The past three weeks have been packed with music, biking, urban adventures, exploration, new friends, old friends, and the usual off-the-wall stuff – the essentials for what makes us want to keep on traveling. Yet we were feeling the need to chill just a bit, maybe take a hike. So we headed for Elk Island National Park which features lakes, wildlife, hiking, and a small campground. It’s famous for its bison conservation work. I’m not making this up.
Between the park and the weather, Elk Island was exactly what we needed.
Larry highly recommended we stop at the World Famous Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, AB, on the way out of Calgary. He said we’d like it, but he wouldn’t say why. Hmm. Well, Larry seems to understand us, and our sense of humor, so why not?
Calgary (rhymes with strawberry) is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, with a current population of 1.3 million. It’s a diverse city with 60% of the population of European descent and 36% ‘visible minority’ (non-white, non-aboriginal), the remainder being indigenous/aboriginal/First Nation. A former Olympic city, one of the largest in western Canada and a hub for the region’s agriculture, mining and oil activities, this should be an interesting place to explore.
We knew we wanted to visit Studio Bell, site of the National Music Centre and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. We also checked our festival list and assumed we’d be able to find some interesting event. Well, dontcha know, we would be in Calgary for their biggest event of the year – The Calgary Stampede – billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.’ The Stampede attracts 1.3 million visitors from outside the city each year.
With our recently boosted confidence in urban camping, we set a course to arrive just a couple of days before the start of the Stampede.
At one point in my life (or maybe a couple of them, to be honest) I’ve been a moderately serious Star Trek fan. Sue ultimately joined me in this enthusiasm, and I’m not ashamed to admit that one winter we binge-watched the entire Star Trek: Next Generation series on Netflix, in order, two episodes per night, from start to finish.
Southeast Alberta is a flat to slightly rolling prairie dotted with large farms and ranches. About an hour east of Calgary we crossed the Red Deer River Valley, paused and wondered what happened to the prairie. Canadian Badlands? Really? Due to a unique mix of prehistoric sandstone formation, glaciers and floods that occurred millions of years ago, the Red Deer River carved a more-or-less diagonal slash through this part of Alberta creating deep colorful badlands approximately 2 km (1.2 mi) wide and 28 km (17 mi) long. Having spent time on our trip two years ago in the Dakotas, we found the spectacular geology of this area to be surprisingly familiar.
Ron, our jam buddy from Prince Albert, suggested we visit the Drumheller dinosaur museum. Larry, our jam buddy from Linden, and his wife Barb suggested we go to Drumheller to tour the Badlands. More than enough for us to set a course…
Our approach to trip preparation includes doing a bit of reading and talking to people about where we’re heading. Based on what we learn, we go to our trusty electronic map and add e-pushpins indicating friends and family, potential places of interest, and music festivals. When we left home, Saskatchewan was looking a bit thin with not quite 4 pushpins across the entire province – Prince Albert National Park, Doug’s guitar buddy TerryB, the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival in Saskatoon, and the name of an old drumming colleague (but no current contact info).
As we approached Saskatchewan, the sparsity of pushpins turned around in a fashion reminiscent of the classic (original series) Star Trek episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles…’
We have a connection in Saskatchewan with my friend Terry, whom we met almost two years ago in Memphis. Terry lives near the city of Prince Albert, SK and he has a boat on Waskesiu Lake in Prince Albert National Park, so our week-long stay in the park gave us opportunities for a few convenient musical meet-ups.
Flin Flon is totally, outrageously cool. Flin Flon, Manitoba/ Saskatchewan (pop 7,000 and yes, so cool it spans 2 provinces) is a mining town with an obsession for music. We loved it! And we fit right in.
North? We’re getting somewhere! Winnipeg, in southeastern Manitoba, is north of the northernmost point we visited in North Ontario. The province considers anything north of the 53rd parallel North Manitoba, and describes it as ‘a vast untamed wilderness’ which sounds like our kinda place. So from Winnipeg, we headed north…
Just about everyone we talked to about Winnipeg suggested we stop to visit the Canadian Human Rights Museum. That’s more than enough reason for us to make a stop. In order to get to the Prairie Wind Music Festival last week, though, we needed to drive on through Winnipeg (with a quick stop to pick up a part for our truck) and return to Winnipeg after visiting Riding Mountain National Park. Fortunately our return trip took us through Minnedosa.