Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

border sign in the rain

cliff

museum

buffalo products

ready to jump

skulls

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

(MP4 - 525 K)

local performer


Although the weather couldn’t be much worse - cold, rain lots of wind, we had to be grateful for the fact that it hasn’t snowed - so far. Locals tells us that the temperatures were in the 90’s a week ago. It’s hard to believe. Perhaps this was a factor in the easy border crossing. Agents wanted to stay inside their warm booths and didn’t want to bother coming outside to look us over We read blogs that described thorough rig searches that involved opening every drawer and closet. A brief passport check and we were officially in Canada. The friendly folks at the visitor center loaded us down with brochures and suggestions. We won’t get to half of it.

We have purchased a reasonably priced cell phone plan for Canada, but downloading data is prohibitory expensive The satellite dish isn’t working properly and the campground signals are weak or non existent. It’s our first day in Canada and we’re already going through internet withdrawl. We stopped at a Best Buy in Lethbridge to buy a data card for Ken’s Ipad, which might help a bit. We’ve become so dependent on the internet for doing research on things to do and places to stay that we’ll be lost without it. Even if the data card is activated and the satellite dish comes back on line, there will be times when we are too far north to utilized even those. Back to medieval times.

Our stop at Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump was an interesting one. This UNESCO World Heritage site created in 1981 commemorates the Indian hunting practice of stampeding herds of buffalo over cliffs to their deaths. The operation was a huge undertaking; it made me think of the D Day landing. First the buffalo were located and then tribesmen would gradually steer them toward the direction of the cliff, sometimes over many miles. As the buffalo neared the killing field, one brave would wear a young buffalo hide and pretend he was injured. This would arouse the maternal instinct of the cows and they would follow him. Then other braves wearing wolf skins would frighten them and near the cliff everyone in the tribe would scream and create a ruckus so that the buffalo would stampede over the cliff and die a horrible death.

This particular site here had been used by the Blackfoot tribes and their antecedents over 6,000 years according to archeologists. The hunters butchered the meat and preserved it for the winter using every bit of the animal in some way. The site’s name is derived from a young brave who stood under the ledge of the cliff to watch the buffalo as they fell past him. As the number of carcasses multiplied, his skull was crushed as he became trapped between the animals and the cliff. This practice was rather gory, but everyone’s gotta eat. Once the horse was introduced to the plains Indians, buffalo jumps were no longer used, since the buffalo would be chased down on horseback with bow and arrow.

When Europeans arrived they dug up the layers of buffalo bones and sold them for phosphorus, but the site in this area remained undiscovered. In the 1930’s archeologists came here and were astonished as they dug down over thirty feet through layers of bone and remnants of local Indian life. The museum here is built into the side of the cliff where the buffalo died and is staffed by local native people. We got a special demo from a local who showed us all the clever tools his ancestors made from buffalo and sang a typical chat. We have always marveled at how well Canadians treat the native population and how they have an identify and tribal pride we rarely see when traveling in the US.

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