October 19, 2008

Lethbridge, Head Smashed In, Medicine Hat

For some reason I woke up at 5:00 this morning and could not fall asleep again. I got up, did some excercises, shaved, showered, and it still wasn't time for the free continental breakfast at the hotel. I read the paper, and finally 7:00 arrived and I had my breakfast.

But it was still dark! I snoozed until 8:00, and then checked out and headed off into a gray dawn. I decided to drive back west on the No. 3 to Fort McLeod and from there to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump -- a World Heritage Site. According to my guide book, it was supposed to open at 9:00, but when I arrived, the sign said 10:00. That was OK, because it gave me an hour to explore the trail through the killing grounds below the cliff. There were several signs warning of bear and cougar activity, so as I walked my head kept swivelling like a WWII fighter pilot, and I made sure to make plenty of noise as I trundled along.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a buffalo jump was a way natives used to kill many of the huge bison by driving them off a cliff. Then they would smoke and dry the meat, render the fat, and use the bones and hides for various purposes to get them through the winter. Nothing was wasted.

Over several thousand years, the jump at Head Smashed In was reduced from over 20 meters to around 10 as bones and fallen rock and washed off dirt filled the area below the cliffs. It's still an impressive site, with magnificent views over the rolling prairie and the Oldman River marked by a line of trees off in the distance.

The interpretive center was a strking modern building set into the cliff, with excellent displays about the site and the Blackfeet who controlled the area. While the autumn colours were modestly spectacular, I'd like to see the site in the summer, too.

Then it was back to Lethbridge for lunch, followed by a couple of hours near the Oldman River, where I walked some trails, viewed the magnificent rail trestle bridge (the longest in Canada, or the longest in the world, depending on which sign or source you read), and checked out the reconstruction of Fort Whoop-Up.

As I was taking photos of the fall foliage I spotted a midsized beast curled up in a tree about 12-15 meters off the ground. I couldn't quite make out what it was, and a passing jogger said it was a porcupine. Huh? When the nature centre opened I went in and asked the staff, and sure enough, porcupines often sleep way up in trees during the daytime! That was new to me....

Two more hours on the road brought me to Medicine Hat, which I found to be a very confusing city to get around in. Dunno why, nothing seemed to go as I expected it to...

I am really on the prairie now -- it was flat flat flat for much of the leg from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat. But the wide open spaces are beautiful in their own way.

Posted by Paul at October 19, 2008 05:13 PM