Great Alaska Adventure: Return to the USA
The mountains that surrounded us in Canmore disappeared quickly as we rode east toward Calgary. In my rearview mirror I could see the peaks that had kept us spellbound for the past few days, but ahead of me the country was growing flatter by the mile. There were still foothills to be seen, but the rocky, snow-capped peaks were gone. In their place was rich farm and ranch land filled with bright yellow canola fields and cattle grazing on lush green prairies.
I didn’t expect today’s ride to hold anything special, other than the border crossing back to the USA. But as we were leaving Calgary, I saw a sign advertising the “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site” and remembered that Bob and Pat Ramer, new friends in North Carolina, had recommended we stop there. So I added it to the itinerary.
As always, Parks Canada has done an outstanding job of preserving, protecting, displaying and explaining this crucial archeological site. The Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, archeologists discovered, has been used by native Americans for 6,000 years as a hunting site where hundreds of buffalo at a time would be stampeded over a cliff and provide food, clothing and tools for hundreds of members of a tribe throughout a harsh northern winter. There are other buffalo jump sites in Canada and the United States, but this one was the largest and the best preserved archeologists have ever found. Hence its designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
We spent about an hour and a half touring the facility, reading the displays, and learning a great deal about the people who lived there for thousands of years. We could easily have spent that much more time learning about the lives of the northern plains Blackfeet and their aboriginal predecessors and how they survived in a harsh environment. I will give the same travel tip Bob and Pat gave: If you’re near there, make it a point to go visit. And allow about 3-4 hours.
If I was operating on a schedule we would have been about two hours behind after that stop, but since we’re retired I seem to care less about schedules than I used to. Still, we didn’t cross into the United States until a little after 5 p.m. and didn’t get to our hotel in East Glacier, MT, until after 7.
The first hour after crossing the border into the US the road was familiar, since we had ridden it four years ago when we did a border to border trip and headed up the Going to the Sun Highway through Glacier National Park. But the final hour, which continued south, was new road for both of us. For me, the twisty mountain climbs and descents were a pleasant diversion from the straight roads we had been on most of the day, but for Marilyn it was another white-knuckle, butt-cheek tightening ride to be survived rather than savored.
But we made it to the cozy Pine Mountain Motel, took the advice of Terry who checked us in and headed for the (world famous) Whistlestop Restaurant. Slow-smoked barbecue was ordered for both of us, but the real treat was the tart tasting huckleberry pie for dessert. My first huckleberry. I liked it. So much so, that we’re going back to the Whistlestop in the morning for the huckleberry French toast that did, in fact, make them world famous when it was featured last year in the New York Times.
It was a good day for gastronomic and archeologic discoveries.
After dinner, we went for a short walk and stumbled on the grand Glacier Park Lodge which, as it turns out, is having its centennial celebration this year. When we walked into the lobby with 40 foot ceilings and two dozen imported California redwood trunks to support the roof, I was reminded of the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone. Except the Glacier Park Lodge was bigger. We didn’t stay long (blogs don’t write themselves, after all), but it was another pleasant discovery on a day from which I didn’t expect much.
It’s good to be back in the United States again, mostly because I understand the money and the measuring system.
Tomorrow it’s on to Bozeman on a route that will take us through the Lewis and Clark National Forest.