I started a road trip on Tuesday morning, after minimal preparation. I had gone through a few guide books to Southern Alberta, picking out places that I hadn't been that I thought might be interesting, and had written a very rough itinerary, listing two or three possible activities per day.
With my intrepid navigator L, I drove the rented Grand Prix south on Highway 2. Our first stop was Old Woman's Buffalo Jump. We were only able to find this site by following the directions in one of the books. There were no signs and no trails, so it could only be viewed from the gravel road. I suppose we could have climbed over a barbed wire fence and wandered around, but it was threatening to rain and I wasn't sure if we would be trespassing. Overall, it paled in comparison to Head-Smashed-In (more about this later).
Next we went to Willow Creek Provincial Park. This is a small park with a campground. There is a sandy beach on one side of the creek, and a stone outcropping on the other, under which swallows nest. We hiked on the outcropping and up a hill, where we found a tipi ring.
I had planned to visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, but by the time we reached the turnoff it was raining heavily, so we left that for another day.
After checking into a motel in Lethbridge, I tried calling my Dad. I hadn't been able to contact him before leaving Calgary and he still wasn't answering the phone, so we went to dinner. Later in the evening, I got ahold of Dad and arranged to meet for breakfast.
Wednesday, July 28th
When we picked Dad up in the morning, he was carrying a wooden leg from his armchair and said, "I need this to defend myself." I thought, "Oh my God, he is finally losing it!" Fortunately, he was only kidding (smart-alecky seniors!) and wanted me to take him shopping for a new chair leg, so after breakfast we went to Canadian Tire and found something that looked like it would fit. Back at his place, I helped him fix the chair (with expert supervision from L), and then we left on the next leg of our journey.
Our first stop was the Devil's Coulee museum. We wanted to see the coulee, where a number of dinosaur eggs were discovered in the 1980's, but it seems that only guided tours can go to the site, and as that would have taken several hours we settled for a visit to the museum before heading on to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.
Writing-On-Stone was my favourite stop on the trip. We spent the afternoon there, hiking along the trails among the hoodoos (sandstone formations shaped by water and weather) and beneath the cliffs. The park is famous for the pictographs carved by Indians over many hundreds of years, but I found them the least interesting aspect of the place (though we didn't actually go on the guided tour into the protected areas where most of the carvings and drawings are located). I loved the beauty of the park, the shape of the stones and the absolute silence as we paused on the trails. There are hoodoos stretching for a mile or more on both sides of the Milk River, and the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana can be seen in the distance. I can see why the Indians regarded this as a spiritual place. I would like to go back there someday, perhaps staying at the campsite for a few days to explore the park more thoroughly.
We drove back to Lethbridge to spend the night.
Thursday, July 29th
It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we headed back to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Dad said that I had been there as a child, but I couldn't remember it, and in any case it has since been named a World Heritage Site and upgraded considerably. There is an impressive interpretive centre and trails that lead to the top of the jump and along the base of two separate jumps.
In the days before the arrival of horses and guns, the Indians would hunt buffalo by stampeding them over a cliff (or buffalo jump). This particular site was used for at least 6,000 years, up until about 150 years ago. Archaeologists have determined that there was a 1,000 year gap where it wasn't used at all, though why it was abandoned for that period is unclear. The name Head-Smashed-In comes from an incident when a young brave decided to view a jump from under the cliff, watching the buffalo fall as someone might stand behind a waterfall. This didn't work out well, as it was an unusually good hunt, and after the buffalo finished falling he was found with his skull crushed beneath the weight of several buffalo.
The photo below shows Head-Smashed-In in the foreground, another jump site in the distance, and a vision quest mound to the left. The cliffs were much higher at one time, but over thousands of years bones and other debris have piled up.
We drove on to Pincher Creek, stopping along the way to admire the huge windmills that have been erected to take advantage of the strong winds in this area. Note the relative size of the pickup truck at the base of the nearest windmill.
After having a late lunch (or early dinner) in Pincher Creek, we drove north through the foothills, stopping in Cochrane to spend the night.
Friday, July 30th
We drove from Cochrane to the town of Banff, where we had brunch at a 50's-style diner with an unusual name. Before leaving Banff, we went for a walk beside the Bow River, the same river that flows through Calgary
Then we headed to Johnston Canyon, where we hiked up the trail to the lower and upper falls. Rock canyon walls tower over the trail, which in places consists of a metal catwalk under overhanging stone. Raging rapids tumble into deep blue pools, and the roar of the water can be felt as well as heard. After reaching the upper falls, we had the option of continuing on to a place called the Ink Pots, but that would have been a 5-mile round trip, and we were already getting tired, so we headed back. I'm still trying to figure out if the Ink Pots are the same as the Paint Pots, which we have visited before (and would like to see again).
We moseyed back to Calgary via Highway 1A (avoiding the busy Trans-Canada Highway), stopping again in Cochrane for a snack.
At the start of the upper trail at Head-Smashed-In, we saw a large marmot sitting on top of a stone. When we got close, he darted into a burrow under the stone.
While walking through a treed section of the trail in Writing-On-Stone, I saw a bunny sitting in the middle of the trail. He allowed me to come within about 3 feet before ambling off into the bush. Then I looked up to see a doe and fawn watching us from further down the trail. The fawn seemed curious, moving its head forward to better see us or catch our scent. They were more timid than the bunny, and soon moved along the trail to feed under one of the cliffs.
In Johnston Canyon, we saw many chipmunks. It is a busy trail, and they have learned to beg for food.
Total distance driven: 1304 kilometres (810 miles).
Driving music provided by CKUA radio and a CD of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (conducted by Otto Klemperer).