Oh, Canada...

As some of you may know, I just got back from a week-long family trip to Alberta. We were in the Calgary area, checking out the dinosaurs and the living wildlife (animaux savauge). So, here’s a little trip summary. Pictures upon request

Flight not bad, but it turns out in Canada, there’s no place to eat open at 10:00 at night! Maybe, maybe in Calgary, the only city we ever saw, but not in the industrial district Airdrie. We ended up getting pizza. At least it was Canadian pizza.

Day 1 in Canada! We drove up east of Calgary to the little town of Drum Heller, famous for the Royal Tyrrell Museum. According to my brother (the resident dinosaur expert), this is one of the best paleontology museums in the world. They did indeed have nice models and skeletons, going all the way from the Precambrian to the Tertiary. But my favorite part was probably a cave-like room set “underwater” in the Devonian period. Nice lighting and fish and everything, but the cool part was that the floor was mostly clear and things were “swimming” beneath your feet. It’s disconcerting to walk on but really cool. The other neat exhibit was one where the painting behind the reconstructed skeletons showed the same scene. I do have two pictures of this one. Oh, and they also had a nice, green, Cretaceous greenhouse. Which I always like.

The museum also had a little theater, where we saw a presentation on “Dinosaurs in the Movies”, from the first little animation, Gertie the Dinosaur, all the way through the pseudo-documentary from the BBC, Chased by Dinosaurs. Have you heard of either of those? They’re both worth watching. Look up Gertie online for a taste of old-style animation, and, well, I happen to prefer Walking with Dinosaurs to Chased myself. My brother, of course, has both. The presentation also included Godzilla (not a dinosaur), the original Lost World, Jurassic Park, and of course, the classic Land Before Time. The info was just OK, but it was cool to see how dinosaurs (and special effects) changed over a century.

Afterwards we saw a short feature about the process a fossil goes through at the museum, narrated by Canadian naturalist John Acorn. Think Chris or Martin Kratt, but goofier. (What? You never watched Kratt’s Creatures? It was so much better than Zoboomafoo.) Then we walked around the badlands right outside the museum. Exactly what I expected…which was not too interesting, besides the ring patterns that were quite visible in the rock.

Day 2: Dinosaur Provincial Park. Actually getting up early…like, 8:00! We drove out to what was very clearly the Middle of Nowhere and found a little Visitor’s Center. After waiting half an hour in a buggy environment, we climbed aboard a bus and met our guide, Dylan. We drove on out into the middle of a park, into an area closed to the public (except for these tours, of course), and piled out. On the way to our destination, we passed, heard, and saw…a rattlesnake! Kind of scary, huh? It’s become my mom’s favorite story (she’s terrified of snakes). Then we finally got out to our destination: a fossil bed.

Of course, it was one that had been picked by paleontologists before, and then over and over by tourists. But it was still very cool. At the beginning it seemed very futile to be looking for bone and teeth amid millions of rocks, but then I found a bit of bone and then a really cool crocodile scute (back bump) impression. And from then on we all found a lot of cool stuff. One mom found a piece of fossil that Dylan couldn’t identify; he said he’d take it back for the paleontologists to look at. One kid found a deer’s lower leg. I’ll tell you the secret to tell if something’s bone fossil or rock. Bone’s porous, right? So if you lick your finger (one finger, that’s all you’re supposed to use…no souvenirs) and press it against the bone for a few seconds…the bone will stick to your finger. Cool!

On the way back, we took the “Dino Coaster” route…i.e. lots of hills and taking them a bit too fast for a bus. That day’s activities mostly took place during the morning, but it was a hot, dusty morning, so after lunch my dad and I relaxed in the hotel Jacuzzi. Ahhh….

Day 3: Driving way across Alberta to reach Lake Louise, a silty but pretty lake in the middle of the Rockies. (“It looks fake!” said my brother). We stopped in the town of Banff for lunch. In Canada, they have towns inside national parks. ?? It makes sense, sort of… Anyway, we took a long time to find lunch, but then I had the best chicken quesadilla I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Banff, eat at the Timber Food Co. We drove the rest of the way up to the lake and discovered (well, my brother and I, at least), that it was not a Best Western or Ramada we were staying at. This was a luxury hotel. Which, for us two, wasn’t really as much fun. (No AC on the first day, portable the next, for example.) We went out for a 2km (one-way) walk around the lake and I think my parents underestimated how long 2km is. Oh well? Back in the hotel, while waiting for a table for dinner, we checked out the local stores, the most interesting of which sold Qiviuk clothing. Don’t know if you’ve heard of that, but qiviuk is a very soft luxury fabric. They showed a video of the muskox (which it comes from) shedding in high winds…it looks like its pelt is just ripping off. *raised eyebrows* Anyway, dinner was in the hotel: my dad and I split some really good ribs, while my mom and brother had a great steak. We were not really expecting it to be that good. (The next night we switched, although I finished the steak myself and my dad had bison chili. I preferred the ribs, actually.)

Next day: We got up, ate in the hotel (overpriced!), and headed out—on a 5.2km (one-way) hike. And my dad and I went an extra 1.6km at the end to see the glaciers up close. It was a long, hot, and wildlife-y hike. Not my usual pastime, but perhaps worth it. Some places were narrow, some had dangerous places to slip, and all along we slapped at bugs. At the top there’s a “tea house” with, of course, tea, and, according to my parents, bad lemonade. On the way down we saw people rock climbing and saw a line of maybe a dozen horses. (We had already seen horses and dogs and people with babies on their backs or fronts, but no caravans.)

That was about it for that day. A long hike wipes everybody out. We had ice cream and ate at the same restaurant, as I said before.

The next day we packed up and left…too expensive. *grin* Well, and there wasn’t much else to do. Before we left, though, my parents and I rented a canoe and went out onto the lake…no mean feat for two adults with rotator cuff injuries and a teen with no upper body strength to speak of. It was a nice trip out on the lake. Very quiet, except for the sounds of other canoers (on the way back we saw four canoes racing).

On the drive back to Banff we stopped at a place called Johnston Canyon, which has a river flowing through it for a few miles kilometers. We took the mild hike up to the lower falls, which was cool because at the end you could go into a cave and come out only a few meters from the falls. The falls weren’t super impressive, but hey, it’s a waterfall. It was a nice canyon anyway, but sort of superfluous after the previous day. Still had sore calves.

In Banff we went back to Timber Food Co. (not as good as the first day) and continued to the Banff Gondola. It was a long ride (longer than the one we rode in Switzerland two…three?…years ago). At the top there’s a cosmic ray station a short walk down and up lots of stairs. One meteorologist stayed there for over 30 years, hiking up and down the mountain (before there was a gondola, obviously). They had preserved/reconstructed the inside of his cabin to make it look like it would have when he was there. Kinda cool. And I’ll take anything with “cosmic” in it. But it was a really hot/tiring stair-climbing walk, after the previous day, anyway.

We went to our hotel in Canmore and came back an hour later to go to the movies (at the single movie theater in Banff…since they didn’t have any in Canmore). My dad and brother saw Harry Potter 5 and said it was better than the previous four, while my mom and I saw Hairspray. It was meant to kind of be an escape from the trip, so I’ll give the movie review a separate post. But it was good. (Soundtrack itch lasted until I bought the soundtrack…two days ago.)

Last full day: With a nice leisurely morning, we headed back to Banff once more to go on trails and browse the selection of local stores. We saw the hotel my dad had stayed in for a conference a few months ago, and took another hike/walk off of that hotel (more bugs, more river). The hotel was the same cut (and the same company, Fairmont) as the one at Lake Louise. We didn’t end up having Cow’s Ice Cream, which my dad had gotten a recommendation for…but…oh well. We had only just had lunch. My brother was unable to find a reasonably-priced fossil, so we headed back to our Canmore hotel. That night we had one of my favorite activites, despite the lack of whitewater.

That’s right, rafting. Or at least, a float trip down the river outside Canmore, sighting local wildlife (osprey, deer, a beaver, and even a few bald eagles). Our guide, Jim, knew all about the area, despite being from Edmonton, in the middle of the prairie (as he called it). It was a nice trip, and we had other international tourists: a couple from Denmark and a couple from Bermuda. It’s hard to describe the tranquility and casual humor of a float trip, but it was one of my favorite trip activities by the end.

Last day: We headed into Canmore and finally found a fossil my brother could be satisfied with: an orthoceras, which looks (to me) like a fish-shaped mollusk. Then we drove back to Calgary and checked out the “Devonian Gardens”…which turned out to be a greenhouse in a mall. I’m sure it would be better in the winter (heck, even in the summer there were two weddings that day) but I actually preferred the Cretaceous greenhouse in the Royal Tyrrell Museum, even though this one was an entire mall floor. Lunch was uneventful, except for my brother getting a lurid pink-red cream soda. Why would cream soda be red?? We walked around Calgary for a while, got bored, and drove to the airport. The customs guy gave us a joking hard time about buying regular potato chips, instead of a more exotic flavor like (yes, they have this in Canada) ketchup. I got tagged as a potato chip purist and we flew back uneventfully.

Addenda

  • I tought my parents how to play Up, the game I learned (randomly) from Karin’s friend Shir at my dad’s work party/get-together at Shoreline. It’s now one of my mom’s favorite card games for just the right amount of thinking after a long day.
  • I finally beat the Champion in Pokémon Diamond…unlocking new areas that I probably won’t finish when I put my DS away again.
  • Tim Horton’s donuts are everywhere, better than Krispie Kreme but worse than Happy Donuts.
  • The restaurant Smitty’s is also everywhere, but despite being curious we pegged it as a Denny’s and never tried it.
  • I didn’t get a stamp on my passport coming back to the US. *disappointed*

All in all, it was a good trip. Last family trip before college…

Like I said at the beginning, I’ll post some pictures if anyone actually wants to see ‘em.

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