Surprise Visit to Drumheller

This weekend was a bit of a surprise. Not that it suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, but that until something happened, I had no idea what was yet to come.

The weekend started with the one thing I did have control over: a barbecue. Specifically, the first Jerks BBQ of the summer. What is a “Jerks BBQ”, you might ask? The group of people that I work with most around the office are The Jerks. Effectively, we’re mostly web developers. Why “Jerks”? Well, we have a rather odd term of endearment around here: “JERK!”. Hence, we’re Jerks.

This was only the second barbecue I’ve had since I bought the house (see [[My Housewarming Party]]), and was a far cry from the housewarming audience. Suddenly, I remember why I only have these barbecues once in a while — they’re a lot of work.

For example, I was up late putting together the fixin’s for the barbecue, specifically hamburgers and potato salad. I didn’t want to buy pre-made burgers (they taste like crap, and you really don’t know what goes into those things). I decided to make everything. Wanna know what went into them? I can’t give you quantities (I made it up as I went), but it went like this:


Potato Salad

Everything was ready for when my guests arrived Friday after work … about 20 minutes before it began to rain. At first, it only rained a little. Soon, it was raining a lot. Apparently someone had decided to ignore my purchase order for a nice, sunny evening. We ended up cramming into the kitchen and living room. Still, a good time seemed to be had by all, which is all I really wanted.

Pat and Scott were the last two to roll out the door, shortly before 22:30. That gave me time to go over to Alex’s. Which was important for activities the next day…

…starting with the Inglewood Festival, and the pancake breakfast. We were originally going to walk from Alex’s, but when she found out that her sister had a layover in Calgary on her way back to Vancouver, the plan changed to driving. Though we walked from the south side of the Zoo to Inglewood.

The breakfast was put on as part of the festival, but I think also for the footrace runners so they could eat after their event. The food was quite good (there’s nothing like greasy spoon flapjacks and Spolumbo’s sausage), and we were serenaded by local group, The Wake Ups.

We did a quick circuit of the various stalls (many still setting up) before running back for the car, and heading up to the airport. Sadly, we would not see Nicky that day, as she had only 40 minutes between flights, and I gather the staff felt she wouldn’t have enough time to see anyone. We headed back down to downtown.

Originally, the intent had been to go back to Inglewood. To go easy on parking, we stopped at the Calgary Zoo, planning to walk from there. But we soon found ourselves at the entrance to the Zoo. We had the option of going around, or going in. Suddenly, the Zoo seemed so much more appealing.

It was a perfect day to see the Zoo. I’d only been there two times before, and both times were cold and nasty, and not all the animals were really active. This time, we were tripping over them — especially the flock of peacocks that seemed to be running around the grounds (including peahens with their peachicks). And then there were all the kids. Hundreds of ’em. They were almost as interesting as watching the monkeys.

We started off in the dinosaur section. This is little more than a static display and a garden, with some dinosaur sculptures thrown in for accent. They’re not the best models, perhaps, but for a portion of the zoo, it’s not too bad. Then we were off in search of elephants, bears, monkeys, horses, and tigers before we had to stop for lunch. After eating a fresh Spolumbo’s sandwich (albeit a little pricey), we were off to Africa (to see hippos, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, lions, gorillas, more moneys, bongos, several species of birds), the botanical garden to see various plants and the butterflies (which even after three times, have been very light in numbers), then over to Australia.

The Australian section (which until this weekend I didn’t even know existed) included kangaroos (which didn’t move much), one of the roaming peacocks, and a building full of oddities from Down Under. Part of the building is dedicated to “Creatures of the Night”, a rebranding for the nocturnal section.

Inside there, it’s dark. Really dark. You almost feel like squinting, it’s so dark. In there, you find things like a little fox with REALLY big ears, wallabies, and of course, bats. Lots of bats. But my favourite thing was a little mouse-sized creature, the name of which I currently forget. This little marsupial zipped along at high speed, and could crawl up the surface of a vertical pane of glass. (Apparently, sweat glands in its feet create suction.) It was quite an experience.

Then it was off through the Canadian Wilds. Nothing particular here, just the usual cougars, lynxes, moose, ducks (but they’re everywhere, so you can’t avoid them), bison, wolves, caribou, owls, hawks, porcupines, deer, elk, and goats. Y’know — the same stuff you see every day on your way to work. (Sorry, that’s a bit of an in-joke for us Canucks.) That concluded our Zoo visit, and it was time to get on with the day.

A quick stop at London Drugs retrieved photos that Alex has been taking for the last couple of months. One of them was of her bedroom wall, which she painted milk chocolate brown. Prior to painting it over completely, she’d drawn a large heart, inside of which she wrote: “AA + GS”. Although I’d known that she drew something on that way, she wouldn’t tell me what was there until I saw the photograph.

Have I mentioned that I love this woman?

Collecting our things, it was time for the surprise (it might take a while, but you knew I was going to get to it eventually). First off was dinner. For that, we tried to find Mother’s Pizza in Beddington Town Centre. However, it appears that the store front is currently hidden under the mask of renovation. I only hope it makes a return. We ended up at the Boston Pizza, instead.

From there, we headed out towards Deerfoot Trail, and then north. You need to understand that, at this point, I had no idea where we were going. In “return” for the surprise I pulled on Alex in Banff, Alex wanted to take me somewhere mysterious. Her “clue” had been misinformation, to throw me off the scent. I had guessed Kananaskis. As we drove north on Deerfoot, I assumed that she was taking a very circuitous route.

When we turned east onto one of the many regional highways at the north end of Airdrie, I put Kananaskis off to the side. I soon thought it might be Irricana, though I couldn’t imagine why. When we passed it on Highway 9, I tried to think of something else. When we passed Beiseiker, there weren’t many options left. Alex was trying to convince me it was Saskatoon. While this was the same route I’d take when we’d moved Nana to Calgary, the drive out is a little long. I felt it safe to assume she was trying to distract me from our destination: Drumheller.

Though when we first pulled into the downtown core, I had second thoughts. Alex passed by most of the hotels, and started taking South Dinosaur Trail away from downtown! (It’s all industrial park out there.) It wasn’t until she crossed over the railway tracks and pulled into the Newcastle Inn that the surprise was fully exposed.

The Inn is a small place, with about 12 rooms. It looks sort of like your grandmother’s place, but with an extra fridge in the kitchen, and a bathroom for each bedroom. Family photos adorn the walls. The Inn was mostly empty when we were there, save for the owner, and two other couples (who seemed to be in the basement). It was certainly comfortable enough for us for the night.

We checked in just before 22:00, dumped our bags, and headed out for a short walk. Which ended up being a long walk (about 30 blocks) to the 7-11 and back. The night was cool, but not uncomfortable. Many small homes, and a few with firepits (we smelled a little like smoke by the time we got back). The unmistakeable scent of prairie-bound small town was just the sort of thing I needed to clear the head.

The next morning, woken up by the other guests who had decided to eat their breakfast on the patio outside our window — the first ones to do so since the Inn opened — we ate our breakfast on the patio next to the kitchen. Cereal, toast, and a little fruit salad. We showered, dressed, packed up, and headed out for the adventure of the day.

Our first stop was at the Tourist Information Centre. Why? Originally, to find the local TD Canada Trust, of which there is none in Drumheller. Every other bank is there, just not the TD. While we were there, we felt it necessary to do the tacky tourist thing, and climbed the World’s Largest Dinosaur.

The 26.2 metre (85 ft.) tall structure is a massive version of a tyrannosaurus rex (or something similarly nasty), about 4.5 times the life-sized versions found in a museum not too far away. It’s not nearly as life-like, but that’s part of the charm. The internal structure is steel, though aside from the stairs it’s hard to tell — the inside is a plastic “tunnel” lined with fossil reproductions.

The tunnel ends at the dinosaur’s jaws, where you peer westward over the town of Drumheller. It’s a pretty neat view, especially with the teeth in the way. Alex and I got a great view of the city, and the children playing in the water park just beneath the dinosaur.

Then it was off to the real thing — the Royal Tyrell Museum. It’s been a while since the last times that I’ve been there, and it was good to be back and see it again. Especially with someone who really wanted to see it because of personal interest.

If you might remember, Alex is an x-ray technician, which means she spends a lot of time with bones. That, and her degree in science, leads to a lot of questions. For example, there’s a skeleton of a lambeosaurus (duck-billed), that showed a lot of spines from the tail bones. This puzzled Alex, as did the series of long bony-looking lines running the length of the spine between the shoulders and the hips. Before, I’d not have thought twice about this. Alex, however, is very good with anatomy, and knew this wasn’t right. A passing staff member told us the long bony structures were fossilized tendons (who knew?) and the tail spines were to create the thickness of the tail.

We tried to take our time, but we ended up only taking a couple of hours. One thing about visiting museums off and on — you see different things upon subsequent returns. That’s what made it so interesting. I suspect the air conditioning also hasted our movement, since even for me, it was a little chilly.

We ran out to the hoodoos east of downtown for a quick photo stop. Since I was there last, the Royal Tyrell has taken over management of the area, and created paths for people to walk on, trying to keep people from prematurely destroying the hoodoos. A bold and very noble initiative, since you don’t have to pay for the privilege of seeing them. So kudos to the Tyrell!

With that, we headed back towards Calgary. We stopped at Horseshoe Canyon for a look-see. This meant a lot of climbing. Once we hit the valley floor, Alex was off like a shot, feeling a need to run up and down the slopes. For a while, I thought I was the dog that no-one wants, and was trying to ditch me out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, I managed to not fall too far behind.

The trip back was into the setting sun. The excitement of the two days hit me, and for a short period of time, I slept. Soon, we were back in Calgary. We finished our weekend with a simple Greek meal at Santorini. Along the way to the restaurant, we were confronted by a friendly cat who stirred a few old memories in Alex, of a cat she’d had as a little girl. I had to take a picture for her.

Now it’s my turn for planning the next surprise. I’m not sure what to do just yet, but I’ve got “It’s a Small, Small World” playing in my head…