Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alberta, Canada

Mon, June 4th - Wed, June 13th

We left Helena Monday morning heading north toward Great Falls.  This drive along the Missouri is one of the prettiest drives we have made anywhere.

This is at the Visitor Center just after we crossed into Canada.  This guy was trying to put a toy cow in the claw of the T-rex for a clever picture.  They have lots of dinosaur sites in Alberta.  The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology at Drumheller has 500 full skeletons of 40 different species.  Drumheller was east and we were heading west, so we didn't get to see them.

In the 1920s Lethbridge was known as "the wickedest city in the wickedest province in Canada".  This is High Level Bridge at Lethbridge built in 1909 to replace 20 wooden bridges.  It is the longest and highest trestle bridge in the world, 314 feet high and one mile and 47 feet long.

These gardens were put in by Molson Brewery in 1950, where they used to dump their coal ash.  They were given to the city in 1990 when the brewery closed.  The Visitor Center is now located at the top of the hill with a view of the bridge.

We hiked down into the Oldman River valley below the bridge.  Way down at the bottom is the reconstructed Fort Whoop-Up.  It was built by fur traders from the U.S. when the government made it illegal to trade whisky and firearms with the Native Americans.  There were several of these "whisky forts" causing a lot of problems for Canada and their First Nation's people.  They were the reason for the creation of the Northwest Mounted Police in 1874.  

They have many miles of beautiful trails in Lethbridge, now known as the "Irrigation Capitol of Alberta".  We walked around the Lake here at Henderson Park next to the golf course.  They held the 7th International Dry Farm Congress here in 1912, the largest gathering of agricultural experts, farmers, farm women and agriculture colleges in North America, over 5,000 delegates from 15 countries, including China and Persia.

Check out these really cool swings in the playground next to the lake.  I've never seen swings like these.  Looks like the kids are lovin' it.

This is the reconstructed Northwest Mounted Police fort at Fort MacLeod originally built on an island in the Oldman River in 1873 when the Mounties came to clear out Fort Whoop-Up.  It flooded six out of the nine years it was there and was finally moved to higher ground.  It is a very nice museum about the Mounties. They combined with the Dominion Police in 1920 and changed their name to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

This buffalo hide is in the museum at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a six level museum built into the sandstone cliffs to blend with the landscape.  On the hide is one picture of an important event from each year.  It is how the Aboriginal people kept a record of time.  The picture for 1774 portrays the big small pox scare when so may of them died.  The one for 1770 shows the year the berries stayed on the bushes all winter, showing there was global warming even back then.

From the top floor of the museum, we walked out along the cliffs where the natives built drive lanes out of piles of rocks and shrubs to guide the buffalo to the cliffs and then stampede them, so they would run head long over the cliffs.  Evidence shows they had been doing this for almost 6,000 years.

There are lots of hiking trails, so you can get a close-up look at where they piled up and where they have found lots of bones and butchering tools.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best preserved locations of a buffalo jump.

Our campground at Calgary.  John had told me they had a heated pool.  When we saw it, he said, "Well, it might be heated.  They didn't say how much water would be in it."  It didn't really matter.  The weather has been pretty cool, windy and rainy, not very inviting for swimming.

This is the Saddle Dome right next to the Calgary Stampede Stadium.  We didn't bring our car with on this trip, so we took the campground bus into town for the day.  We spent most of the day at the very nice Glenbow Art Museum.  Their current traveling exhibit was Charles Russell paintings, so that was nice.  They also had a huge exhibit of Budda statues and gods and goddesses from China, Japan, India, etc. that was very interesting.  The rest of the day we walked over to the Calgary Stampede area and nearby Fort Calgary on the west bank of the Elbow River at it's junction with the Bow River.

Back at the campground, we met a nice young man from Holland who was biking and tenting through Alberta with friends.  His friends weren't arriving until the next day or two, so we invited him to supper and to spend the night in our camper.  We had a very interesting visit with him learning about his country and his biking experiences.  He biked all by himself from Amsterdam through Europe, Iran, Pakistan and to India.

The next day we took him with us and went to the 1988 Winter Olympics Complex which was about a half mile from the campground.  This is the ski jumps.

This was Saturday, June 9th, and there was still a couple of big patches of snow left on the north side of the hills.  There was lots of construction going on, so we couldn't go to the top of the ski jumps.

But we were able to hike to the top of the bobsleigh/luge track.  It was built in 1986 at a cost of $18.8 million.  It is 1,475 meters long with a vertical drop of 118 meters.  It was one of the first to accomodate both the luge and the bobsleigh.  The XV Olympics Winter Games hosted three luge and two bobsleigh events.  Athletes can reach up to 120 km/hr in the luge and 130 km/hr in the bobsleigh.  You can take a ride down with a professional for $60.00.  The track is one of the most heavily used in the world today with 18,000 descents annually.

There are 14 curves and the strait-away from Omega corner leads into where athletes will reach over 125 km/hr for a four-man bobsleigh, experiencing G-force of approximately 4.5 times their own body weight. This is known as the Kriesel corner (German for "gyro").  The gyro turn is only on six tracks in the world.  It moves the sled between 270 and 320 degrees around the circumference of a circle.  We could see the skid marks way up on the sides.

It was on the exit from this corner that the Jamaican team had their spectacular crash in 1988 and walked away with a few scrapes and bruises.  Some of the Disney movie "Cool Runnings" was filmed here.

This is in the Bower Place Mall in Red Deer.  Hanging from the ceiling down each hallway were Old West scenes.  This one had bandits chasing the stagecoach.  Others showed Indians chasing and catching wild horses, herds of bison or cattle, covered wagons, etc.

Just a couple of interesting things we saw, as we walked downtown in Red Deer to go out for supper.  We had perogies and Ukraine sausages for lunch the next day at the Farmer's Market.  Perogies are sort of like a ravioli, a pasta dough filled with mashed potatoes, cheese, onions or cottage cheese or sauerkraut.  They remind me of something my German Aunt and Grandma used to make.

How many churches do you think have their own "cool ride" like this?

West Edmonton Mall, the biggest in the world with 800 stores.  This indoor water park was amazing.  There were three really tall, scary looking slides and a smaller one in front of it.  Behind this were several smaller slides and smaller pools.

At the opposite end were several other slides and smaller pools and surfing waves coming at the swimmers.

Right next to us, as we watched the people in the water park, the kids were harnessed into this four-story climbing place, having a great time.  They also had bumper boats and we watched a seal show.  They also had reptile shows and shark shows that we didn't stay for.

Another place we watched a demonstration of the Kangoo.  It's not a very good picture, but maybe you can make out the fancy shoes she has on.  They were jumping around like they were on a trampoline.  It said "bounce yourself skinny". It looked like fun.  I think the shoes cost about $300.00.

Then we walked through Galaxyland, which is the largest indoor amusement park in the world.  There were two roller coasters that intertwined with each other here.  The one on the yellow track had cars that spun around in circles as they traveled down the track winding back and forth with the one on the red track that you can see climbing up to the roof.  There were two or three other coasters and all kinds of rides that shot you up and dropped you back down or spun you around in crazy patterns.  I had all the fun I wanted just watching.

The guide book said the photo op at Sandugo was not to be missed.  A sundial that looks like a grain elevator.  So we stopped, but John said we got ripped.  I guess he wasn't that impressed.  They do seem to have a love affair going with their old elevators.  It's supposed to be one of the best farming areas in the world.  In one of the museums I saw a picture of a man who had the title of "King of Wheat" for several years back in the late 30s and early 40s.  The wheat was almost up to his shoulders.  One of the small towns here was named "Grain Capitol of the British Empire" in 1939 and held the title for ten years.

The Rochfort Bridge Trestle built in 1914 spanning the Paddle River was once the longest wooden rail bridge in Western Canada.

The Fallen Four Memorial Park at Mayerthorpe is a tribute to four RCMP "Mounties" who were killed in the line of duty in 2005.  They were guarding evidence and waiting for the land owner to return home.  It was supposed to be a drug and firearms bust.  Instead the guy ambushed them and killed them all.  It is four lifesize bronze statues around a 24 foot obelisk with an uprush of bronze doves.  There is also a park, walking trail, playground and building full of tributes to the Mounties.

Arriving at Grand Prairie, we got a campsite at the Rotary Campground with a view of the Visitor's Center.  On Monday night we took the bus tour around town given by the local Rotary Clubs.  They have four clubs in town and several high school clubs.  They took us in a school bus and showed us the highlights of their town, including golf courses and industries several miles outside town and a Shiner's special needs camp.

This is a view of Grand Prairie Regional College from our campground.  It was built in 1974 and was designed by a First Nation's member.  There are no 90 degree angles in the building and one side has the bricks laid intentionally kiltered to each other giving it an unusual look.  The sculptures on the grounds were all done by students.

Just across the walking bridge is a history museum of the area.  They had a school bus that looked like a wood fish house on skids that was pulled by horse.  This is a thrashing caboose with a six-man combo bunk house and cook house.  A lot of pioneers used this type of vehicle on skis to travel here in the winter and lived in them or used them to open a business when they got here.

Looks kind of cozy with three men in each bunk.  

On Tuesday night it happened to be $3.00 night at the theater and the show we have really been wanting to see was there so we went.  It was terrific and we both highly recommend it.  "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" starring Judi Dench.  It's about a bunch of old folks in England who can't afford to retire and find this cheap hotel in India, so they go there to retire.  It's really good!

Just a nice view of the Catholic Church across the park from our campground.  On Wednesdays the Rotary Club puts on a free BBQ for visitors at the Visitor Center, so we did the museum there and had lunch before we left town, heading to Dawson Creek on the British Columbia border.  Their Rotary Club sure does a great job of making visitors feel welcome.

This pachyrhinosaurus is in the museum at the Visitor's Center. They get up to 17 feet long and 7 feet high at the hips. In 1974 the largest fossil bed or bone bed in North America was discovered by a teacher in the Grand Prairie Area.  Digs were done in the 80s and they found many different sizes and ages of this rare species along with a half dozen other species.  They found 4,000 bones and think they may have traveled in herds of up to 1,000.  They found a 73 million year old skull in 2001, the second most intact one so far.  They think a whole herd of them may have drown in a flood-swollen stream while migrating, just like a herd of 10,000 caribou did in Northern Quebec in the 1960s, and were covered with mud and silt.  It is the largest bone bed of predominantly one species in the world.

The biggest beaver in the world, and I'm not talking about one of those Walmart pictures on the internet.  15 foot beaver perched on a 19 foot log at Beaverlodge, our last stop in Alberta before we get to British Columbia.  Lots of towns up here have some unusual or unique statue.

Greetings from up north,

Monday, June 4, 2012

Hiking Mount Helena

Mon, May 28th - Mon, June 4th
Yes, we are still here, but we can take a hint.  Oh wait, this little sign has been behind our RV since the day after we arrived and we  stayed another three and a half weeks.  Maybe we can't take a hint. 

Wednesday I hiked up Mount Helena with Carter and Logan (one of Hilary's day care kids) and Digger. I'm not sure who it was harder on, me or Digger with those short little legs of his.  This was our first stop at the Devil's Kitchen.  I sent the boys up for a picture, so I could have a minute to catch my breath.

I made it to the top in about an hour.  Of course, the boys and Digger were waiting at the top for me and Carter would have been there even faster, if he hadn't had the short legged companions with him.   I think the top is about 5,400 feet, about 1,400 feet higher than the city.         

A few minutes to enjoy the view and have a snack and we were headed down another trail to the bottom. 

"Are you coming, Grandma?  We haven't got all day."  It only took about forty minutes to get back down.  I can't believe I agreed to go up again the next day with Carter and his friend, Zack.

Unfortunately, my batteries died and I didn't get any pictures of our hike with Zack.  But after taking a day off, I hiked up there for a third time with just Carter and Digger.  We got caught in a rain storm just as we reached the top and got soaked hiking back down in the wind and rain, plus a little thunder and lightning.

These are various views along the way.  It's really beautiful and scenic here.  The views are incredible!  

The red-roofed buildings in the center of this picture are Carroll College where our son-in-law works.  They live just a few blocks west of the college and the old downtown is just to the east on Last Chance Gulch (street). 

This picture is a closer view of the old downtown area on Last Chance Gulch with the Cathedral just behind it.  In 1864 four miners were about to declare their prospecting expedition a failure.  One of them said "This is our last chance", as they sank a shaft at a nearby stream.  They named their new diggin's Last Chance Gulch. News of their strike leaked out and a lusty mining camp was born.  In 1874 it became the Capitol of Montana Territory.  To date the Gulch has produced 20 millions in placer gold.  The final clean-up has not been made.

Today we head north into Canada where we will have our phones turned off for the next couple weeks or so, since the roaming charges are outrageous.  We will try to check our e-mail every day or so, if we can find some WiFi to hook up to.  Our phones will be back on when we get into Alaska. 

"North to Alaska, goin' north, the rush is on."  Johnny Horton, one of John's favorites.  Hoping to see some northern lights while we are there. 

Over and out,