, but bends south be hind the interior ranges of British Columbia. Beyond the Purcell Mountains off to my left, work was beginning on one of a series of dams in the upper Columbia drainage basin. When finished in 1973, they will end the annual threat of devastating floods in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. As sunlight flushed the lower slopes, I skirt ed cottage-lined Windermere Lake and turned off at the pleasant resort town of Invermere. Here I called on Les Taft, the district forest ranger, a craggy, weathered man.