In Praise of Road Trips

A Christmas dilemma: the joys of flying versus the open (hopefully snow-free) road. Your choice.


Beer of the Year?

This black-as-night imperial coffee stout is my fave beer of 2022

You just can’t beat serendipity.

So, we’re in Canmore’s Angry Bear Growlers, sampling a healthy number of the 60-odd, mostly regional, beers on tap and having a grand time with our pourer, Euan.

Euan poured us multiple samples at Angry Bear Growlers in Canmore

In walks a sales rep from nearby Canmore Brewing Company to replace a spent cask. He happens to mention a new beer the brewery and Lacombe’s Blindman Brewing have concocted. It’s an imperial coffee stout—three magical words to my ears—so it takes no convincing for us to toddle a few blocks over to the brewery to pick up a four pack.

Blindman Brewing in Lacombe, Alberta is a partner in this mad concoction

It’s called Brewers’ Breakfast and, should you heed the morning admonition, this oat-laced stout has got enough wallop to propel you out the door or back to bed, your choice.

Not surprisingly, it’s labelled a “strong beer”, weighing in at 8.5% alcohol. In the brewers’ words, it contains a “truckload of roasty, toasty and chocolatey malts from Red Shed Malting (Red Deer County) and an overzealous dose of freshly roasted Mocha Java coffee from Eclipse Coffee Roasters” (Canmore).

I might call it a thick sweater to coat and roll around your tongue on a frosty winter’s day, when the long nights are as black as this brew. Indeed, late in December, I think I’ve found my beer of the year for 2022.

If you fancy a brew with full-on intensity, you might want to pick some Brewers’ Breakfast up while this seasonal ale is in stock.

Angry Bear is happy to seal anything on tap in cans for takeway

Canmore Brewing Company
1460 Railway Avenue, Canmore, Alberta
Taproom opens at 1 pm daily except closed Tuesday

Angry Bear Growlers
105, 304 Old Canmore Road, Canmore
Opens at 3 pm daily except closed Monday
Note: Besides growler sales, Angry Bear will seal any beer on tap in 16-ounce cans.

Day Trips From Calgary a Great Christmas Gift

If you’re looking for a great, locally produced and locally focused Christmas gift, may I humbly suggest my Day Trips From Calgary book, just out in its fourth edition.

Why? It unveils nearly 100 things you can see and do on day trips within a two-hour drive of Calgary. They range from visits to world-class museums (like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump) to nearby picnics (Big Hill Springs Provincial Park). From native-grass walks (the Whaleback) to scenic drives through prairies, foothills, mountains and badlands.

The Whaleback in southwest Alberta

Did I mention these are day trips, where you can just hop in the car and discover all the great landscapes of southern and central Alberta… and be home in time for dinner?

In other words, no horrors of airports, flying or wondering about the maskless coughing of a seatmate? Or, if you’re driving stateside, about lines at customs and dollars that cost nearly $1.40 Canadian.

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in eastern Alberta

Did I also mention it’s expensive to travel internationally these days, whether it’s flights, hotels or car rentals (yikes!). On a day trip from Calgary, your primary cost is gasoline, which has recently come down to under $1.30 per litre.

So why do you need my book? Well, it’s been in print since 1995 and sold more than 60,000 copies, so at least some folks think it’s worth keeping in their glovebox. It’s got a ton of trip ideas and enough detail to provide a rather complete natural and human history of Alberta, from the Crowsnest Pass north to Wetaskiwin, from Dinosaur Provincial Park to Lake Louise.

Historic Flat Iron building in Lacombe

Plus, in this edition, there’s a fairly comprehensive list of good, affordable eats and drinks in cities, towns, hamlets and roving food trucks (You knew there had to be a tie-in to Marathon Mouth). The photos are mostly new and better; thank you iPhone Pro.

Fabulous Homestead Bakeshop in Fort Macleod

It all adds up to nearly 400 door-stopping pages, for a steal-of-a-deal price of about $25.

Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park

Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park in central Alberta

Where can you buy it? Pretty much all the great, local, independent booksellers—Owl’s Nest Books, Pages on Kensington, Shelf Life Books  and even Cafe Books in Canmore—carry it. As do the online giants Amazon and Indigo Chapters.

On the Road Again

Two-and-a-half years later, it was time to head out on another road trip to the southwestern US, featuring all those red states south of Alberta: Montana, Idaho, Utah and, mostly, Arizona. Twas a grand time for warm, early winter hiking.

Along the I-15 in northern Montana

Lovely walking paths above Butte, Montana

Moose near Melrose, Montana along the I-15

Irrigation ice-up near Dillon, Montana

Always have to stop for a burger at In-n-Out

Along the Zen Trail in St. George, Utah

Petrified sand dunes in Snow Canyon State Park, near St. George

River rules at casino in Laughlin, Arizona

Flatiron hike outside Apache Junction

Antelope slot canyon tour in Page, Arizona

View from the I-15 in Fillmore, Utah

Best Western Paradise in Fillmore

Wind turbine blades heading north to Canada

Best almond croissants in the world at the Homestead Bakeshop in Fort Macleod, Alberta. Welcome back to Canada!

You Can’t Have Too Many Farmers’ Markets in Calgary

Folks are flocking to the new Calgary Farmers’ Market location

If you ever thought Calgary was oversaturated with farmers’ markets, think again.

When the Calgary Farmers’ Market opened its long-awaited second location last week, in the city’s west end near Canada Olympic Park, there were 35,000 shoppers and gawkers who passed through its doors, a vendor told me… in one day!

Its high-ceilinged, 55,000-square-foot indoor building, and its some 75 vendors, seem capable of handling such mobs. I’m not so sure about the traffic.

A majestically long, high-ceilinged building

When I visited on a glorious Friday morning, a week later, it was a game of musical cars, with multiple motorists waiting for someone to leave so they could park. The traffic spilled over from the paved lots to a gravel yard to the north.

It’s not like everyone was rushing to save money. I saw lots of meals, from the various food vendors costing $15-plus dollars. The produce and other foodstuffs are nice but not exactly cheap, for anyone expecting a rural, bare-bones experience.

Fresh fruit is always a draw

But this is Calgary, where folks are accustomed to, and maybe even expect, upscale farmers’ markets. Indeed, it’s a pleasant place to shop, wander and meet with friends.

And the aisles are sufficiently wide to avoid the indoor traffic jams—known as stroller Fridays— that plagued previous incarnations of this market.

Luc’s cheeses are a mainstay at both Farmers’ Market

Phil &Sebastian is returning to Calgary Farmers’ Market after a long absence
You should order one of Renay’s fabulous, gluten-free birthday cakes

Calgary Farmers’ Market West
25 Greenbriar Drive NW, Calgary
Wednesday to Saturday 9 am-7 pm, Sunday 9 am-5 pm

Serving Up Pie in Alberta’s Remote Foothills

Loading up plates of pie at The Miners’ Cafe in Nordegg, Alberta

I’m not sure there’s a foolproof formula for a successful restaurant, especially after all the shutdowns and draconian regulations of the past two-plus years. But if there is, I’m betting it has something to do with pies.

It’s hard to resist the temptation, and aroma, of fresh-baked fruit pies, witness the allure of places like Shuswap Pie Company in Salmon Arm, B.C. or Pie Junkie, and their butter-rich crusts, in Calgary.

But to prove that a pie-laden concept can work even in the boondocks, I present as evidence The Miners’ Café, in the forested foothills of west-central Alberta.

Where? An hour’s drive west of Rocky Mountain House. Where’s that? More than two hours north of Calgary.

Let’s put it this way. Nordegg is a former coal-mining town that’s been elevated from ghost town to hamlet, population less than 100.

And yet, there were half a dozen people in line ahead of me, when I pulled into The Miners’ Cafe on a recent summer’s weekday.

A diverse lunch menu

Some, like me, were ordering mid-afternoon soup, sandwiches and coffee. But it seemed pretty much everyone was also getting a wedge of peach-apple or strawberry rhubarb to stay or to go. Others were loading up on whole pies, fresh or frozen, of blackberry-apple or ginger-pear.

But it’s the pie menu that captures most people’s attention

I mean who’s going to compete with $22 for a whole, frozen pie? Or a deep-dish pie that packs in nine cups of fruit?

It’s enough to make you jump in your car and drive a long, long way north and west.

The egg salad sandwich is darned good, too

The Miners’ Cafe
619 Miners Crescent, Nordegg, Alberta
Daily, mid-morning till 4:30 or 6:30 pm