Done in a Day: The Frank Slide and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
By Leigh McAdam
Day trippers from Calgary and visitors driving through southern Alberta would do well to include the Frank Slide and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump on a trip. They’re only an hour’s drive apart. If you’re pressed for time you can see them in a day though a full day in each location would be ideal.
The Frank Slide is approximately a two hour drive south of Calgary via Highway 22, the Cowboy Highway. It’s a scenic drive paralleling the Rocky Mountains. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is better accessed via Highway 2 from Calgary. Done as a loop, the trip requires a little over five hours of driving. But if you’re in southern Alberta already you can easily base yourself in Lethbridge or find a B&B in the Crowsnest Pass area.
The Frank Slide
The Frank Slide is the site of a devastating landslide that took place on April 29th, 1903. It lasted less than 100 seconds but in that time frame, 90 million tons of rock hurtled down from the summit of Turtle Mountain and in the process killed at least 90 people, buried two kilometres of the CPR line and the eastern section of the town of Frank.
Outdoorsy people will love the area for the hiking. Choose from over twenty hikes ranging from a short 0.8 kilometre loop at the Leitch Colleries to a 17.4 kilometre hike called The Promised Land. And for the crown jewel, as its been called, make the difficult hike to the top of Crowsnest Mountain for unparalleled views of the area. The 23 kilometre Crowsnest Community Trail links all the communities of the Crowsnest Pass and is a great one for cyclists.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump sees a lot of visitors. They come to learn the story of the Plains people and their dependence on buffalo. Located within a two hour drive of Calgary, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump takes its name from a foolish young brave who got in the way of an exceptionally successful hunt. As the buffalo flew over the cliff, they began to pile up, trapping him. When his people found him, his skull had been crushed by the weight of the buffalo carcasses – and thus the name.
As you drive up, the site itself is underwhelming with prairie and big sky features, nothing like the landscape you find an hour to the west in the mountains. But the story around the buffalo jump and the Interpretative Centre designed by Robert LeBlond, a five story architectural jewel built into the hillside, is fantastic.