Mark and Nadine's Arctic Expedition travel blog

Tipis in the mist at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Elk grazing in Banff National Park

Two Jack Lake in Banff NP


More rain! Our first destination today was the Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage. It’s one of the best preserved examples of a buffalo jump: a place where Native Americans (known in Canada as “First Nations” People) used to drive herds of buffalo off cliffs, then gathered below to process their carcasses.

The Province of Alberta has done a world-class job with the site, building a 7-story Interpretive Center into the cliff wall. The exhibits bring home the central role that the buffalo played in Indian life and the unique characteristics of this particular buffalo jump, used off and on for at least 6,000 years.

Unfortunately, the rain continued, alternating from mist to torrent, the whole time we were at the buffalo jump. This didn’t affect our enjoyment of the indoor exhibits, of course, but it prevented us from walking the trails and visiting the actual kill site.

It was certainly worth the visit, though. From Head-Smashed-in, we headed to Banff National Park. Our route took us through the center of Calgary, Alberta’s largest city - past the site of the Calgary Stampede (the annual rodeo). Then at last we were heading west toward the Canadian Rockies.

As we neared the mountains, the weather gradually improved. The clouds lifted enough for us to verify that, yes, there ARE mountains in Banff National Park. We went first to the village of Banff - a kind of Lake Placid on steroids. (Banff will host the Winter Olympics in 2012.) Even in this “shoulder season,” the town seemed crowded, with parking at a premium and a wide selection of foreign languages to be heard on the street.

We shunned the shops and cafes and headed for the National Parks Canada Information Center. There a nice young man gave us suggestions for short hikes in the area of Banff, Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway.

Then we went off to find our campground: Two Jack Lakeside. On the way, we passed a meadow where a small herd of elk were feeding, oblivious to our presence. When we got to the campground we asked for a nice campsite and were given Site 52, which may be the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever seen. It’s right on the shore of Two Jack Lake, with a view of incredible snowy mountains overlooking the bluish-green waters of the lake. It was so beautiful that we didn’t want to take time to eat supper; Nadine made some peanut butter sandwiches and we ate them as we walked around the lakeshore, taking pictures as we went. (Yes, it was still misting a bit, but it didn’t bother us.)

After our walk, we took Rosie out for a drive around Lake Minnewanka (the largest body of water in the park) and stopped in at Johnson Lake, nearer to town. (We saw more elk and deer along the way.) Then we spent the rest of the evening planning our activities for the next few days.

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