Friday, July 22, 2011

Head~Smashed~In Buffalo Jump ~ Interpretive Center ~ Fort Macleod, Alberta

Sometimes the unexpected turns out to be the greatest surprise.  We had travelled through southern Alberta with very few plans other than to see the sights.  This was a region I had never seen before and was looking forward to visit all we could, but the one location that we hadn't even planned on was the one that left the greatest impact.  We had dinner with a cousin and friends who asked if we planned on going to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. We knew nothing about it but this was the second time we'd heard this, so that must mean we'd best not leave the country until we paid a visit.  Plans were changed and we headed east to spend the night at Fort Macleod so we could visit the Interpretive Center in the morning.

 Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
We arrived before the Center opened.  Their hours are 10am to 5pm every day of the year except they close for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Day and Easter Sunday.  We later saw a shuttle which could take you from the parking lot up the hill as there is no parking right at the Center.  We were early so we we decided that we would wander the grounds and visit the site that had some picture boards and information about the history of this landmark.

Rest area on the path below Buffalo Jump
The trail was not a long one but had some reststops on the way and the information was quite amazing.  As we stood on the path below the cliff and read that under our feet was dozens of feet of buffalo bones, artifacts, rock and rubble that had accumulated over the thousands of years of buffalo jumping over the cliff above.  These cliffs were now much smaller than they'd been those many years ago when the bottom was dozens of feet lower.

The path leads us up to cliffs of the Buffalo Jump
 The Blackfoot have lived on these plains for over 6000 years and would come here every Fall when the bison would come this way for water and food. The natives would then maneuver the herd and create a stampede that drove the buffalo to jump over the cliff. They would then dry the meat to later use for food, the buffalo skin would make their clothes and bones would become tools. They knew how to utilize most of the carcass and would leave little behind. The buffalo neared extinction in 1881 so the Blackfoot could no longer follow this tradition.

Overview of Heads-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump site
There is a short movie to watch in the Interpretive Center that through modern technology, shows this story in such a way that as you feel the pounding of their hooves, it is easy to believe you are watching real buffalo jump over.  The actors are dressed in authentic clothing and talk their native tongue and play out what they would do all those many years ago to get the buffalo to this place.  Even though I knew those were not real buffalo, I found it difficult to watch the jump but the film is a wonderful way to show the history of the Blackfoot and how they survived those many years on the Plains of Alberta.

Three grand buffalo overlook the interior of the Interpretive Center
The Head-Smashed-In Interpretive Center is one of the most interesting ones to see.  You need to allow yourself lots of time to see all that they have included at the Center.  In 1981 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the wonderful job the center does to tell the story of the aboriginal people of this area for over 5500 years.  The puts it on the list with the pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England plus others, a very elite list of heritage sites in the world.

Tipi Village at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
There is a compound of tipi's (also spelt teepee) that is not available for public use but is available as an educational site for Sleepover Programs in June for school kids and youth groups.  The kids are able to spend the night in the tipi and learn the legends and take a guided walk on the path.  They will eat a buffalo stew with bannock for dinner and experience the history, sitting below the cliffs of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, under the stars and overlooking the Plains.  I cannot imagine a better way to have a history lesson.

Beautiful Buffalo at Interpretive Center
Drumming and dancing celebrations are held every Wednesday of July and August in the Plaza of the center. The performers are from Pow Wow competitions and have shows at 11am and 1:30pm on those days. They proudly show their beautiful costumes and honor their forefathers with their music and dance.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is located just 18 km west of Fort Macleod, Alberta on Highway 785. I highly recommend anyone that is anywhere nearby that they should see this wonderful Interpretive Center. Click here to learn more on the Center.

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