Calgary’s nickname, “Cowtown,” is cherished by the city’s one million residents, who prefer that romantic vision of their beloved home to the city’s more modern identity as a world energy and financial center. The city’s rapid growth, from a North West Mounted Police (NWMP) post to a large and vibrant metropolis in little more than 100 years, can be credited largely to the effects of resource development, particularly oil and natural gas.
Once run by gentlemen who had made their fortunes in ranching, Calgary is still an important cattle market. But a string of oil-and-gas bonanzas changed everything. The natural resources discovered throughout western Canada brought enormous wealth and growth to the city, turning it into the headquarters for a burgeoning energy industry.
Downtown  is a massive cluster of modern steel-and-glass skyscrapers, the legacy of an explosion of wealth in the 1970s, with cranes once again making their appearance as new commercial projects totaling over $1 billion are currently under construction.
Set in this futuristic mirage on the prairie are banks, insurance companies, investment companies, and the head offices of hundreds of oil companies. But not forgetting its roots, each July the city sets aside all the material success it’s achieved as a boomtown to put on the greatest outdoor show on earth—the Calgary Stampede , a Western extravaganza second to none.
Calgary is centrally located for a number of interesting yet diverse daytrips. While the vast majority of visitors head west, the Red Deer River Valley , east of Calgary, is one of Alberta ’s most interesting destinations for one reason: dinosaurs. Here, ancient glacial meltwaters gouged a deep valley into the surrounding rolling prairie, and wind and water have continued the erosion process ever since, all the time uncovering some of the world’s premier dinosaur fossil beds.
And when you do inevitably turn toward the mountains, there are plenty of reasons to veer from the main highway and explore the southern foothills, which hold some of North America’s finest ranching country. Beyond these hills is another reason to delay your arrival in Banff . Known as Kananaskis Country , it is a large tract of mountainous land set aside by the Alberta government as a multi-use recreation area. On the northern edge of Kananaskis Country is the booming mountain town of Canmore , an active outdoor center with a wide array of tourist services.
One of the province’s busiest roads is Highway 2 through central Alberta  between Calgary and Edmonton . This 290-kilometer (180-mile) route takes about three hours to drive straight through, but in the final section of this chapter I’ll fill you with ideas for discovering historic towns, exploring scenic parks, and even getting lost (in a corn maze).