Vast, broad plains, rolling foothills, jagged peaks, massive river deltas, and the second-largest oil deposits on earth -- all this is contained within the provincial boundaries of Alberta, the second-most westerly province in Canada. For many, Alberta is synonymous with the Rocky Mountains, and with good reason: more than three-quarters of the C$5 billion the province reaps from tourism every year is spent in and around the big-name National Parks of Banff and Jasper.

But in recent years, more has been done to promote the growing diversity of options to be found here, particularly the rapid ascent of urban centers like Calgary toward cosmopolitan, world-class status. While you're not likely to mistake Calgary for, say, Paris, it's a bustling, vibrant city, brimming with fabulous restaurants, au courant boutiques, and a wealth of cultural options. A vacation in Alberta now offers that rare combination of urbanity and natural wonder -- a breadth of experience few places in North America share.

It's well-known that Alberta is in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom, brought on by skyrocketing oil prices and the province's glut of the valuable fuel. It has brought with it wave upon wave of new residents from all over the country and around the world, but as the province becomes increasingly cosmopolitan, its pride in its western heritage is still in full force.

Just outside the city limits of Calgary and Edmonton, thousands of acres of ranchland sprawl through the foothills and on to the mountains, where cowboys ride range on their herds much as they might have more than a hundred years ago. All this comes to bear, of course, in the self-described "greatest outdoor show on earth," the Calgary Stampede -- the biggest rodeo in the world, which takes place every July. That's the splashiest display of western pride, but it's evident every day in the countryside, through the rolling hills and high plains where the herds still roam and a good horse is worth his weight in gold.

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