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[Comments] (7) Dinotopia!: Ever since Leonard was a very small boy, we have wanted to visit Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada. This summer we finally made it happen. I wish we had gone twenty years earlier when I could still hike, but we had a wonderful time.

My trip began Thursday, July 28, 2005, with me waiting all morning for the pharmacy to deliver my TPN. They took their sweet time about it, but I couldn’t very well take off without it, so I waited until about 12:30 p.m. when they delivered it. I packed up the cooler and took off, dropping Gretel at American Dog Obedience on the way. She cried when I left her, but I know she has fun with the other dogs after I am gone.

I drove to San Francisco without incident. I did stop at Casa de Fruita for gas. I know it’s tacky, but I was running low. Casa de Fruita is a shameless tourist trap, which also features Casa de Wine, Casa de RV Park, Casa de Burger, etc. The gas station used to be Casa de Shell, but it’s a Chevron now, and, mercifully, Chevron has not bought into the Casa de Nonsense.

When I got to Leonard’s house, they were waiting dinner on me, and Lisa Schile was there. It was great to see her; I haven’t talked to her since she was in high school. She is a biologist now, doing wetlands research. Leonard make Steak Poivere, which was awesome.

After Lisa left, we all turned in and I slept very late the next morning.

Our plane didn’t leave until afternoon, which was a nice thing for the morning, but a bad thing for the evening. We checked the big cooler full of TPN, but it was overweight and we had to pay $25.00. Next time we’ll know to maybe bring two lighter coolers. The first thing that happened was I threw up on the only sweatshirt I had brought (my BYU one.) I cleaned it off as best I could in the airplane bathroom, but luckily I only had to wear it one other day –in Glacier, and on the trip home. Changing planes at the Denver airport was a mixed up nightmare. Something–I don’t know what–was going on and the airline personnel weren’t coping. We almost missed our flight to Bozeman, Montana, which they didn’t even announce. In a frantic rush, we got on the plane and reached Bozeman in the middle of the night.

The Bozeman airport is nice, but small, with a Western lodge kind of decor. Our two suitcases came down the conveyer, but the cooler didn’t. This was not a good sign. We sat and waited and waited, but it never came. Finally, Leonard went to the office to complain, and after he stood in a huge long line, he discovered it was there in the office because it was overweight. It would have helped if in San Francisco, they would have told us this would happen. So we rented our car and ventured out to seek a motel room.

No reservations. Bad idea. No vacancies anywhere. We finally found a room in a dive called the Rainbow (or something similar thereto.) They only had a smoking room, but I turned the fan on high and it wasn’t so bad. Really. I told myself it wasn’t. In the morning, we made tracks, and for the next night we checked into a place called Western Heritage, which had three AAA stars, even though their continental breakfast was sort of skimpy.

We ate breakfast in a friendly café, on of the three times we ate in a restaurant on this trip. It was the kind of café where the locals go to sit around and drink coffee and the waitress calls the customers “Sweetheart.” Neither my omelette nor my hash browns were brown enough, but I ate it anyway.

Bozeman is a nice little town with a quaint main street. We spent some time walking up and down the street poking into the little stores. There don’t appear to be any chain franchises anywhere near the downtown. We shopped at a food co-op to get ingredients to make sandwiches. Membership is not required at this food co-op, and they had absolutely everything. They even had toiletries in bulk–bring your own bottle. We bought some Burt’s Bees insect repellant (which didn’t have much of the desired effect) and some trail mix along with deli cuts and bread.

I had to keep reminding myself that Bozeman is nice right now, but what about when winter comes? Leonardw is making noise about buying a retirement home there, but then, he skis often in the winter.

The Museum of the Rockies was a fantastic place. I’ve never seen so many dinosaur bones in one place, and very few of them casts. I particularly enjoyed the triceratops display–a graduated set of all sizes of triceratops skulls, from baby to adult. There were some planetarium shows, but Leonard didn’t want to go to them. We also breezed through the basic science displays because they were pretty lame.

We gave a nod to the Montana History, of which there weren’t really many artifiacts, but some. The final prize goes to a stupendously executed oil painting entitled “The Death of John Bozeman.” A man on a horse is firing a rifle point blank at a standing man, all surrounded by glorious fall Montana landscape. Just the thing you’d want hanging in your living room.

Later, I read in some brochure or other that nobody really knows how John Bozeman died. His death (murder?) is a mystery that has never been solved.

Also at the Museum of the Rockies, there is a “living history” farm that shows a homestead. It’s not a typical homestead because the house is two story and has four bedrooms plus a sewing room, but hey. The garden is all planted in heirloom varieties, and there is a (Mandan? I forget which tribe) Indian garden. Only one living history volunteer was there, and she was demonstrating floor mopping, a procedure which appears to have changed not at all since 1850. This was too bad, as I was interested in watching the blacksmith.

The thing that spoiled the living history homestead for me was the plethora of modern accessories. In the root cellar, there were rows and rows of new Kerr mason jars with metal bands and lids. Not authentic. In the little boy’s bedroom, there were Pattern Blocks, with their bright modern paint in primary colors. Pattern Blocks can be bought at any educational supply store, which I suspect the pioneers did not do. I would have liked to have seen homemade wooden blocks colored with natural dyes. Even in NINETEEN-fifty, children didn’t have Pattern Blocks. And–in the sewing room a rag rug was being made of strips of cotton/polyester blend cloth. Some of the cloth featured mod Sixties patterns–stripes and polka dots and daisies and other non-pioneer types of designs.

Oh well. I’m sure they meant it all kindly.

Next morning, we took off for Canada. I was a little nervous about taking a rental car out of the country, myself, but it didn’t seem to present a problem. We stopped at a tiny museum that bragged “Dinosaur Nesting Ground”. When I say “tiny”, I mean it occupied part of a county administration building and had one poor lady docent who was bored to tears. It turned out that the Dinosaur Nesting Ground is somewhere you have to go on a bus to, with an established tour, so we just took a look around the museum. Lots of dinosaur eggs and dinosaur life cycle displays. Another room held historical artifacts. The poor docent kept trying to give us a tour of the rooms. I felt so badly for her. In the little bitty gift shop they had a nightshirt in fabric of dinosaur design that I fell in love with, but I didn’t buy it because it was not 100% cotton. I didn’t buy too much in the gift shop because I was nervous about stretching the Canadian money. Leonard’s ATM card wasn’t working in Canada, so we had to use mine. Lots of places in Canada take Mastercard but not Visa. I seem to remember having the same problem once in Mexico.

On we drove, through Lethbridge, which is an absolutely gorgeous town. We were in the countryside now–lush green pastures with happy cattle, wheat fields–oh, it was lovely. Nobody will ever convince ME that Canadian beef is dangerous. It has to be better to have the cattle roaming in pastures and eating green grass and taking care of their own babies, than our method of crowding the steers into a feedlot full of poopie.

Our objective was Brooks, a town so insignificant and nondescript that I have nothing to say about it. We spent two nights there. The first night I made the mistake of ordering a pizza. I ordered the combination, which is what I usually get, but when it arrived it had meat piled on it an inch and a half deep. Some kind of inferior ham, and what they call salami in Canada, we call bologna. Yuck. I should have ordered the veggie. We picked off what we could, but we ended up throwing most of the pizza out after it had spent a couple of days in the cooler. And there went all my Canadian money.

At some point, we visited a Canadian grocery store where we checked out the packaged deli meat. Horrors upon horrors. They had something called “macaroni and cheese loaf” (don’t ask) and some head cheese with big viscous patches of gelatinized whatever. When I see head cheese I always remember Grandma Della’s experience as a little girl. They always kept her inside when they butchered a pig, but she sneaked out and peeked into the cauldron. She could hear the teeth rattling around in the bottom as it boiled, and as she looked, an eyeball came bubbling up to the surface. (I have never eaten head cheese and don’t plan to start.) They also had plenty of that strange bologna that they call salami.

Next morning, we headed for Dinosaur Provincial Park. I was so excited to be going after many years of longing to go. The beautiful pastureland suddenly dropped off, and we found ourselves in the badlands–wonderful sculptured landscape. I loved it. Down, Down, Down the canyon into the dinosaur park. We had reservations on a ranger-led bus tour–there are many places in the Park they don’t let you go without a ranger. There are also plenty of self-guided trails, and we went on a few of them.

Bones and fossils are lying around all over, but of course visitors may not remove them. I found a clam all by myself. The ranger said the fossils are NOT planted anywhere, they are just a natural part of the park. The park has a simply wonderful campground, and I kept thinking what fun it would have been to come here when the kids were little. The rangers had lots of kid programs, and the park was all in all a high class place. We ate a picnic lunch there in spite of the bugs.

Back to our motel to crash, then the next morning to Drumheller. In Drumheller, they really take the dinosaur schtick seriously and exploit it to the maximum. Tourist traps and rock shops all over the place. Drumheller boasts the world’s tallest dinosaur statue–much, much bigger than those at Cabazon. Leonard paid $3 Canadian for the privilege of climbing to the top and staring out of his mouth. I stayed sitting on a bench and took a picture.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum is a marvel. So many dinosaurs! And other prehistoric flora and fauna too. They have a garden of plants of types that were alive when the dinosaurs roamed. None of this animatronic stuff–just bones and repros. I bought a T-shirt and Leonard bought a mug.

We paid a visit to a tourist trap called Reptile World, which appears to be somebody trying to make money off a reptile collecting hobby. They cheated and had some amphibians as well–frogs and toads. I like seeing snakes and lizards, so I guess the price of admission was worth it. They didn’t have any horny toads though. Horned toads are my favorite.

We ate one of the two dinners we ate in restaurants on this trip. The Chinese place we had wanted was closed, so we went to another one, which was, if not terrible, at least mediocre. I think people should beware of Chinese restaurants that also sell American food. Plus, smoking was allowed in the front of the restaurant (we sat in the back.) Yuck. Most of the rest of the trip we made do with sandwiches that we made from grocery store ingredients and miso soup made in the motel room coffeepot. And motel continental breakfasts.

We visited a fossil shop. I bought a postcard or something, and they gave me a scrap of dinosaur bone. Also, Drumheller has a grocery co-op, so we got supplies there, including the most wonderful pumpernickel I ever tasted. I had it with Havarti cheese one morning for breakfast, and it was so good! We headed out onto the eternal Canadian roads.

The next stop was Vulcan, a Star-Trek themed tourist trap. They had plenty of cardboard standups to take pictures with. I took pictures of Leonard with Quark, and he took one of me with L’hursa and B’etor. Unfortunately the flash reflected in the cardboard, so the pictures aren’t that great. This was in the Chamber of Commerce building, which is shaped like a space ship. All in all, tacky and lame, but great fun, and a wonderful mural of space in the bathroom.

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. How to describe this? Besides it being a real hike. This is the place where the Indians chased the buffalo off the cliff, and then butchered them for winter. Blackfeet, I think. At the visitor’s center, they had Indian dancing, and also a mascot in a buffalo suit who break-danced. Whoo. The center cafeteria sold buffalo stew, but we passed. The little museum was more interesting than the jump itself. This was a driving day, and we made it all the way to Cardston, where we drove past the temple and then collapsed into bed in our motel. Our motel room didn’t feature a coffee pot, so no miso soup. We thought kind thoughts of the Matkins but didn’t call; we were too exhausted.

Next morning, up and at ‘em, to Glacier National Park. National parks are apparently charging $20 to get in now, so I was glad I had my Golden Access Pass. Glacier was just lovely. The brochure said there were a thousand varieties of wildflower, and they appeared to be all blooming when we were there. A lively discussion was held in the car about whether glaciers still existed in the park. I insisted that the patches of white on the mountains were glaciers; Leonard thought they were snow. I proved him wrong by turning to the AAA book, that arbiter of all automobile arguments, which says there are fifty glaciers in the park. The scenery was just spectacular.

I was really starting to feel the altitude. I got winded just getting out of the car. For someone who grew up at 9,000 feet, I’ve sure lost lung capacity. This was the day, I think, that I discovered I was short two days worth of TPN. This did not help my exhaustion, because I decided to ration it, and turn the IV pump off when sitting in the car, back on when moving around. But I still felt rotten the rest of the trip.

Overnight was Butte, Montana, after a long drive. Butte is an old mining town that has kept some of the boomtown appearance. I kept thinking of my father. We visited a used bookstore in downtown Butte, but I thought they wanted too much for their books. It was the nicest, biggest used bookstore I’d ever been in.

We ate dinner at an expensive restaurant recommended by the AAA book. Leonard had Beef Wellington, which looked awfully good. I had the shrimp scampi, which arrived strangely covered in cream sauce. It was pretty rich and fancy and yucky. I cleaned the shrimp off the best I could before eating them, and they were pretty scarce on the garlic. It’s not scampi without garlic, now is it? In the restaurant with us was the band, Hotel California. They were playing at the fairgrounds that night, and if I hadn’t been so tired, I’d have wanted to go hear them. They seemed like a nice bunch of fellows. Their long white limo was parked out front.

To the motel to sleep, and the next day, Yellowstone! The scenery is so spectacular. Coming in, we saw an elk and a moose. The big highlight of today was all the thermal spots. We loved seeing the steam come out of the ground. My favorite feature was the mud pots–a huge pool of boiling mud. Hiking out to them, I wished I had my walker, however.

At Old Faithful, I sat on the bench like an old lady while Leonard hiked the boardwalk. He returned just in time to see it erupt. After that, we moseyed on down the road, seeing landscape and herds of buffalo, and ending up in Cody, Wyoming.

Cody is a wretched place. There is nothing to do there but to worship Buffalo Bill. The place I thought I had made us a reservation had never heard of us. We went through the history on my cell phone and found the number I had dialed was another motel, much more decrepit, but cheaper, and they had heard of us, so we stayed there for an uneventful night. The next morning we went to Wal-Mart, it being the only store we could find, and bought picnic stuff.. I hope the fact that we shopped at two co-ops this trip cancels out the humiliation of having to shop at Wal-Mart.

We went back into Yellowstone through the north entrance over the Chief Joseph Highway, which passes where the Nez Perce fought off the US Army. The historical markers were interesting to read, and it was heartening to learn that the public and the press were thoroughly against the Army and in favor of the Nez Perce. The road itself passed through some of the most spectacular scenery of this trip.

This was a Saturday, and Yellowstone was far more crowded than it had been the day before. We saw more buffalo herds, a petrified redwood tree, and the obsidian cliff, which was used by the Native Americans to make arrowheads. We soaked up scenery, had our little picnic lunch, hit the tourist trap store in Mammoth Hot Springs, and then headed off to Bozeman.

Bedtime came early because we had to get up at 4 am. to turn in our rental car and catch our flight. Flight home was uneventful but late. I took a long nap at Leonard’s house, and then in the evening we went over to Leonardw and Jeff’s to celebrate Jeff’s birthday.

In the morning I dropped Leonard off at work and then drove home without incident. I did stop at the farmer’s market in Gilroy where I usually stop because I like the lady, but she was pretty skimpy on the fresh stuff this time, having been bought out over the weekend. She didn’t have any of the cherries that were advertised on frantic signs all along the road, so I had to stop somewhere else to get them. I picked up Gretel, and lo and behold, eventually we were home!


© 2001-2006 Frances Whitney.