No Passport, Will Travel: WATERTON LAKES, ALBERTA

Gem & Lita with grandson Cole, niece Yeye & Miguel at Cameron Falls

Had it not been for covid-19 pandemic Thanksgiving 2020 wouldn’t be as memorable for two reasons – a social distancing Thanksgiving dinner at the Max’s Restaurant in the oil capital of Canada, Calgary, and a family day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the beautiful Waterton Lakes, Alberta, after a 13-hour drive from Winnipeg via the Trans-Canada last 8th October.

Waterton is a quaint hamlet tucked away in the southwest corner of the wild rose country, Alberta. With only 105 residents it is a “place where natural wonders, history and people come together in a profoundly beautiful way”. Driving roughly three hours from Calgary on Hwy. 6 through farmlands past the towns of High River, Claresholm, Nanton, and the region of Pincher Creek is what it takes to see and explore the Waterton Lakes, considered one of the prettiest destinations in the Canadian Rockies.

In 1932, Waterton Lakes along with the Glacier National Park in the adjacent US State of Montana became the world’s first international peace garden and because of its landforms (where the mountains meet the praries) and its distinct climate was officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Besides, the park has two natural historic sites – the first oil well in Western Canada and the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel.

The first productive oil well in Western Canada, also known as Lineham Discovery Well No. 1, was originally drilled in 1902 producing oil at the rate of 300 barrels a day. When the well casing failed and the bore became jammed with debris the well was later abandoned.

From a distance before entering Waterton we could see the Prince of Wales Hotel standing tall on a bluff overlooking the picturesque lakes and the township, a picture-perfect place for our souvenir photos amid the gusts of cold autumn wind blowing on our faces. The seven-story Prince of Wales Hotel with 85 guest rooms and an antique manual elevator for floors two through four is a marvelous architectural treasure with its soaring roofs, gables and balconies that convey the appearance of a giant alpine chalet. Rooms started at $8.50 a night including three meals when it opened on 25 July 1927.

There are several waterfalls in Waterton. Famous is the Cameron Falls with its crystal-clear mountain water cascading down over 1.5 billion-years-old pre-Cambrian rocks located at the west edge of the town and very close to the road where we hiked up to the top with a scenic view of the town. From this point we negotiated a roundtrip of about 5 kilometers with some elevated trails of Lower Bertha Falls trail. A day before we’re hiking the Bow River Trail, a quiet riverside hike trail along the shore banks of the Bow River past its roaring rapids and the Troll Falls out and back trail in the Kananaskis Country, home to Nakiska Ski Resort, the site of the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympic alpine ski events. The Troll Falls trail is a nice easy family-friendly trail through an aspen forest carpeted with the fall brown and golden leaves concluding with a surprising water fall.

We’re wondering why there are twin Red Chairs connected by a small table throughout Waterton. We learned that these are the Red Adirondack Chairs strategically placed at the best lookouts by Parks Canada as a place to slow down, rest and relax after a stroll or a strenuous hike, to enjoy the view and connect with nature.

Our day at Waterton ended with a lunch of gourmet hot dogs served on freshly-baked buns at the Wieners of Waterton, a very busy point.

A must-see on our way back to Calgary is the deep beautiful Red Rock Canyon where the red rocks are formed in a variety of shapes, the flat, jagged and the edgy.

The social distancing 2020 Thanksgiving dinner hosted by our niece, Sherri (Yeye) Calangi Mijares, husband Joel and son Miguel, at Calgary’s Max’s Restaurant, the Philippine Restaurant made famous by its signature fried chicken, is not to be forgotten – our taste buds fully satisfied with the sumptuous menus of “kare- kare” (beef shank & ox tails with peanut butter sauce , vegetables and sautéed shrimp paste), crispy “pata” (deep fried pork leg until golden & crispy), deep fried “bangus” (milkfish), and “halo- halo” (mix- mix Filipino shaved ice sundae) as desserts.

Our hearts are overflowing with profound gratitude – till next time, we’ll keep on travelling without passports during these difficult times of the coronavirus pandemic.