On a warm and sunny July 22, Margaret O’Regan led several schoolchildren through Cochrane Ranche on a nature-filled adventure learning about Alberta’s history. Here’s how it went:

What could be better than time spent with a bunch of lovely kids hiking in a gorgeous valley, through the tall conifers with their gnarled roots, up along the ridges overlooking the valley, and spending time at a museum of western heritage (The Stockmen’s) that allows kids to touch everything, and even to try on cowboy hats, boots and chaps? In my books, it was a great adventure. From the kids’ point of view, I think it was pretty good too. They all seemed to have fun.

At the outset, equipped with magnifying glasses, they were very enthusiastic about checking out the finer details of flowers, leaves and seed heads, conifer needles, bark and lichen. They were eager, looked out for each other, and shared their discoveries with each other: the shimmering spider web, the water striders, slugs, insects, a dead bee (that was taken home by one young adventurer to be added to his collection of bees – dead ones), the insect that looked as pretty as a butterfly but lay its wings flat like a moth (a buttermoth perhaps?), the raven calls, and grasshopper chirrups, the feel of sticky tree sap, and the scent of wild thyme. They helped each other clamber up amongst the great roots of the tree known as the Grandfather Tree (why not Grandmother?), each one testing their own capacities; they got dirty, washed hands in the stream, chased uphill and down. At the museum, they dressed up in cowboy gear, posing for photos, and took in the displays of everything and anything to do with ranching, including some incredibly ornate saddles, horseshoes that seemed impossibly large, and beautiful bronze statues. Following that, the Man of Vision statue, standing on a cliff overlooking the valley, is a natural magnet: here the kids posed for photos with the huge metal horse. Close by, the wooden stairway that descends into the valley was the last chance to use up some energy before reaching the end of our adventure: the kids challenged themselves to climb as fast as possible down and up the steep steps. Some of the kids went up and down multiple times! Though we didn’t see any of the herons, hawks or owls that live in the valley, we did get a peek at an owl’s nest hidden amongst the branches of a big spruce, and the kids each got to bring home an owl pellet (courtesy of a local wildlife refuge) to dissect in quieter moments at home. I am so impressed at the good humour, curiosity and caring that the kids displayed throughout our adventure. They certainly made it a trip to remember!