Pincher Creek in Winter

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Calgary might pride itself on being a western town, but if you really want to find the frontier, you need to drive south a few hours.  Pincher Creek is the biggest place you’ll find in southwestern Alberta, but it’s still a small town, with a Canadian kind of wild-west feel.

You know you’re getting familiar with a town, when you stop looking at the GPS for directions.  And after 3 nights in Pincher Creek, I felt like I knew the place, backwards and forwards.  There’s a downtown main-street business area, and a stretch of businesses on Route 6, the main highway through town.  If you’re staying in Pincher Creek, you’ll probably end up in one of the newer motels on the north side of town, near the Walmart.  Those newer hotels are a bit pricey, though.

I ended up at the Westcastle Motel, an older place with neon out front.  It’s on Route 6, south of the new motels, and closer to Main Street.  It had its quirks, but it was clean, and offered some higher-end comforts along with those budget rates (about $60 a night, which is a reasonably good deal for Pincher Creek).

That’s my room, #4. Inside, there was a flat-screen TV, a fridge and microwave, hardwood floors, and tile in the bathroom.  It also had its own furnace, which could heat up the room in a flash (very important at this time of year).  But, it also had a prison-cell feel, with concrete-block walls, and a bed shoved up against the window.  I must admit, I longed for one of those fancier rooms, at the new hotel near the Walmart — the one that had an indoor pool with a water slide.

Downtown Pincher Creek

As I mentioned, my motel was just a block north of Main Street, and the central core of businesses was only a few blocks away.  There’s not a lot of excitement in downtown Pincher Creek on a snowy, cold March day.

I imagine the Curling Club could provide some interesting entertainment.  You remember Curling, that weird shuffleboard-like sport that everybody makes fun of, once every four years during the Olympics?

Also providing entertainment, the Fox Theatre is located on Main Street.  Yes, they didn’t even bother to put the word “Fox” on the sign — they just put a picture of a fox.  On my second night in Pincher Creek, I caught a movie here, and discovered that there’s nothing elegant about the Fox’s interior.  It’s an old single-screen theater, split down the middle to accommodate two screens, so everything is at an awkward angle, and part of the screen stays slightly out-of-focus.  Even so, it’s a good place to go, if you’ve run out of things to do on a cold, dreary evening.

Near the center of town, you’ll find a clock and a mural, depicting a brighter, sunnier day.

You’ll also find a sculpture of a giant pincher — a tool that was used to trim the hooves of horses.  Back in the 1860’s, a group of prospectors lost a pincher, or pincer, in the creek near the future townsite.  A few years later, a member of the North-West Mounted Police (a predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or “Mounties”), discovered the pincher in the creek, and the area received its name.

Pincher Station

One of Pincher Creek’s most interesting areas, at least for photographers or railroad buffs, is a few kilometers north of town, at the intersection of Route 6 and the Crowsnest Highway (Route 3).  Pincher Station is a small collection of grain elevators and railroad-related buildings, surrounded by hundreds of wind turbines.

Drive north, past the roundabout and the Walmart, then keep going until you cross Route 3, and then, the railroad tracks.

I spent the morning of Day 2 here, before heading west on the Crowsnest Highway for some sightseeing.  It was grey and foggy, to the point where I couldn’t even see many of the surrounding wind turbines.

These are active railroad tracks, so I used caution as I walked around and took some pictures of the old grain elevators.  This one appeared to be a bit more rustic…

… than this one.  There was also some “junk” lying around…

… the kind that’s fun to photograph.  Is this an axle from a rail car?

I would have loved to have taken some pictures of the aging grain elevators, juxtaposed against the modern windmills behind them.  But it wasn’t until two days later…

… on my way out of town, that I managed to get a good, clear shot of the windmills.  There are hundreds of them, and you’ll have no problem coming up with some creative ways to photograph them, if you’re willing to take some time and explore the area.

Pincher Creek’s wind turbines are powered by the strong Chinook winds that sweep across the area. As of 2004, there were 145 windmills spinning in the area, creating 30% of all the wind power generated in Canada — enough to power 35,000 homes.

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