Autumn. It is not the season of death and dying, as some would claim, those who hate winter and sink into sombre thoughts of cold, dark days. It is nature preparing itself for it’s annual sleep, a time of rest, and in that moment, nature graces us with a most wonderful spectacle.
Here in Southern Alberta, it is definitely the most beautiful time of year. By far. The foothills, just west of Calgary and east of the majestic Canadian Rockies, are covered with a tapestry of deep greens, vibrant yellows and rich golds.
It is, in fact, a perfect time to pack the camera gear into the Jeep and take a drive. I had been hearing about the “Kananaskis loop” for quite some time, so we decided to go and explore. We headed out from Cochrane on Highway 22, also known as the Cowboy Trail, and headed south. It doesn’t take long that we’re out of town and driving through open fields, cattle and horses peacefully grazing in the sunshine.
Soon we pass through Bragg Creek, and we’re on our way to Turner Valley and Black Diamond, almost 70 kilometres away. The scenery is stunning, the colours incredible. We’ve got the radio on and we’re singing along to Keith Urban, Dean Brody and Paul Brandt, among others.
We leave Highway 22 for a little bit and drive through Priddis, but I blinked along the way and missed the town! Down a quiet country road, then take a left to rejoin the 22, and shortly into Turner Valley. Cute town, but we don’t stop; Black Diamond is only a couple of kilometres away so we decide that we’ll stop there for a bio-break. As we get into Black Diamond, we spot the “Eau Claire Distillery”; hmm, that looks interesting, so after a short pit stop we go in to see what it’s about. Turns out they are a local producer, and they make vodka and gin, all from local ingredients. I’m not a big fan of gin, but it’s their specialty, so I accept to try it when the woman tending the shop offers it to me.
Wow, was that different! We could smell and taste flowers! The woman explains that, “Yes, there is of course juniper, which is required in order to call it gin, but we also infuse our gin with about 20 more botanicals.” We easily spot lavender, which she confirms, and she also points out coriander.
We purchase a bottle of their gin and we head back out on the road (yes, the gin bottle remains unopened!).
The plan is to keep driving down the 22 into Longview, which is renowned for having Alberta’s best beef jerky: the Longview Jerky Shop.
We find the small store and quickly purchase a couple of different jerkies: original, pepper, sweet and spicy. Unlike the bottle of gin, these do not remain unopened as we get back on the road! And boy, were they good!
From Longview, we now veer off the 22 onto Highway 541, heading west towards the Rockies. The hills are getting bigger, and so are the mountains. Along the way, we spot some free-range cattle along the road, so we stop to take some pictures. Up until now, there haven’t been too many photo stops, but the scenery is quickly becoming more and more spectacular, and the stops more frequent. Eventually, we join up with Alberta 40 and we start heading back north towards Highway 1, the TransCanada Highway, but there’s a good 105 kilometres to go.
We enter Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and by now we are well into the Rockies. This is Kananaskis Country. The road is nestled between high peaks; the points of view get more spectacular and the camera comes out more often. We drive up, and up, and up, and eventually go by a sign that announces that we are at Highwood Pass, at 7239 feet, the highest paved pass in Canada. From that point on, the road goes slowly back down towards Highway 1.
We pass Nakiska ski centre; I had never seen where it was, so I make a note of it. The mountain looks a bit smaller than Sunshine, but it looks like a nice place – I need to get out there this winter.
We finally reach Highway 1, head east, cross over at Morley Road to the old Highway 1A, which leads us back into Cochrane, almost 4 hours later.
Yes, autumn truly is the most beautiful season.