Day Sixteen – Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump to Canmore, AB (284km)

Well two things are true this morning, we are still alive…and so are all of the mosquitoes (in fact they seem to have multiplied overnight). The bugs are so bad that we are forced to begin the day by slathering ourselves in bug juice. Yech!

We pack our camp quickly and shower off the DEET on our way out. Goodbye Crazy Daisy May Campground and thank you for the mutated genes.

Stopping in town for advice on a breakfast venue we meet one shop owner who, when told of Wendy's gluten allergy, looks at her and says “Oh, you're one of those.” Most people recommend we eat at 'Johnny's' (because they have a real 'chef'). So we do

As it turns out, Johnny's is a Chinese restaurant and the owner is more than a little leery of Wendy's allergy. She has never heard of such a thing and seems to consider that Wendle is somehow trying to cheat her for the price of the bread. She reminds us several times that the price is the same…even without the toast.

After breakfast we check out the local antique store. Some very cool stuff, Wendy even gets outfitted for the life of a cowboy.

Head-Smashed-In is about eighteen kilometres West of Fort MacLeod on Hwy. 785 W and the drive is fantastic. We aren't in the mountains yet, but the countryside is hilly and rugged and it certainly looks like the foothills of the Rockies

The parking lot at the museum is about a kilometre from the actual site and it's uphill all the way. Luckily, there is a shuttle that makes frequent trips up the steep road to the interpretive centre. If you do use the shuttle, please leave a good tip (it helps to pay for shuttle service)

The Interpretive Centre is awesome. It is six levels of artifacts, education and history and the sixth floor opens onto the upper lookout trail. The Blackfoot guides do a wonderful job of celebrating the relationship between their ancestors and the bison of the Great Plains. There are plenty of movies and art that compliment the experience and any archaeologist would be thrilled to peruse the many displays and records that outline the work that has been done here to uncover the site's ten thousand year history. We thoroughly enjoyed the time spent at the Interpretive Centre. Here, to describe it more fully, are some photos.

To walk the Upper Lookout Trail is to be transported back to an era long past (it's been 150 years since the last buffalo fell to its death over these 20m high cliffs). Coming out of the centre, the first thing that strikes you is the incredible stillness. The prairies (where the tipis and butchering sites were set up) stretch endlessly below you…while above, are the fields over which the bison were stampeded by courageous young warriors. Wildflowers, clinging to the rocks, hold fast against the mighty winds and a single tree (is that a Joshua tree?) stands as a lonely sentinel

At this place, above the killing fields, one is reminded of other places where much slaughter has occurred (Antietam and Gettysburg come to mind) and if you listen intently, you can hear the roar of the stampede, the shouts of the people and the cry of animals. It is a deeply moving experience and everyone present is hushed into an awed, respectful silence.

In the distance sits a hilltop higher than the rest and once used by the Blackfoot for Vision Quests. We have brought Wawa Tassi with us to this place and he is in our hearts and our minds as we gaze upon that sacred spot.

As we walk back along the Upper Trail to the Interpretive Centre, a mule deer emerges from behind a bit of scrub brush. We freeze in place. The deer, unwary of us (even though the lady next to us is making weird mewling sounds), canters down the hill, followed by first one and then another speckled fawn. The doe runs down to the trail we are on, stops…and looks directly at us. Then, satisfied that we mean them no harm, the mother ducks under the protective rail, crosses over the lip of the cliffs and descends past the lone tree, onto the plains below (the two babies following)

Returning to the centre, we take advantage of the washrooms and the gift shop. The shop sells the usual trinkets but there are also paintings and sketches from Indian artists and beautiful short bows, arrows and beaded quivers (made of softened deerskin). We buy some postcards and a darling little (3 X 4 inch) painting depicting this artist's version of a buffalo jump.

Exiting the centre, we turn left onto the Lower Trail, which leads to the butchering area and the killing field. The cliffs stand twenty metres above our heads but at the kill site, six thousand years of bones and falling dirt have reduced that depth to a mere ten metres. Dense brush now covers the site and without the interpretive signs, you would never know of the awesome events that had once transpired here.

We begin our walk back down to the car park and although it's all downhill, it's hot and tough on our cramped and road weary legs. Suddenly, the shuttle pulls up…ahhh, an air conditioned ride. We take advantage of the offer.

Back in the car now and we are driving East along the quiet country Highway 785, towards Hwy. 2 North to Calgary. Wendy is driving and, still pensive after our Buffalo Jump experience, we remain quiet. I fall instantly asleep and remain so until a sudden hard prairie storm rouses me (but for only a second). I don't wake up again until we reach the outskirts of the city. Wendy recommends stopping at Starbucks and as we leave the main highway, we find one almost at the foot of the ramp.

Coffees in hand, we're back on the road. Along Hwy. 2 North, to Hwy. 1 West…a quick stop for gas at another Co-Op and then on to Canmore, AB.

As we drive, the mountains grow from mere shadows to recognizable shapes and finally to oversized behemoths.

They are huge forms, massive and majestic. Rock hurled upwards by the shifting continents has exposed sediment deposits that now lie at sixty degree angles to their original positions. Nature's power has sculpted something so incredible that it is almost surreal. Coming out of the flat prairies into this, the mind's equilibrium is once again disrupted and we feel somewhat disoriented.

The Town of Canmore, AB is nestled snugly into the arms of those mountains and it is a welcome oasis to two tired gypsies. We book into our room at 'The Hostel Bear' (our first hostel experience) and deposit our gear. The view from our room is spectacular

The evening is so refreshingly cool and still that we decide to walk into the Town Centre. The air is fresh and the town offers many interesting things to see. Wow, what a cool place.

Canmore is chock to the gills full of eateries and the number of options is cause for confusion. Luckily we stumble upon a Brazilian restaurant called Gauchos (which as you know means Cowboys)…and that my friends means meat.

The food is out of this world good (not really because apparently they eat like this in Brazil) and the form in which dinner is served is new to us but highly effective. Customers pick their own carbs and salads from a buffet style bar. If you want meat, you turn your 'cow' over to the green side and waiters, dressed like Gauchos, come to your table with skewers of freshly roasted meat (beef ribs, garlic steak, sausages, pork, chicken wings). When you're full, you turn your cow over to the brown side. It is a very long time before our brown cow shows.

'Salpicador Vaca'

We walk home with a slightly bowlegged gait, like real Gauchos, except ours is from the meal we have just enjoyed.

Canmore at night is magical. The sounds of tinkling glass, silverware, conversations and laughter mingle as if notes in a symphony of life. The air is crisp and cool. And always, in the background (yet foremost in our minds), the mountains…which have drawn every single person to this place.

Goodnight all.

Moose and Wendle



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