IN JULY 2007, RON AND I SET OUT ON our sixth summer of RV travel with our Dodge Islander 19-foot mobile home. Typically, we travel from Victoria and explore our home province but that summer found us spending some of our time in southern Alberta.
Leaving BC for SW Alberta
After our usual route from home, via #3, where we revisit several of our favourite spots in BC like Midway (where we like to canoe the Kettle River) we cross the border from Sparwood at Crowsnest Pass into Alberta. Here the highway cuts Island Lake in two and we note the hillsides at Blairmore, still bald and black from the Lost Creek fire in 2003.
As in prior visits to this area, we fight the wind with our unwieldy top-heavy RV unit. Ever since our first trip along this route when we noticed the wind turbines, I?m fascinated with the massive white three-armed fans regally spinning in the air that dot the landscape in this area of Southwest Alberta.
Pincher Creek ? Waterton National Park
Pincher Creek, located at the junction of Highway #3 and #6 (the latter leading southward to Waterton Lakes National Park) is our first stopover destination. We choose the Sleepy Hollow Campground where we stayed in early June, 2002 (when it snowed). This time, it?s the opposite extreme, a clear sky and a blistering hot day. We did laundry that night and menu planned for our grocery purchases to match the three or four days we planned to stay at Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada.
We suspect that in mid-July calling ahead for a site is prudent; there is no reservation system. The park is a popular destination vacation spot for Albertans.
The following day, we are on the road by 7:30 a.m. travelling in that early light before the sun shines on the hills and fields. From Pincher Creek, stark, balding, spiked Rocky Mountain Foothills are in view. I yearn for the beauty of the mountain ranges of BC, citing Alberta scenery wanting. Ron disagrees ?Alberta has a beauty of its own,? says he. There is a lingering of snow patches and slivers of snow in narrow ribbons on the abraded rock face. Wide expanses of hay land, cattle and ranches line the winding road.
Waterton is 25 kms south of Pincher Creek, a 40-minute drive without stops. Stop though we must, to accommodate my fiendish desire to photograph what is new travel territory to us.
Just outside the park boundary, we come across Waterton Springs KOA Campground and the Buffalo Paddock, the latter targeted for viewing later. It?s about 50 kilometres further to the town of Waterton and the campground, centrally located, with access to the hiking trails for which Waterton is well-known.
An entry fee of $45 per person is charged to enter the park. We barely overcome that shock when we learn of the campsite fee levy of $35 per night. We are used to paying less for our stopovers, but this is a special area we?ve come to visit.
Upon our arrival, we are placed on a wait list for a spot as campers check out for the day.
Instead of waiting at the camp gates for a space in the grounds, we drive to Red Rock Canyon, about 15 kilometres away along the Red Rock Parkway through the Blakiston Valley. This access road is narrow, bumpy and winding the entire distance. The RV sways at the turnings along the uneven pavement. This is a well-travelled tourist route, we think.
The canyon, through which Blakiston Creek flows, is framed by deep gorges of red stone. A short walk along a fenced route leads to a glimpse of a small waterfall. We are two of many other visitors on this route on such a hot day. Some tourists actually climb down to the water and cool themselves amidst the rocks.
When we return to the campground, we are allowed entry. The campground has few trees, thus our shade comes only from our RV awning, extended immediately upon set up. The campsite is quiet with many families in big and modest size units. We notice many rental units of varying sizes on the highways and in RV resorts such as this.
Gophers and chipmunks amuse us. Deer, mature and young ones, wander throughout the campground and town site. It?s not unusual for deer to nibble on bushes outside a coffee shop or the local post office. Those deer lounge everywhere and anywhere. We ask other campers about bears; rumours circulate that a bear was sighted the day before on one of the trails in the park. With this news, we are intimidated about walking the wilderness trails hereabouts.
I am reading one book after another and leave my completed books by authors such as Devereaux and Segal, in the ladies washroom and they disappear to augment someone else?s summer reading. One evening, while reading inside the RV after dinner, I discern some ?munching? going on outside the doorway. Two deer attacked the green grass shoots, not bothered at all by RV units, children and adults.
Here at Waterton, an alternative to open-pit fires for cooking is in place. There are several huts with wood burning stoves. We cooked a complete chicken dinner with vegetables, all in tin foil package on one of these stoves. We had to provide our own firewood though or purchase a bundle for $8. Picnic tables allow campers to eat right there, from stove to table ? what a concept and out of the sun.
Earlier, a family of goats wandered through camp; one was particularly mangy, as if its winter coat had not yet fallen off.
We take advantage of the cooler, cloudy start to one of the days and bike the town. There are few hills to impede me here! We stumble upon the boat marina where the Shoreline Cruise vessels depart several times a day for an open-air ride down the lake to Goat Haunt Park, in Montana. As an escape from the heat, we take the cruise and with a guide onboard we learn the history of this International Peace Park, established in 1932 and later in 1995, designated a World Heritage Site. We cross into Montana, noting the cutline through the timber and the Canada-US border markers on both sides of the lake.
A Day Drive to Cameron Lake
Another day, by 10:30 a.m., to beat the heat we are off to Cameron Lake 16 kilometres away. The three mountain peaks surrounding the one and a half kilometre long lake are snow patched even at this time of year. We rent a canoe at $25 per hour. For lunch we row to shore and sit under a hanging glacier of snow, letting it drip on us. It?s times like this, that we count our blessings: being outdoors surrounded by nature?s beauty and free of care.
After our canoe ride, we walk only a short while along the shoreline-walking trail, inhibited by news that the day before, a mother and two cub bears were sighted in this very area. Oh joy!
Reluctantly, we leave Cameron Lake and the respite from the heat, and head back to Waterton. Along the ditches beside the roadway, there are many flowers worth a photo stop: notably Indian Paint Brush, White Orchids, Asters, Sunflowers and Daisies. According to the visitors? guide, about 55 per cent of Alberta?s total wildflower species are found within the park?s boundaries.
Westward to Cardston
After a three-day stay, we leave this area, but not before we backtrack from the park boundary to the buffalo paddock where we drive the perimeter road around the grazing land where the bison roam. The paddock features a small herd of plains bison, maintained to commemorate the larger herds that once roamed freely in this area. These mammals are massive, bulky and cumbersome in their movements. Their broad shoulders support an out of proportion, small head. To take photos, I break the rules about not leaving the car. The bison are unperturbed. It?s likely too much effort for them to rise from their hulk from a prone position.
From there, along #5 to Cardston, rolling, sprawling, undulating hills frame the highway, large rolled-up hay bales dot the landscape. With the sunlight, the endless horizon and the dried hay bales more photo opportunities abound.
Cardston was the highlight of the day?s travel with a stop at the Remington Carriage Museum. The splendid artifacts of an era of transportation long past, the excellent guided tour through the building and our interface with the educational videos and the displays, all added up to a delightful tourist experience. I?m not of a farm background, thus the authentic wagons, carts, sleighs, and carriages on display provided insight about farm life. It was worth the stopover and the senior?s admission of $9.
Onward to Milk River with an Unexpected Stop at Warner
A turn off from Highway #4 leads us to Warner where a small, local museum promotes a nearby dinosaur site, the Devil?s Coulee. We travel a graveled dusty road for 25 kilometres that leads through wide expanses of ranch land and empty tracts of land.
Once there, our youthful enthusiastic paleontology guide, wearing only rubber thongs on her feet, scampers and climbs over the rocks, down the rubble paths leading us to signage explaining this unique find. We, of course, are wearing sturdy walking shoes and even so clamoring over the rock faces is not easy.
Over 20 years ago, 19-year old Wendy Sloboda, found small fossil fragments on this Milk River Ridge. Suspecting the rock formations here may be a dinosaur field, she sent samples to the University of Calgary. Dr. Len Hills confirmed her suspicions and notified the Tyrell Museum (Drumheller). Since then limited identification of dinosaur baby eggs, poop, and even a hipbone and shells have been documented.
Sun and wind works further to expose what lies beneath the grey masses of silkstone. Staff from the Warner Museum continues to search for new exposures of dinosaur pieces. All findings are fragile and protected from removal from the site.
By the time we return to the museum it is late in the day, a visit to the pub next door affords a refreshing beer before we drive on to our next stopping place for the night ? Milk River.
We Reach our Ultimate Destination ? Writing on Stone
From Milk River, it?s about 40 kilometres to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park along an open flat road sided by large farms; it?s yet another hot day but a gentle wind at the park makes the 36?C degrees easier to tolerate.
We commit to a free-guided tour to see the ?rock art? on the sandstone hoodoo formations. The information centre gives a good description of this heritage-protected sacred site of the Black-feet. Around camp, we are permitted to walk freely between and on the sand structures and using a guidebook, find for ourselves some of the engraved petroglyphs not dissimilar to the ?rock art? shown on the guided tour.
We realize too, that what we see is not what others see and not what the tour guide interprets for us from the ?rock art? formations. We are in awe when we realize how old these drawings might be and the stories the art tells makes this an easily learned history lesson.
From the evening interpretive program, we learn that rattlesnakes roam freely here and temperatures amidst the hoodoo can reach 40?C on a summer day.
Milk River to Taber via Route #36
On the road again, we retrace our route to Milk River and then travel #36 northward. It?s windy but we take the opportunity to veer off the highway to poke around in the adjacent communities. At Wrentham, a small settlement off the highway, the street names are rather curious but self-explanatory: Curling Street and Golf Street. In the town is a community centre, two grain elevators, one of which is in a decrepit state, on the other elevator the village name is barely discernible. The surrounding area supports huge farms with crops ripening into yellow canola.
About 26 kilometres south of Taber, we come upon a superstructure bridge over Chin Lake. The multicolored green-blue lake attracts boaters and fishers. How I wanted to be one of the campers at this spot, but we needed to travel on to our next scheduled spots in Vulcan, Calgary and Edmonton to visit family.
Next stop, Taber dubbed the ?Corn Capital of Canada?. During corn harvest season, Taber ?corn trucks? park in shopping malls and along the roadsides, selling delicious varieties of corn on the cob, namely yellow sweet corn and peaches-cream corn. I ate my fill of fresh corn the rest of my stay in Alberta.
Taber hosts an 80-site municipal campground located alongside the Oldman River where I indulged in donning my swim-suit and floating with the current downriver. The campground was under renovation with nice upgrades to showers and flush toilets.
From Taber we traveled to Calgary and visited Heritage Park Historical Village. The park features a frontier town restoration complete with chuckwagon rides and a train ride within the park. This 1860-1914s western theme park is 66 acres hosting lots of buildings to browse and store fronts to examine.
Edmonton is our last stop, where we visit our family, including two sweet granddaughters, and thus ends our Alberta tour.
We travel the balance of our 5,000-kilometre vacation along Highway #16 and the Yellowhead Highway to reach home in Victoria by Labour Day. We were on the road about seven weeks; it was a fine summer junket.
Our future RV trips will surely include additional arterial roadway explorations in Alberta. Summer 2007 provided a glimpse of what the province can offer a traveller.