Alberta is such an amazing province we had to make up a word to describe it!
From the moment we crossed the border from Saskatchewan into Alberta our excitement grew in anticipation of what was ahead. The dramatic skies of Saskatchewan compelled us forward. One would be forgiven for thinking of this as a boring landscape because there is always something to command your attention whether it be a field of black angus cows, a storm brewing more than an hours drive ahead, oil rigs, or a group of identical farm buildings straight out of a toddler’s counting book.
Our first stop was the town of Brooks where we met cousins Laurie and Graeme whose compass was pointed in the opposite direction to ours. They were bound for Regina intending to further investigate our shared family history. We chose a spot on the map that was literally equidistant from where we were each travelling that day. And that spot was Brooks, Alberta. Not much happens in this western town. Other than our happy family reunion our predominant memory, sadly, is the smell of the abbatoir. We managed to close down every spot we entered whether it was a teahouse or a Thai restaurant or a bar. And yet, we were in bed by 10pm!
Laurie and Graeme decided to go off route and join us in visiting the dinosaur capital of the world, Drumheller. The drive was incredibly pretty and pastoral with puffy story book clouds filling the blue sky above. We literally gasped when we caught our first glimpse of the Badlands. We were instantly transported to the deserts of Arizona or New Mexico. The shift from green, pastoral farmland to prehistoric, desert-like formations was instanteous. Together we visited the Royal Tyrrell Museum where we were lead on a Seven Wonders of the Badlands tour by the most enthusiastic and informative guide ever, Maggie. She could turn the most jaded visitor into a disciple of paleontology.
After a stop at the world’s largest dinosaur we bade goodbye to the cousins and headed for the big city of Calgary. For us, Calgary was all about the food. First stop was the Crossroads Market where we met up with friends, Dulcie and Graydon Pilgrim. We met these two wonderful folks last year in Gunners Cove, Newfoundland when they were there visiting their family and we were biding time waiting for a new water pump for the van. While in Calgary we stocked up on fruits, vegetables, coffee, bread and charcuterie – readying our pantry for the mighty Rocky Mountains. While in Stampede Headquarters we made time for a meal at Charcut which did not disappoint.
Heading west from Calgary it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of the mountains. In just over an hour we were surrounded by the incredible beauty that is Banff National Park. No matter which direction we turned we were gasping in wonder and awe. In the past the Rocky Mountains generally lead us to thinking of British Columbia but after this trip it is Alberta that is foremost in our thoughts when it comes to the pure majesty of the Rockies. Alberta is amazing! Banff has it all: hiking, biking, breathtaking beauty, museums, hot springs, to-die-for views, food (eat at Grapes in the Banff Springs Hotel! Thank you Chef Tyler Thompson!), and public transit that makes driving unnecessary (we love taking a break from driving!). Then there is Lake Louise. Stunning. The best part was meeting the sweetest family (Asia, Caleb, Porter and Reese) from NYC who camped beside us in a VW van. Together we talked and sipped around a campfire into the night while we watched the Perseid Meteor Shower.
The Icefields Parkway is hands down the most beautiful drive we have made in the past year and half. That is saying something because, wow, have we seen some incredible landscapes and driven on many stunning roadways. The mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and the glacial lakes they feed fill your senses to brimming. Just thinking about it, joyful tears begin to flow, along with the desire to be back there. While at the Athabasca Glacier we decided to splurge and take the specially designed Bombardier snow coach onto the glacier. They let us briefly walk, take photos and if we chose, drink the flowing, pure glacier water. We were alarmed to learn that this glacier is receding at a rate of 16 feet per year. Our guide told us a story about a tour group walking on the glacier this year. One of the tourists indicated that they saw a hand in the ice. The guide dismissed the comment. The tourist was adamant that they could see a hand. Well, it turns out that the hand was actually a whole body, and well preserved at that, of a back country skier that went missing some 25 years earlier. The skier likely fell into a crevasse, which can be up to 20 metres deep, and froze to death. The fact that this person resurfaced indicates just how fast the glacier is melting. There is signage between the glacier and the Interpretive Centre indicating how far the glacier had reached in 1982 and in 1844. The glacier has lost 60% of its volume since 1885. If one needs proof of Global Warming this is pretty convincing. We travelled the length of the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper there and back and the weather was varied throughout. We encountered sun, rain, snow, hot, cold, fog, cloud cover and deep dark starry nights. It is a magical place, a place we would return without hesitation.