Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

3 August – Day 12

Calgary, Alberta, Canada to Whitefish, Montana, USA (via Fernie, Alberta)

Distance: 502kms

In year 12 English, I had to study Karen Blixen’s/Isak Dinesen’s classic “Out of Africa.” I absolutely hated it. It drove me bananas that I had to battle through three of four pages of verbose, flowery prose when the message was essentially ‘the green trees on the plains were swaying in the wind.’

And yet – I can now sort of understand where the author was coming from… I, too, could write paragraphs (although probably not pages!!) in an attempt to capture the fiercely awesome beauty of the Canadian Rockies. The luminescence of mountains literally oozing jet black coal from pulsing, exposed veins. The verdant green of the trees, the plains, the prairies. The purple and orange and red and yellow of the mountain flowers, framed by green, everywhere green. And blue. Blue sky. Made all the more striking by the warm, glowing sunshine that bathes everything in gentle light.

So – enough about that. Truth be told, I’m almost mountained-out. The scenery is so spectacular, constantly outdoing itself, I’m almost – almost – starting to take it for granted.

Suffice to say that Fernie is on my ‘visit again’ list.

We crossed back into the US today – our second bike border crossing on the trip so far. It was actually faster/easier than I expected it to be! I really thought the Customs person would want to go through all the bike import paperwork etc , but after looking at our passports and confirming that we had neither guns, nor $10k cash nor tobacco, he waved us through. And that was that! Back in the US.

Adrian had been talking about ‘Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump’ for a while, and we were able to work the route so that we could stop in on our way past. Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is a World Heritage site and it exceeded my expectations. It’s literally a ‘buffalo jump’ – ie a place where Native Americans herded buffalo so that they jumped/fell off a cliff. The whole herd. One after another. Straight over the edge, head smashed in. Apparently buffalo don’t have very good eyesight, and the cliff was up a short rise… so by the time the lead buffalo saw the cliff, her momentum (the lead was always female) – and that of the herd pushing behind her – was unstoppable… so they all went over the edge. The Native Americans believed that if a buffalo survived and escaped the jump, she’d warn other buffalo thus ameliorating any chance of future buffalo jump success (from the Native Americans’ perspective, presumably not from that of the buffalo!) – so any survivors had to be killed – either clubbed or speared to death – at the bottom of the jump.

Following the buffalo jump, the road turned to gravel. Lots of soft, loose gravel. It was the motorbiking equivalent of strapping on a pair of aluminium-soled shoes and then going on a 50km hike on ice. Very challenging for Adrian and unfun for me.

Anyway, we made it through – and finally arrived in White Fish, where we found a campsite close to the town centre. It was only our second night of camping so far this trip!

3 thoughts on “Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

  1. “Head smashed in buffalo jump” beats anything Kaarin wrote (except, maybe, “God is laughing”). A terrific read.

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