Monday, 29 June 2015

Stay-Cation Alberta

That;s me in the stroller at Lake Louise, AB 1959
I don't know about you but there is nothing I enjoy more than to explore my own back yard. My sister, brother and I were introduced to road trips at a very early age. In fact, there are many places I have been but have no recollection whatsoever, because I was so young, while others are just a vague snapshot in time. Sometimes there was a bit of planning that went into it but often it was nothing more than Mom and Dad having a discussion late in the evening that the following day would be a good day to go on a drive.  They would both bounce out of bed with a mental list of what needed to be done before they could leave. The cooler, picnic jug and ice packs would come out of the basement before Dad headed out the door to do chores, making sure the pigs were fed and the chickens had enough food and water to last the day.  He would then make his way to the garage to pack the Coleman stove, making sure there was enough fuel, throw in a couple of fishing rods and perhaps dig up a few worms out of the garden. Mom commanded food detail, filling the picnic jug with kool-aid, checking to make sure all the essential dishes, cutlery, pots and pans were ready to go, and preparing sandwiches, getting homemade cookies, or perhaps a couple of cans of beans and a package of weiners.  It was never fancy but, no matter what we were eating, food always tasted better when it was part of an adventure.  On more than a few occasions, with a bit of preplanning, Dad would arrange for one of our neighbours to take care of the livestock and we would head out, perhaps for a couple of nights, but often for an entire week, sometimes even two!

The infamous little church, Drumheller, AB - 1966
Hoodoos, Drumheller, 1970
While the phrase, 'staycation' might be newly coined, trust me, the act of exploring part of your own Province is not.  When I think back, I'm not convinced that all of these trips could have been entirely fun. Three kids and two adults -- sometimes three, depending on whether Gramma came along -- stuffed into a car for several hours might not sound that appealing, keeping in mind there was no air conditioning, no ipods, ipads or anything else to keep the kids occupied.  But each one of us loved it then and love it now. While there had to have been a few rough patches on our journeys all we remember was how much fun we had.  Dad was a master at finding ways to entertain us, all the while educating us.  Which way are we headed?  Which road do we take to get to ____? How do we get back home?  Mom's talent was singing and food, and eat and sing we most certainly did!  Bobby McGee wasn't the only one that could sing every song the driver knew!

Heritage Park, Calgary, AB - 1973
In my mind, one is never to old -- or young for that matter -- for a road trip and Alberta has some pretty spectacular places to visit.  There are a few, like Heritage Park, in Calgary, that I visited many many times, as a kid.  It's time, I think to revisit it as a grown up, just to see if I'm as impressed now as I was then; maybe catch a buggy or a train ride.  I know I loved Fort Edmonton and the Ukrainian Village at Bruderheim.  If you like the Old West theme, you may also want to check out Em-Te-Town, near Alder Flats. Billed as an authentic western town, it also boasts a campground, cabins, motel, saloon, restaurant and banquet facilities. We were fortunate enough to see some sharp shooters as the Canadian Cowboy Mounted Shooters competed. Spend a day or a week, whatever works for you.

Em-Te-Town - 2014
On a hot day, perhaps a day at Wah-Soo-A-Um Park, located on the Red Deer River, just west of Penhold.  Not only is there a well maintained day use area, there's room for the kids to run, a nice little playground, and a picnic shelter.  Access to the river not only makes it an ideal spot to start off on a rafting or canoe trip, but also to skip a few rocks across the water, just to know you still can.
Wah-Soo-A-Um Park, 2014

One of our favourite little spots to visit is the Last Chance Saloon, in Wayne.  I was first introduced to the Last Chance in 1975 while camping along the Red Deer River in the Badlands.  We were told by a colleague that Sunday breakfast was an absolute must and she was right.  If all the food you could eat for about $2.00 wasn't enough to entice us, the fact that there was a pony with an appetite for beer most certainly was.  If you visit, make sure you take a good look around.  You will find some pretty darn interesting stories in that old building, not the least of which is the beer swilling shetland pony.  The pony is long gone but his photo remains. The building is filled to the brim with great local artifacts but the community is filled to the brim with great local talent; if you're lucky, maybe you'll even get to hear some of it.

Last Chance Saloon, Wayne, AB - 2014
If you are looking for an event to attend, may I suggest the Ponoka Stampede.  While many refer to it as the best stampede after the Calgary Stampede, for my money, this is the one I enjoy the most.  Camping and parking is everywhere and anywhere and the best part is, it's FREE!  The midway is small and intimate.  It's a place you can let your kids run without having to worry too much about what kind of trouble they are in.  It happens every year around Canada Day.  If you have never been to a stampede, I can guarantee great entertainment with bull riding, bronc riding, wild pony chases and, if that isn't enough for you, some nail biting chuckwagon races that will have you out of your seat and screaming for your favourite in no time flat.  If a week of the Stampede is too much, Ponoka's central location will afford you access to a number of lakes in the area, including Gull, Sylvan, Pidgeon and Wizard, all within about an hour's drive, each with their own special brand of charm.

Ponoka Stampede, Ponoka, Alberta

If quiet country churches are more your style, don't drive by the Raven Church without stopping, wonder in, have a word with your maker, and admire the carpentry skills of days gone by, not to mention the dedication of those that continue to maintain it to this day.  I think, if I were looking for a little rural country church (for marrying or burying), this one fits the bill.
Raven Church

If you're thinking of a staycation or simply a country drive, perhaps some of these places will inspire you to check them out.