Alberta, Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, August 26, 2008

19 09 2011

Tipis of the Albertan Plains

I took this photo in the Yukon, not Alberta, but it is a Wild Buffalo

Okay, so it used to be that there were a kabillion buffalos roaming the prairies, so many that when the Europeans immigrated they would just use the choice hump of the buffalo and leave the rest to rot. But the native people never did that—they respected the buffalo! For thousands of years the Blackfoot people conducted a killing spree called “Buffalo Jump”, but not every year, only years where the buffalo were particularly abundant. Then that year they would have plenty of everything and life would be leisurely.

How they did this was by making a herd of buffalo jump off a cliff at this one spot where the Rocky Mountains meet the plains of Alberta. They would spend weeks lining a sort of diminishing path with fence and then dress up like wolves and stuff and scare the buffalo into stampeding down this corridor. The path would become increasingly narrow, and by the time the buffalo realised they were about to go off a cliff they had so much momentum and so many buffalo pushing behind them they would just go over, either dying on impact or breaking their legs so the Blackfoots could easily kill them later. The people had a nearby camp where they would party and process this amazing heap of buffalo into skins and pemmican and tools. They used all the buffalo, not just the hump, but there were lots of bones left over and they are about 12 feet deep below Head Smashed In. (All other known buffalo jump sites have been destroyed, because buffalo bones have a lot of phosphorous in them, and the bones were mined during the 19th century to make fertiliser, and later to make ammunition. Head Smashed In had not been discovered yet, so that is how it survived).

One year, a teenage boy decided he wanted to see the buffalos jump from below, and he was later discovered dead under a mountain of buffalo, with his head smashed in. So that’s where the name came from.

Robin in Front of the Cliff Where the Head got Smashed In

The Interpretive Centre was almost comical in it’s depiction of the traditional life of the Blackfoot, but maybe only because today’s stereotypical depiction of their ancient lifestyle is accurate? (I hope that is the reason). As you drive up you see Tipi’s on the plains, and indigenous people are banging on drums and stuff. The centre was really interesting. I particularly enjoyed an accounting book in the room dedicated to the time when the European settlers’ and the native peoples’ culture collided. Unlike Leonard, who we had met at the Nisga Lava Beds, and who’s Indian name meant “Wolf on Ice”,  the names of the natives in this account book included ones like “Really Slow Runner” and “Never Pays His Bills”. It was like Looney Tunes meets History. I wish I had had the wherewithal to take a picture of this book, because those aren’t the actual names, they are just approximations (I don’t have a razor sharp memory and it’s taking me so long to write this blog it was now a while back).

Judy Garland in Annie Get Your Gun

When we left I made Step and Linda listen to Ethel Merman sing “I’m an Indian, Too”—twice— which was a racially charged song from Annie Get Your Gun that isn’t included in modern productions. It just seemed to go really well with Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. Click the link and listen for yourself.

The plains of Alberta are super windy and we saw a lot of wind farms from Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump to Pincher Creek, where we stopped for provisions, and the wind followed us to Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, where, after changing sites several times (Linda didn’t want to be in a site with a tree stump in it. ???) we spent the night.

How the Wind Blows





Alberta, Drumheller, and the Badlands, August 25 and 26, 2008

11 05 2011

People Roam the Badlands

These Silos are Tiny!

There’s no actual direct route from Calgary to Drumheller, but prairie lands were fresh for Linda, so we kind of drove down back roads for a while. It’s flat. We saw a row of grain silos far in the distance, but when we approached them, we found they were nearby! And really small; it was all an optical illusion. We had quite the laugh over that. (I mention this as a literary device called foreshadowing, the relevance I think, will come clear when we get to the hoodoos).

The Alberta Badlands, where soft earth deposits have eroded away and you can actually see the geological bands of the ages, look like the terrain where the coyote and roadrunner play. It was like we had been picked up and thrown into the Wild West. It was incredibly beautiful and I can’t believe I had been ignorant that such a place existed in the province right next door to where we live.

The Last Thing You Would See if You were Eaten by the Giant Dinosaur of Drumheller

Drumheller is famous for having the most dinosaur fossils of anywhere, so Drumheller is all about dinosaurs. It’s a sweet town but too touristy for us. We didn’t go to the dinosaur museum, although we did climb up the gigantic fibreglass dinosaur and take pictures from it’s mouth. We were able to get a pretty good organic espresso at a downtown cafe, but the lunch we had at Sizzling House was merely mediocre.

The Giant Dinosaur of Drumheller

A Majestic Hoodoo

Hoodoos are hard rock formations that have sort of flat mushroom heads that stop the rock below them from eroding entirely. They take millions of years to form. All visitors guides to the Badlands show pictures of their majestic, towering hoodoos, often with the sun setting behind them. We needed to go. Drumheller gives out all kinds of free tourist maps, and we saw the hoodoos were only 16 kilometres away. It was fun to drive through the Badlands. I looked for tumbleweeds and we stopped at a lone butcher called Riverside Packers—-ha! Sounds like a sports team— and bought steaks (in case you don’t know, Alberta beef is famous for it’s fine quality).

There were a lot of people there, and when we arrived we laughed and laughed. We had expected these sky scraping rock formations, but the hoodoos were shorter than we were! For some reason, people are allowed to climb all over them and some people have even scratched their initials in. It was hard to get pictures that weren’t full of tourists. You can climb high up the hill side, if you want to, but I didn’t.

Hanging Out at the Hoodoos

Linda is Horny

From the hoodoos we decided to check out the Last Chance Saloon. It’s in Wayne, but it’s a really short drive. To get there, you have to cross 11 (that’s eleven) one way bridges. In ye olde days, when miners hung out there, you could only get to the saloon by rail, but since then this bridge rich road was built. It’s an interesting place. The saloon has a hotel, a second hand store, and a little campground. There’s still bullet holes in the wall of the saloon from some long-ago cowboy incident. A tour bus was just leaving when we got there, so inside the saloon there were only 3 other customers. We started talking to the other customers, and one of them told us he had been instrumental to bringing Expo 86 to Vancouver. He was proud of that and said he made a lot of money. Eventually I politely admitted I thought Expo 86 had really ruined everything nice about Vancouver (I have lived in Vancouver since 1984), and he said he thought so, too, which was why he moved. Thanks a lot, buddy.

Inside the Saloon

We liked it there so we decided to spend the night in the campground. The grounds were pleasant and grassy, with the badland hills all around, and sometimes there are music festivals there. The only thing that didn’t really work was the wood we bought at the second hand store was so dry it burned super fast, and the fire pit was so deep you couldn’t really see or feel the fire. After the first $10 bag was gone, we debated on buying another one, but just went to bed instead.

The Big Badlands