#ExploreLethbridge for Its Spirit of Outdoor Adventure

Lethbridge
Photographer
Chris Istace

#ExploreLethbridge for Its Spirit of Outdoor Adventure

What does the spirit of a place mean to you? A city can have intangible energy, something you discover through the experiences you have there. It can be uncovered through the local attractions or the people who call it home. Throughout August and September, follow us as we #ExploreLethbridge, getting out on the trails and city streets seeking outdoor adventures, good-time vibes and uncovering a history going back many millennia.

DAX JUSTIN

When I think of Lethbridge, Alta, I recall my time there with endless memories: driving from Calgary to Lethbridge and shaving off time by going the “Granum” way, living on the West Side, wearing Von Dutch hats while strutting through the halls of the U of L. Street Wheelers. The Water Tower. The old outdoor city pool that had no security.(Haha!) Essie's (sadly, now closed) on Monday nights.

I spent four years here learning about design and technology, getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in the New Media program at the U of L. Of course, I thought I knew this place inside out then. So when I was asked to take on this assignment I learned that I was wrong. Working with Tourism Lethbridge and ZenSeekers, I got to revisit a place I thought I knew for a three-part series about discovering the Spirit of Lethbridge.

#ExploreLethbridge for its spirit of outdoor adventures

While living in Lethbridge, I never rode a mountain bike once. For the first part in the series, I saddle up on an e-bike for the first time to explore the iconic valley and Six-Mile Coulee. Sure, I expected great views but what I didn’t expect was an epic day of racing through renegade bike trails, dust on my teeth, eyes-wide and knuckles white.

Getting a True Lay of the Land

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Over the Coulees × Into the Badlands // I lived in Lethbridge for four years while I attended University and I had no clue you could ride into the Badlands of Alberta right here in Lethbridge. Mobile fossil hunting is totally a thing! ☺️🦖 #onassignment with @tourismlethbridge and @zenseekers I re-discovered the identity of Lethbridge and on the first day I found the Spirit of Adventure in a very powerful way. Read about it in my three-part blog series, the link is in my bio. // @tourismlethbridge #ExploreLethbridge #LethbrideSpirit @zenseekers #zenseekers #lethbridge #explorealberta #explorecanada #canada #photojournalism #adventure #mountainbiking

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In southern Alberta, you’ll find the province's third-largest city, Lethbridge. This place was once a whisky trading post. Picture an old Western movie, attracting folks, some with wild intentions and others with raw grit. But these days, Lethbridge is a cultural hub, with an energy I’d never felt here before.

The city is divided by the Oldman River Valley, saddled into a chain of parks running south to north through the valley bottom. The landscape in this region is characterized by distinct formations called coulees. A coulee is a V-shaped valley, often incredibly steep and otherworldly-looking. They are created by glacial erosion or wind and water erosion. In Lethbridge, this iconic valley has grown into one of the largest urban park systems in North America at 16 square kilometres of protected land. Indian Battle Park is situated under the High Level Bridge and commemorates the defeat of a Cree war party by Kainai (Blood) and Piikani (Peigan) warriors in 1870. This is where my adventure in Lethbridge begins as I re-trace these steps and trek the valley by mountain bike.

Dust in Your Teeth: Biking the Valley and Six-Mile Coulee

Lethbridge
Photographer
Chris Istace

For the first part of my journey, I teamed up with two local cyclists, Justin from Alpenland and Tracey from BikeBridge Cycling Association, who guided our valley trek. We met up under the High Level Bridge, the longest and tallest of its type of construction in the world. Built in 1909, at the time it was considered one of the "wonders of the world." This is where my experience exploring Lethbridge really kicked off.

Before this assignment, my mountain biking skills were just OK. Not the worst, but not world-class either. I feel comfortable on bikes but this was my first time on an e-bike. 

While you're in Lethbridge, go fruit tree hunting!

Cruising through the city we explored The Muff and Barley Brew, two distinct areas you won’t want to miss. The Muff is a long, single-track trail, kind of a tunnel-shaped area and enclosed by tall prairie grasses that brush your arms as you ride along. With stairs alongside, you can hike up, start over and do it all again. Not far away, Barley Brew is a quick and steep dive down the edge of a hill, as pictured below. Justin and Tracey looked like pros, but when I went to the edge and looked down, I decided that with all my camera equipment, I wasn’t going to risk it. My plan was to stay focused on the photoshoot and not exert myself too much. After all, this was only Day 1 of my adventure.

lethbridge
Photographer
Chris Istace

As we rode through the valley's numerous features, I got what I call throttled. The Blackfoot referred to this area as Aksaysim, translated as steep banks. I learned harshly how accurate their description is, as my legs shook and wobbled from the workout.

Justin and Tracey rode ahead of me, showing me just how badass they were in this gnarly terrain. Riding into the sun, it felt like we were in a movie. But I was having moments of self-doubt, pedalling slowly, wiping the sweat from my brow. Is my photo backpack too heavy? Did I drink enough water? How hot is it outside, anyway? I have an electric freaking bike, why am I so depleted? Justin and Tracey being the pros they are, saw I was struggling and we stopped for a break. Sitting down, I avoided the nearby cactus and it hits me: this is the spirit of raw adventure. Just when I felt as though I was ready to throw in the towel, daydreaming about calling a helicopter to take me out of here, instead, my energy returned and I get a feeling like a punch of jet fuel. In pushing myself to the limit I gain an insight into myself and it renews my usually sunny outlook. A rattlesnake slithers by and I replenish myself with water and food. 

OK, I'm feeling grounded again. Back to reality. My focus turns to my muscles, my breath, the rhythmic inhalation and exhalation. Keep the mind and body steady, Dax - the day isn’t over.

We then rode to the far south end of Lethbridge where you’ll find Six-Mile Coulee, a place that's become a playground for mountain bikers. We rode into a feature aptly called The Playground - the perfect place to photograph mountain bikers getting stoke on this other-worldly terrain. It dawns on me that I'd spent four years at university here, yet I had no clue this intense topography even existed.

The first day was significantly mind-blowing and challenging, and I could totally understand the addictive pulse of adventure as we explored the coulees. This day couldn't have been embraced with anything but an adventure mindset, as we rode 30 km through an intricate array of trails and features, including the famed Six-Mile Coulee, all accessible for mountain biking, hiking and trail running.

If you need to rent a bike while you're here, visit Alpenland. It's the only place in the city that rents mountain bikes and e-bikes to explore the trails through the city and valley.

Nature at Your Back: Exploring the Helen Schuler Nature Centre

lethbrige
Photographer
Dax Justin

Helen Schuler Nature Centre, located in Indian Battle Park, has been offering environmental education programming since 1982. I came back to experience the sights and sounds of nature in Lethbridge, coming to this ideal spot for exercise enthusiasts and photographers, or those looking to explore nature in the city. Bikes are not allowed in the park, because it is a protected area that is home to a unique ecosystem and diverse wildlife. It is one of only a few places in the world where three species of Cottonwood trees are found. 

Suggested Readings:

I’ve spent time here on two other assignments, and honestly, there is something new to experience every time. Apart from offering nature-based exhibits, art, interactive and fun outdoor programs, this team includes volunteers, staff, and community partners that are dedicated to connecting people to the great outdoors. When you visit, you can explore numerous self-guided walking trails which highlight the unique features of the park, or you can attend one of the regular programs with a volunteer guide.

Lethbridge is fast-becoming a top spot to play, with more than 320 days of sunshine per year. It has more than 130 parks and 240 km of biking and running/walking trails giving you the best chance to discover the true identity of this region by getting outside.

When You Go

The spirit of Lethbridge is unique in so many ways. It's easy to uncover the good-time vibes, its outdoor and historical spirit that goes back many millennia. #ExploreLethbridge

After a day of adventuring, make sure to check out the Craft Beer Festival at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery on October 19th. Learn more here.

Learn more at the Lethbridge Information Centre (2805 Scenic Drive South) or visit TourismLethbridge.com

Did you know that Lethbridge is hosting a pumpkin festival? Learn more about it here.

Fill your adventure spirit meter by heading into Lethbridge. Let us know what you find along with way using #ExploreLethbridge and you could be featured on our social media channels.

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