Alberta makes a grand impression 0
Sunset pinks the badlands in Dinosaur Provincial Park near Steveville, Alberta, on September 6, 2011. MIKE DREW/QMI AGENCY
When a reminder about some of Alberta's tourist attractions arrived this spring, I got thinking about what impressed me most on travels there.
I've been lucky. Three holiday trips and half a dozen working ones have shown me a fair bit of southern Alberta. But what about first-time visitors, or ones who've maybe driven the Trans Canada and had little time for much else?
Here are three things I think they should put on their must-do list.
-- The eye-popping journey from Banff to Jasper on Hwy. 93, now also called the Bow Valley Parkway and the Icefields Parkway. Tips: Spell the driver off so he/she won't get shortchanged. Start early so you can stop in places like the Sunwapta Valley where stunning gorges and waterfalls are hidden just a stroll in from the highway.
-- Drumheller. My wife nominated it for the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the area's weirdly wonderful landscape. Only 90 minutes from Calgary airport.
The Tyrrell has the world's biggest collection of dinosaur skeletons. The Red Deer River valley has hills layered bands of glacial till, mudstone, bentonite (locals call it "dinosaur snot"), sandstone, coal and ironstone. And hoodoos, pillars of sandstone capped by erosion-resistant rock so they resemble giant mushrooms.
-- Alberta beef. My wife says a ribeye served in Brooks (on the Trans Canada between Medicine Hat and Calgary) was "the best steak in my life."
I also remember the Patricia Hotel, near the entrance to Dinosaur Provincial Park, where you can buy and barbecue your own steaks and burgers. (The bartender said the best part was never hearing a complaint about how the meat was cooked.)
I let my dinner host, a burly ranch owner and tourism promoter, do the honours while I worked on emptying a pitcher of beer. See thepatriciahotel.ca.
The following suggestions are from Travel Alberta (TravelAlberta.com).
-- The TELUS Spark Science Centre in Calgary, where a high-definition digital dome theatre just opened. It's near the zoo north entrance and CTrain station.
-- Canada's Sports Hall of Fame at Canada Olympic Park, just outside Calgary. Exhibits include a well-used pair of running shoes worn by Terry Fox. Visitors can play goalie in an interactive hockey practice or fly down a track in a simulated Formula 1 auto race.
-- Fly fishing on the Bow River. Josh Nugent, of Out Fly Fishing Outfitters (BowRiverCanada.com), taught me the rudiments of the overhead cast in two minutes at a recent travel media event. Nugent does 85% of his guiding on the Lower Bow River, which starts just south of Calgary, but says he can do one on a 24-km stretch that's entirely within the boundaries of Calgary.
Two ranches within easy reach of Calgary:
-- Rafter Six Ranch Resort. Guided horseback trail rides and overnight pack trips through the Bow Valley and Kananaskis Country. Other options: White-water rafting, a treetops ropes course and zip line, mountain biking, hiking, and dipping into a heated outdoor pool or hot tub. Accommodation includes rooms in a log lodge, cabins, chalets, and a wilderness camping area for short stays in a motorhome or self contained RV. Phone 1-888-267-2624 or visit raftersix.com.
-- Homeplace Ranch. Self-catering accommodation in a lodge and a coach house. Day riding and riding lessons available to day guests and lodge and coach house rental guests. Phone 1-877-931-3245 or visit homeplaceranch.com.
-- In Calgary Airport, volunteers in white Stetson hats extend a warm Western welcome by answering questions and giving directions. A great idea.
-- The Hilton Garden Inn Calgary Airport's Park and Go package worked well for my wife and me on a drive-fly trip. It includes a room for one night, free parking for up to 14 days and a free shuttle to the airport and back. Visit hiltongardencalgary.ca.