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Calgary Stampede rookie looking for help

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I am thinking about a trip to Southern Alberta (and possibly also NW Montana) this July.
In some older threads I read a few sceptical remarks about the Calgary Stampede.. too crowded, accomodation too expensive.. though I still see a good number of hotels/motels in and around Calgary within my budget (CAD 130-150 pN). And airfare from Europe is also still more or less on the normal high summer level.
My overall time budget would be 2 weeks, probably 3 weeks if I also included NW Montana).

My *strategy* is to travel thru the rest of Southern Alberta when the Stampede hasn't either started yet or is already over. As on another thread I read that the many visitors will also crowd the nearby sights and parks.

So, finally, the question:
If I wanted to stay in Calgary for the Stampede for 2-3 days, should it be the first days/weekend after my trip thru Alberta?
Or should I start in Calgary on the Stampede's last days/weekend and then start my little road trip?
Is there anything that would make one weekend *better* than the other?

Thanks a lot for any help or hints.

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