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23 August - 2 September 2015 Canada - Alberta - Magrath

Sunday 23rd August

Left Brooks this morning to make our way south to the small town of Magrath. Travelled on Canada 1 west and turned off south on the Alberta 36 and then 3 west towards Lethbridge. The countryside is flat and mainly crops, including sugar beet and potatoes. We passed a large McCains factory and thought we were back in Peterborough for a minute. After getting lost for a while in Lethbridge, we eventually found our way to the Visitor Centre and got directions. As is usual in most towns the Visitor Centre has a large parking areas for RV’s, a sani-dump, washrooms and a play area for kids. We checked in at the Covered Wagon RV Park in Magrath just off route 5 south of Lethbridge. The park is small, quiet and rustic with lots of old farm wagons and machinery about the place. The sites are grassy and spacious and there are trails along the river to a nearby dam one way and a large fishpond the other, ideal for dog walking.

Monday 24th August

Overcast this morning, sun came out in the afternoon and was very warm -30 degrees. There is a smoke haze in the air and our neighbour believes it is smoke drifting across from forest fires in Washington State. Stayed around camp, caught up with the laundry and relaxed.

Tuesday 25th August

Lovely sunny calm day, decided to stay around camp again today. Had a drive around Magrath late afternoon. The town is on Canada’s Mormon Trail and was built in 1898 as part of an agreement with the Alberta Irrigation company for the church to provide labour to construct the Galt Canal and develop two villages – the canal system was required to turn arid prairie into rich farmland. The town was laid out according to a model community structure with wide avenues arranged in a grid system – the standard plan in the development of Mormon communities and similar to the Garden City principles in England. It has a quiet relaxed feel with plenty of amenities, nice houses and gardens in tree lined streets with some large properties on the outskirts of town - a nice urban/rural mix.

Wednesday 26th August

Set off this morning to visit to "Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump" which is about 85 km north east of here, just past Fort Macleod. We took the 5 south from Magrath then turned right at Spring Coulee onto the rural road 505 through the agricultural valley with sweeping plains and large farms. We crossed over the St Mary’s River and large reservoir, eventually coming to the Alberta 2 north, up to Fort Macleod. About fifteen minutes from here is "Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump"

which is one of the oldest and best preserved buffalo jumps. For at least 6000 years the Plains tribes stampeded herds of buffalo over the sandstone cliffs to their death. The hunters then butchered the kill at the camp below the cliffs. Most of meat was dried and fed the tribes throughout the winter. The name came from a legend which said that long ago the people were driving buffalo over the cliff and a young brave wanted to watch the buffalo tumbling past so he stood under the shelter of a ledge, as if behind a waterfall, he watched the animals fall past. The hunt was good that day and as the bodies piled up, he became trapped between the animals and the cliffs.

When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed by the weight of the carcasses, thus the name ‘Head-Smashed In’. The Interpretive Centre on the site is built into the cliff-side and consists of five levels, from the ground on up to the jump site on top of the cliff. The view from the top was not good today because of the smoke haze.

Each level has displays and tells the story of the Blackfoot tribes, geographical and climatic factors affecting the tribes as well as their lifestyle and history. It also explained how important the buffalo was for their survival. Outside the centre there was a demonstration of dancing and drumming with dancers in their traditional costume and a narrator explaining the meaning of each dance.

It was a fascinating morning and a real historical insight into the lives of the native tribes of the area. We were unable to take Sandy into the Centre, therefore, Tony dropped me off and went back into Fort Macleod

for a look around, whilst I was at the Centre. In 1874 The North West Mounted Police chose this site to set up Fort Macleod as their first headquarters and there is a good replica of the original fort.

On our way back to Magrath we saw two birds of prey sitting in a nest on top of a high pole positioned alongside the road.

Passing one of the large houses just before we got to the campsite, we saw a whitetail deer with three fawns on the lawn of the house.

Thursday 27th August

Went out the gate at the back of the campground and onto the Magrath Trails this morning, along the Galt Canal and Pothole Creek.

We saw several whitetail deer and their young, lots of variety of birds and Canada geese taking advantage of a nesting box which we think was meant to be for herons.

Tony went into Lethbridge to Walmart to get some supplies this afternoon. On his way back he saw a true mobile home.

Friday 28th August

Overcast with a warm stiff breeze blowing today and the smell of smoke in the air at times from the forest fires that are still burning in Washington. There is a special air quality statement in effect for the area indicating high risk of poor air quality due to smoke pollution.

Saturday 29th August

Walked around the river and canal trails into town this morning. On the way we saw whitetail deer with their heads poking out of the long grass staring at us, they are so funny.

Then a bird of prey that seemed to be harassing a magpie but who was giving as good as he got.

The smoke haze is still about today accompanied by a strong hot wind and a very watery orange coloured sun trying to shine through. Town was quiet, we sat outside Roosters Country Market and had a coffee. Everyone is really friendly, they smile and wave from passing vehicles and stop for a chat if they walk by.

Sunday 30th August

We have decided to stay for another four days but need to move sites because the one we are on has been pre booked. We also need to wash the motorhome. On many campgrounds they do not allow vehicles to be washed but Wayne (the owner of the site) said it will be fine as long as we use irrigation water and not drinking water – there are separate taps for grass sprinklers that use irrigation water. Since returning from Alaska we have taken the RV through a van wash facility but it needs a more thorough wash to remove tar deposits. We picked up quite a lot of tar spray when we went through all the road works on the way to and from Alaska so there was nothing for it but to set to and clean it all off by hand. Most of the day has been spent cleaning the van inside and out, so a spring clean all around.

Monday 31st August

Took the road south out of Magrath, past the big grain silos

towards Waterton Lakes National Park about an hour away on the border. Harvesting was well underway in the grain and hay fields along the route.

We passed through the town of Cardston which was founded by a son-in-law of Brigham Young in 1887. There is also a large Temple in the town. Waterton Lakes is where the prairie meets the mountains, it is one of the smallest national parks but it has a spectacular setting with the lakes snaking between the Rocky Mountains. The weather was cloudy with a chill wind so we took one of the drives along Red Rock Parkway into the interior of the park. On the way back we saw a large black bear foraging on one of the hillsides. We stopped the car hoping it would come over the top of a small hill towards the road but it didn’t. Waterton town hugs the side of the lake and has a quaint rustic mountain town feel, quite small and with the campgrounds within walking distance of all the amenities. On a bluff overlooking the lake and the town is The Prince of Wales Hotel.

Built in 1926 it retains its original character and has stunning views of the mountains and the lake. The weather was not conducive to walking along the lake so we decided to look at it from the comfort of the Lakeside Chophouse where we had lunch and a table with a view. There was a film crew at the side of the lake trying to film in high gusty winds with rolling white topped waves scudding along the lake. The manager of the restaurant said that the actors had been in beach wear earlier. After a lovely lunch with some of the best New York cheesecake I’ve ever tasted we left to make our way back. On the way out of town we spotted this high tech camper vehicle in a nice shade of yellow!

Just outside Cardston we saw what looked like a herd of wild horses running across the prairie, fantastic sight that I had never seen before, well not since the old cowboy films.

Tuesday 1st September

Went for a nice long walk this morning. We stopped to talk to someone who in his youth had been in Leeds on a student transfer scheme. Also, as a child he spent a year at school in Glasgow and won the Burns Poetry prize that year. He quoted the first verse of the poem and he definitely deserved the prize, a brilliant rendition. Sandy has found a convenient tree stump outside the RV from where she can get a better view of the campground

Wednesday 2nd September

Nice sunny day. Went for a walk, saw a shy doe deer hiding in the trees.

Stayed around the camp for the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine.

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