We come from Alberta’s South, me from the middle south-east, Brooks and area, and Herself from the deep south-west, Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest Pass area.
We like to return as often as possible to visit and renew our roots and, when we do, we often try to avoid the dreariness and insanity that is Highway QE2.
Generally it is just me and Beau, our Brittany, occasionally a hunting buddy on the trips to the upland country of my youth, and we invariably avoid QE2 by taking Hwy 21 south to Hwy 1, or the Trans Canada, as I grew up calling it, then east to Brooks. When it is just Beau and me, we often take “back” roads east off 22, wending our way to Hwy. 36, then south. We especially like gazing at the Red Deer River as much and in as many places as possible. It is a lovely, lonely trip, with few watering holes.
When Herself and I drive to her home country, we increasingly find it hard to resist taking Hwy 22 south to its junction with Hwy 3 at Lundbreck Falls, then east to her family’s ranch near Pincher Creek.
It is one of the more idyllic, and scenic drives in Alberta, varying among forest, farmland, and Prairie, with the mountains close in the west and the Porcupine Hills just to the east. Past trips took forever when I went it alone, because I just could not resist detouring on roads both east and west to find amazing and relatively unknown streams that required the wetting of a line, especially if I started on 22 off Hwy 11 near Caroline.
On our July trip, Herself and I started on QE2 and were tired of it by Calgary; besides, it was nearing lunch time, so we took the Okotoks turnoff, having decided to travel the rest of the way on 22 and have lunch somewhere en route. There are several good restaurants on Main Street in Okotoks, two of our favourites being Divine and Bistro Provence, but it was still a tad early for lunch, so we headed for Hwy 22 and Black Diamond.
As usual for us and everyone we know, we got lost trying to find 22 to Black Diamond from Okotoks.
A kindly young lady, who described herself as the “tourism guy” on her way to work, stopped on yet another of the mazes of winding roads, gave us good directions, and nodded sadly when we mentioned the total lack of signs.
We made it to the famous Chuckwagon Café in Turner Valley just in time to get a table for lunch.
These people raise and process their own beef, so I had one of their superb hamburgers. Herself chose an omelet from what has to be one of the longer and most varied breakfast menus anywhere.
Don Cahoon, the Old Curmudgeon who observes and photographs the area’s varied flora and fauna and breakfasts at the Chuck an average of around 1.5 times per week, says everything on the breakfast menu is so good that he always has a hard time deciding. We could also have lunched at half a dozen restaurants along 22 in Longview, several of which have received high praise from CBC restaurant reviewer, John Gilchrist.
Our days on the ranch were blisteringly hot and bright, the nights loud, flashy, wet and stormy. Fishing was just getting underway, owing to high and muddy waters. Vic Bergman, at Crowsnest Angler in Bellevue, told me that their first guided trip of the season was the day before, July 11th, several days better than last year.
Whether actually going fishing on the hundreds of excellent trout waters in this area, or just scowling at their off-colours, I like to get out early, especially after a storm, to drive the mazes of winding roads in this country and photograph what is out and about, including quaint and rustic human hideouts. As a long-time and an incurable mule deer addict, I have seen more really good mule deer “heads” within 25 km of Pincher Creek than anywhere else in Alberta.
One July morning five years ago I failed completely to fit all of a bachelor herd of a dozen and a half mule deer bucks, many with exceptional antlers, into the viewfinder of my telephoto. This trip, just off the road to Beaver Mines, there was a smaller buck herd my camera could handle. The few times I have hunted down here, of course, the big mule bucks were totally AWOL.
Not so long ago, the Crowsnest Pass area was a restaurant wasteland, but things have been looking up in recent years. We didn’t manage to make it this time, but people who had been were enthusiastically touting Millview Restaurant, just north of Hwy 3 in Cowley. The Tin Roof Bistro on Main Street in Blairmore is under new management, and offers a new menu of French, German, Greek, Hungarian and Italian classics.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer