Alberta Day Trip – The Badlands

Jon’s brother and sister were out visiting the past weekend and since this was their first time in Alberta since our wedding (2005) and their first time in Calgary, we spent some time showing them the sights. While we did take them to the mountains (you can’t really come all this way and not go) we also took them to the less traveled “badlands” to see another part of Alberta. While I’ll always love heading to the mountains, our mini-roadtrip east of Calgary was a nice change and a chance to cross some items off my Alberta bucket list. We only had a half day to take in as much as we could but I think we did a good job!

Stop 1 – Picnic Lunch at Horseshoe Canyon

We left Calgary around 11:30 and took Hwy 9 East for about an hour to the well signed Horseshoe Canyon Recreation Area for an overview of some “badlands” terrain. It hasn’t been that long since we were last at the canyon but  there have been several improvements to the site including a set of stairs to make it easier to access the canyon and lots of viewing platforms. We took some photos of the canyon and then headed down to the bottom to explore a little bit. We didn’t spend much time in the canyon but you could easily wander for quite a while.

Baby’s first trip to the Alberta Badlands

After we checked out the canyon we climbed back up the stairs (which isn’t a huge climb but the stairs are at a very awkward height) and ate the picnic lunch I’d packed while admiring the view. There are picnic tables, trash cans and out houses so it was a good place to stop for a bit.

Stop 2 – The World’s Largest Dinosaur

After lunch we loaded back into the Rover and got back on the highway for the 15 minute drive into Drumheller. While I’m sure there are other things to do in the town, we were there to see the World’s Largest Dinosaur (I’m a sucker for the largest statues of things). Just follow the signs to the Tourist Info Centre and it’s hard to miss!

We didn’t but you can pay $4 to climb up inside for views over the city

Stop 3 – The Hoodoo Trail

From the dinosaur we headed east out of Drumheller for about 15 minutes to the Hoodoo Trail. I’d never been before but the site has a very short developed trail around some hoodoos as well as the option to explore. We opted for a quick visit just to see the main hoodoos but a longer walk would be possible.

Lots of cheesy family shots happening!

Stop 4 – The Star Mine Suspension Bridge

Along with all the spectacular scenery, the Drumheller area has lots of historical sites. We didn’t have time to visit everything but it was easy to squeeze in a stop at the bridge since it is just off the highway as you return towards Drumheller from the Hoodoo Trail. You can cross the bridge to access the hills on the other side of the river but we just had time for a quick stop as the little guy was demanding to be fed.

Stop 5 – The Last Chance Saloon

By this point we’d been out in the sun all afternoon and were ready for a cold drink so just west of the suspension bridge we took the signed road to Wayne to visit the Last Chance Saloon. A drink at the saloon has been on my to-do list for a while and it was the perfect day for it since the bar was quiet and it was warm enough to enjoy the patio. The saloon is kid friendly so the little guy enjoyed a nap while the adults enjoyed a beverage.

Taking a break from the sun and enjoying a beverage on the patio
Last Chance Saloon and Rosedeer Hotel – just in case you want to spend the night
Some of the seating options inside the saloon

Stop 6 – Back Home to Calgary

From Wayne we retraced our route back to Drumheller and then home to Calgary. We left Wayne just after 4:00pm and made it home just before 6:00 pm with everyone feeling just a little tired.

While we’ve got other adventures planned for the next while, I’m definitely going to be thinking about some other ways to explore east of Calgary this summer and visit a few of the sites we missed on this trip.

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The Other Weekend – A Day in Canmore

We are having a spell of very nice weather here in Calgary. I would say its unusual, but I seem to remember riding my bike to the zoo many years ago on Remembrance Day so it isn’t that unusual. With all this nice weather, its been hard to stay inside and work when I want to be outside playing (and I have so much work these days…).

The other weekend it was just so nice that we couldn’t stay home any longer. We haven’t left the city since early September, Jon was off lawn bowling in Vancouver and I just really wanted a day away. Patches and I made plans to meet friends, packed a picnic lunch and headed to Canmore for the day.

Patches and I do lots of solo adventuring in Calgary, but very, very rarely do we head out past city limits without Jon. I grabbed myself a decafe cafe misto, Patches got buckled in and we hit what was a surprisingly quiet highway for 9:30 on a Satuday where the predicted temperature was over 15C!

Once in Canmore we headed out to Quarry Lake dog park so the dogs could have a run. I spent a little time waiting in the lot for my friends to show up but passed the time watching a live stream of Jon playing (which was too stressful without commentary). Then it was time to hit the trails.

There isn’t a huge area to walk but the loop is about 1 km and with senior dogs (and a two year old) it was a good length. The views are beautiful and there was a little pond for the dogs to take a swim in.

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After our walk at the park we headed into town to have a picnic lunch by the river. Its sort of crazy to still be out picnicking in November. After the walk my friends packed up and headed home, but Patches and I decided to spend some more time exploring. I had originally planned on heading to Grassi Lakes but given how busy it was, I decided just to stay in town and walk the trails along the river.

Patches and I walked from Riverside Park west and did a nice loop through Larch Island before heading back towards the bridge on the other side of the river. This was a nice mix of paved paths and quiet dirt paths and meant that Patches and I had lots of time to ourselves (even though there were lots of people out and about).

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We were both pretty worn out after this so we headed back to Calgary. Patches slept on the way home (and pretty much the next day) and I just enjoyed listening to my music and snacking on some mini-oranges. It wasn’t the most exciting adventure but it was really nice to be out of the city and take advantage of the weather.

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Day Hiking 2016 – Fullerton Loop

So, we’re still experiencing a ridiculously warm February (except Friday – it was freezing) but we’re doing a better job of enjoying than I was last week. On Saturday we went for a skate and a walk in Bowness Park and I was surprised that there is enough ice. It was still warm enough later in the evening to bike from our house to a friend’s place across Nose Hill. We were still a little early – there was some serious snow that required walking – but being able to fit in a nearly 20 km evening ride in February felt pretty nice.

Today we finally managed to get ourselves out of the city and enjoy the warm weather in the mountains. We got an early start on our hiking season with an easy warm up on the Fullerton Loop Trail.

The trailhead is across from Allen Bill Pond in Elbow Valley and it less than an hour from our house. We arrived at the trailhead around 10:15 am and there were already several vehicles in the parking area (which is fairly small, but you can park across the highway and walk over). The trail leading from the parking lot was a sheet of ice, so we put our trail crampons on to start with. I would say that with the current conditions having some sort of micro-spike is essential for hiking this loop – we did see a few people walking without them but there were a lot of parts that would have been very unpleasant.

The first part of the trail (an access trail to the loop) is through the forest and then along the Elbow River for a little bit. We enjoyed the sunshine and crunched along the icy trails until we got to the junction of the access trail with the loop. We chose to hike the loop portion of the trail counter-clockwise which meant we traveled through the trees for a while (which was super icy) and then a drier southern slope. The trail is very easy to follow, and has signs at all the junctions. We passed a few other groups but it was relatively quiet for such a lovely morning.

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The approach trail to the Fullerton Loop
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Sunshine along the Elbow River
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Warm enough to ditch jackets and toques along the trail.

The return section of the loop is along a ridge and was much drier (and ice free) than the rest of the trail. While the views are not spectacular, you do get to look out to the mountains and are rewarding for the effort level required to get there. I did realize that my cardio fitness is not where I’d like it be – Jon left me in the dust several times.

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Views from Fullerton Loop
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Checking out the cut blocks from the trail
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Getting some mid-hike snuggles from Patches
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Hiking down the ridge

We finished the just under 7 km (4.5 mile) hike in about 2 hours including several photo stops, and a break to eat jelly beans. It was so nice to be outside – even if just for a few hours – and to spend some time my favourite guys. I’m definitely looking forward to more outdoor adventures if this warm spell continues!

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Fighting the February Blahs..

I dislike February in Calgary. It is either freezing cold or we’re having a huge chinook and we’ve lost all our snow. This year we’re having a Chinook – it has been super warm but that means everything is one giant ice rink. I like a lot of things about Chinooks, there is no need to scrap the car in the morning and Patches and I can enjoy spring like conditions on our walks but they also take a lot of the fun out of winter when they last this long. While I certainly don’t want it to drop to minus 40 any time soon, I’m hoping for some snow and slightly cooler temperatures so I can get back to winter adventures. In the meantime, I’m trying not to wallow (too much) and take advantage of the February lull to do other things like…

Walk (a lot). I have been cranky the past few weekends but as soon as Jon suggests we go for a walk and I get outside I feel so much better. This Saturday I was really upset about the lack of close snow (I realize I could drive to get to the snow but instead was choosing to be unreasonable) so Jon bundled me up and out the door for a long walk. Last year I invested in some hiking crampons and they are a life saver right now with the icy trails (I have the Hillsound Trail Crampon which I like a lot because they have giant spikes and easily fit on my winter boots). We were able to tromp around Bowmont Park like it was ice free and I felt so much better after a few hours of urban hiking.

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Advantage to casual weekend adventures is that I can drink coffee while participating

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Catch up with friends. Not that we don’t do this the rest of the winter, but this mid-season lull means that there is less pressure to be up early for mountain adventures. We’ve met for drinks, visited people we haven’t seen in ages and generally caught up.

Take my bike out. I do not usually ride outside in the winter but this mild spell means it is actually quite pleasant to commute by bike. I hauled my commuter out of the basement on Friday night to ride downtown to meet friends and was actually too warm on my ride home. I’ve missed riding outside and even the short ride (only 6 miles total) was a kick to get on my trainer more because I was not very fast up the hill home!

Get things done around the house. I’m optimistic that winter will return and I will want to spend all my weekends out skiing so we’re trying to get ahead on household chores in preparation. This weekend Jon spent a solid afternoon in garage mudding, I got the house cleaned, we un-clogged the bathroom sink and we changed a headlamp bulb on the Rover. Not exciting, but at least all those items are off our to-do list.

Since there doesn’t appear to be any snow in the forecast for the next few weeks I’m going to try my best to enjoy what we’ve got with the warm weather. More dog walks on Nose Hill, maybe a hike and perhaps even another outdoor bike ride!

Saturday Adventures – October 3, 2015

The wind howled and howled last night – we woke this morning not well rested at all to find the weather hadn’t really improved. Within an hour of being awake, the rain had turned to snow (our first of the year) and I was thankful that we’d managed to organize our weekend to have an indoor activity on Saturday.

It has been a long time since I’ve been in Turner Valley (apparently the last time I was there was 2007) so it was fun to head back there for our Saturday adventures – lunch and a distillery visit.

The drive from Calgary to Turner Valley was beautiful. We took the scenic route along Hwy 22X and then Hwy 22 where the fall colours were fantastic, even with the dusting of snow. It is only about an hour drive to Turner Valley but that was long enough for us to feel hungry by the time we arrived. The Chuckwagon Cafe is located right next to the Eau Claire Distillery so was the perfect place for lunch before doing a distillery tour and tasting.

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Portion sizes are huge at the cafe – Jon had the pancakes and they were each as large as a dinner plate (and you get three) – so we left feeling very full and ready for some gin! The Eau Claire Distillery is a new distillery that produces gin, vodka and speciality spirits. They recently put their first batch of whisky into casks so in a few years they should also have single malt.

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Upon arrival we booked ourselves for a tour and tasting ($10, and you get a $5 store credit). The distillery is a little more complex than the gin distillery we visited in Edinburgh since Eau Claire Distillery produces their own spirits but are still fairly small so all their operations are housed in one space. We also checked out their aging room where we got to see some of the first casks.

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Our tour concluded with a tasting in their tasting room/store. We tried their vodka, the parlour gin and their current special spirit “Gin Rummy”. I really enjoyed their gin so we took advantage of our store credit to buy a bottle.

We took a different route home back through Okotokes where we stopped at the Big Rock for one last touristy experience before heading back to the city. I think we visited the rock once when we first moved to Calgary so it has also been a while.

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We were back in the city by mid-afternoon so we still had a few hours to do some work around the house. We ended up reorganizing the living room and office which feels so good. We’re trying to reduce the amount of stuff in our house so we’ve been spending lots of time getting rid of items that we’re not even sure why we have.

I had just been thinking that it had been a while since I’d been out of the city so this was the perfect mini-escape. Shoulder season is a great time to fit in these little adventures!