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Exploring ALBERTA, CANADA
Canada's National Park system was created over a century ago to protect natural hot springs, crystal clear lakes, the glaciers that feed them, and the wildlife that is sustained by this glorious wilderness.
The six hour train trip from Edmonton to the northern-most park region, Jasper , is a relaxing way to ease into the grandeur of the Rockies. After the tame, golden landscape surrounding Edmonton, we transitioned to glimpses of razor edged peaks through aspen and evergreen. Then suddenly we were passing through a mountain, and following a milky green river, signifying glaciers ahead..
Travel here can be luxurious, staying in historic lodges and traveling by train, or completely back-to-nature, making use of thousands of vehicle-accessible camp sites. Those craving absolute solitude, can easily disappear into the wilderness for weeks on end.
Renting a car and driving through Jasper National Park is a safari. Depending on the season, you may encounter black & Grizzly bear, moose, mountain goats, Big Horn sheep, wolves, coyotes, and elk.
Following the scenic "Icefields Parkway", straight driving time from Jasper to Banff is only about 4 hours, but allowing time for numerous scenic stops, it's tough to cover the 180 miles in a day.
And you'll want to allow plenty of time for the trip out onto the Columbia Ice Field – a not to be missed experience. There are not many glaciers in the world that can be reached so easily!! How many people get to stand on a 1000 foot thick field of ice? And how much longer will these glaciers exisit?
Banff is the cultural center of the Rocky Mountain Parks. It has a bit of that hip resort town vibe, but not enough to make it obnoxious. Because the town is on national park land, no one can own property, and each resident must demonstrate a "need to reside" in the park – measures that hopefully restrict development, and encourage proper management of natural resources.
After touring Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise, we headed for the "badlands" of Alberta, where Canada's First Nations culture comes alive, and her earliest residents are gloriously displayed at the Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum.
At Writing on Stone provincial park, it is easy to see why this landscape of spectacular geologic forms held spiritual significance for First Nations people. Rock art on the sandstone canvas records important events, like hunts, battles and ceremonies.
At Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta's aboriginal history continues to unfold as you wander the exhibits, then gaze out over the plains from cliffs that were the scene the dramatic ritual.
In southern-most Alberta, the prairies give way to the foothills of the Flathead Range, as you enter Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Here conservationist work with ranchers to preserve the traditional lifestyle.
Waterton is a haven for wildlife - herds of elk pass through on their migration from Montana to British Columbia, and deer pretty much have the run of the place!
The scenery is magnificent, and the town a laid-back mecca for nature lovers.
The only thing I knew about Alberta's largest city, was that it's home to the "Calgary Stampede", so I wasn't expecting a very hip culture. Well...so much for expectations... take an enduring ranching industry, mix in an oil boom, and Calgary has been through quite a transformation since its days as a cow town!.
It is now a cosmopolitan city that scores high marks for livability, and nurtures a thriving foodie scene.
The vast grasslands that attracted the initial wave of cattlemen in the early 1900's, is now fostering a movement back to smaller family farms and ranches, addressing the growing demand for quality local products. I was expecting to be served some darn good beef in Alberta, but meeting chefs with a passion for the "farm to table" trend was a revelation.
Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts has their own farm, to ensure the meat they serve at their lodges is raised using humane practices, and at the Fairmont hotel, the entire right side of the menu is dedicated to listing their local suppliers of eggs, cheese, produce and meats. I was impressed. And I will definitely be looking for a reason to get back to Alberta to explore the food scene in more depth!
When on location, we all work our butts off, and this trip was no exception, but what made it enjoyable was the people. Speaking the same language made it easy to share humor, something the Albertans seem to possess in abundance, so on our scenic drives through the province, we had plenty of laughs, always capped our day with great food, and fell into bed exhausted and gratified we had captured a piece of Alberta to share with our viewers!
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