Calgary in Alberta, Canada, is noted for it yearly rodeo. But you don't have to be a bronco rider to enjoy the surrounding area on horseback. About a hour from the city, city slickers can ride to their hearts content in Kananaskis, just few miles south of Banff.
"There ain't nothin' better than ridin' a fine horse over new country," said Gus McCrea in the TV movie "Lonesome Dove." And he was right. Riding along these trails in the high Rockies is something out of picture book. I encountered bald eagles, a herd of cows, fragrant pine trees and a great view of the winding Bow River.
The Brewster Family has been guiding riders around the Rocky Mountains of Southern Alberta for about 100 years. They have several starting points in the area and offer all types of adventures from half-day to overnight trips, along with guest ranch accommodations. I opted to stay at their Kananaskis Guest Ranch, which gives tours of the Bow River and Yamnuska Mountain trails. Kananaskis Ranch also offers two-day and four-day pack trips to wilderness cabins.
The ranch, which is along the Bow River, has comfortable cabins, each with pictures and photos of by-gone days featuring the Brewster Family. The rooms, though, have no phones or TVs. You'll have to use the pay phone near the lobby or hope your cell phone works if you wish to make a call.
There is a TV in the bar in the main lodge. There is, however, a radio in each room along with lots of books. I really got into an old murder mystery one night while rain pelted the grounds outside.
The stable for Kananaskis Ranch is a short jaunt down a dirt trail from the main lodge. You won't find any race horses here, just good steady trail steeds with sure feet -- a must for some of steep terrain we would encounter.
Riding Along The Bow River
Our guide Kim had been a librarian, who loved horses. "This is my dream job," she said as she helped saddle-up the other riders in our group. "I get to see nature and ride horses. What could be better?"
We crossed a busy street near the stable and headed into the wilderness, leaving the sounds of the passing cars behind. The beginning of the trail took us through a forested area with spruce and pines, along with those colorful alpine flowers of yellow and blue. The air was crisp for August. What a way to clear your head!
The trail meandered along the cliffs high above the Bow River, which also offers excellent trout fishing during the year.
One section above the river was favored among the kids. We watched them jump off the cliffs into the 50-degree water. The jump can be dangerous as indicated by a cross on one cliff. That area is supposed to be haunted by a jumper who was never found.
Ghosts aside, we made our way down a steep incline and then back up along the trail to another section of the river -- not an easy ride for novices. A couple from Holland was among our group and was a little concerned at the steepness. Although I'm an intermediate rider, I was glad Moses knew what he was doing.
Our next excitement came when we happened upon an eagle's nest high in a pine tree. Kim said she had spotted the parents and three babies on previous trips. Almost on cue, the eagle family came soaring above the river. The youngster were all black and mom and dad had those distinctive white heads. You could hear their screeches as they flew overhead, then down to the river looking for a quick meal in the shallows of the blue-green waters. We were in awe.
We turn away from the river to a trail through some meadows. Here we encountered a herd of cattle, which looked at us with suspicion. Our friend from Holland told them to stay put in her best English and they obeyed.
Riding back towards the mountains, we saw the peaks of Mount Yamnuska. If you looked closely, the peaks looked like a sleeping chief. The surrounding meadows were once used for horse grazing, so we had to be careful of the old barbed wire fences.
Many Fir Trees, Forests
I usually ride trails in Southern California that have lots of sage and scrub brush, so the green trees were a delight.
This day's ride would be a bit tamer. There were very few steep hills to climb, but we surveyed a lot of spectacular scenery. The steel gray mountains of Yamnuska against the clear blue skies appeared like a postcard. We passed by a few small lakes and stopped to let the horses drink. We didn't see any eagles, but we did spy a few pheasants flying through the trees. If you explored the high cliffs carefully with your eyes, you may pick out mountain goats in the shadows, clinging precariously to the edges.
Back at the ranch, I was ready for a nice dinner and wasn't disappointed. After a crusty, cheese-topped bowl of onion soup, I had a choice of three main dishes, lamb, veal and salmon. I had the perfectly cooked fish, which was accompanied by veggies and ball potatoes. The cheese cake for dessert was a WOW. Kananaskis Ranch also offers breakfast and lunch, as well as conference facilities.
After dinner, you can relax in the bar and game room, or take a stroll along the river. The river walk has benches to sit and watch the circling gulls, hawks and loons. And there's a pool and hot tub to ease those tired muscles. You also can sign up in the lobby for river rafting on the Bow.
For horse riding adventures at Kananaskis Ranch or other Brewster establishments, contact them at POB 964, Banff, Alberta, Canada T0L0C0, 1-800-691-5085, 403-673-2100, www.brewsteradventures.com .
For more information on the area, contact Banff-Lake Louise Tourism Bureau, Suite 375, Cascade Plaza 317 Banff Ave., POB 1298, Banff, Alberta, Canada T0L0C0, 403-762-0270, info@BanffLakeLouise.com, www.BanffLakeLouise.com.
Two good guide books on the area include Alberta's Best Hotels and Restaurants, and Western Canada, both by Ulysses Publishing, www.ulyssesguides.com.