One of the best caching experiences we ever had was back in the summer of 2006. There was a weekend event called “Badlands Cache Quest” and we camped at the Lions Youth Camp just north of Drumheller. It was a lot of fun and we made a lot of friends that weekend.
Fast forward four years. We’re sitting around the house on a Friday night, contemplating what to do for the weekend. The weather forecast is for cool temperatures, snow and generally crappy weather. It’s shaping up like a weekend to be in the house and doing a whole lot of nothing.
The phone rings. Shirley answers it, as she always does. (I don’t do phones!) She’s off in the other room and I can hear snippets of the conversation. She emerges. Harry and Peggy want to know if we’re interested in going out to a Cache and Release (CAR) Geocaching event. Well, I hadn’t planned on it, but it certainly beats the alternative of doing nothing, right?
I immediately start doing my pre-caching road trip work. Fresh batteries in the GPSr. Grab the camera gear. Download a fresh Pocket Query of caches in the area. Load the caches both into the handheld unit and the Nuvi. Make sure the iPod is sync’ed and loaded. Get the charger for the iPhone into the car.
Saturday morning is a flurry (pun intended!) of activity. Sandwiches are made, the dog crate is loaded, the gear is loaded in the car. Don’t forget the FRS radios so we can communicate between vehicles.
A last minute Facebook message. There’s a weather system over the Strathmore region. Snow. Rain. Slush. Ugly. We still want to go? Sure, why not? We’ve cached in worse, and I figure if things are that bet we’ll set course for the nearest pub and settle in for the day.
We head into the city to meet with Harry and Peggy. With Harry leading the way we head out towards Strathmore, opting to ride Highway 21 up towards the badlands.
Things are going fine until we leave the pavement for the first time. Mud. Lots of mud. I put the car into “snow” mode to split more power to the front wheels. We power through without too much issue. Survived. Back onto pavement.
Another backroad. This time there is a cache to be found. We park as far off to the side as we dare, not wanting to sink out of sight in the mud. The GPSr is pointing to the otherside of a ditch which, up until this precipitation started, would not have provided any sort of obstacle. Right now it is a raging torrent of brown water. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. We leap the water and into the mud. And the search is on. And on. And on. And on. After fifteen or twenty minutes we’re cold, we’re wet, we’re dirty and we’re forced to admit that we’re stumped. This is not the start we were looking for.
We move further northward. After bagging two caches at the Orkney Viewpoint we move on to the Bleriot Ferry. The Province of Alberta first installed a ferry at this location in 1913. It was originally known as the Munson Ferry until 1966 when the name was changed in honour of Andre Bleriot who was a homesteader in the area.
The current ferry was built in 1997 and is 27.6m long. The crossing of the Red Deer River is just 106m and is completed in 1-2 minutes. We had a really good conversation with the operator, especially considering that, after crossing to the east, we quickly found a cache and then returned to cross to the west. He was a really friendly guy, which is rather important when you’re operating something that has become a bit of a tourist attraction. The Bleriot Ferry is one of just seven cable-guided ferries left in the province.
Next stop was at the Orkney Community Hall. After locating the cache hidden in the caragana bushes I requested we make a stop at the church just down the road a little ways.
The church was built in 1953 and remains in good shape. After snapping a couple of pictures I checked out the foyer before we departed the area.
There was more caching, including a couple in the small town of Morrin. We eventually worked our way out to Rowley, AB which is where the final wrap-up event was set to begin.
Rowley is a town that really died off in the 1970s, but thanks to the filming of the movie “Bye, Bye Blues” in 1988 it has survived as a tourist attraction. The town has embraced its status as a ghost town and people come from all over to walk around and see many of the original buildings.
The most famous of these buildings houses Sam’s Saloon. Originally built in the early 1920s (1920 or 1922 depending on which webiste you believe), it was operated as a restaurant by Sam Leung from 1943-1968.
On the last Saturday of the month it is opened up by volunteers who serve pizza, beer and popcorn. We were lucky enough that the cache event was the last Saturday of May, so we took advantage of the chance to have a couple of cool ones.
The second you walk through the swinging saloon doors you are transported back in time. The floor is covered in sawdust and every square inch is covered in knick knacks and paraphernalia. In the corner next to the piano was the oldest popcorn machine I had ever seen in my life. It looked like something that was salvaged from a landfill, so you can imagine my surprise when one of the local volunteers started filling it with oil and started the thing popping, complete with a ghostly orange glow emanating from the bottom. How it didn’t overload the ancient wiring I’ll never know.
Speaking of ghosts, the locals delighted in telling us how old Sam still visits the place on a regular basis. They told the girls a story of how they were sitting at the bar one evening when two bottles of beer lifted themselves off a shelf and levitated down to the counter, completely upright. Whether it was a story made up to impress the city folk or not, sitting in a place like this you can’t help but believe that Sam still gets a kick out of his place being the centre of attention in town.
The cache event wrapped up across the street in the community centre. They brought in tons of free pizza, raffled off some great door prizes and announced plans for attempting to bring a Mega Cache event to the area next summer. The Canadian Badlands Geocaching Association (website not functional yet at the time of this writing) has some grand plans on how to leverage Geocaching to promote tourism in the area, and they have some government funding to back it up. As they said during the event, “People come to the Badlands, they climb the dinosaur in Drumheller and visit the Royal Tyrell Museum and then they spend the rest of their vacation in Banff.”
Well, given the great job the organizers did with this event and the hidden gems we found while touring the backroads I think they might just be onto something. Who knows, maybe it won’t be another four years before we take the opportunity to spend a day in the Canadian Badlands.