Exploring Alberta

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June 1st 2008
Published: June 1st 2008
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My Alberta Adventure


We're here!
I can't believe it. Two things I can't believe - first, I'm travelling with a toddler (my own at that), second: how clear the sky is. Phil said I'd notice it: "the sky is so - well, you'll see. They call it 'open sky country'".

We flew in over Calgary after nine hours of relatively painless travel with a toddler on our knees. There was plenty of space in the plane (which I wasn't expecting as we'd gone for cheaper seats with Canadian Affair rather than a standard airline) and service was great. Even the guy checking us in at Gatwick was really nice!

Calgary from the air was fascinating - so neat, so clean, so spacious. I could see houses fringing a lake - each house with its own jetty! And the light... it's so clear, so white. It's the sort of light that has a photographer packing up his camera and retiring to an outdoor cafe to sit with a coffee until evening sets in.

The first thing that struck me - even before we'd left the airport - was the friendliness. The passport and immigration official smiled at us!
After a frustrating time with the car rental company and a toddler car seat we'd never seen before… "You have to fit it yourself madam, for legal reasons." (So we'll leave you the seat and no instructions and see how you get on. It's a bit like trying to fit the toddler seat whilst blindfold with your hands tied behind your back.) After some pleading we did get assistance. Thank goodness.… we then headed into Calgary. Easy driving, wide roads, just as well with an exhausted kid crying in the back.

Once unpacked we wandered out and immediately discovered Stephen Avenue running along the centre of "Downtown". Full of outdoor cafes and people drinking beer, sitting, chatting, laughing - it was like being in a Mediterranean country. We wandered into a big shop selling western ware - authentic cowboy boots, hats, shirts - and started trying things on, overlooked by a giant bison mounted on the wall. Monkey (as she's known affectionately) toddled off as I was mulling over bison versus a beaver felt hat and reappeared with a bright pink cowboy hat on her head! Well done.

Next stop was the bank to try to cash a Canadian dollar cheque. Never in my life have I stood in a bank queue and heard the cashier apologise to a customer for keeping them waiting! "I'm very sorry you have been kept waiting - I see you have at least had a good book to read", smiling and giving a nod to the paperback the customer was holding. As I stood there, the head of customer care appeared and offered to take Monkey for me (which she sadly refused, being rather over-tired and jet lagged). Then the lady serving me suggested I could go off and play with Monkey whilst the paperwork was filled out. There were two fantastic carved wood lions, an adult and a cub, in the lobby and that's where the toddler went. The guy at the front information desk came over as we investigated the lions and asked if we'd found everything we needed, then the cashier came over to ask for my passport - "don't worry!" she said as I set off back towards her desk. "You stay here and play, I'll let you know when all the paperwork is sorted."!

It was about 6pm when I found myself wandering down Stephen Ave once more wondering what to do for tea. Something light, something tasty, somewhere Monkey could sit... the requirements were long, and I doubted I'd meet even half of them. A large bookshop - McNally Robinson - caught my eye. It said it had a cafe inside. Well at least they'd have muffins and milk... I popped in and asked if the cafe was still open, noting the great play area with big cushions and books. (Suddenly child entertainment has become a large part of my travelling life!) The cafe was not just open, but wonderful! A whole kids' menu, fresh salads, pasta. We had fruit smoothie and seafood pasta. Monkey toyed with both, then ate a whole raspberry and pistachio muffin.

Day 2. Calgary

Next morning was Calgary Tower. Oh what entertainment! Spectacular views, with that clear Calgary air making everything pin sharp - even the vast Rocky Mountains in the distance, appearing as though a kindly old lady had sewn a lacy white trim onto the edge of the world. The glass floor of the tower was a real scream - literally! Monkey couldn't believe it. Once she'd overcome the "visual cliff" and realised she wouldn't fall even though there was nothing between her and the street 525ft below, except some glass, she loved it. Funniest was watching people trying to persuade one another to step out onto it. I watched one family (English of course) harassing their mother for 30 minutes before she finally plucked up courage and put a foot onto the glass.

Later we headed down to the Glenbow Museum. For the first time I realised how differently young children use their senses to perceive the world. Monkey was quite nervous as we entered the Native aboriginal area. Not because of the stuffed wolf or beaver - she loved those - but because of the background chanting and singing that was playing over a discrete sound system. I had hardly noticed it, but she was quite concerned to know what was happening. We followed the path as it wove in and out of tepees, story areas and displays, using space wonderfully to create an atmosphere of the real world rather than a static museum. A distant trumpet call lured Monkey into the Mounted Police display where a Mountie (projected artfully onto the inside of a tent) told the
The BadlandsThe BadlandsThe Badlands

Amazing barren hills scoured by glacial meltwater
harrowing tale of his journey west across Canada to bring law and order to the Frontier country.

Day 3. Off to the Badlands

I was sorry to leave Calgary so soon - but awed by what lay ahead! Just driving out into countryside east of the city was like taking a deep breath of peacefulness. The land is so green, so quiet, dotted with beautiful glossy horses and characterful old wooden huts.

Quite suddenly this lush grassy landscape dropped away beneath us - and there it was - the Badlands! An almost lunar landscape scoured of life with strange striped hills carved out of a vast river valley. The Red Deer River wound tranquilly across the valley floor, bringing greenery to the barren landscape and life to the settlements below.
Drumheller - we'd come for dinosaurs, but discovered so much more...

We were swept up from the doorstep of our hotel by a larger than life character called Pat. His business card reads on one side "Wild West Badlands tours", on the other "This is a Free Ticket. It ain't worth nothin' pardner. It's just free!!" With an intro like that who could
Red Deer River ValleyRed Deer River ValleyRed Deer River Valley

The Badlands slice through the prairies
guess what was to come?

I would never normally take a guided tour, preferring to 'do the independent thing' and discover a place for myself. But full credit to Pat - in a few hours on a sunny afternoon (and evening) I discovered more - and far more of the true quality of the place - than I could have done alone. We saw the hoo doos. They are amazing. Truly amazing. We saw places used in some Oscar-winning films (like "Unforgiven" with Clint Eastwood). And we saw the hidden places overshadowed by the mighty dinosaur legend, that most people would have just passed on by.

The hoodoos are pinnacles of soft rock loitering on the edge of the plain. Hot and mystical, students from the Royal Tyrell Museum sit nearby to show their finds to tourists. Fossilised turtle shell, petrified wood and shells - which they thought were mussels until Pat corrected them gently (oysters).

Our time with Pat was priceless - the sort of experience that opens windows on a place you would never even have noticed, let alone looked into. Today we drove over 9 bridges on our way to a saloon in the nearly-ghost town of Wayne. Like you do! I walked through the swing doors of the Last Chance Saloon, my hand nervously twitching by my side (for my imaginary revolver, of course). There was a line of Harley Davidsons tethered outside so you never knew what to expect - and Pat had already told us there were two bullet holes above the fireplace from an incident (many years before) when the landlord had decided he’d had enough shenanigans one evening.

The place was an oasis of a bygone era. Stuffed heads of unfortunate wildlife jostled on the walls next to the paraphernalia of everyday life for the hundreds of miners and their families who had first come to the area. There were even the original mail boxes still embedded in the wall at the end of the vast room, evidence of the post-office that had served this once-thriving mining community. The landlord, rushed off his feet by the thirsty owners of the two-wheel steeds outside, still took time out to chat to us. Large, unassuming, friendly - he was the epitome of Alberta.

We drove to Horse Thief Canyon. Here, from a vantage point way above the
Wayne the ghost townWayne the ghost townWayne the ghost town

Last Chance Saloon quite busy today
hot, arid valley below we gazed out into the Badlands. Well most of us did - Monkey spent the time squealing in delight and running from hole to hole in pursuit of ground squirrels! Our first proper wildlife! They’d pop up here, disappear in a flash and resurface a good 20 metres away a second later.

Turn your back on the Badlands and there in front of you is lush, green farmland. It was really odd seeing oil pumpers - those cantilevered arms sedately bobbing up and down, more readily associated with Texas, heat and dust, than rolling green fields - scattered across the farmland. The same organisms that millions of years ago had helped to feed the dinosaurs, were today being sucked up out of the ground as crude oil.

Next stop with Pat was a bison (buffalo) farm. It rapidly became clear that “farming” bison (the great beasts that once roamed the plains) is less farming, rather more gentle persuasion and a lot of bravery. We climbed up onto a straw-bale seated trailer and were towed by tractor out into a huge field where three giant specimens of bisondom were grazing. You’re sitting six feet up

Last Chance Saloon
and suddenly this woolly, horned animal with a brow as wide (it feels) as a mini’s bonnet lifts its head and gazes at you… No malice, no anger, just a look that puts you in your insignificant little place, perched on a bale of something he might quite like to eat. Our host, Art, pulled out a book and read an excerpt from the travel diary of one of the original explorers of the area. The description places the writer in this very area and - to our amazement - paints a picture of a landscape black with the backs of bison, a million milling behemoths grazing the plains. They are all gone now. For ever. This farm preserves a handful for breeding and eating.

Talk of preserving, we visited the strangest little town after that. Cowley, home to six residents and, on the evening we visited, 200 locals who come for the monthly pizza party. I was glad I saw it in full “pizza fever” (and my didn’t those pizzas look good!) because it would have seemed like a ghost town otherwise. (Clint Eastwood filmed some of Unforgiven here.) Once a month the saloon throws open its doors
Plaque at the saloonPlaque at the saloonPlaque at the saloon

I rather like the humour
and the community centre cranks up its ovens and the most delicious pizzas for miles around are served to those in the know. Cowley. Last Friday of the month. Find out the date, and be there. It was like a vast family picnic, every bench filled with munching, happy faces, the main street lined with pick-up trucks (and devoid of traffic - this was the end of the road).

We wandered over to look at the old railway building which, fortuitously, just happened to be open. What a discovery! A local lady with face so lined it could have been a contour map of the Rockies - and a personality to sprightly she could have been twenty - showed us round. Downstairs the original telegraph equipment was still there, sitting proudly in its cape of dust, proclaiming its importance. All around sat the discarded debris of a hundred years of settlement - artefacts that museums would be fighting over sitting next to old tin pails. This is the amazing thing about Alberta - you can almost touch the lives of the original colonists. People migrating here to establish a new life on the land initially had to live in
Royall Tyrrell MuseumRoyall Tyrrell MuseumRoyall Tyrrell Museum

Children dancing in the primordial seas
turf houses - not much more than 100 years ago! - because the railway hadn’t yet arrived, and there was no timber out on the prairies.

Day 4. Dinosaur bones and buffalo country

What a great breakfast! The Ramada Inn (Drumheller), apart from winning me over by having its own swimming pool - including waterslide and hot pool - had the most amazing breakfast. How many “buffet” breakfasts have you been to where you can make waffles, daub them with lashings of butter, jams, cream cheese, and maple syrup; then move on to the fresh muffins (three varieties), fruit bowl, cereals, yogurts; not to mention the three types of toast, bagels and endless drinks. Needless to say I was in heaven and Monkey was covered in sticky stuff. We were well set for the day ahead!

Eschewing the charms of the “largest T-Rex” (a vast fibreglass reptile-come-visitors’ centre you can climb into for views out over Drumheller) we drove past the beautiful, colourful dinosaurs that languish on street corners (courtesy of a dinosaur park that closed down) and headed for the splendour of the Royal Tyrrell Museum. (Granted the “Royal” even though the Queen hadn’t quite made it there, Pat told us.)

Alberta, I was starting to suspect, has some secret stash of manuals on how to design the perfect museum. The place was stunning. Not only recreating, in one great hall, the most spectacular landscape of dinosaurs I have seen, but turning the journey there into a riveting passage through time. We walked through the primordial seas, shared living space with the organisms of the famous Burgess Shale - rocks hosting one of the most amazing explosions of animal life the planet has recorded. And watched as reptilian shapes started to appear, on land and in the sea, forming into the great monsters that are still dug up today from the Badlands outside the door.

We did something quite special next. Having contacts in the world of science, we knew of a spot not too far away, up a gravely hillside near the great winding Red Deer River where, if you’re very lucky and look really hard, on a nice day after some heavy rain, you might see a fragment of dinosaur. And we did. On hands and knees we studied the stones till our eyes ached and our necks turned

Lifesize Albertosaurus (discovered, you guessed it, in Alberta) female and young
red in the sun. Suddenly we spotted little fragments - the end of a little bone, a piece of shiny tooth black with the mineralisation of time. Time so long we can’t even begin to grasp its magnitude but here, suddenly, was evidence that all those fibreglass models, all those skeleton-studded slabs of rock concealed in display cases, were real. It’s like the difference between seeing a tiger behind bars in a zoo and suddenly coming across one, live, in a jungle. Holding a tiny fragment of dinosaur tooth in the palm of my hand was like touching a world that last existed 70 million years ago. It did more than books, museums or Hollywood had ever done to bring dinosaurs alive for me. I was touching a piece of one of those ancient animals! Those little fragments belonged there, and were left. Transported back to the ‘real world’ they would have just looked like dirt. But what a memory!

The next part of our journey took us south and west, though the vast rolling green plains that had been home to the bison and were now farmland. We drove down past Calgary and on to the Porcupine Hills
The Porcupine HillsThe Porcupine HillsThe Porcupine Hills

Brown Creek Ranch
where, 30 km up a dirt track, we turned in through the wooden gates of Brown Creek Ranch.

Day 5. Round 'em up, eat 'em up!

This morning we wandered up from our lovely wooden cabin to have breakfast with our host, Shaunere, in the main farmhouse. Her husband Brian had left at six, with his saddle and trusty steed, to help a neighbour with some cattle work and the kids were already off to school. We had the luxury of time to relax, eat the delicious home-made breakfast, and learn a little about the ranch and its animals.

The first thing to catch my eye was the flowerbed - or rather the slightly unusual ornaments in it. They looked remarkably like bison skulls. Yes, confirmed Shaunere, they were. The children sometimes spotted them washing out of the river banks. Amazing! Here was another piece of history - or is it pre-history? - so close it could almost slap you in the face. Like finding wolf or bear bones on a riverside ramble in Shropshire.

After a muffin too many (they were home-made, would be rude to refuse…) we set off to stroll across
Life on the open rangeLife on the open rangeLife on the open range

This is cattle country
the hillsides and admire the views. And livestock. Gorgeous great Angus cattle - Alberta really prides itself on good beef - grazing on land the family had made great effort to restore, after years of over-grazing under previous ownership. It was fascinating to learn how close the wildlife came to this area - coyotes trotting across the fields, a beaver trying to dam the river, deer bouncing effortlessly across fencelines and even a pack of wolves heard howling in the nearby forest. It looked like friendly rolling hills to us, but clearly the wild animals felt much the same way about the place.

Yee ha! My special experience, something I’d been looking forward to for months, was about to happen. A horse ride! Out on the range, admiring the scenery, checking a fence, watching the world drift by. Well that’s what I’d expected. I thought I would be on one of those organised rides, strung out in line with some tourists, watching the swishing tail on the horse’s bottom in front. I hadn’t read the small print, the bit where it said all riding was done as part of the ranch’s normal working day.

Brian appeared at the
Brown Creek RanchBrown Creek RanchBrown Creek Ranch

Our luxury cabin - built by Brian from wood he cut himself!
yard and started saddling up two horses. I wandered over and said ‘hi’, wondering if anyone was going to ask me how much riding experience I had, so I could say I wasn’t really that good and get put on the slowest horse. (Unfortunately it appears that somebody had already told them that I had once done cattle mustering in Australia. That was 100 years ago!) Well the horse seemed docile enough, though incredibly large. “How’s that?” asked Brian, handing me the reins. I looked around for a box or large stepladder to help me mount. Then realised I was supposed to hoick myself up into the saddle unaided. This was after all a Western saddle. I grabbed the pommel and pulled, swinging a leg over with what I hoped looked like confident ease. “How are the stirrups?” he asked. ‘Fine, I think. I’ve never actually ridden in a Western saddle before.’ I slight frown crossed his brow. “Well the stirrups look rather short to me” he said and proceeded to lengthen them so much I effectively had to stand up to reach them!

We set off. Across the road at a leisurely plod, we were going to check the red Angus cattle. Having established that they looked fine, we headed back and into a field where a very large black bull stood eyeing us. “They fight across the fenceline” Brian explained and proceeded to ride straight at the bull. The beast put his head down and snorted, pawed the ground and looked menacing, very menacing. I hung back! The bull turned and started to trot towards the edge of a very, very steep slope. “Not that way” Brian muttered and charged off as the animal headed off down what, for the sake of some scrubby bushes and wiry grass, could be considered a gentle cliff. My host launched straight after it! I sat there as my horse started to fidget, wondering why he’d been left and why, oh why, wasn’t he hurtling down the side of the precipice also? With some nervous persuasion I managed to get him to go round the hill and down the easy slope, where we were all happily reunited.

Next we started alongside the river, looking for the black Angus. The Albertan concept of a field is slightly different from that of the British. It easily includes a river, two hillsides and
All ready to goAll ready to goAll ready to go

Off for a gentle ride...
a small wood; and here, down by the river, some dense bush through which we were about to ride. “Just push the branches out the way” said Brian as he plunged into the thicket. It was amazing! Having survived nearly being wiped off the saddle by the springy limbs, I emerged to discover we were about to wade through the river, then climb the bank on the opposite side. Well that must be the exciting bit over, I thought as we came out onto a pleasant grassy hillside and the cattle head count was finished. “We’ll move them up away from the river now” said Brian, explaining that the hooves damage the riverbank area.

So there I was, down by the river, with a few hundred cattle and a field the size of Wimbledon (with hills and gullies for scenic variety) and all I had to do was get the cattle to move a mile or so, away from their favoured habitat, and over to the water source in the next valley. Easy! I realised how I had softened since my days in Australia. Each time I came across a calf suckling off its mother I couldn’t bear to
At the cattle competitionAt the cattle competitionAt the cattle competition

Chancey blowdrying his cow!
disturb them, and went on to find some other cows to shift. I think perhaps I was just too nice. And my horse, who didn’t seem to think I was worth breaking into a canter for, just shook me around at a bouncy trot. ‘Do you just sit here and bounce?’ I asked Brian at one point as he passed effortlessly by at a gallop. Once again a slight frown played across his brow. “No you can rise at the trot.” Poor bloke. He had already said how good the riders who visited from the UK were. I was really letting the side down!

We emerged onto a vast grassy hillside, the cattle flowing before us like… well like a stand of trees really. You wouldn’t notice much movement unless you watched with time-lapse cameras. I was encouraged to be a little louder with the cows, stir them on a bit. Quite different from the rangy red Herefords in Aus. -they’d have had a heart attack if I’d shouted. I tried… Eventually they all started flowing upward and over the shoulder of the hill and it was time for us - saddle worn and weary (though Brian looked like
Outfitters in ClaresholmOutfitters in ClaresholmOutfitters in Claresholm

Somebody need a saddle?
he’d just started his day ) - to head back down for dinner.

Brian asked about farming practices in Britain and whether lots of folk ride. His kids had started riding as soon as they could walk. I explained that the gymkhana scene was somewhat different from this sort of riding and some English ponies had probably never gone in a straight line for more than 50 metres. He asked where I was from in England. ‘Somerset’ I said. It turned out that his family had come out from Somerset too, though he’d never been over there. “There are lots of lanes in Somerset, aren’t there?” he asked. I hesitated, confused by such an obvious question from someone who knew so much about the land. “Uh, yes. Lots.” My brain started whirring. I had assumed the family name was ‘Brown’ - but as I thought harder, it occurred to me that it was Brown Creek Ranch, possibly not Brown family ranch. I suddenly realised it’s the Lane family he’s on about, not the little roads!

We arrived back for an absolutely splendid meal - barbequed steak. Not your average barbie, this! The meat was tender, sweet, juicy. It’s
Buffalo Jump CentreBuffalo Jump CentreBuffalo Jump Centre

A picture paints a thousand words
the only meal I’ve ever eaten where I’ve consumed the whole lump of meat before even bothering with the veg. We were a little confused by the fruit salad on the table, until we realised it was the accompaniment for the beef, and totally awed by the whole thing. The children were lovely and, on their return from town, had bought Monkey a little cowboy hat! She loved it.

Day 6. To catch a bison, to ride a carriage

I was truly sorry to leave Brown Creek Ranch. It has been a serene and tranquil place. Even Monkey slept right through the night for the first time. The whole visit was like being with family friends rather than paying customers, and the relaxation better than any spa treatment. It really was an escape from the “real” world. I wish we’d been around later in the month when the Pincher Creek Cowboy Poetry weekend and ranch rodeo was taking place, I really do.

We popped down to Claresholm before leaving the area, to watch the boys of the family in a 4H steer competition. Animals they had selected as calves were being shown and the lads’ husbandry
Buffalo JumpBuffalo JumpBuffalo Jump

These are real bison (mounted) at the interpretive centre
skills tested. We caught up with the younger son washing and blow-drying his steer (young bull that no longer has all his equipment) before heading down into town to visit the outfitters, in search of a cowboy hat. Monkey had her eye set on a saddle, but at $2700 we weren’t persuaded she really needed one yet.

Another world awaited though, this one now a part of history. We drove south to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. The original inhabitants of North America had hunted the vast bison (buffalo) of the plains with nothing more than wooden sticks and stone speartips. They were brave, but also ingenious. Finding places where the land dropped suddenly over a sheer cliff, they would herd then stampede bison towards the jump, collecting the remains of the animals from below to use in all manner of ways.

The weather was atrocious and Monkey was unreasonably irritable. However the interpretation centre was amazing and even with one eye on a toddler trying to climb into the displays with the stuffed wolf and bison, I managed to learn a lot about the history and culture of the plains people.
Buffalo JumpBuffalo JumpBuffalo Jump

Dogs were used as pack animals. Where does it say keep out of the exhibits?
Bison provided not just food, but skins for the teepees, for clothing, even for cooking vessels in which stews were made and fat rendered down. And the ceremonies that went with the hunts were sophisticated and meaningful. Whist we in Europe were domesticating dogs to hang around and do a bit of guarding, the natives of this region were using them to pull sledges and carry provisions!

I walked outside with Jeannine, our local Albertan guide, and along the path to the foot of the buffalo jump. Archeological excavation has revealed that the pile of bison bones is many feet deep beneath the cliff, and dark patches of grass out on the plain show the location of ancient butchering sites. Jeannine suddenly crouched down, picked up a sliver of stone and said “you can see shards of bone lying around.” I was sceptical. It just looked like imported gravel to me. However closer inspection began to reveal some odd shaped stones. Using a technique I’d learnt on Pat’s tour in Drumheller (put a bone to your tongue and if it sticks, its recent, if it doesn’t, it’s become mineralised - and is a fossil) I touched a piece of

Near Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
pointy stone to my tongue. It stuck! Oh my, this really was bison bone! Well it was bone, I and I was going to assume that not many other creatures would be gratuitously throwing themselves over the cliff. (Of course it could have been bones from an abattoir selling off cheap path surface, but I’m happy to believe it was the real thing.)

With a quick look through the rain at some impressive teepees across the road we headed on south. (At dinner that night I was chatting to some English retirees on a grand tour of Alaska, Canada and the northern US. They said that Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump had been the highlight of the whole tour.)

At Cardston we were going to turn west when a sign for Remington Carriage Museum caught our eye. Worth a quick look…The Centre was closing within the hour but kindly let us in and allowed us to wander through the halls of carriages. Two things really impressed me: the photos they had dug up from all over North America, showing streets full of carriages and mountain passes carrying vast bullock trains. Putting the seemingly flimsy vehicles before
Remington Carriage MuseumRemington Carriage MuseumRemington Carriage Museum

Jackie Chan sat here
us into context was great. The second thing was the “library”. We walked into a vast room and there were carriages, stacked three storeys high on shelves! It was amazing. North America’s largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles indeed. Sadly we were too late in the day for the wagon ride outside, but we got to sit in a real carriage (used in the Jackie Chan film Shanghai Noon). And Monkey delighted in watching a three minute video on how to steer a carriage (even though the first two minutes were devoted to how to hold the reins in your hand! - reins were very thoughtfully provided, as was a sprung seat for the virtual journey.)

Within minutes of leaving Cardston the Rocky Mountains were looming in front of us. We’d be sleeping there tonight! The road cruised across the rolling grassy plains then suddenly plunged headlong into the embrace of the mountains. Beautiful lake to our left, towering snow-capped peak to our right. This place is amazing.

Day 7. Deer on the garden, ice on the lake

Between our hotel room and the lake shore is a soft grassy lawn across which, this morning,

White tailed deer on the lawn
some deer were nonchalantly grazing. White tailed deer I think, looking just like Bambi and presenting irresistible appeal for Monkey.

We set off from the little town of Waterton to explore the sights of Waterton Lakes National Park. Heading for Red Rock Canyon we emerged into open meadows with breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains all around. I’d hardly even heard of Waterton before leaving home and now wanted to come back and spend a whole holiday here! The road wound up the Blakiston Valley, vast river in the valley floor, forest and high mountainsides all around. I couldn’t believe the wildlife wasn’t jumping out around every bend.

It wasn’t until the canyon that we saw our first new animal - a bighorn sheep! A young one so its horns hadn’t yet formed the famed spirals of the species. It seemed to lead us as we walked the path above the canyon walls. It really was red, and the layers in the rock were so clear I was almost tempted to take up geology there and then.

We picked a scenic spot for lunch - out on deck of the M.V. International as it took us on a cruise down Upper Waterton Lake and over into the USA. Not somewhere I’d planned to go, but when the scenery was this stunning I couldn’t resist. Mountains all around, softened a little by the cloud but still magnificent. We disembarked for about 30 minutes at Goat Haunt on the US side of the lake. If there’s one phrase I think encompasses the experience it’s “enveloping tranquillity”. Not a road nor vehicle anywhere around. Just a bunch of happy tourists wandering along the lake shore, the boat rocking idly at the jetty and the mountains and forest all around. Peace.

Returning to dry land we decided to drive up to Cameron Lake. Our thought had been to maybe hire a canoe on the lake for an hour (until we arrived and discovered it was still frozen!). The road up was beautiful, winding through native coniferous forest and providing home to deer, birds and bears. Definitely bears. We saw one, a cinnamon brown cub (though it was a black bear) munching grass contentedly by the roadside. We pulled over for photos (didn’t even consider getting out of the car) and were soon joined by other delighted motorists getting such a great view of a fluffy bear.

By the time we reached Cameron Lake the weather had cleared a little and the sun shone through onto the snowy peaks at the far end of the lake. The reflections (between the ice sheets) in the still lake water were beautiful. There was plenty of wildlife to amuse Monkey too.


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