The morning rush out of Redstreak wakes us both up with a start. Car doors bang and stressed out parents yelling at their children to “get up already, we’re need to leave!”, or my favorite, “No we don’t have time for you to straighten your hair, we’re camping for Pete’s sake Tiffany!”.
Breakdown goes smoothly this morning except for battling the wind while dismantling the tent. I’m sure that our antics were a source of amusement to our neighbors so at least somebody was enjoying the process.
Before we leave town, we have one very unique stop to make. On the main road out of town there is a world famous home built into the side of the cliff where an eccentric man has erected a work/live/tourism spectical called the Home of a Thousand Faces. He is a self proclaimed hippie from Switzerland, who wanted to build “an upside down house” where he could tuck himself away from the world.
We pull in and go up to the crudely drawn “enter here” sign hung by a small door shoved in an almost forgotten corner. We enter and I am hit with a scent both familiar and comforting and at the same time foreign and offputting.
We have entered what could loosely be described as the basement/workshop. Tools and scraps of wood, both large and small are strewn about in a haphazard chaos that only the resident would be able to navigate. The aroma that so intrigues me is the smell of wood shavings, metal lubricant, and vanish; all which harken back to my days at home with my father in his wood shop.
Memories flood in and I am taken back for a split second to the wood shop with my father labouring away over a block of red cedar we had hunted down along the costs of SE Alaska. Cedar is my favorite wood that he works with, and from it I watch him fashion beautiful creations and in my child’s eye, my father is nothing less than Michelangelo carving out his David.
The scent which is enough to bear me back in time also carries a different subtle scent which is cloying and nauseating, abruptly snapping me back to reality. While I cannot exactly place it, I have a feeling it might be a combination of incense, recreational substances, and unwashed human or animal. All this registers within a split second along with the realization that there is a figure at the work bench, hunched over like some gargoyle bent on some unseen task.
The form is wrapped in a burgundy robe with a sagging wizards hat perched atop a mop of faded red dyed hair straggling out beneath the felted brim. He circles when he hears us enter, his salt and pepper beard wagging up and down as he continues to chew on some indistinguishable form of nourishment. Crumbs tumble down over his beard and onto his red robe and long purple shift. He licks his trembling fingers free of food and with a quiet yet somehow deep and booming voice, he welcomes us and takes our entry fee, flicking over it with a darting dark glance and then ushering us into the room beyond.
A wood fire, which is unlike any other form of heat, crackles in a massive iron stove and radiates warmth out into the large second half of the basement. The visual chaos continues as we walk through what could be described as a crude art gallery of sorts, his carvings and famous wooden faces hung throughout.
The man’s talents are undeniable and I find myself gravitating to many of the pieces on display and available for purchase. The horder’s tendancies are also evident as looking around, there is a rats nest of rambling trails of junk crammed into every last available inch. We come to find out later from Rolf that he is often the focus of local law enforcement and the fire marshal due to the large parties he throws at his “castle” and the fact that there are no fire escapes, it is a completely walled in fortress, and it is a literal tender box that is anything but up to code.
We follow the only visible path through this maze till we exit the basement and find ourselves in a large covered porch like area with hundreds and even thousands of carved wooden faces staring back at us. Some are serene and some are ghoulish in their expressions, and vary in size and prominence, some cleaverly tucked away like ogres hiding under a bridge. Some leer at you as if reading your dirty hidden thoughts and some seem to be made out in the likeness of some ancient pagan god figure smiling gently back at you with a certain tenderness like some perversion of a statue of the Virgin Mary.
A moment later I am startled by a goat of all things, which darts into view from around a corner. I realize that he is in an enclosed ramp on my left which I had earlier assumed was just another strange part of the architecture. Moving towards the goat, I see that there is an entire ramp, drawbridge, rooftop, and tree house system built for the goats to live in full time! It’s similar to the walkways some people install for their cats, but for little mountain goats instead!
Below this airborn goat colony, is a courtyard with towering barricades all along the perimeter, huge carved figures, and many doors with instructions to pull, twist, and open scrawled in child like font across them.
We find out the hard way that following any of these instructions brings an onslaught of surprises that I won’t go into detail about here in case you ever have the opportunity to visit. I can promise you that you will be laughing hysterically by the end of it however!
The entire experience was surreal and an interesting opportunity to meet and explore the physical representation of a man caught somewhere between a past life as a hippie and a world which has left his kind behind. He has managed to keep modern progress out and lead the life of a hermit while at the same time, profiting from his status as a must see local attraction. His creativity, fueled by drugs, and his rebellious attitude towards local governance, makes his stronghold a sight to behold. As West put it, “it feels like we’ve stepped into Neverland”.
Our journey continues from there, taking us into Kootenay National Park. Our views this time are much improved as last year, the park was under a thick blanket of fog which had obscured the majority of the mountains from sight.
The fire season in the park has been a busy one, with the thick smoke haze settling in some of the valleys around us. The smell is heavy in the air and we realize too late that we should have started circulating the air in the car a little sooner.
Our voices are a bit raspy as we pull into the Paint Pots trail head but that doesn’t stop us from talking excitedly as we exit the car and begin gearing up the the easy jaunt.
The hike takes us to an amazing naturally occurring phenomenon and the site of previous mining and harvesting operations for the mineral rich deposits of iron which here, results in brilliant ochre hues. The clay material was gathered first by the native people and then later on, processed by white man and used as a naturally occurring ochre pigment. This ended when the national parks were formed and the mining practices were not in line with the objectives of the parks and where therefore shut down. You can still see the beautifully vibrant color that was so sought after and even some of the pieces of equipment used to process it which were left behind!
We extend our hike past the paint pots throug fields of wild flowers and along the river towards the marble canyon when we meet a large group headed in the opposite direction. They inform us that there was a bear sighting a little further along the trail and after deliberating, West and I decide to abandon the venture and return to the car to continue on our way to the Johnston Canyon Campground, and our home for the next five nights.
We even were lucky enough to secure the same campsite there as our last visit and we excitedly set up camp in our favorite spot! It feels so satisfying to set up here knowing that we will be in the same spot for a while. We take our time getting everything the way that we want it and settle in for the night.
From here our days will consist of exploring the bow valley, rock climbing, enjoying the cities of Banff and Canmore, and spending time with each other doing what we love. We each have a hard time getting to sleep with everything to look forward to in the days to come!
– to follow our travels each day visually, head over to @thebozemanite on Instagram