Calgary Stampede and....

Trip Start Apr 20, 2012
Trip End Sep 01, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Saturday, July 7, 2012

The first alarm sounded at 6am this morning, the second at 6:10 and the third at 6:15. By this time Jess and Tim were awake and shaking the kids and rousting them out of their beds and into the cold, still morning air because today we were off to Calgary and the world famous Stampede. This year's event was even more special as it was the 100th anniversary of the Stampede. We knew we had about a two hour drive and we wanted to make the most of our day. By 7:30 we were in the small Alpine town of Banff and cruising the main street looking for a breakfast joint. This we found at a chain diner called 'Phil's', which really only 'filled' us up (yuk, yuk) but left a lot to be desired in the quality and flavor categories. Banff is a small town in the mold of a Queenstown (if you're from NZ) or a Telluride (if you're from the US). It was quaint and charming and touristy. Then we cruised to the outskirts of Calgary and caught the LRT (light rail train) into downtown Calgary and we got off at "The Stampede" stop. We caught the train within 5 minutes of arriving and 30 minutes later were buying our tickets and walking through the gates. The main theme and drive behind the Calgary Stampede is the rodeo, which you have to buy tickets for months ahead of time and is featured all day in the main grandstand. However, surrounding that area is good 'ol carnival fun. You have food stand after food stand, ride after ride, and game after game. You can hit a platform with a rubber mallet to try and launch a rubber chicken into a bucket, you can throw a ball and try to knock down bottles or plates, you can ride a ferris wheel, eat cotton candy or cheese fries and people stare. The list is endless, but Tim and the kids decided to try their hand at smashing each other around with the bumper cars! 
After fighting the crowds for the entertainment, we headed into the agricultural barns to see the animals. Eli was quite taken with the miniature donkeys, Lily the horses and Tim with the 'heavy' (draft) horses. We petted some different specimens and then over the loudspeaker we heard them announcing the start of the Heavy Horse Show. For free, we were able to walk into a smaller arena and watch the different breeds and hitches of draft horses compete for ribbons and prizes. We were able to watch the teams, the unicorn hitch (two horses with one hitched in the middle in front) and the ladies' cart classes. Tim, especially, was on the edge of his seat for this whole time as when he had been growing up, he had owned three Belgian draft horses of his own and he savored and remembered those times as very special. By then, we were getting hungry and worked our way out to get some classic deep fried, over priced and highly greased and salted midway food. WIth the food still giggling in our bellies we headed out to view the 'Indian Village'. This was in a small corner of the stampede grounds and featured different tipis (tepees) of Native American Indians from the surrounding area. The kids were very polite and respectful as we were allowed into a couple of different tepees for a look around. Oh, I nearly forgot, on the way to the Indian Village we stopped to watch an act at a smaller stage. This consisted of three trampolinists doing a whole series of flips, jumps, spins, wall climbs and amazing feats of bounce and agility. This ended up being Eli's favorite part of the day. After the Indian Village we stopped for some cooling ice creams as it was a very hot and sunny day and then walked back to where we had seen the Heavy Horse Show in order to watch the 'Cowboy Up' competition. 'Cowboy Up" is a timed competition where the riders score more points for faster times, but also for executing some tricks. The tricks include things like galloping a flat basket of eggs around the arena, or, walking your horse onto a platform and then dragging a rodeo clown around the arena by a rope tied to your pommel and attached to a piece of cowhide which acts as a sled. It was good fun to watch, but we had to think about heading home and stumbled back to the train station after six hours at the stampede and we commenced the reverse trip back to the tent in the Rockies. The first stop was McDonalds for big cold drinks at reasonable prices for everyone while Jess and Tim did the wifi thing. Rehydrated, we drove back to the cute town of Banff and parked just off Main Street and walked around and did touristy type shopping and had dinner in the Irish Pub in Banff. Well fed and feeling pretty good about ourselves we started the 45 minute trip back up the road to Lake Louise. 35 minutes into the drive we spotted two cars slowed down on the other side of the road, reduced speed ourself and then Tim shouted, "its a bear, a grizzly bear". At this point, I should mention that the main road out of Lake Louise and down to Banff is a 90km/hour reduced speed zone with two metre high box net fencing on both sides of the interstate. Every 10km or so, there is an animal corridor bridge over the highway with tall fences and grass slopes where they can resume their rambling whenever they want. It was behind this fencing that we spotted the Grizzly walking. It took 3 u-turns on the highway before we dialed him in, but we were the first on the scene and saw a young juvenile bear wearing a radio collar and a large, rectangular, yellow ear tag lying down behind the fence and calmly munching on grass. It was fantastic, the two people we thought had seen it before and were walking along the road on just the other side of the fence of the bear, were gone and we were "Johnny on the Spot" with this one. Shortly thereafter, people spotted us and then a whole circus of cars stopped. Multiple groups got out of the car and walked within 15 feet of this simple fence. The bear twitched its ears and walked away grazing all the while. Only one person said, I wouldn't do that if I were you." We were gobsmacked by people's behavior and ourselves were firmly of the opinion that if the bear wanted through or over that fence, it probably could, and we stayed in our car!!!!
What a glorious finish to a perfectly stupendous day at the Stampede and we were less than 2km from our exit to Lake Louise when we saw another two cars on the far side of the road. We stopped and this time it was a smaller grizzly lying with its head down next to a tree and in some tall grass. This one was approached by many more people with cameras and it got quite upset and even made a small charge towards the fence. Some people laughed, others ran,  and still others, walked closer. The poor wee grizzly walked away, then came back towards the fence and stood straight up; it was clearly being bothered by all the people, We saw this and quickly bolted as we wanted no part of this scene. Home again to bed, we came, riding the wave of a stampeding Calgary mob of cowboy hats, blue jeans, cowboy boots, tank tops, jean shorts and bear sighting good times!
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