Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

Jasper: Town, Park, Little White Dog

Town of Jasper, Alberta, Canada“Town of Jasper, Alberta”photo from tjgiordano’s Flickr photostream

In the summer of 1997, when I was eleven years old, my mother hesitantly let me spend nearly a month traveling with my grandfather and great grandfather. The trip began in Key West, FL and paused in Tennessee on our journey north to South Dakota where we camped by a lake for a few days.

I have vivid memories of the Adventuredome theme park in Las Vegas’ Circus Circus Hotel, being unimpressed by the Grand Canyon, and making friends with local kids in New Mexico. The place that was engraved in my memory, however, was the small town of Jasper, Alberta–our only stop in our short visit to Canada.

Jasper’s population rests below 5,000 and the town’s website refers to it as “the little town in the big park.” According to the Canadian Rockies Vacations Guide, Jasper National Park is the mountain range’s largest national park, “covering 10,878 sq kilometers” (approximately 6,760 miles for the metric challenged). The Canadian Encyclopedia boasts “some 3 million visitors each year” hoping to catch a glimpse of Jasper National Park’s bears, golden eagles, and mountain goats. Many park-goers travel to Jasper to visit the Columbia Icefields, which the Canadian Rockies Vacations Guide claims  “are among the few icefields in the world that are accessible by road.”

My memories of mountain goats sunbathing on hillsides is almost entirely overpowered by the panic I felt as our truck hugged the winding mountain roads, my grandfather reminding me all the while that “it’s not the fall that hurts you, but the sudden stop.” At eleven years old it was not the park that resonated within me, but the small town. The residents were friendly and inquisitive–genuinely interested in its visitors and their histories–and Jasper as a whole seemed to be enveloped by a calm that I can only imagine comes from living within view of those breathtaking snow-capped mountains. Despite the size of the national park and the tourism that it attracted, the town amazingly retained a non-commercial, semi-rural feel, and nearly fourteen years later it still stands out in my mind as the most welcoming location along our summer trail.

Back home in North Carolina later that summer, I named my newly adopted Shih Tzu/Poodle after that town: Jasper. Throughout his life many people inquired about the inspiration for his name, and every time I felt moved to educate them about my favorite (albeit only) Canadian mountain town.

–Britt Garrett

Coal, Activism, and Western North Carolina

Mountain-top Removal Mining, from the Sierra Club's Flickr photostreamMountaintop Removal Mining, from the Sierra Club’s Flickr photostream

Last year, 2010, was a big year for coal mining. On April 5th in West Virginia, an explosion took the lives of 29 coal mine workers, and within a week environmentalist protesters were on the scene. Throughout the year and across the country protesters called out Bank of America for supporting “dirty energy” and, as one protest sign in Asheville, NC read, “funding filthy futures.” Coal causes pollution and health problems, and damages the area surrounding the mine both environmentally and economically. The industry itself, however, is a powerhouse that provides approximately half of the energy consumed in the United States and thousands of dollars to various politicians and companies. Such a complex issue begs for global input, and the first step to joining the conversation is to become informed and remember: “think globally, act locally.”

Last week, mountaintop removal was discussed at Western Carolina University by Tricia Shapiro, activist and author of “Mountain Justice: Homegrown Resistance to Mountaintop Removal, for the Future of Us All.” Mark Mattheis of the Western Carolina Journalist covers the event and provides readers with a YouTube video of Shapiro’s talk with WCU Assistant Professor David Henderson, a link to a recent documentary titled “Low Coal,” and information on “the next major event in the campaign against mountaintop removal.”

For those interested in local coal issues, one source to check out for a basic overview of mountaintop removal’s impact on rural Western North Carolina is “Writers & Mountains,” a Web Exhibit from UNCA’s D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections Gallery:

There is no coal surface-mining in western North Carolina, nor wholesale removal of mountain-tops in Western North Carolina. … Steep-slope development has been foreground in environmental concerns in western North Carolina … [as] many homeowners are watching their investment [their homes] slowly move down-hill with a deep, slow-moving landslide. … Only a few pockets of coal can be found in North Carolina … in the central section of the state … Yet, Duke Power in North Carolina is one of the most significant players in coal extraction.

And for the digital community, Greenpeace is currently protesting Facebook’s reliance on coal and counting down to Earth Day 2011—click here to find out more and join the fight.

–Britt Garrett

Outer Space Wilderness

“Star Gazing” by Joseph Massie (Haywood County, Western North Carolina)

“We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss whether they was made or only just happened.”  — Mark Twain

The photograph above was taken at the Waterrock Knob overlook, at some 6000 feet in elevation, during a November Leonid meteor shower.

An interesting aspect of this photograph is that it captures a dusty concentration of stars, which is shown in the top–middle of the photograph. The dusty concentration of stars is, of course, a side view of the Milky Way galaxy, and it is usually only visible in very dark areas. Though the picture was taken some time after sunset, the long exposure necessary to photograph stars, whose light is coming to the viewer from about 36 trillion kilometers away, gathered the residual light in the sky and whatever light was coming from the town below.

In some rural areas, such as the one I live in, it is fairly easy to get away from the town lights to see the stars. A popular choice for stargazing (for those who can’t see the stars from their houses) is stopping at overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of my favorite childhood memories was being taken up on the parkway by my father for star gazing with a thermos of hot chocolate and his new toy: the little red, potbellied telescope. The stars seemed brighter to me back then.

This is one valuable thing that rural areas offer inhabitants and visitors: the ability to view starry night skies better due to lower levels of light pollution. Light pollution seems to be growing with the population, and a dark night is getting to be quite a commodity. For Arizonians, the darkness has been called “black gold,” and has literal economic value as it, in effect, generates money by providing an area in which professional astronomy can happen. For me and for many other rural dwellers, the value is aesthetic, but it is also more than that. Star–filled nights have inspired all kinds of beautiful thoughts in the minds of humans.

–Josie Javens