Jun 052013

Boot Hill

Driving through the towns of Diamond Valley on the Cowboy Trail in Alberta

Diamond Valley is a good choice for a day trip from Calgary, Alberta. South of the city and part of the Cowboy Trail, it offers rolling countryside and friendly towns with unique shops.

We began and ended our day trip in Okotoks, a town about 40 kilometers south of Calgary, where we were staying with family.

As we left Okotoks, we passed Big Rock, the largest glacial erratic in North America. A glacial erratic is a rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area, and has often been carried by glacial ice over hundreds of kilometers. You can walk the trail around Big Rock, but, to protect the rock, the rock itself is roped off and climbing no longer allowed. There is a picnic area.

Our first stop was the town of Black Diamond and a cowboy breakfast at the Black Diamond Bakery & Coffee Shop. The bakery has a huge assortment of breads, pastries and cookies. Even after a satisfying and hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast, we couldn’t leave the premises without purchasing goodies to take home.

After breakfast we walked down Main Street, browsing through gift and art shops. Signs on restored buildings recounted the history of the town and the buildings. Landscaped green spaces, some with park benches, separated many of the buildings. In one green space, old wooden and metal signs, discovered during a restoration, adorned the walls of the surrounding buildings. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the wide street, lined with wooden buildings, and looking at the view of the foothills beyond the town, I would not have been surprised to see a stagecoach or a cowboy on a horse ride into town.

From Black Diamond, we drove through Turner Valley, Black Diamond’s smaller sister, 3 kilometers away. The Friendship Trail connects these communities and is a popular hiking and biking trail.

Our next stop was Longview, a town with a rich cattle ranching history. It is home to the Longview Music and Arts Festival in August and a rodeo in July. A one block stretch at the north end of town contains an interesting assortment of shops. The Boot Hill Gallery carries a large selection of Bernie Brown sketches, pottery and dishware. Bernie Brown is a local artist, well known for his cowboy inspired sketches. Wow and Then carries an eclectic mix of antiques, collectibles and new stock. We chatted with the owner and discovered she, like us, was originally from Manitoba. The block also contains The Navajo Mug, Ian Tyson’s cafe, and Longview Jerky Shop, home of award winning jerky.

On the sometimes winding road from Longview to High River, we passed herd upon herd of cattle. We truly were in cattle ranch country. High River, official home of the TV show Heartland, is larger than the other communities we visited. We wandered through several shops in the centre of town. Our final stop was Evelyn’s Memory Lane Cafe & Ice Cream, an old style diner complete with jukeboxes in the booths and a long soda counter, for ice cream cones.

The entire trip, including breakfast, took us five and a half hours. It could be done in less, but I don’t recommend rushing in. A leisurely pace allows time to talk to people and soak up the old west ambiance. This is an area where people are friendly and take the time to chat. And maybe you’ll meet a real cowboy.

For more information, visit Cool Little Towns.

What highlights along the Cowboy Trail have you visited?

(Update 2015: The Navajo Mug is reportedly no longer in business.)

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