Honouring Bomber Command and Ancient Buffalo in Alberta

My objective for yesterday was to re-visit the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, 209 km south near Fort MacLeod, but I got sidetracked a bit as well 🙂

Trying to work with my car’s navigation system was extremely frustrating – the directions even to get through Calgary just made no sense. I finally pulled over and did some digging into the basics of the system and discovered that the previous owner had set “Avoid Freeways” as a basic instruction. That explained much of the craziness!

With that sorted out, my first distraction was seeing a sign pointing to the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, 3 km to the west. I never did find it, and I discovered that 2 parts of that directional sign were missing – the “4” that should be after the “3” (it’s actually 34 km west of the freeway), and the “Closed” sign.

But, Highway 540 did take me into some pretty country, so I didn’t mind at all. I got a few shots of the grain elevator at Azure. It was built by Alberta Pacific in 1927, and closed in 1962 when rancher Sam Brown bought it.
Alberta Pacifc grain elevator at Azure, Alberta
There are a few alkaline lakes in this area. They have extremely high levels of various types of salt, which is what causes the white shores.
Alkaline lake in Alberta
I really like tractors, especially when they’re working.
Tractor working in Alberta
The view to the west on Highway 540.
West on Highway 540 in Alberta
Those are cows in the bottom of this impressive little valley along 540. My guess is that it was caused by a river draining a glacier tens of thousands of years ago.
Post-glacial valley in Alberta
Another look at the Azure grain elevator.
Azure grain elevator, Alberta
That’s unique! Not what I expect to see in Alberta ranching country at all.
A house with multiple geodesic domes
Nearing the community of Nanton, I was reminded of an aviation museum that I’ve wanted to see for many years – the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, also known by its pre-2010 name, the Nanton Lancaster Society Air Museum. Whenever I’ve driven past, I’ve been unable to stop because I was driving commercially and on a tight schedule.
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Admission is free but I was happy to put the suggested donation of $10 into the box, as it was clear as soon as I walked in the door that this was going to be an excellent stop. This painting is one of the first exhibits visitors see. Based on a real crash, it illustrates the appalling fact that of the 100,000 men who volunteered for Bomber Command during World War II, almost 60,000 were killed in action.
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
There are 16 aircraft in the museum’s collection, in varying states of repair from rough to near-perfect.
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Being able to climb into the Lancaster and sit for a few minutes makes it very clear what a mission might be like – if you can imagine the deafening noise and the fear-driven knot in your stomach.

As always, I didn’t have enough time, but now I have it on my list for another visit, perhaps when I come down in 6-8 weeks on my motorcycle.

It was 2:40 pm when I finally reached Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and I was getting a bit nervous about making my family wait for me for a dinner out. The plaza seen here was dedicated on July 25, 2012, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
The design of the large facility, which opened in 1987, is very simple, and it blends beautifully into the sandstone slopes.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
A tour is best started by viewing a 15-minute film, and it’s recommended that visitors allow 2½ hours to tour the site – an hour on the trails outside, and the rest inside.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
The various levels of the building and site can be accessed by either elevator or stairs.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
The view to the Rocky Mountains to the west, from the concrete trail along the top of the cliffs.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
A large wind farm can also be seen, on the opposite side of the Oldman River valley.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
The primary location of interest outside is the top of the cliffs that the buffalo were driven over starting about 5,700 years ago. It’s estimated that about 100,000 buffalo were killed here. There were some lengthy periods, up to 1,000 years, when this site wasn’t used. It’s surmised that environmental conditions may have changed to make it ineffective – abundant water, berries and buffalo are all needed to be present for an efficient hunt.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
There’s no question that some parts of the site may be upsetting to some people – the realities of life in the early days were often harsh.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
The displays inside are excellent – a brief look is possible, but a more in-depth one also is. Napi was the supernatural trickster of the Blackfoot peoples, and this section briefly describes the geography, climate and vegetation of the region.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
Some of the text is projected onto rocks – it’s apparently very effective, as that’s one of the things that I remembered most clearly from my visit 25 years ago.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
It’s very commonly said when discussing various Native peoples that they wasted nothing, but this board says otherwise: “In prosperous times, only the most desirable parts were taken, but when needs demanded, the butchering continued until nothing but the skull and a few other bones remained.”
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
The slaughter of millions of buffalo by Euro-American market hunters is touched on surprisingly briefly, as that slaughter changed the lives of the Indians of the Great Plains forever.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
Looking up at a full-size replica of three buffalo at the edge of the precipice is very impressive.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Alberta
Nearing Calgary again, at 5:30.
Alberta Highway 2 south of Calgary
Last night, we went for dinner at Boogie’s Burgers, made famous by appearing on the TV series You Gotta Eat Here. The burgers are indeed as good as the TV show said 🙂
Boogie's Burgers, Calgary

Today is a day of watching my grand-daughters play in a badminton tournament, and perform in a dance recital. Tomorrow, Mothers Day, maybe some exploring as a family…


Honouring Bomber Command and Ancient Buffalo in Alberta — 2 Comments

  1. My family and I are taking a road trip to the west coast this summer. We will have to stop at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and my husband would love to see The Bomber Command Museum- in addition to trains, he is also an aviation fan (we can see the runway of our aiport from our driveway) and has a particular interest in WW1 and 2 (Avro Arrow is a love of his, he was even in the movie!). Thanks for an informative blog post, looking at the pics of the Rockies has got me longing for a trip there! The weather looked really cooperative too!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Jan. I’m praying for good weather for my drive up the Icefields Parkway on Monday, and a day around Jasper on Tuesday before heading up the Alaska Highway. I hope that you have a fabulous trip – it’s so tough to set priorities on a route like that when there are so many wonderful sights (and sites 🙂 ) to see.