Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump: World Heritage Site, Fort MacLeod Alberta Canada

Head-smashed-in is actually the name; it is a prehistoric Indian hunting ground that has been named a Unesco world heritage site.

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On the road to it I passed what at first I thought was just a bunch of cattle, but then when I got closer I realized they’re not cattle, but rather were buffalo –

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– later I wondered if they were the same herd that provided the meat I was eating at the site’s cafeteria — bannock is apparently the name here for the chunk of Indian fry-bread like stuff that came with the Buffalo Stew

There seem to be two major variety of tourists to this place, firstly, the hikers, who tend to take the interpretive trail to the bottom of the drop, which is about a mile round trip

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And secondly, folks like me who are not so much for the hiking or the running into mountain lions. For us there’s a van that does continuous round trips from the parking lot at the bottom of the hill to the visitor center at the top (really NOT that hard of a walk, but I’m no fan of hills). Then you walk into the visitor center and take two elevators up to the top, where you walk up a gentle slope to the top of a fenced in area on top of the hill for looking down.

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This area is paved, fenced in, maybe a 3 minute walk, wheel chair accessible, and ends in a small plaza with benches and telescopes, and a fabulous view of the plaines below — way more my speed.

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At the end is the buffalo jump, a ragged cliff that the animals were stampeded over as a hunting technique. According to the information provided, there’s scientific evidence that the cliff was used for that purpose as early as 5,500 year ago. Hunters who were young and good runners would dress up as wolves, pursuing the buffalo, while other members of the tribe would have prepped the ground with rocks and branches, so that the buffalo, who apparently have lousy peripheral vision, would think they were walled in, and run where the hunters wanted them to go  — over the edge.

According to the signs, back then, the sandstone cliff was even higher up, and has actually been worn away both by the weather, and the repeated stampedes (sandstone being very soft).

Also, the name derives not from the buffalo, but from a native American story about how one time a native boy, not willing to listen to his elders, had hid at the base of the cliff hoping to see the animals fall, and they had fallen right on his head. When his parents found his, his head had been smashed in.

While I did not see any large wild animals while I was there, I did notice this little guy — a sort of yellow ground hog — who was hanging out on the far edge of the rock (which he sort of blends with — camouflage) just hanging out and enjoying the view along with the humans, but as far from us as he could get (there’s a fence that kept me from getting any closer).

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Back inside the building is a visitors center (designed so that you see this AFTER viewing the outdoor cliff view), that explains the history of the location with a multimedia display, museum exhibits of items excavated from the area, a fifteen minute movie where local indians (actors) re-enact the hunting techniques of their ancestors, the aforementioned cafeteria and of course a gift shop.

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One of the things I found interesting, if a tad disturbing, was the how they specifically tried to hunt in early spring, even though that is when they thinnest — less meaty — in order to be able to kill the buffalo when there were likely to be new born calfs (veal if you will) and the pregnant mothers with unborn babies whose skin (calfskin) was used for things like babies blankets, etc.

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According to the museum exhibit, there used to be a lot more of these sites scattered around the plaines, with massive piles of buffalo bones, but between WWI and WWII they were decimated by industrial firms who wanted them for their phosphorus content which was used in explosives and fertilizer. One of the only reasons this particular site survived that process was because it was so far from any rail lines and/or farms, that it was not cost efficient to plunder.

 

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Remington Carriage Museum, Cardston Alberta

The Remington Carriage Museum has the largest collection of horse drawn carriages, wagons, etc. in all of North America (270 of them); it is located in this small border town near one of the US/Canadian border crossings. They have trained young docents who give free hourly guided tours.
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This really is NOT something you would expect to find in this location. It was a private collection by Don Remington (a local horse carriage geek) who donated his “babies” to the government on three conditions: firstly, that it must stay in his home town town, and secondly, that the pieces be kept together, and thirdly, that he have access to it whenever he wanted it. The government accepted his terms and spent $12.5 million building this facility to house the collection.
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It is absolutely massive, and holds 270 carriages and wagons, etc., of the sort drawn by horses and rarely used anymore, like totally massive. Its so enormous that locals get year passes just so that they can use it as an indoor walking area during incremental weather.
Of the carriages, 49 belonged to Remington who began the collections, and another 175 are on loan from other organizations that don’t have the space to display them, or were donated. The museum facilities also do restorations of carriages that people bring in, but those are not the ones that go into the collection on display, because those are considered historical artifacts so they try to avoid restoring them as that would negatively affect their value.  Got everything from carriages for hauling wood to carriages for hauling the rich. There is also like a 20 minute documentary on the history and evolution of the carriage industry in America

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I was there on a weekday, and NOT during tourist season, so some of what’s “available” wasn’t while I was there: There is also a barn that holds a collection of Clydesdales and other horses, that provide carriage rides; there’s a working ironsmith, etc. There is also a restaurant, but it too was closed.

Carway US/Canda Border Crossing

I am in Canada!  But this crossing didn’t go as smoothly as I would have hoped

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Getting through customs was “interesting;” I think a freaked them out just a little bit. I was honest with them, I was intending to stay in Canada from May 29th through Sept 1st, and I technically, don’t have a job. Suffice it to say, they were not happy about this. I suppose if I had pulled up in an upscale RV (some of those suckers range in the millions) and looked to be over 65 they would have had less of an issue with it — or if I were only staying for a week or two, but as it is, no one pegs me for being as old as 51 (which I am). And the truth is that I’m currently living off my savings…

I don’t think the fact that I asked if I could get out of my car and take bunch of pictures of the border crossing facilities (denied) went over all that well either.

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Anyway I was the only car of many that got pulled to the side and then they put me into a little room, with no TV and no magazines, while they did a background check on me. I was in there a good 20 minutes of bored pacing back and forth. After the background check was over the demeanor of the guy went from somewhat threatening — which is where it had been — to downright friendly (I’m guessing they not only verified my paid in advance Airbnb bookings, but also checked my credit rating). They checked to make sure I had credit cards with me, and let me go with the warning that under no circumstances should I accept any sort of a job while I’m in Canada.