Cool Stop #26: The World Before The Park

Been to this peaceful and fun park now four times but yesterday was the first time I ever really considered the people who lived here for close to ten thousand years before Waterton was a park. By the way, in writing this I realize that I am starting to run out of adjectives to describe what I am seeing so please bare with me. And speaking of bears, we saw a couple yesterday. First time was across the road from the Lost Creek picnic area that not only has a wood burning stove, but also a nifty grill within the stove that was perfect for grilling up my smokies (or sausages at they are called in the States).

"Where prairie meets mountain"

“Where prairie meets mountain”

Anyways, we were munching on our lunch when Crazy Bear Lady (who claims she saw seventeen bears the day before) started yelling and gathering her camera and children. It seems that a couple of bears were also enjoying their lunch, or they were anyways until Crazy Bear Lady called attention to them which resulted in a traffic jam which probably ruined their day. Later we were on a very informative and interesting guided hike (again, running out of adjectives here) and, just as we were rounding the final ridge, a rather large bear walked maybe twenty five yards in front of us. We quickly turned around and walked back before remembering that our car was actually forward. A few minutes passed before others in our hiking party caught up with us. They did not understand our apprehension so we let them lead the way back to the car.

One of our favorite mountain lakes- Bertha Lake

One of our favorite mountain lakes- Bertha Lake

But what made yesterday really special (besides not being eaten by a bear) was our immersion in the pre-historic world of the Blackfeet people. First it was with the arts and crafts activity at the Crandel Moutain Campground that was led by a couple of ladies who nicely represented the Blackfeet Nation. In between making a traditional head dress out of safety pins and beads, they patiently answered my endless questions about the history of the Blackfeet people.

Afterward it was a guided hike led by a naturalist who again patiently answered my endless questions about the Blackfeet people. The theme of the hike was how the Blackfeet people hunted the bison (pronounced with a z sound in these parts and nicknamed “walking Walmarts” by the other facilitators). The answer involves fire, buffalo pounds (which are natural boggy traps like snow drifts), and “dead men” which were rocks stacked up to resemble people which kept the bison moving in the direction they wanted them to. We also talked about some basic rites of passages like vision quests. Soon many of my friends and family are going to fast for a day. Black feet adolescent males did it for four days. They also did it alone on top of a mountain. Afterwards they talked about their visions to their elders (and probably did not even have any mandel bread to break the fast).

The Old/New Waterton Lakes Opera House

The Old/New Waterton Lakes Opera House

All in all it was a good day and our third one in the park. That night it poured on us and this morning we packed up in the rain. But on the way out we enjoyed an awesome breakfast at the Waterton Lakes Opera House (Cool Stop #27). When we first entered the park I was kind of disappointed that the movie theater was gone. It was after all where Corey and I saw Planet of The Apes (with Mark Wahlberg not Charleston Heston- we are not that old). But it has been converted into a very cool coffee house/diner/ music venue/ice-cream store. We went there almost every day and greatly enjoyed the Sirius music (mostly Outlaw Country) and the good restorative job done by the owner, Phil. This morning I talked a bit to Phil and was happy to learn he has spent almost every summer in the park and always enjoyed seeing movies at the old theater. We are certain he will continue to take good care of the former opera house. A special shout out to our new friend Lona (sorry if I spelled your name wrong, please correct me if I did) whose day job is a bit more stressful than most. Lona entertained us greatly with stories that could only be from Alaska (respect all bears but really respect the polar bear). We loved camping next to you and hope to hear from you soon. Noel 8/3/13

Gossip Sheet

Before I catch everyone up with our day, I want to talk a little bit more about my neighborhood.  I will end with Earl, Jackie and Jeffrey who took their awesomeness to a whole other level today.  But first, let me catch you up with the neighborhood gossip. 

Here in loop E things were given a bit of a jolt when the men’s bathroom (a mere ten feet away and closer than any cluster of trees) was suddenly closed “until further notice.”  On the plus side I was given the chance to branch away from my neighborhood and make new friends.  However, the other loops tended to have more RVs and friends were harder to make.  I did find out that the bathroom closest to the entrance (the A loop) was nicer than my bathroom at home.  It had corian or some type of granite counter tops, newer tile work, and more stalls than the bathroom closest to mine.  It also was hardly used since it was in the midst of RVs.  Despite the longer walk, I was actually quite pleased with my discovery.

The next day an official Ford Transit pulled up to the closed bathroom and sat for a while eyeing the locked door.   Then one teenager got out, unlocked the door, and immediately walked back to the car.  One by one, three other teenagers did the same only to return back to the car.  Then the Transit drove off.  Later, upon returning from the nice bathroom I saw the Transit parked.  I asked the kids what the heck was wrong with my bathroom.  He told me and later a group of kids descended on the bathroom with mops. 

Other goings on included two very large tee-pees put together in the C loop with the red cross label on one.  Very long poles were brought in on a trailer and at least eight persons put together the one we saw being built.  A very large group of kids and adults hung out by the tee-pee the four days we stayed at Waterton.  There was also a very large, extended Indian family camping across from us for most of our stay.  They ate a lot of food, laughed, and rode bikes throughout the campground.  We never got to know them, but I wish we did.  We did meet the owners of the unusual pop-up that I posted a picture of a couple of days ago.  They were a very nice couple, maybe in their 50s from France (him) and Switzerland (her) and now Banff where they have lived for the past ten years.  He works HR for a hotel complex there and we swapped hiking ideas for the four days we stayed. 

There was a bit of scandal here too and I am happy to report that Corey was in the middle of it.  I left Corey and Henna to get ice from town and was surprised upon my return to see a police car at our site.  A lot of neighbors were pointing and whispering.  Turns out that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer was eating ice cream at the same time we were earlier in the day and overheard us talking with another couple (who were teachers, had one daughter, and spent each summer camping in exotic places- for some reason we did not click as one might expect) about our trip possibilities.  He was out of uniform and we did not notice him.  Later he drove around the campground (we had talked with the other couple about where we were camping) until he found Corey and presented her with a hand drawn map of “K county” and told us why we should consider spending time there.  Sometimes Canadians live up to their stereotypes.

As for our awesome neighbors, they first lent me a grill pan so that I could give my brats the respect they deserved.  Later Earl took me, and then Corey, out on the lake in their inflatable kayaks.  After hiking to several vantage points above, taking a boat tour on, and also skipping rocks, photographing, etc., it was amazing to me to be on the lake on my own terms.  Jackie described her husband as a shepherd and he lived up to that nickname by never venturing more than a foot from our kayaks.  He also detailed exactly what to do if we ended up in the water (which was 7 degrees Celsius or, in Fahrenheit, really cold).  Other safety precautions included a leash extended from our inflatable life jackets meaning that if we ended up in the water, we were still hooked to the boat.  The whole experience was exhilarating and reminded me of the time we met someone on the road to Alaska who took us up on his Cesna.  Sometimes the road delivers good. 

Later that night we decided to follow the RCMP’s advice (which was echoed by Earl and Jackie as well as the gentleman from Banff) and set off the next day north on Canadian 22 (The Cowboy Trail).  It lived up to its name and will be described in some detail later.  Other things to note- a temporary crown fell out of my mouth, my entire scalp is sun burned (sometimes I forget that I am half bald) and a bag of charcoal costs $24 in Waterton Park.  Here’s to the road ahead.


Waterton National Park

I am writing this post at a nice coffee shop/ bar/ “Thai inspired dinner menu”/ international gathering post in Waterton National Park.  Canadian national parks have townsites- think Banf, Jasper, as examples.  Sometimes the town came first (like Jasper) but here I think the park spawned the town or as Henna called it a “really nice neighborhood.”  There are homes and rental cottages, several hotels, a few coffee shops, ice cream stores, and a couple of resteraunts.  Nothing too fancy and there are no gaudy tourist shops or loud bars.  It is actually very nice and comfy.  Just off to the side of this town is a very large and a little crowded campgroud operated by the national park.  And by national park I mean several teenage boys and girls.  These teenagers run the show here- at the visitor center, at the gate letting you into the park, and at all the eating establishments.  There is also another campground but the fifteen year old we asked questions to (maybe he was closer to twenty) said that “bears come through there every night, but so far there have not been any problems.”  That was enough for us to go for the townsite campground.  Everyone goes to the townsite campground and the more rustic, absolutely more beautiful, and bear ridden campground is half empty (or eaten).  We got to this place yesterday after a final push out of the prarie and into the mountains.  Halfway through the drive we spied the mountains for the first time since leaving Cincinatti a week ago.  They were snow capped with clouds circling them and we forgot the beauty of the prarie.  Our new neighbors were very friendly and consisted of a dad, mom, and a little boy not yet two.  They were also tenting and we made friends fast.  We decided at once to spend three nights here.  Last night we settled in.  Today we hiked, canoed, and then wandered into town searching for wifi.  Awesome photos and a description of today to follow soon.  Happy 4th of July!