After a couple of very soggy days at Ghost Lake Reservoir near Cochrane, Alberta, we travelled into ‘Cowtown’ – home of the world famous Calgary Stampede (a 10 day rodeo, which was on). Calgary, particularly during Stampede, is Canada’s Houston, Texas, complete with cowboys (and cowgirls), honky tonk bars and, last but not least, the oil industry.
Interestingly, walking through Calgary on a weekend, despite the biggest event of the year going on, the streets were relatively quiet. Alberta is in the midst of a major economic recession and Calgary is at the heart of it given its role as the epicentre of the oil industry. Daily headlines grumbled about high commercial vacancy rates in Calgary (every oil company has at least one high-rise office tower), declining property values, as well as heavy job layoffs in the oil patch. Perhaps more telling, attendance at this year’s Stampede was at a 22 year low, partially due to the lousy weather. But its probably more because Alberta is in a funk right now (Fort Mac fire, Bow River flood, languishing oil prices, NDP government…), it’s all seemingly crappy.
So here’s our take. Albertans are our neighbours and we love them. But how about this? Get off oil as your primary economic driver. You already know that it’s prone to booms and busts, this isn’t a new phenomenon. But when prices are up, how about putting something away for a rainy day (like Norway does). Also, if Stampede organizers stopped gouging tourists (absolutely everything in town goes up in price during the event) maybe more people would have shown up. Use some basic business acumen Cowtown (we couldn’t even get through to their customer service line to find out about prices, schedules and parking). And how about this idea – charge a basic sales tax like every other province in Canada to help pay for services? The ‘Alberta advantage’ is probably a historical footnote so get with the times. Anyway, enough political commentary, what do we know…
One thing we (at least one of us) marvelled at was the mobs of young women, strutting around town in their short skirts / Daisy Dukes and cowboy boots. They were everywhere. One particular crew took up position in a rather amusing locale that was photo-worthy.
After Calgary, we drove east to Brooks, then north about half an hour to Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP). This area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 (joining the ranks of the Pyramids, Stonehenge, and the Great Wall of China). DPP has the richest concentration of Cretaceous era dinosaur fossils in the world – many of which are on display at the Royal Terrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta and New York’s Museum of Natural History. DPP is located in Alberta’s ‘Badlands’ a name probably coined by early French explorers who called the area ‘mauvaise terre.’ These badlands are the largest in Canada, stretching for 27 km along the Red Deer River Valley and consisting of mesas, hoodoos and coulees.
The campground is situated right beside the DPP field station and fossil discoveries – of some magnitude – continue annually all around as the sandstone erodes. If that’s the case, they’ll probably find a herd of Tyrannosaurus Rex after all the bloody rain that fell last week!
We spent two days touring around the interpretive trails, self-guided walks and Visitor Centre. It was all fascinating. The only downside to our visit – and it was a big one – was the swarms of ravenous mosquitos. Apparently, the Canadian Badlands are always buggy in July but with all the rain, and sudden hot weather, it was a perfect storm for these nasty biting vermin. On one trail, despite applying lots of bug juice, we were literally eaten alive. Even the Bear with her thick coat seemed annoyed by the pesky insects. Using the outhouse was particularly pleasant…
So after two full and fun days of paleontological exploration, we departed with what looked like a bad case of German measles. But in honour of the terrain, we themed our last night’s dinner as a tribute to all the great Spaghetti Westerns. Bon appetit!