Exploring Nordegg, and the Brazeau Collieries Upper Mine Tour

I did a two-part visit to the historic coal-mining town of Nordegg. The first was a quick look on Day 44 of the trip – Friday, June 8th – then I returned the next day to do the Upper Mine Tour at the Brazeau Collieries.

I had my first look at Nordegg last December, and knew that I had to get back. This pair of visits has only whetted my appetite to see a lot more, as I know I’ve only scratched the surface, a quite accurate term to use in a mining town 🙂

It was German entrepreneur Martin Nordegg who started mining coal here 1911, after hearing about the deposits three years earlier. In August 1914 when the Canadian Northern Western Railway reached it, the town that grew up around the mine was named Nordegg. Mr. Nordegg had actually applied for and received a Dominion Charter to build the line himself as the Alberta and Brazeau River Railway Company, but that didn’t happen.

As I did last time, I began my look at Nordegg at the upper end of town. This brick building, originally the Bighorn Trading Post, is currently being renovated according to my friends in the Alberta’s Abandoned History group at Facebook.

Bighorn Trading Post at Nordegg, Alberta
The church is now just called the Nordegg Community Church. Some sources call it a historic building while others hint that it is a reproduction built after the original Protestant church burned down in 1975. Services were re-started in 2003 by CSSM Ministries, now called One Hope Canada.

Church at Nordegg, Alberta
On a bench above the church, I discovered a rail yard with 4, perhaps 5 sets of tracks. The railway history of Nordegg appears to be quite interesting in its own right, though I haven’t found a good compilation or summary of it yet.

Rail lines at Nordegg, Alberta

Rail lines at Nordegg, Alberta
Beyond fascinating history, Nordegg has great recreational opportunities. This road is the access to the East Bush Trail, the Brazeau Ridge Trails, and the Rail Trail.

Trail access at Nordegg, Alberta
After years of being threatened with demolition the brick Shanks Garage has now been saved and is earmarked for restoration.

Shanks Garage at Nordegg, Alberta
I just can’t go by cemeteries. From my brief look previously, I knew that this is one that I could spend a great deal of time in.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta
There are 250 graves at the cemetery, and they’ve been thoroughly documented by Maureen Klingenberg for Find A Grave.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta
Some of the headstones are particularly beautiful, like this one for Thomas James, who was born in England and died at Nordegg in 1926 at the age of 62.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta
Trees almost always win the battle with concrete.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta
How sad to see such detailed woodwork falling apart on a headboard.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta

I then went in search of a parking spot for a couple of nights, ending up at the Abraham Lake Viewpoint, described in my last post. I returned on Saturday morning for the mine tour.

The tours, which are now operated by Clearwater County, start at the Nordegg Heritage Centre, which is in a building constructed in 1945 as the Nordegg School after the original schoolhouse burned down.

Nordegg Museum, Alberta

In 2015, Barry A. Taylor posted a pair of extremely good articles about the two mine tours that are normally available, the Upper Mine Tour and the Brazeau Collieries Tour.

You drive yourself to the start of the tour at the colliery. The road goes under a railway trestle that only has 12′ 3″ clearance – if you have a motohome that’s higher than that, there’s a road around it.

Railway trestle at Nordegg, Alberta
Vandalism has been a big problem at the Brazeau Collieries site, which is now fenced and well-marked as a National Historic Site so charges are easier to lay against the vandals. Tours used to be self-guided, but now access is only available on guided tours.

Brazeau Collieries at Nordegg, Alberta
Jessie, our guide, began the tour right at 10:30. There were 13 of us, including 4 kids. Tourist season has barely begun, and everyone except me was from Alberta.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
A large group of kids was on a special tour a few minutes ahead of us – they can be seen at the steam plant in the next photo.

Steam plan at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
We began where the miners would have, at the locker and shower rooms. Many of the artifacts such as the lockers were tossed outside when the colliery became a minimum-security prison in the 1960s.

Locker room at the Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The shower room is being used to store spare parts. The next photo looks like it was shot as a black-and-white, but it’s actual colour.

Ore cart axles at the Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
These cars were a couple of hundred feet off the tour route, so I didn’t get a good look at them.

Antique cars at the Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
Walking to the next stop, the steam and power plants. In the distance to the right of the power plant is a wall of the train shop.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
When the site was a prison, inmates were paid to tear down the brick buildings so the bricks could be sold. Most of the bricks remaining are ACP, but I saw 3 other brands as well.

ACP brick at the Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The ruins of the power plant. The two partial brick walls at the far end were reconstructed to better define the building’s size. One wall of the train shop has also been rebuilt.

Power plant at the Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
A closer look at the steam plant, one of the parts of the operation that I’d like to have heard more about.

The steam plant at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The ruins of the train shop. The colliery and the community were fully self-sufficient, from blacksmiths and a vet for the horses at the mine to a very good hospital in town.

The ruins of the train shop at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
There is some wonderful equipment in a large field of rusty metal, including this ore cart dumper. Jessie gave us a few minutes to explore through it.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
There is a vast network of tunnels (hundreds of miles, I expect), with three openings. Nordegg No. 1 was unsuccessful, but both Nordegg No. 2 and Nordegg No. 3 shipped large amounts of coal.

Nordegg No. 2 tunnel at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
One of the ventilation fan houses. This one is unsafe to go into.

A ventilation fan house at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The Nordegg No. 3 entrance. In this mine on October 31, 1941, 29 miners were killed in an explosion.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
This ventilation fan house for Nordegg No. 3 was safe to go into. In the lower center of the next photo is a grate that is an opening into a tunnel. The air rushing out of it is so cold that there’s a ring of ice around the opening. I was able to turn the large (almost 7 foot) fan in the building quite easily, after not being used for 60-odd years.

A ventilation fan house at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
Failing concrete is one of the biggest problems at the site. Jessie said that they made theor own concrete but weren’t very good at it. The wall is the next photo seems to verify that.

Failing concrete at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
This is the powder house, far away from any other buildings. Brazeau Collieries was apparently the first of the mines to quit using dynamite.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
Back at the field of equipment, I believe this rig chewed into the coal face.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
This is the most interesting brick I found and I thought that “Mexico Crown…” might make finding it online fairly easy, but Google came up with no information about it.

Mexico Crown brick Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The machine shop is one of the most intact buildings on the site. The hearth is seen in the next photo.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
I don’t know what this small cart would have been used for. Perhaps it’s from the briquet plant, which is closed for repairs.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
These machine drive systems fascinate me. The pulleys were connected to various machines by belts, and the size of the pulley determined the speed at which each machine would operate at.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The colours at Brazeau Collieries aren’t entirely concrete and rust 🙂

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The parts warehouse would have been a busy place back in the day.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
No information about this GMC truck’s use was available.

Antique truck at Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
This reconstructed log cabin was the first building at the Nordegg mines in 1908. On the right-side wall you can still see the pink stain from fire retardant dropped by water bombers in 2013. A friend of mine in Whitehorse was one of the pilots working that fire.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The interior of the cabin, which shows modifications made over a few decades of use.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
Houses like this were shipped in from Vancouver as kits – just nail the pieces together.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
The corners on the kit homes are very interesting. Although they appear to be just decorative, perhaps there’s a structural reason for it.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
We had a brief look at the lower briquet plant from a viewpoint. The tours through it are expected to be back in operation by July.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
Our tour lasted almost 2 hours, and was certainly a good investment of time and $10. On the way back into Nordegg, I stopped and climbed up to the railway trestle for a look.

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta

Brazeau Collieries, Nordegg, Alberta
There are some very nice building lots for sale in the upper part of Nordegg, but there seems to be no interest. I should have taken the listing agent’s information – I’m curious what they’re asking. I found other lots ranging from about $80,000 to $150,000.

Nordegg, Alberta
One final photo, of the Nordegg golf course.

Nordegg Golf Course, Alberta


Three days boondocking along Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

Just after 3:00 pm on Day 44 of the trip – Friday, June 8th – we left Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site and headed west on Highway 11. The destination was vague – somewhere around Nordegg, where I wanted to take a tour of the historic coal mine the next day. I arrived at Nordegg, 89 km from the Rocky Mountain House site, at about 4:30, and made the short detour into town for a look around. I’ll show you a bit of Nordegg in my next post, which will be about the mine tour.

I had been watching for a spot to overnight as I got near Nordegg, but nothing appealed to me. There were some Alberta Provincial Recreation Site campgrounds, but knowing nothing about them, I wasn’t willing to pull off the highway into any with a rig the size of mine. I remembered a huge pullout on Abraham Lake from last December, when I discovered this spectacular highway. This pullout turned out to be an excellent choice. The first photo shows the view ahead (to the west), of Mount Michener, named in honour of Daniel Roland Michener, who served as Governor General of Canada from 1967 until 1974. The peak is 2,499 meters high (8,198 feet).

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Next is the view across Abraham Lake, which is Alberta’s largest man-made lake. It was formed when the Bighorn Dam was built in 1972.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
The terrain to the east on the opposite side of the lake is very different than any other in the area.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Right across the highway from where I parked, there are some incredible rock formations. It’s hard to imagine the forces that can do that to rock.

Rock formations along Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

Rock formations along Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
I was awake early the next morning as usual, and was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise which I took the next photo of at 05:29.

Sunrise over Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
The colours on Mount Michener were amazing as the sun rose.

Sunrise colours on Mount Michener, Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Two more photos shot at 05:36 and 05:41, then the sun lifted into the cloud layer.

Sunrise over Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

Sunrise over Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Just 2 minutes later, my world was gray. Here’s what the pullout looks like – plenty of room for whatever might come along.

Abraham Lake viewpoint, Alberta Highway 11
Despite a weather forecast calling for clouds and occasiona rain, the sun was out by 09:00.

Abraham Lake viewpoint, Alberta Highway 11
The lake needs sunshine to bring out the gorgeous milky turquoise colour of the water.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
I wanted to take the 10:30 mine tour at Nordegg, so left just after 09:00 to allow for some exploring during the 50-km backtrack. First off, I wanted to know something about Alberta’s Provincial Recreation Sites (PRAs), so stopped in at the Dry Haven PRA.

Dry Haven PRA, Alberta Highway 11
It’s a small campground, with about a dozen sites. The fee per night is $20.

Dry Haven PRA, Alberta Highway 11
The camp sites are a good size but aren’t meant for larger RVs. Mine is about as large as you’d want to bring in (32 feet for the motorhome, 51 feet including the Tracker)

Dry Haven PRA, Alberta Highway 11
The next photo shows the only pull-through site at Dry Haven. I expect that most of its use is pickups with small trailers.

Dry Haven PRA, Alberta Highway 11
The main place that I had in mind to photograph was the Bighorn River. When I got back to it at 1:00 after the mine tour (which I’ll tell you about in the next post), the light wasn’t as great as it had been the previous evening, but it was still worth checking out.

Bighorn River, Alberta Highway 11
On the upstream side of the highway, a lot of erosion control has been done along the Bighorn River in very recent years, perhaps last year.

Bighorn River, Alberta Highway 11
I went down a little gravel road and ended up at this massive dry bay where a few people were camping. The unofficial camping areas I saw were getting much more use than the official ones.

A dry bay on Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
The next photo shows the Bighorn Dam. It’s the largest producer of hydroelectric electricity in Alberta, with an average of 408,000 megawatt hours each year.

Bighorn Dam, Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Back at the motorhome, a storm appeared to be closing in on us from the east, so it was time for some exploring with Bella and Tucker before it arrived.

Storm at Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
With the extremely low water, getting down the steep, rocky bank to the shore wasn’t easy. It also wasn’t easy getting these two to stop for a photo! 🙂

Murray with his dogs at Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
I found a gentler grade and even some sand where the kids could play.

Dogs playing at Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

Dogs playing at Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
The winds were extremely strong, but the rains were skirting around us so far and the main storm was holding its position to the east.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Bella found an elk knee that was fresh enough to be very interesting.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Bella couldn’t resist climbing up onto a high rock after I took her elk knee away.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
It was a good long walk.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Some of the rocks along the lake are unique, apparently having broken off from the cliffs above and tumbled down.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
The winds got much stronger, and we retreated back to the motorhome. At 5:30, I found the wind meter that I’d remembered to pack, and went out to see just how strong the winds were. I saw three gusts that went off the scale, which is 65 mph (105km/h)!! The one I caught in the photo was only 44 mph (71 km/h). Something was certainly going to blow in.

Wind meter showing 44 mph (71 km/h) gust at Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
The guardrails along the viewpoint have hundreds of signatures on them. It seems to be understood that it’s okay here – I saw entire families doing it. Bizarre. In contrast, though, grafitti on the rocks in the region is rare.

Grafitti at Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
With the wind screaming, we had a quiet night “at home” on Saturday night. I took this photo of Mr. Tucker with his bunny to send to Cathy. She misses all of us, but Tucker has a special place in her heart.

My little dog Tucker in the RV with his toy bunny
The next photo shows the view out the front window at 05:20 Sunday morning. As ugly as that was, it would soon get much worse.

A rainy morning at Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
A couple of friends on Facebook alerted me to a snowfall warning that had been issued for the area. Sure enough, there it is! That got me to re-thinking our plans for the day.

Snowfall warning in June
The rain began to turn to snow, and by noon it was snowing heavily, with the temperature at +3°C (37°F). I decided to stay where we were for another night. There were a few rental RVs going by – mostly driven by people with no experience with larger vehicles, and many probably with no snow experience. I’ve put a whole lot of miles on dealing with large vehicles and icy roads, but wanted to be nowhere near them.

RV on snowy Alberta Highway 11 in June
At about 12:30, two guys on Harleys stopped near me. Something didn’t feel right – conditions were atrocious to be out on a bike – so I went out and asked the front rider if I could put a pot of hot coffee on for them. He accepted, and when they came in, I could see just how cold he in particular was. After about 15 minutes, he started to shiver – he had been dangerously hypothermic. They spent almost an hour with me, and when they left, they were only going to Nordegg, where they’d get a motel. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t been there when they needed help.

Harley riders on a snowy day on Alberta Highway 11
By about 5:00 the storm had quit and the clouds were soon lifting. It looked like a good evening to take Bella and Tucker for a drive in the Tracker.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
We spent a few minutes at this little lake a few k to the west, just watching the ducks and geese on it.

A small lake along Alberta Highway 11

A small lake along Alberta Highway 11
I crossed over the Cline River, then did a U-turn and went back to walk across the bridge. Even with poor weather, this area is becoming one of my favourite parts of the Rockies.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Back at the small lake we’d stopped at, a pair of Canada geese was taking the family for an evening stroll. After being perfectly quiet before, Tucker just couldn’t take this and went crazy. He doesn’t bark at times like this, he screams. It sure got the geese off the highway in a hurry! I need to video him 🙂

Canada goose family along Alberta Highway 11
The next 3 photos just show some of the peaks along the highway.

Snow peaks above Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

Snow peaks above Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

Snow peaks above Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Beside the road were some Indian paintbrush, seemingly unaffected by the snow that had hit them. They’re one of my faourite wildflowers.

Indian paintbrush along Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
At Hoodoo Creek, a road went down onto the beach, so I drove down and we had another good walk and play.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
Back on the highway, I noticed a small gravel road at a large rock cut as we got near the viewpoint where the motorhome was parked. I was extremely surprised to find the road lined with guard rails, and leading to this spectacular picnic spot, with a single fire pit and concrete picnic table. Very odd. I could easily get my motorhome to it, and will keep it in mind for next year 🙂

Picnic site overlooking Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
The next photo shows the view from above the rock cut where the picnic site is located. What a superb spot to end the day.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11

The plan for Monday was to drive to somewhere in the Jasper/Hinton area, but if the weather cooperated, the scenery along the Icefields Parkway might be too amazing to leave.



Exploring Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

After picking the motorhome up from Westend RV Repairs at noon, our next destination for the rest of Day 44 of the trip – Friday, June 8th – was Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. I’d visited the site before in 2013, but in early May when nothing was open.

There are two entrances to the site. On my previous and this morning’s quick look, I had come in via the south-western entrance where the campground and other accommodations are. This time, I used the main entrance, which is much nicer.

The main entrance to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
While the campground entrance takes visitors through a forest, the main entrance is flanked by huge open fields, one of which is a bison paddock, and this lovely little marsh.

Marsh at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
The parking lot at the main entrance is small and not large-RV-friendly, so I went back to a field which had a gravel driveway onto it and where some cars which I assume belonged to staff, and parked there. I learned later that although there are no signs, that is the intent of the field, and it gets heavily used during special events such as Canada Day.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
The administration building is very attractive.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
To get to the entrance, visitors walk through these arches and around to the back of the building where the visitor centre is located.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
This courtyard is in front of the visitor centre. The sign notes the entry fees ($3.90 for adults, $3.40 for seniors, and youth up to 15 years of age free), and the hours of operation (10:00-5:00 pm, with the gate closing at 5:30). Many signs around the property remind visitors about the gate closing at 5:30.

Welcoming courtyard at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
With my wristband in place and brochure in hand, I set out to explore the large site which encompasses the sites of four forts which operated here between 1799 and 1875.

Map of Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
I began on the Chimney Trail, described as a wheelchair-accessible 0.8 km loop that takes about 35 minutes to walk (I took almost an hour).

The Chimney Trail at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
The twin chimneys seen in the next photo are all that remains of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s largest fort at Rocky Mountain House. It opened in 1868, but dwindling markets caused it to close just 7 years later. That was the end of the fur trade in the region.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
About 1/3 of the site of the last fort has been washed away by floods on the North Saskatchewan River. Parks Canada hopes that a multi-million-dollar bank stabilization project a few years ago will eliminate further losses.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
There are several Red River carts around the site. These were one of the main methods of transport while the forts were in operation. Beside this cart is a blacksmith shop where I spent a while talking to the two interpreters.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
As well as many interpretive panels, there are 8 “listening stations.” Each has 4 recordings, each of them ranging from about 40 seconds to 3 minutes in length. Unlike many such audio aids, the sound system is excellent, and the listening stations were the reason I took much longer than 35 minutes on the trail.

One of the listening stations at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
The monument seen in the next photo describes the connection of Paul Kane (1810-1871) to Rocky Mountain House:
In the summer of 1845 the Irish-born artist Paul Kane travelled west as far as Sault Ste. Marie, sketching Indians he encountered along the way. The following year he joined the westward bound brigade of the Hudson’s Bay Company and accompanied various parties of voyageurs to the Pacific Ocean. When he returned to Toronto two and a half years later, he had amassed a large collection of sketches of Indian clothing, artifacts and customs. The record of the trip kept in his published journal gives a unique impression of the life of Indians and traders in what is now western Canada. He died at Toronto.

Paul Kane monument at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
This cemetery contains the remains of 12 unidentified people that were found during construction at a large gas plant to the east in 1979. They were associated with the 1835-1861 post at Rocky Mountain House. Other remains were found at the gas plant in 1969, but I don’t know what happened to them.

Cemetery at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
Having finished the Chimney Trail, I continued on to the David Thompson Trail, which is 3.2 km long and should take about 90 minutes. On this trail, I found this memorial plaque, one of many with the same quote that are located in special places across Canada. I find them very powerful, and would very much like to find a list of them (and information about who is installing them) so I can visit as many as possible.
They will never know the beauty of this place, see the seasons change, enjoy Nature’s chorus. All we enjoy we owe to them, men and women who lie buried in the earth of foreign lands and in the seven seas. Dedicated to the memory of Canadians who died overseas in the service of their country and so preserved our heritage.

Veterans memorial at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta

Veterans memorial at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
A Metis encampment stopped me to chat with one of the interpreters. The young man took me into one of the tents to see a display of historic beaded leather items associated with Rocky Mountain House. The beading styles indicate that they originated in far-flung regions, and Rocky Mountain House did trade with Indians from a vast area. When I went to take this photo, the interpreter quickly moved a fire extinguisher that would have been in the shot. When I thanked him for doing that, we got into a long discussion about photography, which he got into about 4 years ago and is now quitte passionate about. I gave him my card, and rather think we’ll be chatting by email.

Historic beaded leather items at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
Much of the David Thompson Trail goes through forests, and the shade was wonderful on this warm day.

The David Thompson Trail, Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
All along the David Thompson Trail, interpretive panels describe plants that can be seen. The stairs seen in the next photo are the only ones on the trail, which is mostly level or nearly so.

The David Thompson Trail, Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
Looking up inside a large teepee was the great subject to create a mild HDR image with.

Teepee at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
Parks Canada has a wide range of accommodations available at Rocky Mountain House, including these wall tents.

Wall tents available for rent at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
Only a tiny bit of Brierley Rapids is visible from the historic site side of the river, but it’s sure popular for canoeists to play in – there were almost 50 people with boats pulled out there.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
A new administration office is being built at the campground entrance end of the site.

New campground-entrance administration office at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
The office is located in a trailer now.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
The campground has 24 unserviced sites. I forget the exact price but it’s about $20.

Campground at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta

By about this point, I could feel that I was getting dehydrated – it hadn’t occurred to me that almost 3 hours of walking might require some water. I skipped some things that I probably would have seen if I had been better prepared.

Both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company had forts at Rocky Mountain House. The fort that the Hudson’s Bay Company built in 1799 was named Acton Post, while the smaller one that the North West Company built that year was named Rocky Mountain House, as the intent was that it would draw trade from the west. The pits seen in the next photo are from that first Rocky Mountain House.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
Another pair of Parks Canada’s Red Chairs. Maybe they’re in every park now so nobody feels left out.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
Finishing off back at the Metis camp, with the Hudson’s Bay Company flag on the left and the North West Company flag on the right.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta

From Rocky Mountain House we headed west on Highway 11, planning to overnight somewhere around Nordegg, a historic coal mining town.



Exploring Rocky Mountain House, Alberta – the community

The first day of our 3-week wander back to Whitehorse was Day 43 of the trip – Thursday, June 7th. Rocky Mountain House was the day’s destination, and I wanted to have a good look at both the community and the historic fur trading posts site.

I love the Welcome to Rocky Mountain House, “Where Adventure Begins” sign (or whatever you properly call a structure like that). The community began as a fur trading post in 1799 – that sort of date is not one we often see in western Canada.

Welcome to Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
I initially parked at the community centre, which was a handy spot to take Bella and Tucker for a good walk. The nearby visitor centre was the next stop, primarily to get information about the History Walk downtown, but I picked up lots of other information as well from a very helpful staff member.

Visitor Centre and Museum at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

The visitor centre parking lot is small and not very RV-friendly, but I found a spot at the bottom of the property that worked for me to unhook the Tracker so I could go exploring.

The R. L. Zengel Legion Park is between the community centre and visitor centre. The small picnic area is notably nice.

Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
I was saddened to see this sign at the Legion Park. Maybe disrespectful people are simply everywhere now.

Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

The History Walk is what drew me to downtown Rocky Mountain House, but I stayed much longer than I expected, for two reasons. First, the History Walk has a game involved, but also, the streetscape aspect of the downtown revitalization that’s been done is beautiful.

The History Walk consists of 21 plaques like the one in the next photo. It describes Anna Chevalier, who gained fame as one of Dr. Carver’s Diving Girls, diving off high platforms while on horseback!

History Walk in downtown Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
A brochure leads you around to the plaques, though I never did find #7 or #13 – I searched and searched until it wasn’t fun anymore. Even without those plaques, though, I figured out the word puzzle, and in the morning collected my prizes, a Rocky Mountain House branded keychain and lip balm 🙂

History Walk in downtown Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
The History Walk brochures begins here at The Brick home furnishings store. Free day parking for RVs is normally available there, but it was Farmer’s Market day when I was there and the lot was full.

Farmer's Market at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
The broad sidewalks downtown have wheelchair-accessible ramping at many locations, and the entire streetscape is very welcoming (although I only saw a few people).

Downtown Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
A closer look at the heritage-style street lights.

Heritage-style street light in downtown Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
The next photo shows the Provincial Building, home to government offices. Rocky Mountain House’s downtown is rather unusual in that few stores selling products other than food are there – other than 2 drug stores, it’s largely services, including spas, health services, beauty services, etc.

Downtown Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
Murals decorate a few of the shops.

Mural in downtown Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
I really like this quirky paint scheme 🙂

Downtown Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

I took photos of all the History Walk plaques I found (19 of the 21), then worked out the wining phrase when I got back to the motorhome. Having seen no other good option, I put out the main slide in the motorhome and parked at the visitor centre for the night.

This was my view at 05:25 Friday morning, with Extra Foods and Canadian Tire on the opposite side of the highway. It was a beautiful, very colourful sunrise a few minutes later.

Dawn at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
Just before 06:30, the dogs and I went for a long walk in the lovely morning light. The area we overnighted in has a wide range of community services, including this large sports complex, the Christenson Sports & Wellness Centre.

Christenson Sports & Wellness Centre at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
I had seen signs for the Centennial Campground about 4 kilometers away, so after our walk took the Tracker for a look at it, for future reference. I wasn’t impressed – the sites are small for a rig our size, and it’s quite pricey at $22 for unserviced and $32 for a site with power.

Centennial Campground, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

When I got back to the motorhome, we had breakfast, then I prepared to depart for the National Historic Site. When I tried to pull the slide in, I got a big surprise – it wouldn’t move! It had been giving me grief for a while, and I had tried to get it serviced at Airdrie, with no luck. The woman on duty at the visitor centre called a local RV shop who said they’d send a technician out. When I went back to the rig, I managed to finally get the slide in, so called the shop and said that I could bring it in if they had a spot to look at it. They did.

Westend RV Repair was on Highway 11A a few kilometers away, a few hundred yards from the North Saskatchewan River. I dropped the RV and said I wouldn’t be far away when they needed me.

The closest place to chill with the pups was a boat launch on the opposite side of the river, a place I’d stopped at before because of the railway bridge in the next photo. It was very warm (about 24°C), so being close to water was great.

North Saskatchewan River, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
A small group was about to launch their canoes but seemed to be waiting for somebody or something, then a family showed up. Three of the canoeists tried the water – it was apparently quite cold 🙂

North Saskatchewan River, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
Three power boats arrived and played around in the area before one came to shore and picked up a woman and cooler then sped off.

North Saskatchewan River, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
I decided to have a quick look at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site – an orientation for our later return. The metal framework in the next photo replicates the layout of the original fortified fur trading post, named Acton Post, from 1799.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta
I took this photo of Westend RV Repair as I went by on the way to another site on the river. My motorhome is in the right-hand bay.

Westend RV Repair, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
This riverfront proved to be much better than the boat launch had been, and Bella and Tucker had fun playing in the shallow water. I was very surprised to find only one other vehicle there, at the far end of the beach.

North Saskatchewan River, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

I went back to the RV shop just before noon, and they were just finishing up. The slide works like new, and the bill was very reasonable. I’m still learning things about the RV, and the tech was great about showing me how to maintain the slide properly so this doesn’t happen again.



The final two days in Cochrane and Aidrie

Day 42 of my RV trip – Wednesday, May 6th – was our last full day in Cochrane and Airdrie. The next day, I had an appointment to get a repair done on the Tracker and then we began Part 3 of the trip – a 3-week wander back to Whitehorse.

The map below is the draft plan, but it will change according to weather (the Prince Rupert detour in particular is weather-dependent), what catches my interest along the way, and other unknown factors. Click on it to open an interactive version in a new window.


RV trip map - Calgary to Whitehorse, the wandering way

On Wednesday morning, I left the dogs in the RV and was away just after 09:00. They’re going to miss their leash-free plays at the Bow Riversedge Campground, but I’ll find other good spots along the trail north.

Bow Riversedge Campground, Cochrane
My destination on Wednesday morning was one of the Tim Horton’s in Airdrie, where my riding partners were involved in a charity fund-raiser for Tim Horton’s kids camps. The ride to Radium Hot Springs was such fun, we chatted about getting together for a multi-day ride through the Kootenays in the near future.

RCMP motorcycle officers in Airdrie, Alberta
I of course had to try one of their Harley-Davidsons on for size. It wouldn’t be my choice of bike for that job, but if someone else is paying the bills, sure, I’d take that job 🙂

Murray trying on an RCMP motorcycle for size
I got my pin and sticker for attending, then passed them on to a kid at the playground back at the campground in Cochrane 🙂

RCMP motorcycle pin
Driving back to Cochrane, I decided that it was time to check out a rock that’s intrigued me every time I go by on Highway 567. It appeared to be a memorial, and I expected it was for car crash victims.

Highway 567 west of Airdrie
It is a memorial, but it’s for the victims of the crash of an RCAF de Havilland Moth here in Simon’s Valley on November 10, 1941. Flight Officer James Robinson, who served with the Royal Flying Corps in World War I, died in the aircraft, and 18-year-old L.A.C. Karl M. Gravell, who had gotten clear of the aircraft, died of burns suffered when he went back and tried to extricate his pilot from the burning wreckage – he was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his actions. Local teacher Mrs. Frances Walsh was awarded the George Medal for her efforts to save L.A.C. Gravell. Often, the sites that draw in me like this one did, turn out to be very special places.

Memorial for the victims of the crash of an RCAF de Havilland Moth in Simon's Valley, Alberta, on November 10, 1941
From there, I made a detour to the end of the Calgary LRT train line, where a large 1950s sign has also been intriguing me. Was “Eamon’s Bungalow Camp” still there, out of sight from the highway? It turned out that Eamon’s is history. Built several miles outside Calgary in 1952, it was advertised as a “One-stop Tourist Service Centre.” The sign, noted as a high quality example of Art Moderne design, was integrated into the Tuscany Station property when it was built in 2014.

Eamon's Bungalow Camp sign at the Tuscany LRT Station
At the current end of the design spectrum is a pair of large sculptures entitled “roger that, 2015.” Created with galvanized metal and solar emergency lights by Bill Pechet, it is “a meditation on how movement, position, and distance influence our perception of a given situation.” A descriptive plaque continues: “The orientation of these lights was generated using the brilliant geometries of physicist and philosopher Roger Penrose. His investigations into the nature of consciousness illustrates that we can see the universe as both chaotic and ordered, depending on how we choose to view it.” Okay. Well, I understand Eamon’s sign, and 50% is not bad 🙂

Sculpture 'roger that, 2015' by Bill Pechet
I also appreciate the design of the LRT station itself, which is both functional and beautiful.

Tuscany LRT Station
I spent quite a while at Tuscany Station, watching trains and busses and people come and go while the traffic on Highway 1A (which was very light around noon) roared by below me.

Tuscany LRT Station

At the Cochrane Farmer’s Market, Cathy and I had met Rene and Romy Jansen, who lived in Dawson City for 37 years, during which time they owned the Wild and Wooly shop. I was immediately attracted by Romy’s paintings, and by the photographs that both are creating. On Wednesday afternoon, I joined them for dinner at their home on the ridge above Cochrane. Rene is as skillful in the kitchen as he is with a camera, and we had a wonderful evening. They return to the Yukon every year, and we’ll no doubt see each other again there.

With a 08:00 appointment for the Tracker in Airdrie on Thursday, I broke camp early, and was on the road just after 06:30. My 9-night stay at the Bow Riversedge Campground was by far the longest I’ve stayed anywhere in the motorhome, but it was a particularly wonderful visit, and I’ll be back next year.

Bow Riversedge Campground, Cochrane
Tucker would like to be a farm dog, I think. Cows fascinate him, and if he isn’t already watching for them, I always let him know when he needs to get up and look. Whenever possible (which isn’t often), I stop for a few minutes and let him and Bella get the smells.

Along Highway 567 west of Airdrie
I parked the motorhome at the Airdrie Walmart, unhooked the Tracker and drove it to Davis Chevrolet a few km away, and their shuttle took me back to Walmart to wait. Tucker and Molly (and Bella) are very good at waiting 🙂

My dog Tucker and cat Molly asleep on the RV couch

We ended up having a final family get-together at the motorhome. Andrea showed up, then Kylie and Kaitlyn came over on their school lunch break, and Steve took a break from his highway patrol duties to say goodbye. It was a wonderful way to end this visit. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but it won’t be very long.

The service at Davis was excellent, and with the Tracker hooked up to the motorhome again, we were westbound on Highway 567 just before 1:30. I avoid freeways whenever possible, and Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail, was going to be my primary route north to Rocky Mountain House.

Highway 567 west of Airdrie
The countryside transitions from rolling prairie to rolling forest land as you drive north on Highway 22, and by 3:00, an hour south of Rocky Mountain House, the prairie expanses were long gone.

Highway 22 north of Cochrane

That afternoon and part of the next day would be for exploring Rocky Mountain House – the community and the historic fur trading posts site.



Family time at Cochrane and Airdrie

We arrived at the Bow Riversedge Campground in Cochrane on Day 34 of our RV trip – Tuesday, 29th. I had reserved 6 nights there, but things got so busy with family time and then some other things, that I added one more night, then added another two.

After having wonderful weather for almost the entire trip so far, Mother Nature sent cold and wet to southern Alberta. This was the view on Highway 1A as we drove to Airdrie for the first of a series of events related to the high school graduation of my twin granddaughters, Kylie and Kaitlyn.

Highway 1A near Cochrane in the rain
The formal start of the commencement ceremony (a.k.a. “graduation”) at W.H. Croxford High School in Airdrie.

Graduation ceremony at W.H. Croxford High School in Airdrie
The presentation/congratulations for Kaitlyn and Kylie. A couple of years ago, I did a tour of the school and talked to some of the girls’ teachers – the quality of the facilities and the teachers at W.H. Croxford High School really is amazing to me (as are the courses offered).

Graduation ceremony at W.H. Croxford High School in Airdrie
Proud grandparents with the girls.


Driving home that night. The girls had a photo session in a park set for the next day (Friday), and we were praying that this would blow over!

A rainy evening on an Alberta secondary highway
The girls had picked Nose Creek Regional Park for the shoot, and Mother Nature cooperated! The next photo shows Kylie and Kaitlyn with their proud Mom, Andrea. Seeing the girls in those gorgeous dresses was shocking the first time – where has the time gone???

Grad photo shoot
All grown up, but… 🙂


Ever-patient Miss Bella got some love.


I can’t say enough about how wonderful the Cochrane leash-free park adjacent to the RV park is. Bella and Tucker love it, and we go there 3-4 times a day for walks and plays of varying lengths. The next photo was shot after we got back from the photo shoot on Friday.

Cochrane leash-free dog park
And the next photo was shot on Saturday morning.


On Saturday morning, Cathy and I went to the Cochrane Farmers’ Market at the beautiful Historic Cochrane Ranche Site on the opposite side of town. With over 50 vendors, it was excellent, and we spent quite a bit of money on jam, jelly, coconut butter tarts (from Pearson’s Berry Farm, the stand in the next photo), liqueur, buffalo sausage, and I don’t know what all else.

Cochrane Farmers' Market
My son Steve and grandson Brock brought their trailer to the campground for the weekend, and got the site right in front of us. Their Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Gracie, is getting old (14?) but played hard at the dog park. To help make the weekend perfect, Andrea and the twins came out for a barbecue Saturday evening. RVs and campgrounds are great for making special family memories.

Cochrane leash-free dog park
Ball time is Tucker’s favourite. Bella used to enjoy it as well, but Tucker is far too quick now and just leaves her in the dust, so she’s given up on that part of the play.

Ball time is Tucker's favourite
Tucker is generally my blogging buddy in the mornings, curled up beside me. In recent days, though, Molly has often taken his spot. She loves the RV life as much as the canine members of her family.

My morning blogging buddy in the RV, Molly the cat
I’ve looked at renting a motorcycle in Calgary a few times, and when Steve said that he and a buddy were going to ride to Radium Hot Springs on Tuesday, I asked if I could join them. Getting a positive response, I called All Season Rental Adventures, and on Monday afternoon, picked up this 2015 Triumph Tiger 800. It’s a bit spendy at $195 per day plus 25 cents per kilometer over 400 (and there’s a $4,000 damage deposit), but I had high hopes for a great day. Downtown Calgary at rush hour on a new bike was a bit outside my comfort zone, but by 5:00 pm I was back in Cochrane with it.

Murray with a 2015 Triumph Tiger 800
Tuesday got off to an early, chilly start. The temperature was -2°C (28°F), and I wiped a thick layer of frost off the bike before taking the kids for a long play in the park.

Cochrane leash-free dog park
I met Steve and Larry along the road in Cochrane, but then had to come back to the campground to pick up my Parks Canada pass and my swimsuit. I had been thinking “bike day!!” and not about the big picture stuff like national parks and hot springs. As always, click on the map below to open an interactive version of our route in a new window.


The day was simply incredible. Normally I’d have a hundred photos and could make this a separate post, but the day was about riding, not photography. We had a great lunch in Radium, soaked for a while at spectacular Radium Hot Springs, and put a lot of miles on winding roads through the Rocky Mountains.

Motorcyclists at Radium Hot Springs

Motorcyclists in Kootenay National Park
We stopped at the Ghost Lake dam for a break and to say our good-byes, as we’d take different routes a few miles east. I was hugely impressed with the Triumph Tiger 800 I’d rented. It has great power and is very nimble and responsive. I also sent about half an hour on Steve’s Triumph Tiger 1200, and Larry’s BMW 1600 cruiser, and if I was going to buy a second bike it would be the little Tiger – it fit me perfectly. Even the licence plate was perfect (JST42) because that’s how I felt – just42, not almost68 🙂

Motorcyclists at the Ghost Lake dam

Today, Wednesday, May 6th, I’m going to go into Airdrie to see Steve and Larry doing some charity work, back to Cochrane for a look around and to have dinner with a couple of former Yukoners. Early tomorrow, I’m moving to Airdrie to get some work down on the Tracker, then we’ll be heading north.



Up the Cowboy Trail to Chain Lakes Provincial Park and Cochrane

The next two posts are going to cover a broad period and will catch me up. This one is short because we didn’t see much that is likely to be interesting to my readers, and the next one because that week was almost all family time.

On Days 33 and 34 – Monday, May 28th and Tuesday, 29th – we drove from Waterton Lakes National Park to Chain Lakes Provincial Park, then on to Cochrane for a week-long stay.

The entire route was only 293 km (182 miles) – two very easy days. Click on the map to open an interactive version in a new window.


We stopped in Pincher Creek to get a few groceries, then our first tourist stop was at Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area. It’s quite small and not big-RV friendly, but it’s really pretty and so a worthwhile short detour off Highway 3.

Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area

Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area

From Lundbreck Falls, we soon turned north on Highway 22, which is the main highway on The Cowboy Trail. The rolling green hills of cattle country along the 70 km from Highway 3 to Chain Lakes were beautiful, and I’m really sorry that I don’t have any photos – there were no pulloffs and Cathy doesn’t take photos unless I ask her to. As I was driving along in the motorhome, I thought about driving back in the Tracker to do some shooting, but that didn’t happen. Next time 🙂

We reached the Chain Lakes Provincial Park campground at about 4:00 pm, and it took us a while to figure the place out, but we eventually settled in site A21. I made a loop around the large campground and day-use area in the Tracker, and was very impressed by the facilities. It apparently gets very busy in the summer, and I can see why.

Chain Lakes Provincial Park day-use area
This is the earth-fill dam that created the lake that the campground is at (called the Chains Lakes Reservoir).

Dam at Chain Lakes Provincial Park
The spillway of the reservoir intrigued me. With a bit more water flowing over it, it might make a good adventure ride 🙂

Spillway at the Chains Lakes Reservoir dam

Spillway at the Chains Lakes Reservoir dam
There were less than a dozen other campers in the 90-plus sites. The cost with electricity is $30 per night. Willows crowd many of the sites, but A21 was large enough, and gave us good access to grass dog-walking.

Chain Lakes Provincial Park campground

Chain Lakes Provincial Park campground
The campground also had ground squirrels!! Life was still good for Tucker and Bella 🙂

Dog watching a ground squirrel at the Chain Lakes Provincial Park campground
On Tuesday, we only made two stops en route to Cochrane – at Longview for fuel and “the world’s best jerky” (which I haven’t tried yet), and then at the Chuckwagon Cafe in Turner Valley for “Alberta’s Best Burger” (it was very good). People in this region aren’t shy about proclaiming their accomplishments with beef, whether it’s jerky of burgers 🙂 At the cafe, we offered to share a table with a local couple because it was so busy, and it was good fun.

Longview Jerky Shop
Our destination was the Bow Riversedge Campground in Cochrane. A big part of the reason that it’s our favourite city campground anywhere is the huge leash-free dog park, seen in the next photo. I’ll tell you more about the campground in the next post.




Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour

On Day 32 of our RV trip – Sunday, May 27th – the big event of the day was a 2-hour boat cruise on Upper Waterton Lake. The weather on Saturday hadn’t been great, but Sunday was as perfect a day as we could have ordered to be on the lake.

We had bought our tickets on Saturday, and were at the dock 15 minutes before the 10:00 am sailing time. The cruises, run by the Waterton Inter-Nation Shoreline Cruise Company from May 5th through October 8th, cost $51 each.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
While much of the information we read beforehand indicated that cruises are done with the historic 165-passenger M.V. International, which was built on Waterton Lake in 1927, we went on the modern 125-passenger Miss Waterton. I got one of the 20 spots on the open upper deck, while Cathy stayed on the open rear part of the lower deck.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
The tour does a complete circumnavigation of Upper Wateron Lake. This was the view back to the south, to the townsite.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
A particular fine perspective on the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.

The historic Prince of Wales Hotel from the Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
Getting a broad view of the effects of the Kenow Wildfire was very interesting in places.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
We pulled in within feet of these impressive cliffs. I think he was kidding about cliff divers, but expect that he was serious about it being a popular place to conduct weddings.

Impressive cliffs, Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour

Impressive cliffs, Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
The scenery was too incredible to properly describe in words or even to capture in photos.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
The Canada/USA border cut on the east side of Upper Waterton Lake.

The Canada/USA border cut, Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
And the border cut and monuments on the west shore. The guide said that the border cut was last slashed out 4 years ago. What a job that would be!

The Canada/USA border cut, Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
If I had taken notes, I’d be able to tell you the name of the next two creeks and the icefield beyond. I took a notepad but was too busy taking photos to be writing 🙂

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour

Montana's Waterton River, Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
Many of the peaks along the lake rise to over 8,000 feet.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
The Goat Haunt Ranger Station, Montana.

The Goat Haunt Ranger Station, Montana - Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
This is Montana’s Waterton River.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
A popular hiking trail leads south from the dock at Goat Haunt.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
The upper deck of Miss Waterton. Crew checked at least twice to ensure that only 20 people were up there, but few people were moving around.

The upper deck of Miss Waterton, Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
I really wasn’t ready to leave. If the engine had quit and we had to wait a couple of hours for another boat, I’d have been okay with it. Well, with no bathroom on board, maybe one hour 🙂

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
More views of the effects of the Kenow Wildfire, which only reached about halfway down Upper Wateron Lake.

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
Bertha Peak, which looms above the Townsite Campground, is pretty much completely burnt.

Bertha Peak, which looms above the Townsite Campground, Waterton Lakes National Park
The Townsite Campground from the water.

Townsite Campground, Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour
That’s snow in the yard of that home – fairly deep snow (over a foot deep).

Waterton Lakes National Park boat tour

Right at noon, we docked back at the Waterton Townside, and our exploration of Waterton Lakes National Park continued in other ways (described in the last post).

The next day, we headed north towards Cochrane, where we’d be for a week or so.



Discovering Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Our next destination after Crowsnest Pass was Waterton Lakes National Park. Although I generally title my posts “exploring…”, Waterton was more significantly a discovery – our discovery of a park we knew very little about, but is now, for both Cathy and I, our favourite national park. For a park to take that title away from Jasper in Cathy’s mind says a lot about Waterton. This post has 49 photos that I hope will give you an idea of why, and the next post will be about a boat tour in the park.

We left Coleman just after noon on Day 30 of our trip – Friday, May 25th – and decided to stop for a restaurant lunch somewhere along the way. That didn’t happen until we stopped at Pincher Creek for groceries, at the Co-op in the Ranchland Mall. Inside the mall is the Bent Fork Eatery, and the cozy country decor invited us in. We started by having a long chat with one of the owners, Susan Casey-Turner, who was having lunch herself. The Bent Fork has only been open for a few months, and hearing Susan’s story was a really interesting way to start our lunch. After ordering our food, we also got into a long chat with Susan’s husband, Kevin Turner, and heard more of the stories that can be read in the Pincher Creek Echo. Regardless of how friendly the owners and staff are, though, it’s the food that makes or breaks a restaurant, and ours was exceptional (I had a burger, and a large piece of home-made cheesecake for dessert). We got lucky and missed the lunch rush which has lineups out the door, but even if we hit one of those lineups next time, we’ll be stopping again.

The Bent Fork Eatery, Pincher Creek, Alberta
We arrived at the Townsite Campground in Waterton at about 3:30 pm. We had reserved campsite #A5, one of the 90 fully-serviced sites, for 3 nights, but had no plans for the park except to take the famous boat tour. The weather when we arrived was perfect, with the temperature at about 24°C/75°F even though we were at an elevation of 1,290 meters (4,232 feet), and I was quite stunned by the beauty of our surroundings.

Townsite Campground in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Our first discovery was Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus). They prefer areas with short grass, so the campground is perfect, and at least a dozen had burrows within 100 feet of us.

Columbian ground squirrel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Both Bella and Tucker went crazy over the squirrels, totally forgetting pretty much all of their training when we were within sight of a ground squirrel. They were always on leash, and the ground squirrels seemed to be very confident that they were safe.

My shelty/husky cross Bella in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
We had a calm evening, doing little but sitting at our campsite marvelling at the peaks, with a few dog-walks around the campground and down to Upper Waterton Lake. Overnight, rain arrived, and Saturday became our second rain day of the trip. We didn’t mind the excuse to slow down, and the clouds were high enough that our amazing views weren’t diminished greatly.

Rainy day at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
I soon found a dog-walking route that I really enjoyed. Walking up Cameron Creek, which was only about 100 meters/yards from our campsite, and then back down the other side thanks to two bridges, was a good length and there were few ground squirrel burrows along the route.

Cameron Creek, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The dog-walking loop took us past spectacular Cameron Falls, one of the most-photographed sites in Waterton. At full Spring flow like this, spray pours out of the canyon and across the foot bridge, which has drain holes to shed the water.

Cameron Falls, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Cameron Falls, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Much of Waterton Lakes National Park is closed due to the Kenow Wildfire, which burned 38,000 hectares, including 19,303 hectares in the park, last September. I was shocked by how close the fire had come to homes and other buildings in the Waterton townsite, and incredulous that firefighters were able to save the townsite.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The rain eased off Saturday afternoon, so we took a drive out to the bison paddock. The Bison Paddock Loop Road is closed due to the fire, but a short road alongside it is open. The bison paddock is accessed from outside the park gates, and I had forgotten my Parks Canada annual pass. I walked up to the gate and talked to the ranger about it, then decided to return to the campground to get it.

Bison Paddock at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Waterton Lakes is the only national park in Canada that protects rough fescue, a grass that is a highly nutritious food for plains bison, but virtually all of it burned, and we saw no bison. I’ve just found a report that Parks Canada relocated the bison herd before the fire reached the area, and there’s no timetable set for their return.

Bison Paddock at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Seeing the bison paddock gave us an even better idea of the scale of the fire, not only in the forests as I expected, but on the vast grasslands as well. In total, 38% of the park was burned.

Bison Paddock at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
We next made a short stop at the Maskinonge Lake day-use area, which was largely burned but is still open.

Maskinonge Lake day-use area, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Highway 6 leading from Waterton to Glacier National Park in Montana looked like it would offer great scenery, so that was our next route. The interpretive panels at the viewpoint in the next photo describe the primary significance of Waterton Lakes National Park, “where the mountains meet the prairies” – the change is incredibly sudden, and you can see that very clearly from the viewpoint.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta - where the mountains meet the prairies
The “Welcome to Alberta” sign just north of the border crossing.

Welcome to Alberta sign on Highway 6
We turned around right at the Chief Mountain border crossing, which just officially opened to travellers for the season 11 days before. It sits at an elevation of about 1,615 meters (5,300 feet) and often doesn’t open until June 1st, but heavy visitation is expected this year, up from the normal annual average of 130,000 people. The crossing was established when the Chief Mountain International Highway was completed in 1936, and is one of only two on the US-Canada border that are closed during the winter (Poker Creek – Little Gold Creek at the Yukon/Alaska border on the Top of the World Highway is the other).

Chief Mountain border crossing
After dinner at the campground, we walked down to the lake again. It’s apparently always windy at Waterton, and it was quite chilly, with more rain blowing in from the south.

Upper Waterton Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The view up Cameron Creek from the lower bridge near the lake.

Cameron Creek, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
There are a lot of posters and notes around the campground warning about aggressive deer, as well as a couple of these signs. Dog owners are warned to keep well away from deer, which may attack without provocation.

Deer warning sign at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
An interesting “storm light” took me back down to the lakeshore at about 7:00 pm to get a few photos.

Upper Waterton Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
At 8:10, I noticed the nearly-full moon rising. Although it was well above the eastern ridge (which is the southern ridge of Vimy Peak), I could visualize a photo, and took off walking as fast as I could across the campground to get the moon and some of the crags in position for a series of photos. Cathy is quite used to this sort of strange behaviour 🙂

Moon rising over Vimy Peak at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The view to the south from our campsite at 06:20 on Sunday morning. While having the campground only half full helped make it so wonderful, the sites are large enough that I think it would be reasonable even at capacity, which it is from late June until early September.

Townsite Campground at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The public washrooms in the Townsite Campground are notably nice – fairly new and spotlessly clean.

The public washrooms in the Townsite Campground, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Edith Peak that towered above us to the west had some interesting features that now stand out starkly above the burnt forest.

Edith Peak, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
On Saturday, I bought tickets for the 10:00 boat tour on Sunday. I took the next photo as we were walking to the boat, but I’ll tell you about the boat tour in the next post.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Back from the boat tour, we took Bella and Tucker back down to the lake for a while.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Just before 2:00, I left Cathy and Bella (and Molly) at the campground, and Tucker and I headed out in the Tracker to get some hiking done (it was too warm for Bella). They looked pretty comfortable as I left 🙂

Townsite Campground, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Cathy and I had stopped to read an interpretive panel about Kootenai Brown, and my first stop was that pullout, as I wanted to walk down to the graves of Brown and his two wives. This is the view back to the south (towards the townsite) from the pullout/trailhead.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The trail to the graves is only about 300 meters/yards long. We met a Parks Canada biologist doing plant succession studies in the fire zone.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
This entire area was burned.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The gravesite seems to have somehow escaped the fire. Brown’s headstone says “George Brown. Born 1839. Died 1916.” Brass plaques have been placed for his wives: “Olivia Lyonnais Brown, 1849 – 1884” and “Isabella Brown, 1856 (ca.) – 1935”.

Grave of George 'Kootenai

Grave of George 'Kootenai
The two main scenic drives within Waterton Lakes National Park, Red Rock Parkway and Akamina Parkway, are both closed due to the fire, but Red Rock is open for walking and biking for a ways (I wasn’t clear on how far), so it was going to be our main hike.

Red Rock Parkway, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
We started off on the trail beside the road…

Red Rock Parkway trail, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
…but then moved over to the road, since there were no vehicles on it.

Red Rock Parkway, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The views along this road certainly certainly firmed up the desire to return to Waterton when everything is open.

Red Rock Parkway, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Only 30 minutes from the car, our hike came to an end. The bear on the road showed no sign that he intended to leave, and 6 cyclists were trying to figure out how to get past him to return to their vehicles.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Tucker and I were back at the campground just after 4:00. As I was barbecuing steaks behind the RV out of the wind, six Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) joined us for dinner, grazing through our campsite for about half an hour. Twice during our stay, we had bighorn sheep graze by us.

Mule deer in the Townsite Campground at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The final thing we wanted to do on Sunday was see the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, the iconic lodge which sits high above the townsite with a panoramic view.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The interior of the hotel is gorgeous – a classic park lodge with huge timbers. According to the many reviews which give it mediocre or poor ratings, it also has few modern amenities, but a little research and/or the right attitude wouldn’t put people in a postion to be disappointed like that.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
When I looked out at the view, a photographer and several assistants were using the ever-present wind for some sort of fashion shoot.

Fashion photography at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
The views are stunning – over the townsite…

View from the Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
…and a panorama of Vimy Peak and the other mountains along Upper Waterton Lake.

View
On Monday morning, we discussed at length whether to add another day to our stay at this incredible place. Bella and Tucker clearly weren’t finished with squirrel-watching 🙂 The final decision, though, was to continue on, mostly because we’re determined to return when everything is open, although we may never get weather like this again.

Townsite Campground, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Before leaving, Cathy drove over to the main shopping street while I walked around the townsite.

Waterton townsite, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
This former Texaco gas station was one of my favourite buildings in town. The business now sells and rents a wide variety of things, as well as gas. The gas, surprisingly, was very reasonable, at $1.329 – I had expected about 20 cents more, given the location.

Former Texaco gas station in the Waterton townsite, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
One final photo before we headed north, of the RCMP detachment.

RCMP detachment in the Waterton townsite, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

We didn’t have a firm plan as we drove towards Cochrane,where we had reservation starting on Wednesday – we’d stop for the free night wherever it felt right.



More Crowsnest Pass exploring – coal, historic architecture, and art

Our exploring of the Crowsnest Pass only lasted a little over 24 hours, but it was enough to convince us to return for a longer period. After hitting the major sites on my list of must-sees during the main part of Day 29 of our trip – Thursday, May 24th – we visited more places of interest that evening and the next morning.

We had settled on the Crowsnest Pass Campground as a good base for our exploring, but we had set up quickly and then headed out in the Tracker, so didn’t get a good feel for the place until we returned for dinner. The hill above the campground proved to be a wonderful place to take Bella and Tucker.

Crowsnest Pass Campground, Bellevue, Alberta
The hill above the campground offered even better views of the valley and surrounding mountains, and lots of wildflowers.

The hill above Crowsnest Pass Campground, Bellevue, Alberta
After dinner, we drove to the nearby Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site. This is another site that’s very visible from the highway, so had been on my list of places to stop “when I had time” for many years. Leitch Collieries was the only completely Canadian owned and operated coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass, but only lasted 8 years, closing in 1915. This is the power house in the next photo. It’s the largest building remaining on the site, well reinforced by new timbers.

Power house at the Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
As seems to be the norm in Alberta, the interpretation at Leitch Collieries is of a very high quality. I had many questions as I went through the property, and found answers to them all on interpretive panels.

Power house interpretive panel at the Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
There is a sunken area for conducting talks in the power house, which was the largest such structure in the Crowsnest. The quality of the stonework is as notable as the size.

Power house at the Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
This photo is one of several at the site that show the layout of the colliery from various angles. The power house is just to the right of centre in this photo.

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
There is a particularly good photo in front of the power house that shows it with the massive washery behind it.

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
The stone mansion built for the mine manager on the opposite side of a rock bluff from the colliery is the other main building remaining. It had indoor plumbing with fresh water pumped from a nearby spring, hardwood floors, a large balcony on 3 sides of the second story, and a dumbwaiter running from the ground-floor kitchen to the dining room.

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
The next photo shows the power house from the rock bluff separating it from the mine manager’s house. This was my favourite view on the property. There’s no trail to get up there, but it would be a good addition 🙂

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
The coal washery was quite a structure, but there’s nothing left now. One of the panels says that the company went bankrupt because of conditions the owners had no control over, but my interpretation of what I saw and read is that they over-built. Everything was larger and fancier than what was needed – the large stone mansion for the manager, the largest power plant in the region, and only about 1/3 of the ovens were ever fired.

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
This is all that’s left of the impressive line of 101 fancy Mitchell coke ovens, which had two doors and were much more efficient than the traditional beehive ovens which only had one door.

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
A final look at the mine manager’s house, from Highway 3. This is the view that had been enticing me for so long.

Mine manager's house, Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
The next morning got off to its usual lazy start in the RV. Bella loves the cool morning air 🙂

Our shelty/husky cross Bella sleeping on the couch in the RV
By 07:30, the dogs and I were walking back up the hill above the RV park to enjoy the morning light and the wildflowers.


When Cathy came back from having a shower, she said that the washrooms are “exquisite.” That’s not a term that I’d ever heard in a campground, so I had to go for a look. While I might not use that term, Crowsnest Pass Campground has the nicest washrooms I’ve yet seen in a campground. Although there’s a lot of highway noise, the campground served our needs very well, and we’ll probably stay there again on our next trip.

Men's washroom at Crowsnest Pass Campground

Men's washroom at Crowsnest Pass Campground
Beside west-bound Highway 3 right at the campground entrance is this very attractive “Welcome to the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass” structure. As the Crowsnest Pass coal industry faded, the communities of the region were hard hit financially as their tax bases collapsed. In 1979, the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass was formed by the Town of Coleman, the Town of Blairmore, the Village of Frank, the Hamlet of Hillcrest, and the Village of Bellevue.

Welcome to the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass
Before leaving Crowsnest Pass, we wanted to see historic downtown Coleman, which in 2001 was designated a National Historic Site of Canada because of the number of historic buildings and other resources that still exist. Many buildings have interpretive panels on them, including the fire hall which was built after a large fire in 1905. A sign above the door in the little addition at the right rear says “Town Office”, though it’s a private residence now.

1905 fire station in Coleman, Alberta
The vehicles are different, but the residential areas around downtown Coleman retain much of the look and character of the coal-mining days.

Residential area near downtown Coleman, Alberta
Coleman’s first bank eventually became part of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. The original bank building from 1904 was replaced by this small but imposing brick structure in 1928.

1928 Canadian Bank of Commerce building in downtown Coleman, Alberta
The Coleman High School, built in 1936, now houses the Crowsnest Museum.

The Coleman High School now houses the Crowsnest Museum in Coleman, Alberta
I love old theatres, and would sure like to see the interior of the Roxy, which dates to 1948. It’s main structure is a large Quonset hut which was erected right after Coleman’s worst fire. The neon sign is a classic. The Crowsnest Herald has posted some photos of the interior and more information.

Coleman, Alberta

Coleman, Alberta
The war memorial is particularly impressive for a small town, and I wanted to have a close look, but both gates to the small park it’s in were securely padlocked. I don’ think I’ve seen access to a war memorial barred anywhere in the world.

Coleman, Alberta
I really wanted to see the Alberta Provincial Police barracks, but although it’s widely reported to be open and I could see displays through the windows, the doors were locked and there’s not even a sign of any kind on the building noting that it’s a museum

Alberta Provincial Police barracks in downtown Coleman, Alberta
While I did a fast walking town of downtown Coleman, Cathy poked around on her own. She went into an art studio that wasn’t really open but whose door wasn’t locked, and got into a long conversation with the owner, Kari Lehr. I joined them, and we continued the conversation. Kari is among the local artists working to turn Coleman into an arts hub, and she’s going to be doing a show at the North End Gallery in Whitehorse in September. The tv in the motorhome, which we’ve never turned on, is now wall space for a wonderful bear print (called “Field of Dreams”) created by Kari.

Coleman, Alberta

Although it was time to move on to Waterton Lakes National Park where we had reservations, we’re not nearly finished with Coleman specifically or the Crowsnest Pass generally, and we’ll be seeing Kari in September to refresh those connections 🙂