I spent last weekend in Calgary, Alberta, and my dear relatives correctly assumed that I would most enjoy seeing the "weird" side of Alberta. And so we did. We took two day trips with packed sandwiches. The first day we went north--the featured stop was the Torrington Prairie Gopher Hole Museum. The town of Torrington has put itself on the map by mounting an exhibit of stuffed, dressed-up gophers taking part in little scenes, like hitting a baseball, going to church, camping in bikinis, driving chuck wagons, and working at the forge. Some of the gophers had little speech balloons: I especially like the gopher dressed as a clown standing in the middle of an empty street and pulling a little red wagon. The diorama was called "Parade," and the gopher wonders, "Am I in the right town?"

After we took pictures of the 12-foot gopher statue at the outskirts of town, we went on to GuZoo, a disturbing outdoor zoo where the eccentric owners keep all manner of animals that do not belong in provincial Alberta. Lions, lynx, camels, tigers, yaks, a sullen muskox, a trio of kittens (one disemboweled), rabbits and dead rabbits, some Chilean rodents, monkeys, very very sad looking raccoons--all are kept in cages for anyone to pelt with buns (perhaps their only sustenance) and ogle. We were amazed that a) you can actually get in the cage with most animals and pick them up if you like, and that b) the place was still in operation since it seemed rather...sketchy.

Spirits still high, though, we pushed on to badlands country. The Red Deer River has spent a lot of time carving coulees and hoodoos and buttes out of the multi-coloured sedimentary rock around Drumheller, Alberta. The result is a beautiful canyon with black coal layers, red layers, white and green clay layers, and a pleasant smell of sagebrush everywhere. We stopped in Drumheller so my niece and two nephews could climb Dino 2000, which is a hollow dinosaur installation EVEN BIGGER than the dinosaur in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure." Afterwards we dined at the All You Can Eat Western/Chinese buffet at a restaurant called Fred & Barney's, next to the Reptile Museum.

On the way home we passed a large statue in Beiseker, Alberta--their town mascot is "Squirt the Skunk." Many many Canadian towns sport Large Roadside Attractions. Someday I would like to make a pilgrimage to some of the more bizarre ones, like the giant perogie or the world's largest ball of string.

The next day, Sunday, we traveled in the opposite direction for a SURPRISE. It turned out to be the small but fascinating town of Vulcan, Alberta, which has recently been done up in a Star Trek theme. The tourist information kiosk, in particular, is built to resemble an alien craft, and inside you can take your picture with any assortment of three different Star Trek crews. (I chose Spock, Kirk, Bones, and Picard, of course.) Sadly it was raining quite heavily, so after a hasty picnic in a wet abandoned playground, we progressed to Nanton. Here we stopped at the Lancaster Museum, mainly because my father had insisted on visiting the same place a few years before he died. Our family has a soft spot for the Avro Lancaster bomber because our dad worked in the Lancaster factory in Ontario during WWII. He did not do anything particularly difficult there--I think he drilled holes in something. Still, it is interesting to think of our pa taking part in the great war effort. We paid extra to tour the Lancaster at the Nanton museum and saw where the poor cold rear gunner has to sit for ten hours at a time, and also we noted the huge bomb bays and the rotating midships gun-bay thingy. (It's like the part of the Millennium Falcon where you sit and shoot in all directions, except it's in the middle of a huge four-propellor plane and you have to do everything standing up.)

Because it was a rainy day we next went bowling. From living in Massachusetts for some time I have taken quite a fancy to candle-pin bowling, which most people think is some messed up mutant form of the sport. But in High River, Alberta, I met an even stranger bowling variant: Five Pin Bowling. The ball is the size of a candle-pin ball, but the pins are the shape of ten-pin pins. The result is PRETTY FRICKIN' FUN, and I managed to pull into the lead during my last two rolls by bowling two strikes in a row. yessir.

Last we stopped near Okotoks to look at a rock. Sounds strange, but it is a glacial erratic of great geological significance, or something. Basically we climbed on the rocks, hallooed at each other, and threw a ball for the dog over and over and over and over and over again. The short version: some glacier dropped the rocks after carrying them all the way from Jasper.

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