After our lovely stay in Waterton, we headed west and then east. Our first destination was the Crowsnest Pass, mis-spoken as Crowfoot Pass (Dave) or Crowsneck Past (me). “Past” is apt, though, as there is a lot of history here!
Our first stop ended up being unplanned, when we decided to check out Lundbreck Falls, conveniently accessible just off the highway near the junction of the Cowboy Trail and the Crowsnest Highway. There’s also a provincial recreation area and campground which looked like a great spot to stay at.
Further west, the highway is dotted with communities making up the municipality of Crowsnest Pass: Hillcrest, Bellevue, Frank, Blairmore, and Coleman. Our first destination was Blairmore, the commercial centre of the area, for lunch at Stone’s Throw Cafe. We settled at a window table with a chai latte and a pumpkin spice latte, enjoying the view and feel of a small mountain town. Our lunch consisted of veggie and cheese wraps and Thai chicken soup, which hit the spot!
Crowsnest Pass is also full of former mining towns, none more famous than Frank. In the wee hours of April 29, 1903, the north face of Turtle Mountain broke away, burying the eastern edge of town, the CP rail line, the river, and the coal mine in 90 million tons of limestone. Frank Slide is regarded as the most catastrophic rock slide in Canadian history. The site is largely untouched aside from being cleared for the highway, a rail line, and the river, although the mountain is continually monitored for signs of instability under the belief that the south face is likely to collapse at some point in the future.
We were impressed with our visit to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, where we learned about the geology and history of the area, the factors leading to the slide, and the actions underway to minimize the fallout from a future slide.
Our next stop was in Bellevue, where we took a coal mine tour.
This mine opened just after the Frank Slide event, and closed in 1961. Our tour covered 300m into the mine – just 1% of the original mine tunnels; most are now flooded. Even at that short distance and depth, it was cold and dank, but at least the 50s-era headlamps powered by Wii-sized battery packs were a major improvement from the gas lamps miners would have used originally.
I couldn’t imagine spending all day down there!
We drove to Calgary that afternoon, stopping in Okotoks to pick up sushi rolls from the always-delicious Yokozuna, to share with some close friends while we played fun games of Boss Monster and Wrong Chemistry.
The next morning, we headed to Lethbridge. Alberta’s fourth largest city is built around the Oldman River valley, which is steeper, narrower, hillier, and grassier than Edmonton’s densely treed North Saskatchewan River valley. The highway in to Lethbridge from the west enters the city through the valley, giving it a very dramatic feel. Our High Level Bridge also has nothing on theirs – theirs is the longest steel trestle bridge in the world at over 1.6km long and almost 100m high. It is an impressive sight!
We went for lunch with some coworkers of mine (we are all remotes) that afternoon, walked around downtown, then took the short drive to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is another place filled with history and the knowledge amassed by generations of local aboriginal tribes is amazing. Can you imagine killing a beast like a bison with little more than animal skins, trees, and rocks, let alone an entire herd of them? The interpretive centre is a great testament to these people and their way of life.
Lethbridge has a large Japanese population, so we’d be crazy not to go for sushi! The food at Lighthouse was well-prepared and delicious. After dinner we went to try to take bridge photos before the sun set, but we didn’t find a good vantage point in time. We set out the next morning with a location in mind, and enjoyed a walk through the scrub. It’s a different place, all right – there are little cacti around, we saw (and heard) a bald eagle high above the valley, and we disturbed a bullsnake enjoying the sun (another case where everyone was startled!). He fled to the grass, although we met up again on our way back.
Dave and I have a tradition with our aforementioned Calgarian friends, dubbed “Bluegrass Weekend,” in which we spend a weekend together sightseeing in southern Alberta, listening to bluegrass music. Bluegrass Weekend 2014 went to the birds!
We met up with our friends at the hotel, and then made our way to nearby Coaldale, home of the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation. We got mobbed at the duck pond, picked up a few a few poor birds (pictured above), enjoyed a Bald Eagle demonstration, and I got to play perch for a Great Horned Owl!
There were even birds hanging around in the gift shop, a trio of Barn Owls, a Merlin, and a Burrowing Owl.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner that evening at Rics Grill in the Lethbridge Water Tower.
After dinner, we made another trip to try and get sunset shots of the bridge, and lucked out to arrive the same time as a train!
The next morning at the hotel, we couldn’t say no to an included breakfast, nor could we resist the allure of popular pancake printer! Watch the video below to behold the glory of the pancake printer in action (not our video):
We stopped in Calgary briefly for a couple of Sumo dogs at Tubby Dog (complete with “wasabi bombs”), then made our way back home.
We were only gone for a week, but we did so many awesome things that it felt like a much longer trip. We definitely want to further explore many of the places we visited! I’m not sure when exactly we can make it back, but we will return.