Our trip has so far been in the perfect order. Every destination ends up beating the previous one. The weather warming up definitely helps as well. We really enjoyed seeing Northwestern Ontario and then loved Saskatchewan even more. But then this past week we truly got to see why everyone raves about discovering Western Canada.
We started our stay in Alberta at Writing-on-Stone provincial park, which is one of only 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada. The campground is located in a valley surrounded by hoodoos (tall, thin rock formations). Approaching the campground from the prairies was strange as the park is invisible until you arrive very close. That’s because the whole park is well below the elevation of the highway. This provincial park is known for and culturally protected because of its concentration of indigenous rock art and carvings dating thousands of years.
The park was amazing and we had so much fun climbing all the hoodoo cliffs for hours each day. There were miles of trails exploring the hoodoos and the kids must have tried every one of them and climbed every rock during our stay. This area is also known as a popular spot for large snakes (including rattlesnakes) and we saw plenty. One day while hiking we witnessed two 6 foot long bull snakes mating aggressively right on the trail. Later in the day an even larger one slithered right through our campsite. We started making sure the motorhome door was securely closed at all times.
The park also had a small beach along the Milk River. It was a picturesque beach, however it wasn’t a typical beach. The reason it’s called Milk River is due to the water being like milk because of clay sediments in the water. Instead of beach sand on the shores, we set up our beach towels on the solid beach “mud”. This made for very messy kids at the end of each afternoon, but they loved making recipes and castles of mud and getting dirty everyday. Although we have been able to bathe the whole family in the small RV shower, we do appreciate full size showers when they are available at campgrounds.The shower facilities here were large, very clean and modern, but they cost $2 per 5 minutes. Because we did not have many toonies on us, this made for a fun game trying to wash all the kids at the same time in one 5 minute increment. The kids played along and we succeeded. Their reward was an ice cream sandwich afterwards.
After two nights at this spot we headed 2 hours west to another one of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Waterton Lakes National Park. This campground is situated in Waterton Lakes village which itself is all located inside the National Park. Every store and attraction in the village was walking distance from our campsite. Everyday during our stay here, we rode our bikes less than 500m to the huge community playground. Our campsite was right on the beach overlooking the massive Rocky Mountains. This made for an incredible view but it was the windiest and coldest part of the village. The wind by the glacier fed lakes was so intense that it was at least 10 degrees colder by the water than at the playground. One afternoon, there was a heat warning and we were suffering from the 30 degree sun at the playground so we convinced the kids to go play at the beach. Once we got to the beach, we all had to put on sweatshirts. The sun was still hot but the cold wind brought the temperature down to under 20 degrees Celsius.
Regardless of the wind, the kids loved the beach as always. They normally get an hour of iPad time near the end of the day while we make dinner. But on our first day here they asked if they could keep playing at the beach longer instead of their iPad time. We normally know how good of a campground we chose based on how much the iPads get used. During our entire 3 night stay in Waterton Lakes, we used them for less than an hour.
While we were here we did some pretty challenging hikes. One day we hiked all the way to Bertha Falls, which brought us over 200M in elevation up the mountains. The total hike was 5.3km. We saw snow in June and drank ice cold water in our cupped hands from running streams.
Another cool feature of this park once again is the wildlife. Deer are so common in Waterton Lakes village that we saw many walk right past our campsite. One day while biking into town we stopped while a dozen of them crossed the road right in front of us.
Finding Some Normalcy
Caleb is very social and always excited to play with new kids at every park we go to. One afternoon at the playground in Waterton Lakes, two bus loads of kindergarteners and first graders from an Alberta school arrived for a field trip. Yes, a field trip! Not only are schools open, they even go on field trips (a forbidden activity even when the Ontario schools were open). Caleb enjoyed playing tag and other games with all the kids for about an hour. They were heading for ice cream and the beach after the playground. The kids and teachers didn’t even have to wear masks and no teachers ever told them to socially distance. It was a great sight to see.
Next week we’re visiting family in the Calgary area before heading to Banff and Jasper. But before we get there we are taking a slight detour to go visit the Elk Valley/Kootenay region of British Columbia for the weekend. The interprovincial rules in BC are a little grey but the campsite we reserved at took our money and didn’t object to our Ontario address. The campground we’re staying at has a huge playground, some nice trails and a well reviewed laundromat so we can catch up on our laundry.
A few interesting notes on my experience with beer in Alberta: :
The town that banned beer: Between Writing-on-Stone provincial park and Waterton Lakes we identified the largest town to stop for our groceries as Cardston, AB. We shopped at a large grocery store and found everything we needed except one thing. As the weather was warming up, I wanted to pick up some beer. Realizing that beer in Alberta is sold at stand alone stores but that they are pretty widespread, I spent 15 minutes trying to find one close by while in Cardston. When nothing came up, I came across a newspaper article from a couple years back that described how this small town of nearly 4000 people, who are over 80% practicing mormons, voted to maintain an alcohol ban in their city.
Tourist trap beer: After not finding a single beer store on our 2 hour drive to Waterton Lakes, I settled for the small liquor/beer store in town. It was a nice place with so many craft beers to choose from, however in a true tourist town fashion, no prices were displayed anywhere. So instead of buying a case, I chose 12 beers from some Western Canada craft breweries I had never tried before. My final bill at the cash register was just over $50. Yes, I paid over $4 per beer. Thank god I didn’t grab more than that. It was good beer though and I really enjoyed sampling local beers on the beach while the kids played all afternoon. We’re heading to the Calgary area next week, so I’ll be sure to do my research beforehand so I don’t overpay for beer again.