Cool Little Towns

Today we are going to share with you some “Cool Little Towns” that are a short drive from Riverbend Campground. We have already shared a little bit of Okotoks and High River in previous posts and if you haven`t done so already you can find them here. In addition to these two, the towns of Bragg Creek, Black Diamond, Turner Valley, Longview and Nanton, along with our Municipal District of Foothills, cooperate to present themselves as the “Cool Little Towns.”

A visit to the “Cool Little Towns” website is worthwhile as they provide highlights for each of the participating communities plus events and tours. You will discover that some of the events are ongoing such as exhibits at a museum, while some, like festivals, happen over a weekend or on a specific day. Each tour has a theme and takes you through several communities. You can follow their tours or use one of their tours as a jumping off point for your own adventure. One example is the “One of a Kind Finds” Tour which offers up more than 40 boutiques, galleries, artisan shops and studios. You can expect to discover treasures you won’t find anywhere else. Your curiosity might take you into such eclectic establishments as Classic Rodeo Boutique in Nanton or Suncatcher’s Design Studio in Bragg Creek.

Now we are going to give you a little flavor of each of the other towns. Our geography includes prairie, foothills and the nearby Rocky Mountains. The first town we are highlighting, Bragg Creek, is the farthest west, and is in the heart of the foothills. As one would expect, the area is scenic, and heavily treed. This is considered the gateway to Kananaskis Country. Outdoor recreation is popular with nearby Elbow Falls, Bragg Creek Provincial Park and the Canyon Creek Ice Caves. Visitors come to enjoy hiking, fishing, off-roading, trail riding and sight-seeing. In town you will find is a vibrant community of artists and artisans and culinary champions.

This plaque tells visitors the history of Woo`s General Store in Black Diamond.

Black Diamond and Turner Valley are two towns so geographically close there has been talk over the years of amalgamating. A three kilometer walking path, the Friendship Trail, connects these communities. They date back to the 1880’s. Black Diamond was named for coal deposits found in the area and a significant milestone for Turner Valley was the discovery of petroleum in 1914. A local historian says that by 1942 the oilfield was producing 90% of Canada’s oil. Guided tours of the historic Turner Valley Gas Plant from this era are available during the summer. Outdoor adventures abound in this area and, within the communities, enjoy shopping and dining experiences. Two popular stops are the famous Chuckwagon Café and Cattle Co. in Turner Valley and Marv’s Classic Soda Shop in Black Diamond.

The famous Chuckwagon Cafe in Turner Valley.

South of Black Diamond, in the heart of ranching country, is Longview. The town experienced a boom in the 1930’s with oil exploration and production.  At that time it was known as Little New York and a sister town to the north was known as Little Chicago. All that is left of Little Chicago is a roadside monument. Paying tribute to the era is the Twin Cities Hotel, which is a popular spot for dining and live music. Another local attraction is the famous Longview Beef Jerky Shop. A short drive south is the Bar U Ranch. The ranch was established in 1882 and is now a National Historic Site preserving the west’s ranching history. Legend has it that the Sundance Kid visited the Bar U.

Next, the Town of Nanton, which is 49 kilometres south of Riverbend Campground. Years ago, Nanton was a popular stop for water when folks were travelling through the area. The town provided a public water tap, and Nanton water was well known throughout southern Alberta. This was one of the first waters to be bottled and sold, and the Nanton Water & Soda Company continues to operate today. There are two standout attractions in Nanton. The first is the Bomber Command Museum of Canada. For those interested in aviation and military history this is a must see. A highlight for many is being able to enter a restored Lancaster Bomber.  The second standout is the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre. Grain farming shaped the west and every fall farmers brought their harvest to the local grain elevator. These huge wooden structures stood as sentinels along the rail lines in almost every town and village. Most of these elevators are gone, victims of progress but Nanton has preserved three of them. The Discovery Centre tells of the history of farming in Alberta.

This look at our neighboring towns is not meant to be a comprehensive look, but rather a little flavor of each. Each town presents a plethora of shops, sights and adventures. We encourage you to visit and discover for yourself. Until next time, happy motoring.

Grain Elevators, once found in nearly every town in the west, are gone. The people of Nanton have save three and you can study their history at the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre.

A Day in High River

the Museum of the Highwood and Visitor Information Centre is a great place to start your day in High River.

We have recently been writing about taking day trips while staying at Riverbend. This post takes a look at the Town of High River, just 22 kilometers south on Highway 2. This is another of the “Cool Little Towns” of Southern Alberta. Travelling the highway to town and driving around town, it is clear that agriculture is a main focus of the region.  To the east is mostly grain and to the west, especially through the foothills, mostly cattle.

Southern Alberta experienced devastating floods in 2013. Here at Riverbend, we saw extensive damage when the Sheep River overflowed the banks. The Highwood River which flows through the Town of High River had a history of flooding in low lying parts of High River. Nothing from the past compares to what the town faced four years ago. The town was under water and the entire population of 13,000 was ordered to evacuate. These events received extensive media coverage and the pictures and video can elicit an emotional response, yet these don’t come close to what one experienced being on the ground, in the midst of the event

Much work has gone in to rebuilding after the 2013 flood. New streetscapes invite visitors to walk downtown.

A staggering $200 million has been spent on flood mitigation and the town now claims to be “…the most well protected town in Canada, from flooding.” The resilience of the residents shines through in what the town is becoming in their rebuilding. The historical portion of the downtown area has seen extensive rehabilitation and restoration. Some buildings in this area that, prior to the floods were starting to show their age, have a new lease on life. Vacant store fronts are filling up and as you walk through the area, it’s hard to image what happened here such a short time ago. The Town had an opportunity to almost reinvent itself, and in some ways is better for it.

During your visit to High River make certain to visit the Museum of the Highwood. It’s located in the old train station (406 First Street). One exhibit tells of High River’s “big screen” credits. With the wide variety of scenery in the area, quite a bit of motion picture and television production has been done in the area starting with the 1926 film, “Chip of the Flying U” starring Hoot Gibson. Another historical site is the Sheppard Family Park which is billed as a “Southern Alberta Pioneer Life Showcase.” The Park features the McCoy log cabin originally built in 1883, a heritage home from 1899, a one room school house and a barn built in 1913. There is a playground and picnic area and the site is home to a community garden project. This showcase has been lovingly cared for by community volunteers. Extensive damage occurred during the floods. As the community has been rebuilding, the volunteers were first focused on personal homes and area businesses. You will find some facilities still have work ongoing. At this writing, the McCoy cabin is very close to completion and will soon be open to the public.

Another favorite feature of High River is the historic murals. These are found on the sides of buildings throughout downtown. They depict the rich history of the area including harvest, cattle drive and aviation. One is titled “Sunday Afternoon at the Polo Match.” You might be surprised to learn about the popularity of polo in this area going back about 130 years to the 1880’s. In fact, the High River community of Polo Park is on the site of the former polo grounds. Murals also feature famous residents from the past, former Prime Minister Joe Clark, and author W.O. Mitchell. You can find a guide to a walking tour of the murals on the Town of High River website here.

Maggie’s Store is a movie set in downtown High River for the CBC Television series Heartland.

Unique shops, galleries, restaurants and a community full of friendly and industrious prairie folk, you’re sure to enjoy your day in High River and you can be sure High River appreciates the return of tourism to their community.

A Day in Okotoks

A great place to begin your day in Okotoks is the Museum and Archives.

When you are camping at Riverbend, you will find lots to keep the family busy in Okotoks. With recent annexation, the west half of the campground is now within the Town of Okotoks.  Whether on the doorstep or actually in the town, we feel that we are part of life in this “Cool Little Town.” The Town’s motto is “Historic past, sustainable future” which nicely sums up its character. The citizens take pride in both the past, coupled with a commitment to sustainability, and a bright future. One example of innovation in sustainability is the Drake Landing Solar Community. The homes in this community all have solar panels on the roofs of garages behind the homes which are tied into a central solar heating system. You will notice these homes east of 32nd Street just south of Drake Landing Drive. You can learn more about the community and how the system works here.

Our area has a rich history and an enthusiast can spend time learning about the early days of life in the Foothills. A trading post was established in the area in 1874, with settlers arriving a short time later. The original name was Sheep Creek, this was later changed to Dewdney and finally to Okotoks. Check out the Okotoks Museum and Archives at 49 North Railway for more history. Just east of the museum in the old railway station you will find the Okotoks Art Gallery. Check here for current exhibits and events.

The Okotoks Art Gallery is located in the former CPR train station.

While walking around the downtown area, watch for informational signs found at historical buildings and locations. Businesses in the downtown area have established an association called Olde Town Okotoks. The members range from boutiques and retail shops to galleries, and from restaurants to health and beauty. Look for information on their ongoing “Shop & Win” promotion. Lots of activities take place in Olde Town. Recent events included BuskerFest and a Taste of Okotoks. Scheduled over the next few weeks are the Okotoks Show & Shine on August 14th, ChiliFest on August 27th and HarvestFest on September 24th.

Okotoks is a very walkable town. In addition to strolling through Olde Town there are 85 kilometres of pathways. Especially popular are pathways through the river valley and a pathways map is available on the Town website here. Other popular outdoor facilities and activities in the summer are the Water Spray Park which has recently been expanded and the Skateboard Park, both located at the Recreation Centre on Okotoks Drive. Your active youngsters might like to spend time at the BMX Track in the river valley. If you find yourself looking for things to do with the kids on a rainy day, the activities in town include bowling at Millenium Lanes, Okotoks Cinemas , Playtopia kids indoor play facility, and Paint it Up pottery studio to name a few.

For adults looking for activities, Crystal Ridge Golf Course is a popular 9-hole facility within the town limits. D’Arcy Ranch Golf Club on the west side is an 18-hole public course with views of the mountains to the west. An interesting tidbit about D’Arcy Ranch is that in 2013 it achieved designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Just east of us is scenic River’s Edge Golf Course which features a hole with signature island green. There are other options and you will find our list here with links to their websites.

In spring and summer and fall, baseball is a big sport for both participation and for fans of the local Okotoks Dawgs Baseball team. Their regular season goes from early June to the end of July. The team has had another good season, and visitors in early August might be able to catch a playoff game or two.

Choosing to include a stay at Riverbend Campground puts you on the doorstep of Okotoks with a buffet of things to see and do in one of Southern Alberta’s Cool Little Towns.

When walking around downtown Okotoks look for these insights into a property’s historical significance.

Day Trips – Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre Exhibit depicting the hunt.

While you are staying with us here at Riverbend there are many day trips that will immerse you in history, bring you closer to nature or perhaps offer a day of family fun. Situated as we are, with the vast prairies of the east rising to meet our Foothills and then on to the majestic Rocky Mountains to the west, we have much for you to choose from. Today’s post looks at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This historical site is a one hour and 20 minute drive south from the campground.

Your time visiting this outstanding attraction will give you amazing insight into the history of First Nations people here in the west. Head-Smashed-In is the world’s largest, oldest and best preserved buffalo jump and has been designated a World Heritage Site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is a prestigious recognition of the historical and cultural significance of this site. UNESCO World Heritage Sites from around the world include India’s Taj Mahal, Britain’s Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids.

Historically our Indigenous people were hunters and relied on the buffalo. For nearly 6,000 years, long before guns and horse were introduced to North America, the hunt saw buffalo stampeded over a cliff. This required much planning, favorable weather, timing and great skill. “Buffalo runners” disguised in animal hides were dispatched to locate and herd buffalo into position. This required a deep understanding of the animal’s behavior. When the herd was in position . . . (read more)

High Water Readiness

Camping on the Sheep RIver

Camping on the Sheep River

If you have ever been here or looked for us on a map, you will know Riverbend Campground is located on the Sheep River.  For most of the year the Sheep is a quiet river winding through the foothills before emptying into the Highwood River about eight kilometers to the east of us and eventually into the Bow. During spring melt in the mountains, stream flow can be much heavier and some years the river breaches its banks and causes flooding. There have been some dramatic events in the past and we have seen the course of the river actually change.

As you can imagine, through the 30-plus years our families have been here we have seen and experienced all that Mother Nature is capable of, both the good and the not so good. Each year we are repairing and preparing in varying measures. Much work has been done in the last two years to protect our property and our community. The river bank has seen much of this work. We don’t expect any problems but are ever vigilant. Much monitoring takes place upstream and when authorities believe there is a risk, we are notified. We in turn notify campers to the best of our ability. (read more)

The Growing Popularity of Family Reunions

People have an interest in where they came from and family histories have been central to the human condition since, well, forever. In these modern times, interest in the study of ancestry and genealogy is growing. In our world with millions of strangers it’s comforting to find family and have filial connections. As more and more historical records are made available online, searching for one’s family history becomes easier. There are also tools to assist like family tree makers. The two major online players in this pursuit are Ancestry and MyHeritage. These sites grow because they have users that are actively adding content and and with a growing archive of family information more people join. The larger,, is said by Wikipedia to have 16-billion historical records by June 2014. As a measure of popularity, first understand that there are over one billion active websites now online. As of this writing, Alexa ranks as the 930th most popular. Ancestry and MyHeritage have very different business models. Ancestry offers users a free trial period and then charges monthly fees depending on services used. MyHeritage works with a freemium structure, with free access for a basic package and then charge users for more robust features.

The availability of these online sites, historical records and search tools make the research easier, and more people are learning about their family history. This growing interest is connecting people online as they build discover their family tree. This expanding circle of family results in a desire to meet. A family reunion (read more)


Getting Your RV Ready for the Season

Your RV has been in storage for winter, time to get it ready for the season.

We’ve known more than a few campers over the years that spend the entire week before the Victoria Day long weekend scrambling to get their unit ready. For many, it’s the first camping trip of the season. The fact that they secured a site for the long weekend shows they planned that much, but they took for granted that the old RV could be made ready in a jiffy. You don’t need to talk to an RV parts store and/or service centre to know it is their busiest, and perhaps most stressful week of the year.

One camper we knew seemed to miss that major freeze every fall, so hadn’t winterized in time and had to deal with leaks in the water line every spring. And even knowing it needed doing, it was always the week before the long weekend, going back and forth getting parts, and advice. Wherever that trailer is today, the water lines are probably 10 years newer than the trailer.

Here’s a quick list of to-do’s to get ready for this season. Start now. Keep a list of things that need attention so you can plan any work and plan your trip to the part store. General items you will likely need are batteries for smoke/carbon monoxide detector, clocks, remotes and flashlights. You should also have spare fuses on hand.

Check the exterior – do a complete walk around your RV. Depending on where your unit is stored over winter, you may have sustained damage; scrapes or dents caused by a careless driver or vandalism. You may also have hail damage which occurred last summer but wasn’t noticed at the time. Check your propane bottles. Have they expired?  Propane bottles are good for 10 years and it’s never pleasant to discover they need to be replaced when you take them for refilling. If they are still good, check… (read more)

Riverbend Wetlands

One of the common observations offered by newcomers and visitor to Southern Alberta is that the area suffers from a lack of lakes. Certainly compared to Minnesota, the “land of 10,000 lakes” or their neighboring Canadian province of Manitoba, we have fewer lakes. For most, the attraction of lakes is the recreational opportunities inherent in large bodies of water.

Our new fountain is a visually pleasing feature on the lake with the added benefits inherent with water aeration.

Because of the smaller number of lakes, bodies of water that wouldn’t qualify to carry the designation elsewhere are lakes here. This might beg the question, what constitute a lake? Some opinion focuses on a threshold of 2 acre surface area, but in Montana a body of water has to be a minimum of 20 acres to be called a lake. But please grant us some license, for you see, it’s really no different from use of the word “mountain” here versus elsewhere. With our majestic Rocky Mountains giving us our perspectives, we sometimes marvel at the hills in other regions that locals feel earn the moniker, “mountain.”

In spite of having fewer lakes, we don’t have a shortage of water. From rivers and streams to a variety of water bodies. Southern Alberta has a number of reservoirs created to collect water for irrigation. As agriculture was the primary purpose, recreational use was considered secondary.

In addition to lakes and reservoirs we have wetlands, a critical component of the ecology of our region. It might surprise you to learn that 20 percent of the surface of Alberta is covered by wetlands. The two types of wetlands in Southern Alberta’s wetlands are “Shallow Open Water Ponds” and “Marshes.” Here at Riverbend Campground we are blessed to have both types of wetlands features. Our “lake” is a Shallow Open Water Pond located on the west half of the property. Our Marsh is located east of the main road just below the hill.

The fountain on the lake adds a visually pleasing feature while promoting a healthy aquatic ecosystem. The fountain provides aeration of the water. The primary benefits of aeration are an improved fish habitat, a reduction in algae growth, and decreased mosquito activity.

Our wetlands offer ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Those with an interest in bird watching will have opportunity to see some very interesting species. *Click here* for a list of some of the birds that have been spotted here at Riverbend with notation on species that have nested here. Make use of our Nature Trails to explore these areas of our property. These run throughout the campground. Some run up the hill to the road from the East End and some follow the creeks.  We continue to add new trails and upgrade the existing legs. The wood mulch we are adding provides a good walking surface, is aesthetically pleasing, helps with weed control, and minimizes soil erosion. A new trail starts behind the main west washroom, follows the creek east and exits in the area of the new tenting sites. It covers rough terrain and caution is advised.

Hope Ana Prayer Chapel

Small wooden churches were a mainstay of life on the Canadian prairies. As communities sprang up across the west, the church was a central part of life in the community. This history can be viewed in Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary. Their church, St. Martin’s Anglican Church, was originally built in 1896 in the So

The Hope Ana Prayer Chapel during renovations last summer

uthern Alberta community of Lundbreck. The church was moved to Heritage Park in 1964.

There were many small churches, but only a few fit in the category of tiny. Cross Island Chapel in Oneida, New York bills itself as the world’s smallest church with a floor of 51-inches by 81-inches and a seating capacity of two. Perhaps while travelling the Dinosaur Trail, near Drumheller, you have taken a few minutes to visit “The Little Church.” The sign at this site boasts “Seating 10,000 people 6 at a time.” In addition to being a tourist stop it also sees the occasional wedding and worship service. Here’s a link to their Facebook page. The Little Church has even made it onto TripAdvisor’s list of things to do in Drumheller.

Our little chapel has a less grand history but is a special little spot for us. (read more)

RV Fire Safety

In the past twelve months we have had two RV fires.  The most recent was a Class A motorhome that was destroyed in a fire on January 8th.  The Okotoks Fire Department responded and says it took two hours to extinguish the fire.   The trailer on the next site had some exterior damage but was saved by the efforts of the firefighters.

We want to ensure the safety of all of our campers.  Before starting the season, do a though safety review.  Does your unit have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?  These should be checked and tested regularly.  Make sure you have a fully charged fire extinguisher in your RV.  Everyone should know where it is, how to operate it and what types of fires it can be used for. (read more)