With five days to complete a trip from Claresholm to Edmonton…a trip that would typically take five hours…we decided to zig zag across the province exploring places that we had experienced twenty to thirty years ago with three small children in tow.
We left the iconic landscape of the Southern Alberta prairies and headed northeast to the Badlands of Alberta. We had once lived in Drumheller for a few months at a time in our kids’ lives when dinosaurs were the most impressive things going. Our son, Trevor, had even participated in a Sesame Street episode at the Tyrell Museum! That was thirty years ago and the study of our prehistoric friends was beginning to attract visitors from far and wide. Today we can see the effects of the tourist industry on the city and surrounding districts. Dinosaurs greet us on almost every intersection, some of them so impressively built you would swear you had walked into Jurrasic Park!
The prairies had given way to a landscape of small hills, called “the handhills” and canyons carved out by wind erosion and the flow of the Red Deer River. The hard crust of earth on top of the sandy bases has created interesting formations so different than anywhere else in the province. These “hoodoos” form the borders of the canyons, many of which are dry riverbeds. One of the largest in the area, Horsethief Canyon, was named because horses roamed freely through the canyon in the early 1900’s often to emerge in the fall with a different brand than they entered with! Obviously a great place for hide and seek.
From the Badlands we travelled north to Miquelon Lake, just north of Camrose. This was a favorite camping spot with friends and family in the early 80’s when we lived in Edmonton. We were sad to see that the lake, like so many alkaline lakes in the province, had receded so far. It was still a popular camping spot with a large bird population but swimming would no longer be the focus. It was nice to see our Alberta Rose blooming throughout the campground…so pretty in pink! The weather was very hot so we took advantage of some good “sun time”.
Heading southwest next, we decided we would like a game of golf in Rimbey, west of Lacombe. We had always enjoyed this little course in the past with its first tee off over the ridge of trees onto the flats at the bottom. As we approached the course we could see it covered in dandelions and in general disrepair…we were saddened to see that it had closed two years ago. So, while looking for a place to spend the night, we came upon Gull Lake Golf Course just north of Bentley. The sun was shining, it seemed golf would be a great way to spend the afternoon after all! Can’t say we had a great game but we had a great time! The owner, Eamon McCann, was a huge sports fan so he and Jim had lots in common.
With today being game seven of the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, we found a little pub in Bentley to have supper and watch the game. That whole area is full of summer cottages and camping areas and it was apparent that we were not the only ones who decided to get out that evening…the pub was packed! And Pittsburgh won the game so Jim was happy! The weather had turned nasty with some torrential rain…we were happy to be inside.
Heading north, our next stop would be Drayton Valley where we were meeting old friends Laurie and Kevin. We lived in Drayton Valley in the 80’s… In fact our daughter Holly was born there, and we had fond memories of fun times there. The little town we used to know has evolved into a big city with all the big box stores that we see everywhere. The oil industry has impacted the city over the years both positively and now negatively as people are being laid off from long time employment with various oil companies. It was so much fun reminiscing with our friends and seeing the changes in our old stomping grounds.
We spent the night north of Drayton Valley at the Pembina Lake Provincial Campground. Drizzling rain had given way to sunny evening skies and we enjoyed a beautiful walk along the Pembina River, watching the sun set behind the hills. A mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees formed the walls of our campsite and we watched as the campground filled up for the weekend. We were thankful for the showers since we had a wedding to attend the next day in Edmonton.
We attended the wedding of a very good friend of close to 40 years . Ford and Lori tied the knot at the Chateau Louis convention centre with a ” concert” theme wedding. It was a reunion of many friends from our BC (before children) days. We “rock ‘n’ rolled” all night to music we all love and had such fun catching up with old friends.
The next day 41 members of Jim’s family met at Kinsmen Park in Edmonton to share a picnic, play bocce and catch up. The last picnic of this sort was 22 years ago…the generational change was evident and fun to see!
By late afternoon we were on the road again, finally heading east. We drove through Elk Island National Park with the hopes of seeing bison and we were not disappointed. We came across a moulting bison on the side of the road, munching away on his supper quite separate from his herd. The photo op was perfect, and only moments before an incredible thunder, lightening and hail storm would make it difficult to see any thing else.
We decided to drive through the heavy rain and hail to the clear skies of Lloydminster that evening, with a roadside supper stop at Two Hills. The farmland in this part of the province is beautiful with gentle hills, lots of water and rich dark soil. Most house oil tanks in the middle of their fields…a sign of the diversity of the area.
I’ve noticed all over the province that old barns, weathered and worn from over a century of facing the extreme elements of the Alberta climate, are crumbling beside new, well constructed barns on tidy, organized and well manicured farms. I wonder what our pioneers would think of the changes from the hard homesteading life of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. We owe so much of our present affluence to their unending hard work and their positive spirit.