THE EDMONTON TOURIST’S PRAIRIE ADVENTURE PART 2: Lethbridge

Part 1 

Road trips have become my most favourite way to travel. I love getting to the destination but exploring on the way is part of the fun for me. I never used to be this way. I preferred to get there in a hurry, so I didn’t waste any vacation days. I never saw the trip as part of the vacation. Now I do, and some of my most memorable adventures happened unplanned and by accident. That is how I saw Vimy Ridge, we tripped over it, so we went to see it. It was the single most amazing place I have ever visited. All because we accidentallyVimy drove by.

 

Having never been to this part of the province, I was eager to see new things. To the south of us, we saw a massive rock. I assumed it was a mountain but it was not anywhere near the Rocky Mountain Range. We were perplexed. Turns out it was a butte in Montana. MONTANA! It was 100km away from where we were. I had no idea you could see that far in the distance. I often joked we could see dolphins jumping in the Gulf of Mexico because it was so flat, but knew it wasn’t possible. I saw Montana from the vantage point of Taber Alberta. Cool.

Rolling into Lethbridge we went to the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Closed for the season but I peeked over the fence.

While looking through the fence, I thought about my Grandfather. During World War II he was here guarding prisoners of war, Japanese, Germans and Italians. I thought about the internment camps located here and in Medicine Hat. I didn’t research to see if there was anything left, but I did find this information when I came home. I am surprised to see the stories my grandfather told me are in line with what I read. If you knew my Grandpa’s gift for storytelling, you would also be surprised they match!

We left the gardens and made our way to Indian War Park at Fort Woop-Up. It has been years since I have heard First Nations People be referred to Indians. It left me feeling cold.

However, the park is wonderful! It is located in the coulees on the shores of Oldman River. The Lethbridge Viaduct was built by Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR steel trestle is 5,331 ft. (1,624 m) long; 314′ (95.7 m) high; 12 trains a day still cross it.

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After leaving Indian War Park I had a little time left to visit Popson Park. It is a beautiful spot along the coulees and Oldman River located to the south of Lethbridge.

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Sunset over the prairies at 4:00 pm in the middle of January. We saw a Pheasant and his hens take off across from these two beauties:

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They watched us carefully and didn’t move. We stared at each other for a few minutes before I moved on.

The prairies are a beautiful place for a short visit. I recommend taking the time to stop and look before you drive on through to your destination.

 

The Edmonton Tourist’s Prairie Adventure Part 1: Medicine Hat

When I was a kid, my parents packed up my siblings and me for a road trip across the Canadian Prairies: Destination Washington DC. We drove across Canada to Toronto, Hamilton and Niagra Falls, then south to DC for the United States of America’s bicentennial celebration in 1976.

I was 9, and I remember Arlington Cemetary, the White House, the Liberty Bell was in DC for the celebration, all the fire hydrants were painted like Uncle Sam (I always thought Uncle Sam was Sam the Eagle from the Muppets), and the Lincoln Monument. I remember the traffic of DC, New York and Chicago. I remember the spray of the Niagra Falls, eating fish and chips at Hutches on the beach of Lake Ontario. I remember understanding the vastness of Lake Superior. The Canadian shield brought back memories of living in Yellowknife, NWT and I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The trip from Edmonton to Winnipeg was flat and what I called boring. Nothing to see except count the red barns that grandpa asked me to. For every red barn I saw, I would get 10 cents, paid in full upon my return. I think I saw 15.

I remember endless fields of grain and blue sky.

Nothing to look at because I liked looking at mountains. I’d rather travel west than east. I knew for certain the Rocky Mountains were the best in the world because I had witnessed it for myself.

Experience and perspective change a person.

I know understand that The Rocky Mountains are not trying to be the Cascade Mountains. Neither is better or worse. They are the best version of themselves.

The Canadian Prairies are not trying to be mountains. Prairies are flat and treeless. They are the birthplace of grain and other farm-grown goodness. They are the birthplace of endless sunsets and wide open sky that can be bluer than any other sky or filled with a billion stars and showcase the Aurora Borealis.

It took me a long time to stop being competitive with other places and love everything for what it is.

I now have a job where I get to travel to the southern parts of Alberta. Places I had not been before. I didn’t stock up on things to distract me from the drive, I made an effort to appreciate the scenery for what it was.

I drive to Calgary on a frequent basis,  medical reasons for family, for job-related trips and for a vacation side stop on my way to Banff. I always turn right. Last Friday I turned left for the first time in all my 50 years. I hopped on the Stony bypass and followed the signs to Medicine Hat, Alberta. The weather was crazy, +6C in Calgary and -13 in Brooks, an inversion layer made me think the sky was falling. The blue sky was endless and the fields were dotted with oil pumpjacks. Alberta is Oil Country after all. IMG_8467

Trees are a scarcity where you find farmland and sometimes its hard to see where the land ends and the sky begins.

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After work, I did some exploring and discovered the coulees lurking below the flats. They pour into the South Saskatchewan River. In Edmonton, we call it the valley, here it is the Coulees.

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Down in the coulees, you find trees and scrub. Beautiful too but all so different from what I experienced before.

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I was searching for the World’s largest Teepee. The Saamis Teepee was originally built for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Designer Steve Illes had the teepee painted “white for purity, red for the rising and setting sun, and blue for flowing waters”. It stood in Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, where it housed the Olympic Flame during the opening and closing ceremonies

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It was perched high above the river on the flats beside the Trans Canada Hwy.

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The wind was brutal and bit into my face. But I walked, read and learned about the plains people. Soon after we were back on the road heading west for Lethbridge. I am surprised I could not see how beautiful the prairies are when I was a kid. I am happy I can see it now. Next week I will post part 2 of my prairie adventure.

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