Tag Archives: head-smashed-in buffalo jump

Run for the Border

The reminder email had told me that if they didn’t have my test results by the next day, I would receive a phone call. They emphasized that it was important for me to answer this phone call. I left Calgary at 7:30 that morning with the phone propped up on the seat next to me, ready to respond to Canada’s call.

My first stop was Tim Hortons in Fort Macleod where I had a mediocre breakfast sandwich and a pretty good donut. Contrary to rumor, there was no poutine.

NB: Tim Hortons has no apostrophe. It did originally, but Quebec does not allow such non-French indignities as apostrophes, so it had to go. TH opted for standardizing their signs everywhere, rather than maintaining different names for Quebec and the rest of North America.

Not far from Fort Macleod is the main attraction of my Canada ramble: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. I’ve been wanting to go to HSI BJ since Dave Barry wrote about in 1989. Roadside America only rates it “Worth a Detour,” rather than “Major Fun,” but I think that has to be a mistake.

I had just parked and gotten out of my car when I received The Phone Call. It was a robocall. I had to use the numeric keypad to respond to questions. I decided to get back in my car to cut down on wind noise, but when I plugged the phone in, it activated the Bluetooth connection with the car, which disabled the numeric keypad. I tried to get the keypad back without hanging up while the recording pretended it was having trouble hearing me (“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that…”). I had just gotten the keypad back when it disconnected (“I’m sorry you’re having difficulty. Disconnecting now.”).

So much for that. Since it was a robocall, there was no way to call them back. Time for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump! The welcome sign explains the name.

In the 1800s, according to legend, a young brave wanted to witness the plunge of buffalo as his people drove them to their deaths over the cliffs. Standing under the shelter of a ledge, he watched the great beasts fall past him. The hunt was unusually good that day. As the bodies mounted, he became trapped between the animals and the cliff. When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed under the weight of the buffalo carcasses. Thus, they named the place “Head-Smashed-In.”

The place had been in use for thousands of years at that point, so they certainly took their sweet time naming it.

HSI is really a lot more interesting than you might think. It’s an archaeological site with a multi-story museum detailing and explaining the finds. The cliff was used over a period of 6000 years, minus a gap of about 2000 years when it was abandoned. People were in the area and eating buffalo for that whole time, but no one knows why they stopped using the cliff, then started again 2000 years later.

The cliff itself just looks like a cliff, but it’s not hard to imagine thousands of buffalo plummeting over the edge onto some hapless doofus below.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

I would have stayed longer, but I didn’t know how long I would have before the RCMP put out an APB on me, so I had Google Maps give me the fastest route to the border.

This turned out to mean going west from HSI on highway 785, which almost immediately turned into a gravel road that continued for the next 25 miles. So I raced for the border at about 30mph, fishtailing slightly in the gravel.

Eventually I got back to a regular highway and crossed back into BC, where I discovered the biggest truck in the world. Or what used to be the biggest truck in the world back in the ’70s. Now it’s just a very big truck. Worth a quick stop, even for those of us on the lam.

Not really the biggest truck in the world

Every couple hours I got the Canadian robocall, which went to voice mail because I was driving and couldn’t answer it. I got to the Kingsgate/Eastport border crossing around 3 PM.

I handed the US border guard my Nexus card and she asked me the usual questions. Then there was a very long pause.

BG: “Have you ever been convicted or charged with a crime?”
Me: “Nooo.”
BG: “In your whole life?”
Me: “No.”
BG: “You have a common name. I’ll need to have you go inside. You can just pull your car around here.”

She gave my card to another border guard who told me to have a seat. After about five minutes on his computer he gave me my card back and said, “You’re good to go, sir. Thank you for your time.” No explanation, and I didn’t ask. I got in my car and disappeared into the Idaho panhandle.