Friday, July 1, 2016

Alberta Road Trip - Day 3 - Waterton

Following another excellent breakfast, we headed south along the Cowboy Trail through more rolling foothill ranch country.
We stopped in Black Diamond, a little coal mining town, to admire the old facades of its historic downtown.
We then continued south to Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, near the town of Longview. Established in 1882, this ranch contains several preserved barns and buildings showcasing 20th-century ranch life. We were lucky to visit for free (Canada Day!) and even caught the flag-raising ceremony and shared in the cake.
We continued further south until yellow canola fields and towering wind turbines appeared on the scene. We stopped to refuel in Pincher Creek, before heading onto to our main destination of the day: Waterton.
Waterton Lakes National Park is located in the southwest corner of Alberta, abutting the Montana border. As we drove into the park (also free, thanks to Canada Day), prairie grasslands and aspen groves gave way to foothills and mountains. The road ended at Waterton, a small town nestled between majestic Rocky peaks on the shore of Upper Waterton Lake.
Waterton Lake (Prince of Wales Hotel in the distance)
town of Waterton on Upper Waterton Lake
As expected, Waterton was bustling with tourists on this holiday Friday. It had a very beach-town vibe, complete with watercraft rentals, swimming beaches, ice cream shops, and patios. We walked through the touristy downtown, fairly similar to that of Banff or Jasper, then headed to the rocky beach for a picnic lunch. The aspens shading the beach were particularly appreciated on this hot afternoon, as we enjoyed the views of the water and mountains -- and the deer that strolled casually by.
We paid a visit to the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel (1926), an old railway hotel perched on a hill overlooking the lake. The wooden interior felt more mountain lodge-y than a Fairmont but standing before the panoramic vista in the main hall, it was easy to imagine the elegance of this hotel in the heyday of rail travel (and indeed, it is still an upscale place).
southward view from the hotel grounds
eastward view
We drove through a valley to reach Red Rock Canyon, but unfortunately were turned around as the parking lot was overflowing. Not to worry, the drive through mountain-surrounded wildflower meadows was scenic enough to compensate for not getting to see the canyon.
We left Waterton mid-afternoon and drove north through farmland to the town of Fort MacLeod. Perhaps because our arrival coincided with the first raindrops of a thunderstorm, Fort MacLeod's historic downtown was deserted, save for a couple of questionable characters hanging around the decrepit Queen's Hotel and Bar. The whole downtown, in fact, felt pretty seedy, with several motels that had seen better days, culminating at the end of the road with the boarded-up brick American Hotel.
To be fair, the modern parts of the town seemed nicer, but we didn't linger in the downpour; instead heading off to our destination for the night, Premier Inn in Lethbridge.

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