Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Friday, December 25, 2015

roadtrip! the canadian west part #2 - alberta bound!

I saved this post for Christmas...a little present for myself. This morning as I was sorting through my photos, I turned to Gordon Lightfoot for a little musical inspiration.

Even though I've been in Germany for five years now, Alberta is still my home and one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. This past fall I drove this amazing route - it gives me 'Heimweh' (home hurt) just looking at the photos - with colours and scenery that was picture-postcard perfect, and should be on every top-things-to-do-in-Alberta list!

roadtrip breakdown:

We started in the foothills northwest of Calgary, went north towards Red Deer, then headed west on the #11 towards Nordegg, down the David Thompson Highway towards the #93 and mountains, mountains, mountains! Then we headed southeast along the Icefields Parkway towards Lake Louise, Banff, and then Calgary.

But first, let me give you an idea of how gorgeous the Alberta foothills are in the winter time. In the Rhine valley of Germany, where I sit writing this, winter is grey and rainy, for about four months straight. So I'm missing snow and blue skies and sunshine like you wouldn't believe.

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

 The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are drifting
If I could only have you near, to breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with you
On this winter night with you
-Gordon Lightfoot Song for a Winter’s Night

My family is fortunate enough to have land northwest of Calgary, with some big and small four-legged members, who are extra cuddly when it's cold outside.

This past trip home, I relished spending quiet moments just hanging around outside, no buildings in sight, watching the horses munch and the deer wander.

And, of course, much louder moments with my three little nephews, who love to sing and buck and all little boys should love to do. I kept up.

Then we hit the road, 'where the deer and the buffalo roam'. The big prairie sky looking east changing with seemingly each breath.

The rolling hills flatten out the more north and east you drive. The prairies which stretch across Saskatchewan and Manitoba are as open and free a feeling as sitting by the ocean; along with being as wild and unpredictable.

Driving the endless hours past lonesome farms and miles and miles of field, I'm always struck by the courage that settlers had, back in the day, to build lives here. The winter can be a very hard place in the prairies.

We stopped for a night north of Red Deer, to visit more family. Great guy's sister and brother-in-law, with the dogs Monty and Lucy, live on a beautiful piece of land among the trees.

 One family photo to share, because it's Christmas day!

 Then on the road again, heading west, with blue skies leading the way.

We drove through Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg and stopped to camp for the night at Goldeye Lake.

Great guy's only desire for this trip to Canada was to fly fish...and here he practiced his technique, patiently, for hours, while I snapped photos, wrote and just sat and stared at the water. Perfection.

Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declinin'
The stars, they come stealin' at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away.

 For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men too silent to be real
-Gordon Lightfoot Canadian Railroad Trilogy

I grew up in Alberta, lived here for 35 years and this was the first time I had driven the David Thompson Highway, the #11, past Abraham Lake. I didn't know we had lakes like this in Alberta! It's over 30 kms long, surrounded by mountains, and a shade of pale turquoise that I had never seen before.

We continued driving through the mountains, past the gathering of tourists at Saskatchewan Crossing - at the junction to the Icefields Parkway, highway #93. This is one of those must-see trails in Canada. Towards Jasper the mountains display their best sides for visitors, the Columbia Icefield to name just one impressive place to visit in Alberta.

But, on this trip, we headed southeast, away from Jasper and towards Lake Louise. The drive is spectacular with mountain lakes around every bend in the road. Superstars like Peyto Lake and Morraine Lake shouldn't be missed. Take the time, they are worth the hike.

After many hours on the road, we arrived in the late afternoon at what is probably one of the most photographed lakes in the world, Lake Louise. Named after Queen Victoria's daughter, it really is royalty.

I've been to Lake Louise a hundred times, but it is consistently impressive. Like nothing manmade, nature's accomplishments are just never boring no matter how many times you take the time to visit. Here you need no Instagram filter..or any other filter. The colour of the water is such an incredible shade that great guy was convinced it's unnatural, like a lake of acid where the Joker plays.

We took the obligatory selfie, along with every single other visitor to this place. Like the queen herself, Lake Louise must be really sick of all the cameras pointing at her.

I convinced great guy to take a look inside the Chateau Lake Louise, so we did a quick walk-thru. Staying in this Fairmont Hotel, an original CP Rail creation from 1890, is a treat.

Then quickly back outside. A fairly easy hike from the lake, if you only have a couple of hours, is to head up to the Lake Agnes teahouse on the right side of the lake.

Even if the teahouse is closed, the jade hues of this small glacier lake is filled with peace itself. I took a moment on this perfectly-placed bench and enjoyed life. How can you not, when you find yourself in a moment like this?

After another night camping, this time at the Lake Louise town campground (there are much prettier sites, but in late September you take what's open) we set out early towards Banff.

Banff is, of course, filled with tourists from all over the world. It's no secret that this is a place to visit when you're in the Calgary area. If you get the opportunity, try to hang out with a local or two. The Banff folk are interesting, very outdoorsy, and well, a treat. The Banff Arts Centre gives the area an artsy flair that you might not expect from a moutain town.  There are a host of interesting things to do in Banff.

Not the least of which is, unsurprisingly, hiking. One of the best things to do in Banff, right at the edge of town, is hike up Sulphur Mountain. A two-hour hike or a 7-minute gondola ride, the views are exhilerating in every direction. 

And afterwards, we treated ourselves to a dip in the Canadian Rockies Hot Springs. I have loved going here since I was a kid. After a day of skiing at Lake Louise, Norquay or Sunshine, we would end the day in the Hot Springs. Especially when it's snowing, relaxing in this pool, surrounded by mountains, is a dream. 

Whenever I have the chance, I drive the #1A highway back to Calgary from Banff, getting on it in Canmore. It is the less traveled and much more scenic route than the big #1.

Sometimes, you're even graced with an animal spectacle, such as these gorgeous, velvet-covered elk. I saw these in the spring a year ago, but on this year's roadtrip I was looking for them again, trying to show-off to great guy.

The #1A highway winds along the Bow River valley, past Mount Yamnuska - the face of a lying-down First Nations Chief, as if carved out of the rock by God Himself. This view impresses me every single time I see it.

And nearby, a stop at Nakoda Lodge is always on my list of things to do. You can have delicious brunch, stay over in the rustic lodge or just take a walk. I love this place located on the Stoney Nation, and every time I'm here I get an overwhelming feeling that it's sacred space.

 "Long ago my ancestors used to go to the mountain tops to pray. They were a deeply religious, sincere, and tradition- oriented people who followed, observed, and upheld the teachings, customs, and beliefs of our forefathers, respected the creations of the Great Spirit, and lived in harmony with nature. They were the Stoneys – members of the Great Sioux Nation who spoke a dialect of the Nakota branch of Siouan language family. Today we, their descendants speak the same tongue."
-Chief John Snow

And just before Cochrane, is this, possibly my favourite chapel in the whole entire world, the historical McDougall Stoney Mission Church built in 1875 at Morley. There are no words.

The rolling fields, with a Rocky Mountain backdrop, as seen here at Grand Valley, have long inspired me. I literally feel my chest open with love for life when I'm here. It's an hour outside of Calgary, and I would often just drive out in the afternoon to sit and stare and write for a moment.

Then we come to Calgary. Firmly planted along the banks of the Bow River, with remnants of the Olympics speckled across it, this city has long looked up to its bigger sisters Vancouver and Toronto...but with parking prices akin to New York City.

Cool diners, hip clubs, and cozy pubs, this is where I was born and where family-time rules.

In September, at the end of our roadtrip, we landed in Calgary in time to celebrate my brother's 40th birthday! A good 'ol Oktoberfest themed party, with the perfect Weizenbier and lederhosen (of course). My brother and his hunting buddies treated us to a wild meat cookout outside on the deck.

Away from the small boys, the big boys hot-rocked an assortment of marinated meat, the likes of which I had only seen on the Wild Kingdom. Elk, deer, seal, bear and even a drunk newfie moose (brought by the drunk newfie himself), which incidentally was my favourite. So tender! It was a raucous good time, the perfect exclamation mark to our trip.

In Calgary, I spent some lovely days hanging out, keeping up with my three nephews. They're a handful, but luckily so sweet. I think God makes clever, stubborn little children super-cute, so that you keep them around. 

Here's Aunty's attempt at trying to take a photo. That's what you get when you actually try to get two two-year-olds to stop for two seconds to pose. Say ch....okay don't.

In the summer and fall, the corn maze is an afternoon full of fun for small and larger children. I had never been to a corn maze, but unless you have allergies, it's kind of a magically strange way to take a walk.

My favourite part was watching the pig races. Have you ever seen anything as cute as this? I think not.

And in the evening, as I do every time I'm in Calgary, I spend some quality, quiet time with my brother (aka hunting). Usually I sit in the bush, tall grass or canoe, silently praying that he misses, while whispering him encouragement. I know that he is very serious about trying to provide healthy, homegrown meat for his family...and that is what he does.

I, on the other hand, just love spending time with this big boy and his truck. His hunting outfits also really entertain me.

If you're planning a trip to Calgary in the summertime, which I'm longing to do again soon, then plan for the beginning of July. If you have never been to the Calgary Stampede then I suggest going at least once in your lifetime. It is a beautiful rodeo spectacle, with lots of country music and a bit of the wild west...

with lots of cowboys to boot! We've been going with my dad (as seen below seriously studying the cowboy action) since we were very small. He was even on the Stampede Citizen board back in the day - that's how much the horsey world was part of our childhood.

I get excited just seeing these photos again (taken by my stepmum, not ninaontherhein...sorry!). The sweat, the tears, the snorting, the dust, the courageous rodeo clowns...can you say crazy fun? It's not everyone's cup-o-tea, just like there are some strange peeps out there who don't actually like country. Plain weird, but to each his own.

And every Alberta trip of mine ends with pub night at my favourite watering hole. My friends, always the loyal bunch, come whenever I say 'pub night!' It's possible that they just like the beer...but I'll choose to think they're there for me. Love being home.

In the early morning rain with a dollar in my hand
With an aching in my heart and my pockets full of sand
I'm a long way from home and I miss my loved ones so
In the early morning rain with no place to go
-Gordon Lightfoot Early Morning Rain
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