July 29, 2014 samantha

Where The Mountains Meet the Plains

Yes…that little black speck is a Baby Bear standing!!! That was the closest I could get to it, but what a thrill! I’ve jumped ahead of myself a bit. Let me back up to having just left West Glacier and Whitefish on way to the Canadian border.

While I knew I would be crossing into Canada, crossing any border always feels like such a big deal. And, I guess it is. It is a privilege, not a right! Wish people understood this. Anyway, when the border guard asked me for the third time whether or not I was carrying any mace, weapons, etc., I stupidly…or honestly…broke and told him I had a personal stun gun. Ugh! Not anymore! I had the choice to give it up and allow them to destroy it or I was welcome to keep it and either return to the U.S. or be escorted in shiny metal bracelets to their holding tank. I had to pull over, walk it in, sign a piece of paper stating I was voluntarily giving it up and they took it away to be destroyed…<sigh>

20140727_135718Having taught my son that honesty, at times, totally sucks, we continued on our journey into Canada. The landscape changed almost imperceptibly, at first, but enough to feel different – we both noted. An assortment of pines littered the land and we could see the far off Rocky Mountains that continued up from the Glacier National Park area and to which we must traverse eastward to get over to Pincher Creek in Alberta – our ultimate destination for the evening.

 

We followed Alberta Highway 3, aka the Crowsnest Highway, past the mining towns of Fernie and Sparwood through some gorgeous scenery and stopped for a quick stretch at the Alberta Visitor Center. They had great suggestions of activities for which we had no time – bummer! But they did alert us to pause and take a look at the largest rock slide to occur in Canada that all but buried the mining town of Frank (the Frank Slide). In fact, this slide has rock strewn across the freeway through which they had to cut the road. Seeing the enormity of it humbles one. I grabbed an aerial photo from their historical society as you can see the features much better. that tiny road is what we took through the slide. The rocks were like huge boulders. The slide happened early in the morning hours. How frightening that must have been to think you have a solid mountain at your back, and then, suddenly half of it shifts and is thundering down upon you!

DSC01282We turned South onto Alberta Highway 507 through the high plains that stretched for mind numbing mile after mile. However, the landscape was broken up by the occasional brilliant swatches of yellow rapeseed fields and white picketed windmill collectives.

 

We arrived in the seemingly unappealing town of Pincher Creek wondering how people had congregated to this one spot and why in the world we were finding ourselves here at that moment. You see, when one plans a trip, you can Google Map it until your heart’s content and gander at the aerial photos and, often times, the on location photos. But in the end, you can’t really know the fell, smell and wonder of a place until you have dropped yourself smack dab into it. And at 6 pm with nightfall on its way, we needed to find our accommodations and get settled for the night. After all, Waterton National Park awaited us in the morning.

We of so little faith…

Stardust Motel

We pulled up to the Stardust Motel and I was instantly shot full of accusing looks for my lack of finding us better digs for the night,. Yes, down the road we had passed a Ramada with an interior pool that had a swirly slide (yes, you could even see it through their two-story bay window as we first pulled in to town. However, with a touch of doubt in my gut, I knew I had booked this place above all others for….some reason. And at that moment, I could only wish I could recall what it was.

20140727_180626The owner of the one-story motor inn motel happily greeted us in her Canadian dialect (with something else blended in) and readily showed us to our accommodations. We gingerly opened our doors up to a quaint (meaning small) room that had B&B style furnishings, including our very own Keurig coffee machine. Other than the A/C wall unit, the Stardust Motel had taken on an ambiance all its own and I was thrilled. The owner, Dia, told us we had several hours of daylight remaining and we were coming up on the best time of day to see the wildlife – bears – over at Waterton, which was only a short 25-minute drive. She recommended a little restaurant, The General Store, we might want to stop in and have some dinner. Dinner was wonderful, the drive pleasant and with sunlight to spare (sunset wasn’t until 10pm), we headed over to Waterton in hopes of spotting a bear or two.

DSC_3409Waterton is a gem of a national park! Within 5 minutes of entering the park, we spotted our first bear up on a ridge grazing in a meadow. This was exciting stuff! Though having now spotted a bear in reality, it dampened our desire to park and hike down a trail when the bears were most active. We headed down Red Rock Canyon Road, where we came across the little standing bear in this post’s feature image. Momma bear was around, but all we had eyes for was that cute little baby.

DSC_3438Red Rock Canyon Road is simply stunning and worth the narrow winding drive. We did make a brief stop at the Prince of Wales Hotel that sits a atop a hill overlooking the shimmering Upper Waterton Lake, but we knew we would have time to visit as I had already made reservations for High Tea the following day. Ah, but that one stop gave us the unique surprise of seeing yet another bear – up much closer!

As the sun was setting, we knew it was time to head back to the Stardust Motel and our cozy, comfy beds. We were quite excited about our adventures that day and knew we had so many more the following day. We still had the town of Waterton to visit along with Cameron Lake at the end of the Akamina parkway.

On the way home, we were treated to a beautiful sunset, “Where the Mountains Meet the Plains.”

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