Fort Macleod and the prairies

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Friday, September 21, 2007

Ok so now we've made our way south to Fort Macleod in southern Alberta. Once we cleared the Calgary sprawl the journey was quiet and relaxing.

With the Rockies ever present to our right, their captivating snow capped peaks clearly visible across the wide flat prairies, we traveled down Highway 2. Against this almost unreal backdrop

We drove through small "towns" that seemed to sit scattered in the middle of nowhere, yet each with a claim to fame. Isolated farmsteads with barns bigger than the homes, occasionally dotted the otherwise smooth landscape.

We found our campsite easily, a great spot on the banks of the Oldman river - Daisy May campsite at Fort Macleod. It did seem a little windy and I suppose the sight of a huge wind farm in the distance should have been a clue:

The wind died down overnight, the next morning turned out bright and sunny - it was time to explore...

We set off, just a 10 mile trip to a place called :Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump" - well you'd just have to go wouldn't you?
We'd seen this name on the map whilst in Calgary, now we were on the way; tipis in the distance were the first clue.

Had we been two weeks earlier we could have overnighted in one of these - exciting eh? Betsy tried to hide her disappointment :) At the site is an interpretative centre built so well into the hillside you can hardly see it.

The site is actually a UNESCO world heritage site and was opened by HRH Andrew and Sarah (Fergie) in 1987. Hey we did find it and rushed in to the sound of drumming and "singing" (that's what Indian - first nation - chanting is called).
The centre is huge and tells many stories of the first nations' way of life.

The real story (why we were here) is about how the Indians hunted buffalo, would you believe, as long ago as 6000 years?
To cut a long story short - not like me :) the buffalo were herded towards a cliff edge along narrow lanes and as they plunged over the edge those not killed by the fall were finished off by spear, bow & arrow or hammer blow.

The death of these huge animals enabled the Indians to survive the harsh winters supplying food, clothing and shelter.
However this was not how this site got its name, the legend is:

A long time ago, the people were driving buffalo over these sandstone cliffs. A young brave wanted to watch the buffalo tumbling past. Standing under the shelter of a ledge, as if behind a waterfall, he watched the great beasts fall. The hunt was unusually good that day and as the bodies piled up, he became trapped between the animals and the cliffs. When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed by the weight of the buffalo carcasses. Thus they named this place "Head-Smashed-In".

Check it out for yourself:

We sat overlooking the site imagining those long lost days, the plains in front of us stretched out like an endless ocean. We Europeans changed a way of life that had existed for millennia. It's estimated that 60 million buffalo roamed the plains before we arrived. Within a few short years and the introduction of the horse and gun those numbers reduced to about 1000.
I tried to put that into some sort of perspective, imagine every resident of the United Kingdom being killed all but one average secondary school's worth.
The lump in my throat took quite a while to go.
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