At first, it blew us south, to Nanton, Alberta. Over the last decade or so, Nanton has successfully reinvented itself and is now a cool little town with myriad opportunities to fill your boots with historic buildings and antiques. Not to be missed, there is also a wonderful little candy and ice cream shop. People from the Calgary area come down regularly to enjoy the community.
The wind then blew us west, to Pincher Creek, famous for it's scenic beauty. Golden fields and white capped mountains on a backdrop of wide blue skies; what's not to like? The horizon is spotted with white turbines from the numerous wind farms which, frankly, confuse me. While perhaps a source of clean energy, as I am mesmerized by the revolution of countless blades, I can't but think, just a little bit, that they are also somewhat of a blight on an otherwise perfect landscape. I'm not a fan of the NIMBY syndrome but I'm also pretty darn sure I wouldn't want to live very close to one, interesting though they may be.
Every morning of our little journey began the same way. We would wake before daylight and enjoy a few cups of coffee and a light breakfast. . . after which Eric would carry out his daily inspection of Little Red, wiping the dew and washing the bugs off as he did. Like I said, I find this fascination a wee bit strange but who am I to talk? I have my own idiosyncrasies, my love for road trips being only one.
After a brief shop. . . I mean stop. . . in Fernie, we turned our attention south, towards Whitefish, Montana. A scenic tourist destination in its own right, we were seeking 'quaint', and we found a few miles east in Hungry Horse. Not so small that it would be missed in the blink of an eye, it is definitely a community that beats to its own drummer. The people are friendly, the food is cheap and Eric got his fill of chicken fried steak, a delicacy he was introduced to in the Southern US and guaranteed to spike cholesterol levels for weeks to come. But we're on vacation, right? It seems all forms of currency is accepted in Hungry Horse. Clearly this little community has a sense of humour; not to be outdone, so does Eric pictured here with the ol' ball and chain.
By this time, we were enroute to Glacier National Park and Going to the Sun Road. If you haven't been, definitely add it to your bucket list. A 50 mile span of narrow, winding, mountainous roads, if one doesn't have the courage to make the drive themselves, there are roadsters prepared to do the driving for you. High enough that you may encounter snow at any time of year (and we did), the window of opportunity is short, June 20th through September 22nd, after which the road is closed. Did I mention winding? Vehicles are restricted to a meer 18' in length; talk about hairpin curves. And the scenery is truly spectacular. If there is a regret, it is that we didn't think to go earlier, when the deciduous trees were in full color. I'm guessing that would be around mid August. Next time.
Following the eastern edge of the park, we found ourselves in Great Falls. I knew it as a shopping mecca for cross border shoppers but apparently it was not to be. We weren't out of the car for more than 20 minutes, enough time to gas up, and make a run through a pharmacy to buy OTC pharmaceuticals at half the price we pay at home. Not really worth going 100 miles out of our way, but what's a road trip for if not to make a few wrong turns.
We then found ourselves in Shelby. A railway town, with a population of about 3,600, once again, we found a 'quaint' community filled to the brim with it's own brand of ambiance. We asked two locals where the best place to eat was and they both told us the same diner. They were both right. A restaurant which has really stood the test of (hard) time, it was now a shabby chic throwback to the 1960's. . . and we loved it.
When I stopped to take a few shots of a local tavern, one of the locals left his seat to hold the door for me. I'm glad I popped my head around the corner where I found a wide collection of calenders from the various town businesses from the 50s, some of which were still in operation. Although there is a strong Christian atmosphere to the town, it is not without it's color and, if you take a look at the photos on the calendars, you'll know what I mean. When I popped into another shop, the first thing I was asked was where I was from. Clearly, everybody knows everybody, and while nobody knew me, I was not lacking in companionship.
As I mentioned, Shelby is a railway town and the station, across the tracks is just as charming as the rest of the community. And, if one likes art, some of the railway cars were pretty darn fabulous too!
Incidentally, did you know Shelby is just a wee bit north of a United States land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) field. Specifically chosen because of it's flat, underpopulated topography, the current US force consists of 450 missile silos around Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. The plan is to slowly reduce the number to 400 armed missiles, while retaining 50 unarmed missiles in reserve by 2030. I don't know about you, but this doesn't give me a warm fuzzy feelings.
As we continued north, we decided we would snoop around Sweetgrass, before crossing the border. A tiny little speck of a community, directly south of Coutts, Alberta, it's odd to see how the two communities are literally side by side, even sharing the same cemetery, yet not a single street carries through. All that exist are fenced off. And the fences are BIG. Think prison fence. How we missed the Duty Free is beyond me but we did. For all the stories I have heard of unpleasant experiences with the border officials, we were once again charmed by our officer. When asked to declare our liquor, he was shocked when we told him we didn't have any and immediately asked us why not. When we said we had missed it, he gave us directions and suggested we retrace our steps. I believe some of his colleagues were less than impressed with his 'assistance' as we left the US, entered Canada, turned around and went back to the US, returning shortly thereafter with our quota of liquor but we thank our young man for his thoughtfulness.
We made two more stops before heading home. One was to visit Fort McLeod where, I'm told, my great uncle's candy store still remains. . . not the candy, just the building. Alas, I knew not which one. But I did look for it. Eric, however, is still reeling from the knowledge that there is at least one knitted cover for a lamp standard. Engineer that he is, he resolved the mystery himself. Because the standards are set into the sidewalks quite a distance, people must surely run into them on a regular basis. The knitwear must be meant to soften the blow. Perhaps he is right. . . but I'm thinking not.
The day was waning and we still had a few hours ahead of us to make it home. We decided to head west once more just to take a quick look at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, located in the Rocky Mountain Foothills about 8 km northwest of Fort Macleod. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home of a museum of Blackfoot culture. The buffalo jump was used for 5,500 years to kill buffalo by driving them off an 11 metre high cliff. According to legend, a young Blackfoot wanted to watch the buffalo plunge off the cliff from below, but was buried underneath the falling buffalo. He was later found dead under the pile of carcasses, where he had his head smashed in.
Here's the good news, folks, for a man who came from a family that drove 40 miles and got a motel for the night, I think Eric did pretty darn good. Not only did he do all the driving, but without a single complaint. . . okay. . . one complaint. . . . it was that 3 hour diversion to Great Falls. . . but he actually enjoyed himself. Whether Little Red is the sole reason for his enthusiasm, I don't know. I don't care. What I do know is that, upon arriving home, he suggested that we add a couple of more days to it and do something similar next year. . . Yellowstone, Lewis & Clarke Caverns, Mount Rushmore, here we come? Stay tuned.