Exploring our Backyard: Highway 2 Detours

Mack and I usually end up popping down to Calgary at least a few times a year for a mini-break. Back in August, we did so, but made sure to plan some more unique stops on the way down and back up to Edmonton.

Southbound, we visited Eagle Creek Farms in Bowden, which claims only one of two sunflower mazes in all of Canada.

Bowden Sun Maze

Sunflower Maze

Although the maze wasn’t quite at their full height, it was still a sight to see.

Eagle Creek Farms

Sunflower selfie

It resembled more of a sunflower patch with pathways not as defined as the corn mazes we are more used to, but it was definitely eye-catching and visually stunning, especially with the number of bees buzzing in and around the flowers.

Bowden Sun Maze

The field was abuzz with activity

Eagle Creek also boasts a few other maze options (including corn, hay bale, and tree mazes), in addition to a small u-pick vegetable and flower selection. We were disappointed the strawberry patch wasn’t quite ready yet, but we did take the opportunity to harvest some zucchini, peas, and chard to take home with us.

Bowden Sun Maze

Ready to harvest!

Afterwards we stopped for lunch nearby at the Starlite Diner Car, which we have blown by on Highway 2 countless times. We’re suckers for retro diners, so the classic interior, with bright red booths and a long counter, was right up our alley.

Starlite Diner Car

We love diners

We didn’t expect the alien-themed menu, but all of the classic dishes you’d expect to find were available to order (their milkshakes were on high demand that afternoon). While the food wasn’t exceptional, our monte cristo and hot turkey sandwiches hit the spot. Service was also better than we anticipated.

Starlite Diner Car

Hot turkey sandwich

What did come as a surprise was the fact that one of the fellow diners at the counter had paid our bill! We’ve never experienced a pay-it-forward situation before, but after this, will have to return the favour ourselves.

Onward to Calgary, we had booked an AirBnB in the East Village neighbourhood, an area that would definitely be on our shortlist if we ever moved south. Mack’s favourite amenity is the Phil & Sebastian’s in the Simmons Building (which we took advantage of the next morning), but being within walking distance of Village Ice Cream isn’t bad, either.


We are all Villagers

The East Village Junction Pop-up was also taking place just across the street from the condo building. The vacant lot had been populated with a dozen shipping containers transformed into retail outlets (some local, some national chains), but also featured a food truck, seating areas, and a programmed stage.

containR EV Junction

East Village Junction Pop-up

It was a neat way to encourage more foot traffic, and an idea that we’ve heard may eventually make its way to some underserved areas in Edmonton.

East Village Junction Pop-up

Mack was right at home

We hadn’t yet been to Studio Bell, so took advantage of our proximity on this visit. The architecture of the building was a draw for us, and we learned that the landscape of the prairies (including the hoodoos), as well as the curvature of musical instruments, was his inspiration for the designs.

National Music Centre

Performance Hall

Like most modern museums, there were lots of open spaces, lookout points, and areas where natural light could filter in.

National Music Centre

Fun with instruments

The museum offered a good variety of interactive exhibits, and we could see how it would appeal to music explorers of all ages. My favourite exhibit was the theatre organ that was used to create a live soundtrack for silent films screened in the 20s and 30s.

National Music Centre

Kimball Theatre Organ

GlobalFest had been on our list for some time, but the timing had never before lined up. A fireworks competition combined with cultural showcases, aspects of GlobalFest reminded us of a scaled down version of Heritage Days.

Calgary GlobalFest


Over two dozen countries were represented with food, clothing, or cultural artifacts. In addition, multiple stages dotted the grounds, hosting musical and dance performances throughout the evening. I liked the passport idea that the festival had developed as a means of encouraging attendees to visit as many pavilions as possible (in exchange for the chance to enter to win a prize).

Calgary GlobalFest

One of three stages

In every other festival year, the fireworks each night are themed around a country. This year, in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial, a region of the country was celebrated instead. That evening, the Prairies were in the spotlight.

The theme wasn’t obvious from the fireworks display, as some of the musical choices were outside of artists born on the Prairies. That said, I could appreciate the selection of certain firework varieties and colours that were paired with particular musical interludes – the shimmering fireworks were a great choice to accompany a Chantal Kreviazuk’s ballad. Overall, GlobalFest was a lovely way to spend a summer evening outdoors.

Calgary GlobalFest

Fireworks display

We couldn’t leave Calgary without a visit to one of our favourite restaurants – Blue Star Diner in Bridgeland has become our go-to brunch favourite.

They’ve made some minor tweaks to my favourite stuffed French toast dish since our last visit, but I’m happy to report it’s still equally delicious, and the white cheese whiz (in place of hollandaise) was addictive.

Blue Star Diner

Mack’s Bridgeland breakfast bowl from Blue Star Diner

Our the way to Red Deer, we stopped at the infamous Torrington Gopher Museum. It’s been on our bucket list for some time, and we can safely say it’s well worth the half hour detour. Photos really can’t do this bizarre attraction justice.

Torrington Gopher Hole Museum

The hunted or the hunter?

For just $2, visitors can take in the various dioramas that have position stuffed gophers in scenes capturing town life. Most are based around local businesses, but there are a few more politically incorrect ones as well.

Torrington Gopher Hole Museum

Albert GoFur, who made a trip to the Vancouver Olympics

The staff on duty was so obviously proud of the museum, and though she’d likely run through the introduction countless times, was happy to do so with each group entering the facility.

My favourite diorama was Moonlight Romance, featuring a gopher dressed in an adorable poodle skirt (the top visitor’s choice in 2015), while Mack couldn’t resist the church scene with a suspended gopher angel (the top pick in 2014 and 2016).

Torrington Gopher Hole Museum

Gopher wedding

We needed to stretch our legs before dinner, so stopped in Red Deer’s Gaetz Lake Sanctuary first. The 4km trail can be leisurely completed in an hour, even with multiple stops to admire birds on this federally-sanctioned migration route.

Kerry Wood Nature Centre

Gaetz Lake Sanctuary

We were, however, unprepared to witness the tree damage caused by 140km an hour winds earlier in the year. Because of the park’s status as a migration route, staff could only ensure the fallen logs were cleared from the path, but not removed.

Kerry Wood Nature Centre

Tree damage

I can safely say the more time we spend in Red Deer, the more aspects I find to appreciate – it definitely has more to offer than Gasoline Alley would suggest!


Lookout point

I had my eye on Red Boar Smokery for a while, among a cluster of interesting restaurants and shops in downtown Red Deer. It’s also a good sign when their frequent updates on social media relate to selling out of product!

The interior is casual, with communal picnic table seating, and instead of actual plates, they offer strips of butcher paper. We chose the “barnyard special”, which was an ideal way to sample a variety of their meats and sides.

The pulled pork was the standout, with a great smoky flavour, while the pork belly was also notable, as the fat just melted away in our mouths. The accompanying sauces were fun to sample, with the honey mustard in particular winning our vote.


Barnyard Special from Red Boar Smokery

Mack was happy we snagged the last bit of mac and cheese, but the apple slaw was actually the better of the sides; the tartness was needed to cut through the richness of the meat.

All told, we had a great time further exploring some attractions in our own backyard – we’re looking forward to what we will discover next!

Big Plates of Mexico: Las Palmeras

We didn’t end up making a stop in Red Deer two weeks ago, so Mack and I planned a special trip down to visit Tom on Sunday. Tom didn’t object to our restaurant choice, so with Kim and Jon along for the ride, to Las Palmeras (3630 50 Avenue) we went.

Mack outside of Las Palmeras

The air-conditioned venue provided a much-needed respite from the 30+ degree weather. While we were greeted by a “HOLA” floor mat and a ceramic mariachi band, the overall kitsch was restrained – a decorative tiki bar and a neon Corona sign notwithstanding. Washrooms marked “Senioritas” and “Hombres” were expected, but still brought a smile to my face.

Dining area

Colorful display

The dining area we were seated in was comprised of booths as well as stand-alone tables, filled by three other parties on that late afternoon. Our efficient waitress tried to tempt us with “something refreshing”, but we stayed the course and stuck with food only. Mack and Tom opted for Chicken Quesadillas ($13.95), Kim and Jon the Super Burritos ($12.95), and I the lone Chicken Enchilada ($15.95). Mack and I topped off our plates with an order of Pupusas ($8.95) for good measure.

Just after we polished off the complimentary fresh-fried tortillas chips and house-made salsa, our pupusas appeared. Crispy hot corn tortillas concealed a deliciously savoury filling of ground pork, tomato, onion, zucchini and cheese. Like some supporting characters that steal the limelight away from the main players in a production, the wonderful appetizer overshadowed my entree.

Tortilla Chips and Salsa


Our main dishes, on kid-friendly, bright-bordered plates, arrived all with serving sizes I thought daunting for the average individual. Kim and Jon seemed to like their burritos fine (Jon even polished off the tortilla condiment container), while I think Mack and Tom had my share of entree envy with their quesadilla. My enchiladas, dressed with an overzealous amount of cheese, were not what I was expecting. The chicken baked up a tad dry, and the tough casing didn’t help matters. The beans were pretty good, accented with some green onion bite, but half of the rice on my plate was undercooked – more stirring in the communal pot needed, perhaps?

Super Burrito

Chicken Quesadilla

Chicken Enchilada

It was a snappy meal – quick, no-frills, and intensely filling (we all remained full for hours afterwards) – but for better quality and a much cheaper price for El Salvadoran versions of the above, I’d recommend El Rancho in Edmonton’s north end. Still, I’m excited to have finally been able to try something off the Gasoline Alley-beaten path, with many more yet to visit.

Tom and Kim

Mack and I

Red Deer Eats

I found my hit list of Calgary eateries quite useful to look back on for reference purposes, so on a weekend where a food stop in Red Deer may be on the agenda, I was hoping Chowhound would be able to help me generate options beyond the glut of Gasoline Alley and epidemic of chains. It delivered.

  • Redstone Grill: with a menu similar in price point to Madison’s Grill, it may be too expensive for our fuelling intention, but it’s a definite option worthy of consideration in the future.
  • Glenn’s: apparently has good comfort food and pie.
  • Rusty Pelican: the name is admittedly growing on me. The reviews on Chowhound are mixed, but with entrees priced under $20 (a filet mignon for $18.95), it would be worth a try.
  • It’s All Greek to Me: no relation to the Edmonton restaurant with the same name.
  • Las Palmeras: a restaurant which one poster claims serves the most authentic Mexican food in the province, the lack of a website prevents further comment, but this would be my pick for the weekend.