Venturing Away from Stampede
Continuing the Stampede theme but moving off the official grounds, visitors can hit up Ranchman’s Cookhouse & Dancehall. There is always a long line to get in, but watching a woman change into a tattered wedding dress in order to skip the line is just part of the entertainment. In addition to live music and mechanical bulls, the bar also features an extensive rodeo museum. If the crowds downtown become too much, rely on Calgary’s trouble-free rail system to venture out to Heritage Park Historical Village on the Glenmore Reservoir. This interactive museum more than doubled its size in 2009. It gives visitors an authentic view of what it was really like to live in the Wild West, and those who plan to spend just an hour or two can find themselves swept up for a full day before they realize it. Tough, modern-day cowboys still get to return home to hot baths and powerful air conditioners, but imagine living in a sod house. Heritage Park has dozens of original buildings like these, as well as train cars dating back as far as the late 19th century. Explore the grounds on an original steam train or amble along the dirt and gravel roads and interact with the employees in character, who go out of their way to make previous centuries come alive. Don’t be surprised to get sucked into an impromptu tour by an early-20th-century train conductor. After walking through farmland, head into the one-street town for ice cream and the amusement park featuring no rides built after 1928. Although the rides can provide a thrill, it’s their spinning and twisting, not their age, that make them scary. They are inspected and maintained on a daily basis to keep them operating without a hitch, says Steve Ramsey, facilities and maintenance manager at Heritage Park.
American Airlines flies daily to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Stampede 2012 runs from July 6 through July 15.
To score tickets to the rodeo, concerts and the Stampede grounds, visit www.calgarystampede.com.
“Daily maintenance consists of a two-part inspection,” he says. “Prior to opening, a mechanic performs a set of checks on each ride. Before the operating staff opens each ride, they also conduct another set of checks.”
If Heritage Park doesn’t shake that desire to see what it was like when the Stampede was created, head an hour and a half west to the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park, a place of dramatic mountains, icy glacier lakes and more wildlife than a safari. Canada’s oldest national park offers a perfect finish to the nonstop celebration in Calgary, with never-ending lonely trails that cut through some of the most inspiring scenery in North America. Pack a sleeping bag and a tent and disappear into the woods for a few days. Stampede coincides with the blooming of the wildflowers in the mountains, and a short hike can lead into seemingly infinite meadows of glacier lilies, which blossom for only a week.
Ranches in the area let you set out on horseback, and there are backwoods lodges and simple shelters for those seeking something less rugged — but any way you do it, when you cross a snowy pass in the middle of July or sit under the bouquet of stars during the six hours of darkness every night, you can’t help but feel the wonder of what the Heart of the New West was like 100 years ago.