BC to Alberta

rain clouds in alberta

Or How to Get There From Here.

We thought it would be an uneventful day, but as with any travel adventures, we ended up having two adventures we hadn’t planned on.

Dora the Explorer and the “I’m a Map,” dude. Along the road, through the forest, past spooky trees with faces and to find the house of death.

We’d planned to get to Calgary by 3 so we could see the zoo and the pandas. (If you recall, we had to book a viewing appointment with the pandas. Like they were kings. Or doctors).

So we couldn’t leave Cranbrook too late. It was over 4 hours of driving on the Crowsnest highway.

So, like Dora the Explorer would say, we had to go through the forest, over the mountains, and along the plains to find the city.

The-Youngest was oddly excited about actually crossing the border. I think he wanted gates, armed guards, and searchlights, but all we found were two signs. Leaving BC and Welcome to Alberta.

Not super exciting. Not even a bear or a scruffy-looking pipeline protestor could be seen.

So, feeling a little disappointed, we stopped for Timmies right across the border.

This became our first travel adventure for the day.

Tim Hortons. Mmmmm. Donut. Double double. Fast Service… or not

Now, I am, if nothing, a veteran Timmies guy, and this was perhaps the worst one I have ever, ever visited.

It was super busy, which is not unheard of, but the mass of customers waiting for double-doubles had broken the restaurant.

I’ve seen it happen on my watch in Toys R Us at Christmas time. The staff were simply overwhelmed.

One young employee stood there staring at a machine that stirs the ice drinks like he’d been shelled by the Taliban. A little old lady running the cash register got so flustered, she forgot how to ring in cash and just kept waving it in the air like the bill was on fire. Nearby, two sandwich makers bickered with each other about who had last used the buttering knife as a phalanx of sandwich orders hung on their station overhead.

Now, a good owner would take charge. Shift people if needed. Manage the crisis. Keep things rolling, but I swear to God, not a single coffee or sandwich was made in ten minutes while everyone panicked.

So it took a good 45 min to get a coffee.

It’s a weird thing when something like that takes so long. If someone said, hey Justjoe, it looks like this is going to take 45 min, I would have left, but after investing 10 min, do you give up?

What about after 20, cuz now you’ve invested even more time?

And then 30 min?

Well, Goddammn, after 30,  I’m sticking it out now!

Which I did. I got my coffee, fought my way out of the parking lot and we were back on our way. Minor delay. Major grumpy attack by me.

After that coffee disaster, the sky decided to echo my mood and turn dark. Like winter storm dark.

And with that darkness, came our second unexpected adventure.

rain clouds in alberta
Nothing like a good Alberta storm!

On the prairies, a dark sky either means aliens are gathering to attack, again, or a lightning storm was a’comin’. And sure enough, as we got into the foothills, a storm descended upon us with righteous fury. Lightning forked across the sky. Sheets of rain pounded on the car, making driving nearly impossible, and through it all, not a single boom of thunder.

How amazing!

Both boys oooohed and awww’d at the lightning, while The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World gripped the dashboard with a kung fu grip as we sped along a highway where we could barely see 2 feet in front of us.

Luckily, I found a gas station to pull into until the storm passed over us. We stood under a convenience store canopy and watched it roll towards the mountains. I won’t lie, I was still shaking from that highway drive and I think the-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World wished we’d stopped at the liquor store instead of a gas station.

thunder and lightning storm. alberta 2018
Storm’s coming. Alberta, 2018

But we saw a good, old-fashioned prairie storm. Something you just don’t see in Vancouver at all.

And both the Timmies catastrophe and the storm had made this part of the trip more interesting.

“Interesting?” The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World asked. “What next? Driving into a tornado? Dancing on a lava field? Boating in a hurricane?”

The three of us boys thought all those things would be amazing, but next up, those exciting, super energetic pandas, aka the wildmen of the bamboo forest.


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More Unexpected Experiences at the Grand Canyon

The IMAX at the vistor's center in the Grand Canyon.
The IMAX at the visitor’s center in the Grand Canyon.

There are things that should be done in order. Watching the first Game of Thrones episode before watching, like, the 10th. Eating fries before a burger. And seeing an IMAX show about the Grand Canyon before you see the Grand Canyon.


Cuz fries get soggy or cold.

And an IMAX film simply pales in comparison to the real thing. So, having seen the real thing, a movie, even a big screen movie, is kinda lame.

But that’s what we did after the Grand Canyon Tour. Our guide, Sean, told us that if we wanted to take a small hike, he had the perfect spot. We are not, however, big hikers and the thought of bringing The-Youngest to a spot that had 270 degrees of ways to fall off a cliff, we thought, yeah, no to that.

Plus, we were starving and so, while we waited for the next IMAX showing at the National Geographic Information Center, we decided not to go to any of the places recommended by the guide (due to time constraints) and instead ate at the Pizza Hut. It was awful. Just awful. But at least we had full bellies and were in time for the IMAX.

Now, even if I had seen the IMAX show before the actual Grand Canyon, I may have been disappointed. There were none of the going-over-a cliff-shots that make me queasy. None of the virtual near things coming right at you that make you swerve in the seat. No sense of speed or ear-shattering sound. It was mostly just shots of the canyon and a docu-drama about the dude who actually rafted down the river for the first time. John Wesley Powell.

Green screen or the real thing? A bit of haze in the distance made the Grand Canyon look made-up
Green screen or the real thing? A bit of haze in the distance made the Grand Canyon look made-up

Both The-Youngest and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-world thought the actual Grand Canyon seemed like a green screen picture. It made sense since it was a bit hazy in the distance, but I thought what a cool observation?

Afterwards, we bought our traditional souvenir t-shirts for the boys and then went to go to the car, only to have the most unexpected thing happen.

It rained. Thick heavy drops splashed on the ground. The air smelled of dust and wet juniper trees. Dark clouds loomed overhead, and as I looked at them, I wondered if we would get a thunderstorm as well?

But as we drove away, the rain disappeared. No matter. It made for an interesting moment. Something I would never have expected to see or experience.

Mexican Food at the Salsa Brava. Mmmm, good!
Mexican Food at the Salsa Brava. Mmmm, good!

As for dinner, just to be super annoying we phoned to change our reservation, AGAIN! They were super nice and fit us in earlier than we planned. Dinner at Salsa Brava wasn’t the amazing birthday dinner I’d dreamed about, planned for, but the food was delicious, the portions HUGE and The-Youngest even braved the Salsa bar (trying a tasty green chili one.)

Stuffed full, we retreated to the hotel to get to sleep early. We needed to get up early the next day and suffer through another 4-hour drive.

Sadly, not my picture of horizontal lightning, but this is what it looked like. Wow!
Sadly, not my picture of horizontal lightning, but this is what it looked like. Wow!

However, that storm, remember the one at the Grand Canyon, yeah, it caught up with us and split the sky with an incredible lightning show. Thunder peeled across the horizon and I got to see something I’ve never seen before. Horizontal lightning.

It was the perfect way to end a perfect day – another display of the power and beauty of nature.

Sleep be damned.