Alberta, Canada: Ironhorse on the Cowboy Trail

Alberta, Canada: Ironhorse on the Cowboy Trail
Thousands of Canadians still head west hoping to capture some of the wealth from Canada’s richest province (per capita income) for themselves. But it’s also a favorite international tourist destination well known for its expansive blue skies and scenery as well as both winter and summer activities.

Founded at the convergence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and incorporated in 1884, Calgary, with a population now more than one million, is home to more oil company headquarters than anywhere else in Canada. In the late ‘70s and very early ’80s, 2,000 people per month were coming to Calgary—and staying! After a few economic crashes hit in the early ‘80s and ’90s, Calgary diversified into tourism and high-tech manufacturing. Perhaps best known is the Calgary Stampede, which annually attracts more than a million visitors each July. In addition, Spruce Meadows hosts international caliber equestrian events almost year round. During the motorcycle season, expect to see up to eight show jumping events. If your tastes lean to a little faster activity, check out Canada Olympic Park (COP) at the western edge of Calgary just off the Trans-Canada Highway. Calgary hosted the Olympics in 1988, and the ski jumping competition (among other winter sports) was held at COP. The area now provides wannabe bobsleighers an opportunity to “experience the rush of your life” during the summer on wheeled bobsleighs that hit speeds of 60 mph and yield G-forces up to four times your body weight.

Once our speed demons are satisfied, we leave out of town via 37 Street Southwest to Highway 22X, turn west, and then roll south on Highway 22. Also known as Cowboy Trail, this route passes through Black Diamond and is close to historic Turner Valley. Though gas and oil supplies have since been depleted, the area produced the most oil and gas in the British Empire for 30 years after oil was discovered at the Dingman Discovery Well on May 14, 1914.

Into the Wilderness

The two-laner starts to gently undulate as we enter the foothills of southern Alberta’s Rocky Mountain range and arrive in motorcycle-friendly Longview (population 307), the center for southern Alberta’s beef ranching. Logically, a local butcher began producing jerky here 35 years ago and has developed a faithful following. We stop in at the Longview Jerky Shop at 148 Morrison Road for a taste. It’s lunchtime, so we try the Hay Wire Café for the beef dip, my son-in-law’s favorite.

Traveling north on Highway 22, we go left on Highway 40 toward Kananaskis Country. From Longview to Nakiska, this is one of the best-kept secrets in western Canada. Highway 40 and the Highwood Pass are closed from December 1 to June 15 every year. It’s not only an incredibly scenic ride, but also, due to the fact that it’s closed for half the year, our chances of seeing black bears, grizzlies, sheep, moose, elk, deer, coyotes, wolves, and the very elusive cougar are greater than just about anywhere else in North America. Our risk of hitting them on the bike rises proportionately too, so we are super vigilant. We don’t even think about riding at night as the ditches are filled with suicidal deer. The tarmac quickly morphs into curve after curve as it gains height before summiting at Highwood Pass (7,238 feet), the highest paved road in Canada. Twenty six miles past, and to our left are hotels and plenty of rustic to fully serviced camping sites, but we drive straight through.

Following Highway 40 north, we turn west on #1, the Trans-Canada Highway, to Canmore, a world-class ski area only 35 miles from Nakiska. Canmore, a coal town before closing its last mine in 1979, is smaller than its well-known cousin farther west, Banff. It offers fishing, golf, cycling, hiking, and rock climbing that are second to none in the shadows of the Three Sisters Mountain Range and Ha Ling Peak. Incidentally, for those who carry bells to ward off the grizzlies that frequent the area, Canmore locals have a riddle: How do you distinguish black bear scat from grizzly scat? Answer: Grizzly scat has bells in it!