Day 275 Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Farewell to beautiful Waterton today. We saw ourselves off with a huge choose-off-the-menu breakfast that could have fed 2 families of 4. The boys each had a Ranger’s Breakfast of 2 eggs, 3 small sausages, 2 pancakes and a skewer of fruit and somehow managed to eat the vast majority of it. Steve and I had eggs benedict on bagels with hash browns – I love it when I don’t have to cook this stuff, just enjoy eating it.
Once packed up we hit the road and enjoyed our last glimpses of the park. I was merrily drinking my can of softdrink when my legs started to feel cool … hmmm I looked down to find that my softdrink was icy from being in the car and had started to overflow onto my jeans but because I had long johns on under my jeans, it took awhile before my body registered it was getting wet! Bugger and the biggest problem my camera was in my lap and now also covered with softdrink. We pulled over so I could mop up with my scarf, the only thing handy at the time, and then remove my jeans so they could dry. My long johns we ok to continue wearing thankfully. Whilst this was going on, Steve looked out into the trees beside us and spotted another of those large woodpeckers with the red heads and this time we all got to see it! Must have been meant to spill that drink! Wasn’t quick enough to get a photo though.
Today we were headed to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (H-S-I B Jump) near Fort MacLeod; we passed the small town of Pincher Creek on the way, cowboy territory. As we drove out of town we spotted black cut-outs of cowboys, Indians, horses and tipis on the prairie.
The drive to Fort MacLeod and H-S-I B Jump became more and more scenic and it quickly became evident that they had some seriously cold overnight weather in the are. As far as we could see across the prairies all the grasses, bushes and even large trees were glistening with ice crystals, not snow. It was absolutely stunning and not so easy to capture in photos as we drove 100kms/hr along the highway.
Signs guided us to the H-S-I B Jump centre and we parked the car in the car park. It was a short walk up the hill to get into the centre and it was obvious from the lack of cars that we’d pretty much have the place to ourselves – got to love off-season travel sometimes. Admission for a family was $22 and the centre was definitely worth visiting. Conrad, one of the few full-blood Indian people of the local tribe, showed us into a room that displayed a bison/ buffalo hide that was covered with objects made from the buffalo. The native people used the buffalo for everything, clothing, shelter, tools, food, toys, weapons … it was an animal that provided everything that they required for their daily lives.
After Conrad’s introduction to the buffalo we headed to the theatre to see a short film that told the story of how the Indian people used buffalo jumps. We were the only people in the theatre! Following the film we went up to the 6th floor which is level with the top of the buffalo jump. We walked along the top of the cliff and looked out across the prairie and saw where the buffalo would have fallen to their deaths over thousands of years. It was a very organised and time consuming way to kill buffalo but the Indian people were able to kill sometimes a hundred buffalo at once to share.
We were glad to be wearing our new big coats because it very chilly on that cliff. Back inside the building we continued to move down the floors to see the rest of the museum. I feel like I really learnt so much about the Indian people and the buffalo at this museum. What really hit home was how 4-5 million buffalo once existed on the plains of North American and within less than 100 years of white man coming to the land, just 1000 … yes 1000 head of buffalo were left. Only for the forethought of some amazing men did the buffalo survive extinction when they transported a herd across the USA border to a protected ranch. Wow. Now buffalo are a prized meat and people breed them so they are no longer endangered but they will obviously never live again on the plains in those numbers.
One of my favourite things in the museum was this buffalo hide that shows the winter count; keeps a record of a substantial event for every year from 1764 to 1879; what a remarkable record. All starving by now we headed to the car park to have a picnic lunch and then went up to the museum so we could complete the rest of our tour of the centre; the lower walk across the prairie to wear the buffalo landed after falling off the cliff and the butchering field. Along the way we spotted this little bunny guy hiding on a rock pretending to be a rock.
We saw plenty of animal prints in the snow and a good number of scats but the bunny was the only live critter we spotted. So our time at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was complete and we had spent a good number of hours taking it all in. The staff were very enthusiastic to have us visit and we really enjoyed our experience. I would highly recommend taking the time to visit. Note: This is not the only buffalo jump that was used by Indian people and the name has nothing to do with buffalo skulls being smashed. Archaeologists actually found the skull of a young Indian boy amongst the buffalo bones, at the bottom of the cliff, when he tried to watch the action a little too closely.
Now it was time to drive to Lethbridge, which was in the opposite direction to Calgary, which is the direction which perhaps should have gone in, but I wanted to see Lethbridge. I’d read a bit in the guidebook about a big bridge. As we approached the city and drove down into a coulee (gully), we came up and around to see an amazing bridge. The sun was setting and the bridge, the highest tressle bridge in the world was stunning. I never thought I would say that about a bridge but gee it was a sight. We weren’t the only people to think so because there was a family getting their photo taken with the bridge and setting sun in the background. The boys didn’t care to get out of the car so Steve and I enjoyed the moment. It was made more spectacular by the huge train that travelled across it whilst we stood and watched.
We headed to Walmart (again), after train spotting, so we could get dinner. A BBQ chook, microwave vegies and pasta salad for less than $10 was a good dinner in the motel. The motel pool helped keep the kids out of trouble in the evening and we all tried to get an early night with a bit of tv first. We enjoyed watching some back to back episodes of ‘Storage Wars’, a show about people that buy the contents of abandoned storage sheds and either make money or lose money on what they discover. Wonder what people would think of our shed and contents back home? I wonder what we will think of the contents when we get home!