I love a road trip.
Likely because I’ve always loved driving.
(Barring that one time when my stepdad was teaching me standard and I rolled a fraction of an inch and then stalled at a tiny slope in Vancover and the woman behind me honked and I said, “Nope,” got out of the car as traffic grew behind me, switching seats with my stepdad who easily, and quickly, navigated us out of the situation. Funnily, I later taught myself how to handle a stick shift and now it’s my preferred way to drive.)
This really translates into a love of a quick escape.
I once drove from five hours from a small town in the B.C. interior to Jasper just to swim in a lake (worth it) and did a round trip from Victoria to Tofino – 9 hours of driving – because I wanted to see the pounding surf.
All the aspects of a road trip appeal to me. Snacks! Good music playlists! Podcasts (definitely wished those were a thing in those early days of day-long road trips)!
I’ve poked around Southern Alberta quite a bit on such quick escapes. Over to Drumheller to see the museum and hoodoos, west to Banff or Canmore to poke around the mountains, south to the Crowsnest Pass and many, many trips to Turner Valley for a burger at the Chuckwagon – often looping down and over to Nanton for some antiquing before turning the car home.
(All road trips in my life need a stop at some tasty/interesting/unexpected/intriguing place to eat, obviously.)
But I haven’t done much exploring north of the city. And one thing has been on my list for a while: the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop in Torrington.
When Ford Canada offered to loan me a new Fusion Sport and send me to the museum as part of their #GoFurther150 campaign, I was game. Road trip? Nice car? Stuffed gophers in display cases? Let’s do this.
Across the country, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, Ford has been sending people on trips in their vehicles to see local landmarks as part of their #GoFurther150 campaign.
[Disclosure: I was given a gas card to offset travel costs, plus Ford paid the $2 admission fee at the museum for myself and a friend.]
Iphone synced, music filling the car, we slipped north on the highway and then east over to Torrington, testing out the sport mode, which makes the car more responsive and adjusts torque and engine sound. (Confession: I also totally tried out the seat warmers/air conditioners – cooling! – heated steering wheel and the lane assist, which, after a few tests, prompted the car to suggest I pull over because I might be tired.)
For 21 years, the gopher museum has attracted visitors from around the world – and more than its fair share of controversy when PETA inevitably protested its opening, to which the museum responded with a note that they could “get stuffed” – to view the dioramas of daily life in the community featuring taxidermied gophers.
Volunteer fire gophers, Silver Willows Seniors’ Club gophers, gophers visiting the local Pizza n’ More Eh and gophers on dates. All the background art for each of the dioramas was done by local artist Shelley Barkman, while a retired carpenter built the cabinets and local women dressed the gophers in their little outfits, right down to an RCMP gopher in red serge.
Dale Heinz, a taxidermist in nearby Didsbury, had the task of getting the gophers display ready.
(OK, they’re actually Richardson Ground Squirrels, if you want to get technical – and there was a copy editor at the Herald who always wanted to get technical on that front – but for the sake of consistency, I’m going with gophers here. After all, that’s what the museum calls them.)
The one-time village opened the museum, capitalizing on the numerous gophers in the area, as a way of drawing in tourists. Judging from the pins on the map that visitors have used to mark their homes, it has attracted people from all over.
The museum is open for four months a year – June 1 to the end of September, though they will open outside of those dates for visitors who call or email – and sees about 6,000 visitors each season.
(We were a couple of days early, but they opened for us and a couple who had initially been disappointed to learn it was closed.)
The whole hamlet of Torrington has embraced the gopher. Fire hydrants are painted like the small creatures in outfits and there’s a statue along the highway denoting the community mascot.
And so, with the museum finally checked off my list of things to see in Alberta, it was time to seek something to eat.
Never one to skip a chance to take secondary highways, we took the long way around to Bowden, circling up to Innisfail along ribbons of road undulating over the foothills and then down the QEII to the Starlite Diner Car – another landmark that’s long been on my list.
The diner was bustling for a Thursday afternoon, parking lot full of tourists and truckers who wanted to stop for a chance to eat at the retro-styled diner just off the highway.
While mostly typical diner fare, the menu has an extra-terrestrial theme (as does some of the décor) with Romulan or Crop Circle salads, among other options.
It was all about the clubhouse sandwich for me and this one didn’t disappoint. Slices of real turkey, ham, cheese, a thick layer of bacon. Perfection. Also? Inordinately good fries.
We took the long way back to Calgary, heading west and then down Highway 22 through to Cochrane. (One of my road trip preferences, when possible, is to never take the same road back.) Everything was lush and green and we were able to watch the edge of a summer storm push toward the city.
Another great day of exploring.
If you go: the Torrington Gopher Museum charges $2 admission for adults, 50 cents for children under the age of 14. It’s open daily from June to September, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.