Special Sub-Topic: What I Did On My Holidays
|Every year, I make at least one trip to this, one of my favorite places. It's a National Park in the Rockies, west of Edmonton. The symbol of the park is a friendly bear, but personally I think it should be a bighorn sheep. You almost always will see these beautiful animals, either in the townsite, on the surrounding roads, or in one of the campgrounds. What park am I thinking of? |
Jasper. It was of course David Thompson, the tireless explorer of Canada's West, who made the first recorded European visit to the Jasper area, in 1810. By this time, Thompson had left the Hudson's Bay Company, and was working for their rivals, the NorthWest Company. The first trading post in the upper Athabasca valley was thus a NorthWest post, with the agent, Jasper Hawes, giving his name to "Jasper House". The area was established as a National Park in 1907.
Jasper is a little wilder and less 'touristy' than Banff, further south. You are less likely to be descended on by busloads of camera snappers, more interested in taking pictures than actually looking at the scenery they have come so far for. Bighorn sheep and elk are common - there is one corner of the highway just west of Pocahontas where you are almost sure to see sheep on the road, eight days out of ten.
|I make a point every year of attending this festival, in the North Saskatchewan River valley. It celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2005, and has had such famous guests as Taj Mahal, Elvis Costello, John Prine, Donovan, and many others. What festival am I thinking of?|
Edmonton Folk Fest. Edmonton's festival is known as one of the best in North America, with a beautiful site, and an experienced army of volunteers who keep things running (almost) like a well oiled clock.
I'm a big fan of the side sessions, which used to be known as workshops, during the day. In fact, I tend to spend the 'big name' main stage performances in the beer tent. I'd rather spend the day listening up close to a new-to-me artist, and leave the big concerts of songs I've heard before as background music. That's the nice thing about festivals, to my mind - we all experience them in our own way.
|West of Calgary, where the prairies meet the mountains, is traditional ranch country. Some of the ranches around the little towns like Black Diamond, Turner Valley, and Longview have been in the same family for more than a hundred years. West of these foothills, and east of Banff National Park, there is a mix of provincial parks and recreation areas known as what?|
Kananaskis Country. Kananaskis Country is a multi use area - most of the wilderness is protected, but not to the level of a national park. This means that commercial development is allowed to a certain extent, as is ranching, and some timber and oilfield harvesting.
|There's a large lake in the northern half of the province, with beautiful sandy beaches (unusual for Alberta) all along the southern shore. For many years this lake was the site of the Joussard Folk Festival, known as the North Country Fair. What lake am I thinking of?|
Lesser Slave Lake. I remember the first time I camped on the shores of this lake - we were on the north shore, and the moss was so thick your feet sank into it up to the ankles. We were bush camping, outside of a recognized campground, but after my boyfriend ran into a bear while walking from the tent to the lake (about fifty feet) we decided to come in and camp in a campground!
The beaches on the south shore were a great place to take the kids when they were little - shallow warm water, and firm clean sand as far as the eye could see.
|Sometimes I just want to put on my bathing suit, and visit Miette, in Alberta, or slip over the border to Liard River, BC in the north, or Radium, BC in the south. What is the attraction, that tempts me to display my ample charms in my hot pink swimsuit? |
Hot Springs. To be quite honest, although it is of course always pleasant to sit in a nice warm outside pool in the mountains, neither Radium nor Miette really gets me too excited. They are big concrete swimming pools, and, although I know that the water is heated naturally, the sensation is no different than if it came out of a big boiler. Liard River is quite different - it is much less built up, and in a much more natural setting. It's a long way north, but if you are planning on travelling the Alaska Highway, it's worth a look.
Back in the mid '80's, when they were building the 'new' pools at Miette, I worked at the motel where the workmen were staying. They had quite a bit of trouble pouring the concrete apparently - every morning when they got up there, they would find the tracks of mountain sheep in their fresh cement. Even today, if you feel around in the hot pool with your feet, you can find the occasional hoof print.
|I haven't visited this attraction since I was a child, but I always mean to get down to Calgary, every summer. I'm not really that big a rodeo fan, I guess, though there is plenty else to do besides watching the rodeo and the chuckwagon races. It says it is Canada's biggest outdoor event - it's been going since 1886, with the first rodeo in 1912. What event do I mean?|
Stampede & Calgary Stampede & The Stampede. You don't have to go to Calgary to see a rodeo in Alberta in the summer, though. Every town has its summer fair, and rodeo is always a big part of it. I've seen horses ridden down Main Street in my little town more than once, and it is not entirely unknown for a cowboy to ride his horse into the bar.
|I don't always go away in the summer - I usually spend some time around home, especially in berry season. Our best, and best known, prairie berry looks something like a blueberry, but is both tarter and sweeter than even a wild blueberry. It was used by First Nations people to make pemmican, and by settlers (and people like me!) for pie. What is this berry, which shares a name with a prairie city? |
Saskatoon. Wild Saskatoons are still very easy to find - you will see people picking along roadsides in mid to late July and early August. They grow on a shrub or small tree, and ripen in batches, so you can go back to the same berry patch several times over the course of the season.
Saskatoon pie is a traditional dish here - I learned how to tell a Saskatoon bush before I was old enough to go to school. My favorite patch is right in town, beside the ball diamond. I usually take about five gallons of berries out of it, over the course of a few weeks.
|One of the lesser known gems of this province is a provincial park in the far south, with a great collection of petroglyphs. What ARE petroglyphs, anyway?|
Rock carvings. Writing-on-Stone Park is on the Milk River, within sight of Montana's Sweetgrass Hills. You drive for miles across bare, treeless grassland to get there, but when you reach the river valley, you enter another world. The valley is packed with weird rock formations called hoodoos, formed by erosion. It has been a sacred site to the Blackfoot and Piegan people for thousands of years, and it's not hard to see why.
There are hundreds of Native rock carvings and paintings in the park; some may be thousands of years old. Most of them are now out of bounds to visitors, because of vandalism, but you can take a guided tour to see them. One large petroglyph can be visited on your own; you walk about a kilometre through the hoodoos to a large battle scene, several yards across.
This is a great park to take slightly older kids, say around 12. The paths through the hoodoos are fascinating, and the campground is set in the cottonwood-shaded bend of the river, with a nice small beach and a swift current for inner tube riding. Not to be missed, if you are in the neighbourhood.
|When the kids were little, we visited this town every summer. We'd camp a few miles outside of town, near the Bleriot Ferry, and drive past Horsethief Canyon to get to town. A stop at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology was essential, and long look through the fossil shops. It's a tacky kind of town, with giant dinosaurs everywhere, but it sure was near to a small boy's heart. What town am I thinking of?|
Drumheller. Dinosaurs, dinosaurs, everywhere - and when we got tired of that, we could go into a roadside attraction and hold tarantulas and boa constrictors in our bare hands. What could be better?
Well, for mom, it was getting up at dawn and walking with the dog through those strange dry hills that line the Red Deer River valley. If you ever want to study erosion, there is no better place than the badlands. Found a lot of coyote scat too, which always interested my spaniel mightily.
By the way, if the name "Bleriot" on the ferry sounds familiar, it should. Andre Bleriot, who started the ferry in 1913, was the brother of Louis Bleriot, the first man to fly the English Channel.
|Not far from Fort Macleod, in southern Alberta, you will find a place called Head-Smashed-In. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but what IS it?|
Buffalo jump. Back before there were horses or guns, the only way to kill large numbers of buffalo was to run them off a cliff. Head-Smashed-In has been used as a buffalo jump for more than 5000 years. There is an excellent interpretive centre, which brings the process vividly to life. Walking the cliff, I found myself struck by how much WORK was involved, in getting enough hides and meat for a village for the winter.
By the way, I always assumed that the name came from what happened to the buffalo, after they went over the cliff. Apparently not, though. It seems the place is named for a young boy who wanted to see the buffalo fall, so he waited down below when they were run over the edge. Bad idea.
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