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Drive through Alberta

May 28th, 2024

Gas:  Averages around $1.45 CAD per litre ($3.99 USD a gallon)

We crossed the border into Alberta with no issues continuing northbound.  We were headed to Medicine Hat for the night but had a stop to make at the Red Rock Coulees, southwest of the city.   Organic Maps found us a shortcut that saved an hour of time but included about 17 km / 10.5 mi of gravel road; we took it.

Enroute we passed lots of ranchland like in Montana but less cattle.  There were also oil derricks in some places and large tanks near the highway:

We arrived at the nature area which was all fenced off with a pedestrian gate and there was one other vehicle there.

The large spherical concretions at Red Rocks Coulee are found in the Late Cretaceous Bearpaw Formation, which makes up the bedrock in the area.  The formation lies close to surface under a thin layer of soil, and it has been sculpted by erosion, exposing the concretions and creating areas of badlands and hoodoos. The dark gray shale, with beds of greenish and gray sandstone and siltstone, pale grey bentonite, and brown ironstone in the bedrock create bands of color across the exposed badlands. The Bearpaw Formation includes a variety of marine fossils, primarily remains of ammonites, bivavles and fish.

The concretions formed after the sediments had been deposited, when mineral cement, primarily calcite and ironstone, precipitated around bits of shell, bone, and other biological debris. The concretions grew outward as circulating waters deposited more layers of cement. The cement makes the concretions resistant to erosion compared to the surrounding sediments, and the iron minerals give them their reddish color. There may be “growth rings” produced by the layers of cement, as well as remnants of the fossils that were the nucleus for cementation.

We walked around for about 20 minutes checking out the boulders in the sunshine taking photos.

We continued on the 20 km / 12.5 mi into Medicine Hat where Doug had booked a hotel on points for the night.  We had a king room with private bathroom, free parking & Wi-Fi.  We enjoyed salad, yoghurt and sandwiches for dinner and hit the hay.

Next morning Doug went for a run and upon returning we took a closer look at the windshield moulding; didn’t really look like adhesive was going to work so we looked into replacing the moulding and rubber – way too costly so we’ll just get some black gorilla tape and settle for that.

Next day we drove northwest towards Calgary but were first going to stop in the small city of Okotoks where our overlanding friends, Catherine and Derek now live.  We met them in Chile a couple of times and also got together in Buenos Aires once.

They live on a large property in a more rural area.  But first, very near their home is the Okotoks Erratic.

Okotoks Erratic (also known as either Big Rock or, in Blackfoot as Okotok) is a 16,500-tonne (18,200-ton) boulder that lies on the otherwise flat, relatively featureless, surface of the Canadian Prairies. It is part of the 930 km / 580 mi long Foothills Erratics Train of typically angular boulders of distinctive quartzite and pebbly quartzite.

This massive angular boulder, which is broken into two main pieces, measures about 41×18 m / 135×60’ and is 9 m  30’ high. It consists of thick-bedded, micaceous, feldspathic quartzite that is light grey, pink, to purplish. Besides having been extensively fractured by frost action, it is unweathered.

One interesting feature of Big Rock is the large split down the middle. A Blackfoot story describes how this may have happened:

One hot summer day, Napi, the supernatural trickster of the Blackfoot peoples, rested on the rock because the day was warm and he was tired. He spread his robe on the rock, telling the rock to keep the robe in return for letting Napi rest there. Suddenly, the weather changed and Napi became cold as the wind whistled and the rain fell. Napi asked the rock to return his robe, but the rock refused. Napi got mad and just took the clothing. As he strolled away, he heard a loud noise and turning, he saw the rock was rolling after him. Napi ran for his life. The deer, the bison and the pronghorn were Napi’s friends, and they tried to stop the rock by running in front of it. The rock rolled over them. Napi’s last chance was to call on the bats for help. Fortunately, they did better than their hoofed neighbours, and by diving at the rock and colliding with it, one of them finally hit the rock just right and it broke into two pieces.

Not only does this story explain why the rock is in two pieces, but also why bats have squashed-looking faces. The tale provides helpful caution against taking back what you have given away.

 This is located in a now protected little area (it had been vandalized and graffitied in the past) and there are information boards outside the roped off area.  It’s quite impressive but we learned it is not the largest in the world (that’s in Germany actually!).

We arrived at Catherine and Derek’s and spent the afternoon catching up, were served a lovely pork roast dinner and spent the night in their guest room.  Next morning we left around 9 stopped at Canadian Tire to get a proper full sized spare tire for the Civic (so we wouldn’t have to drive on the silly donut tire if we got a flat on the gravel roads up north) and a few other tools and supplies. Luckily, since both the trunk and the back seat are full, the tire fit nicely behind the passenger seat.

The weather is on and off cloud, sun and rain.  It’s quite cool – not feeling like summer will arrive any time soon.

Then we drove into the city of Calgary and met our friends, Ben & Jane at Earl’s Restaurant.  Doug and Ben went to UBC together and we’ve kept in the touch over the years.  We had a lovely visit, a good lunch and caught up. (no pics!)

Next it was on to Fran’s cousin, Janet’s place.  Janet and Clive have lived in Calgary for a about 3 decades (gawd, that makes us all sound so old!).  They have four kids who are grown and live nearby.  We caught up on things, Clive made yummy hamburgers on the barbeque and with a potato salad and Nanaimo Bars for dessert we had a good meal.  We spent the night in their spare room.

Next morning Doug went out to the car and taped up the window moulding and it’s hardly noticeable:

After our tea and their brekkie, they took us on a 6km / 3.2 m hike in the Turner Valley.  We got a little disorientated on the second of the two loops but found our way back.

It was a pleasant walk and good to get out of the car in nature.  The wild flowers were blooming and the sun peeked out a few times.

After returning to their house, we said our goodbyes and then we went to pick up a few more items we’d thought of that we should carry up north and then checked into an air B&B nearby where we’ll stay for two nights.

We got a basement room with private bath in a house in a quiet neighbourhood not far from the people we have and will be visiting. We had a king bed, desk, Wi-Fi, street parking with access to a full kitchen/living room upstairs.

Later that afternoon, we went to see Dave & Annette – Dave is a high school friend of Doug’s and if you follow our blog, you may recall they caught up with us in the Greek Islands last September.  Their eldest daughter was visiting from Nova Scotia with her two kids and we had a nice catch up on their deck:

Then we enjoyed barbequed lamb chops dinner with them followed by yummy desserts of lava cake AND rhubarb/apple crisp.  Thanks so much for taking the time to fit us in your schedule, Dave & Annette!

We returned to our lodgings and after one tv show crashed for the night.

Next morning weather was slightly better and we had no rain.  After exercising and chatting with Serena with headed over to our friend Stan’s house.  Stan went to UBC with Doug and came to South Africa to work for two years while we were living there.  We met him and his wife, Sarah, back in our Toronto days after that.  He moved to Calgary in the 90’s and has been there ever since.  They are leaving for an RV trip to Victoria tomorrow.  They invited us for a nice lunch and we caught up with them too (forgot photos AGAIN).

We stopped for a few groceries on our way back to our lodgings and then had a chill rest of the day –  nice to have no big drive today and no visit for dinner for a change but it’s always nice to catch up with people.

Enroute to Edmonton, we stopped in Lacombe to see several of their murals:

This city has their own flat iron building:

And outside of town you find the world’s largest fishing lure:

We stopped near the Edmonton airport at Leduc to fill up at Costco – paid $1.39 CAD a litre – cheapest yet.

It was a gloriously sunny day and we’d made arrangements with Fran’s cousin to go there today where we’ll watch Game 6 of the Oilers-Dallas series and spend the night at their place.  They have just sold their condo but don’t move out till the end of the month. Mike and Renee moved to Edmonton about three years ago from Whitehorse where we visited them in 2012 and we’ve met up a few times in Las Vegas since.

We arrived around 3 and had a nice chat and catch up until 5:30 when we walked over to a bar where they had booked a table to watch the hockey game. We enjoyed drinks and sharing dishes until the end of the second period when we walked back to their place to watch the third period and the Oilers won!  They are the western conference champions and begin to play in the Stanley Cup final 7 game series on Saturday!

Next morning after exercise and tea time, we said our goodbyes and headed into the city.

We had plans for lunch on the east side of the city with friends we met in Victoria back in the late ‘70’s.  Cheryl went to Camosun College with Doug and her husband, Darby,  was in the military stationed in Esquimalt.  We arrived at their place after doing a bit of grocery shopping for the rest of the week, and had a lovely time with a nice lunch.  Hopefully it won’t be so long before we meet up again!

Then it was off to see a high school friend, Colleen, at her townhouse on the west side of the city.  She served us a lovely dinner and we caught up on our mutual lives.  Unfortunately we forgot to take a photo – no surprise!

We spent the night at the Comfort Inn on the northwest side of the city and left by 8am the next morning.  In 2012 when we went to Alaska in Tigger we drove this route but turned westward at Valleyview.  We did stop in Valleyview for breakfast sitting at the tourist info rest area and then continued north this time – so we’ll be on new roads to us.

We made a couple of fun stops on our northward route.

We stopped in Wabamun Lake to see the lake and the world’s largest dragonfly:

Then in Falher to see the world’s largest bee:

This was a town founded by a French missionary and there are bilingual signs in town which is weird for Alberta!

The highway was dual carriage way all the way to Valleyview.

At the turn off north to Peace River, it was single lane highway but little traffic – sometimes divided, sometimes not.  Near Whitecourt, we saw gas for $1.42 so we filled up even though we were still above half.  We know the price will only get worse going north.

Then we pushed on to Peace River where we stayed at the Western Budget Motel – we wished we could have pushed on further but accommodation is becoming more scarce and our plan to stop in Hay River tomorrow night is a bust.  We looked online and found nothing available and the lady at this motel who knows people up there, made some calls and got the same response – there was a track meet in town – everything is booked up.  We inquired about visiting the Wood Buffalo NP near there and last year’s fire apparently did a great deal of damage and there’s not much left to see.  That means we will do a BIG drive tomorrow straight to Yellowknife.  Seeing how it’s getting hard to book, she recommended we find something today and book.  She tried a friend’s place there and it was full.

Here in Peace River we got a large king room with a full size fridge, fireplace and private bath for $97 CAD ($71 USD) and were pretty happy with the room.  We had quite downpour of rain early in the evening.

We spent about ¾ of an hour planning out and booking our next week or so in order to not hit any snafu’s in the accommodation arena.  Who knew early June would be so busy!?

Wildlife tally:  today we saw 6 deer and a bison farm as well as many red winged blackbirds on cat tails in the ditches (photo courtesy of DK Photography online).

Upon leaving Peace River the next morning, not far up the road we saw a black bear cross the road!  Too far away for photos and he was long gone when we reached where we figured he crossed.

We saw a great deal more forest than farmland as we continued towards the provincial/territorial border and far fewer towns.  Oil derricks were in the fields now and never just one; sometimes six side by side  It’s all very green and there are few wild flowers up here.

There dozens of large beaver lodges in the ponds along the side of the highway:

No beavers visible however.

On the drive we had a great deal of misty Vancouver rain but the further north, we went the dryer it got and the some began to peek out.

At the town of Manning we stopped to get gas at $1.56 and then visited the “Manning Moose” outside the hardware store.

Then we begin to see burnt out trees:

At the north end of the Alberta highway, we began to see signs saying “smoke” and as we continued to the North West Territories (NWT), we began to smell smoke and see it in the distance.

In Alberta we drove 2056 km / 1277 miles in total.  This is one of the few provinces we crossed south to north!