Saskatchewan – Easy to Draw, Hard to Spell

September 10 – 17

We’re headed East and our next Canadian province is Saskatchewan.  It’s the only one with no natural borders, so pretty much a rectangle.  The visitor’s center outside Maple Creek had shirts with the “Easy to draw, hard to spell” slogan and we totally agree.  No real “must do’s” in this part of Canada, but some unexpectedly great campsites and meals.

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Just to show we were there…and lots of wheat growing in the province.

We passed Pinto McBean on the drive and would have planned a stop for photos if we had known he was coming up.  Who doesn’t love a giant bean statue?

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Technically we stayed on the Alberta side for this stop, but I’m counting it since it does connect to Sask.  Yes, Sask.  That’s what you say if you’re hip and also saving letters on signage.  Anyway, we stopped for two nights.  It was originally going to be a one nighter, but I really didn’t want to pack up and move again on my birthday.  So we sat another day to relax on 9/11.

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A little hazy, but much better as far as the smoke goes.  Pretty Elkwater Lake with those dry hills, but surprising evergreens to brighten the shore.

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We even found a nice boardwalk for Jackson.  Of course it was a little too far from the campsite, so we drove him over.

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The only parking spot I could find reasonably close.  One of these things is not like the others….

The night before my birthday, Hurricane Irma was hammering at Florida and I was enjoying delicious ribs at the campground Cookhouse.  The server spilled beer on me and comped the beer, half my ribs AND dessert.  I barely got splashed, but it made for fun banter with the waiter, and a cheap birthday dinner.  Fortunately, we were able to see how Florida faired in the news reports the next day.  We can’t tell you how relieved we were not to be worrying about a house while we were so far away.

Moose Jaw

I read about some fun things to see in Moose Jaw, so we’ve set our course for the next stop.  Along the way, we saw 2 deer, a fox, bison and lots of sheep.  Our stop at the Maple Creek visitor center sent us to the little bitty town off the highway for lunch.  Howard’s Bakery and Cafe did not disappoint with great sandwiches and the hands down best doughnut I’ve ever had.  I’d go back that way just for another stop to buy cookies, more doughnuts and whatever baked goods ‘ole Howard is selling.  Delicious.

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View of downtown Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan from the hill above the River Park Campground.  Our home for the next 4 nights.  We’ve escaped the smoke, but we’re right by a refinery.  Different smell entirely, but still no good.  When we first arrived, we thought we had a tire problem!

Laundry is overflowing again, so I look for a spot.  I only found one and it was a sketchy place for sure.  The two other places that my internet search showed me were ice cream parlors.  I chalked that up to being “Googled” until another guy showed up at the laundromat.  He said both those other places did indeed have laundry as well as ice cream, but they’re apparently more expensive.  Hopefully they’re in better repair, but I got the job done anyway.  And the guy gave us excellent dinner recommendations.

We also got a visit from a mobile Speedy Glass guy to repair Lucy’s two newest windshield cracks.  One was a spider crack and destined to cause trouble on the rough roads.  Good to have that taken care of.

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Moose Jaw is home to the world’s largest moose statue.  Mac stands at 32 feet tall.

We also went on two Tunnels of Moose Jaw tours.  These underground tours are a little bit history lesson, a little bit interactive theater and a lot of fun.  The ‘Chicago Connection’ tour turned us into bootleggers running rum for Al Capone’s gang.  I got to do the “secret” knock on the door to enter the inner sanctum.  For tour number two, we were Chinese immigrants in ‘Passage to Fortune’.  Both tours went from building to building below the streets of downtown Moose Jaw.  No photos allowed, so you’ll just have to imagine what the tunnels looked like.

While out to dinner the first night, we saw an advertisement for tickets to a concert in town.  It turns out that Moose Jaw won the “One Horse Town” contest sponsored by Coors, entitling them to a free concert with headliner Darius Rucker of ‘Hootie and the Blowfish’ fame.  We love his voice and he’s one of Pat’s favorites.  Unfortunately for us, it was for town residents only and the 1500 free tickets were already gone.  Since Moose Jaw is not a huge place, we could hear the concert from our campsite.

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I also read about the Claybank Brick Plant which is a National Historic Landmark in Canada.  It sounded a lot like Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces or the Kennecott Mine in Alaska.  The visitor’s center told us the tours were closed, but we could check out the grounds, so off we went.

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This is what we found when we arrived.  Bummer.  This gravel road adventure was not as exciting as I’d hoped.

This spot is virtually unchanged since 1912 and in season has tours to showcase the clay quarry in the nearby hills to the brick kilns at the plant.  We walked around outside the fence for a little bit, but the brisk wind turned us around pretty quickly.

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Pretty spot with some Fall color.  My artsy shot for the day.

Crooked Lake Provincial Park

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From Moose Jaw, we wound our way off the beaten path to Crooked Lake Provincial Park.  When we arrived, I jumped out to run ahead and check out a few sites.  I turned around and saw this.  Lucy coming through the tree canopy – just magical!

This was also going to be a one night stop and we just couldn’t leave.  It was so peaceful compared to Moose Jaw (yes, a train next door to the campground), and didn’t smell at all.  No smoke, no petroleum, just clean, crisp Fall air.

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The boys approve of the lakeside strolls.

Lots of trees just turning colors on the lakeside.

This is also where we encountered tons of red box elder bugs.  Creepy looking things.

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Jackson really liked the big sticks at this stop.  He’s not worried about the bugs.

The park host let us know the water was being turned off at the campground the next day, so time to go.

On the way out of Saskatchewan, we’re noticing these orange enclosures in the fields.  I’m calling them hospitality tents.  Turns out I’m not far wrong,  They are there to attract leaf cutter bees required to pollinate the canola crops.  I envision a little wine tasting and finger sandwiches to keep those special bees happy in the fields.

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There are bees partying in these tents.

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Our time is Sask is done and they thank us for driving safely.  We’re off to Manitoba and Riding Mountain National Park next.  See you on the way!

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Writing-On-Stone

A year before we embarked on the Epic Journey to Alaska, Pat was busily requesting tourist info from Canada.  Alberta, as it turns out, has masterful marketing brochures for its spectacular sights.  We were completely enthralled by pictures of Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park and put it on the list of ‘must do’s’ during our return trip.  When you see the pictures you’ll know why.

Little Bow Provincial Park

We’re now done with bigger-than-life Banff and need to move on.  It’s September 5th and the smoke and heat are still oppressive.  Pat has picked out Little Bow Provincial Park as our next stop, mainly because it’s close to Vulcan, AB and has trees.  You read that right – Vulcan!  According to the visitor center info, they have a Trek Center and Pat is a total Trekkie.  Ah but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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I’m amazed at the countryside, mainly because I didn’t think it would look this way.  Farm land as far as the eye could see.  Not sure what I expected, but this wasn’t it.  Could be Kansas, Texas or many Midwest places in the lower 48.  Once you leave the mountains behind, this is it.

Cattle, classic barns and silos abound here.

So we’re driving and driving.  I keep asking “Are you SURE there are trees?”.  I say this because they’re having record-breaking temperatures, it’s dry as a bone, and shade is preferred in 80+ heat.  There is also no evidence of trees in the area.  Pat tells me the description included trees, but I’m not convinced.  I’m grumbling all the way about no trees,  when we turn off the main road and dip down into a small canyon.  Lo and behold, there are trees and blessed shade for our camping spot.

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You can see why I was skeptical.  This area like much of Southern Canada is extremely crispy from record temps, no rain since June and fires to the south and west adding a smokey haze to the mix.  The dam upstream from this picture created a little oasis that was such a contrast.  I’m on top of the closest hill looking down on the campground for this shot.

Even with the dryness, textures abound.  Loved the delicate sheaves of wheat and yes, even cactus.  Top right is my little trail to the top of the hill, and steeper than it looks.

Little Bow River meandering off into the hazy distance, Pat & Jackson on the bank of the swimming hole, and the noisy geese overhead.

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My lonely tree

There weren’t too many people in the park with us, but we did have friendly next-door neighbors.  Myrna & Don from Alberta were kind enough to give us 8 ears of corn from their garden.  We hadn’t had fresh corn in quite a while so it was a treat.

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Eerie red sunset compliments of the Montana fires and smoke

Welcome to Vulcan

We SO love the quirky tourist traps and couldn’t resist this one.  A perfect in-between stop with great appeal for Pat who has seen every original Star Trek episode there is.

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The Vulcan, AB welcome center has an Enterprise replica, complete with Vulcan writing on the plaque.  At least that’s what Pat suspects it is.  He says the number on the ship is all wrong, but probably a licensing thing.  Anyhoo, great fun nonetheless.

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And I nearly wet my pants laughing when he popped his head out with that crazy grin.  It’s a wonder I got a clear picture.

This place has a whole rack of costumes that you can put on for photo ops.  Pat was a most excellent Captain Kirk in the captain’s chair, as well as posing with Bones and Spock.  Phasers on stun of course.

The best signage was over the merchandise and said “Shoplifters will be vaporized to the fullest extent of the law”.  This tiny little town has certainly capitalized on its name and location in Vulcan County.  A stop well worth our time and it was completely free.  There was a pretty good Chinese restaurant in town, too.

Out and About

Just driving around the area was interesting.  It seemed like every farm had a derelict barn on the property and I found a grand one.

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Rolling pastureland, the old North wind working on my favorite ramshackle barn and the perfectly straight crew-cut rows.

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And the happiest “crop circle” I’ve ever seen.

Finally Writing-On-Stone

The smoke ran us out of Little Bow and we’ve got Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in our sights.  It’s smokey here, too, but the outstanding views and other-worldly geography made it worthwhile.

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We rounded the corner into the park and were greeted with this view.  Wow.

You could really believe you were on another planet with some of the rock formations.  Hoodoos at their finest.  According to park literature, glaciers exposed sandstone bedrock after the last ice age and thousands of years of erosion did the rest.  This is also a sacred spot for First Nations people.  This part of Blackfoot territory was a place they would come to await visions foretelling their fate during upcoming battles.  Battle stories were chronicled on the stones, and thus the name Writing-On-Stone.

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This is an example of the petroglyphs we saw on the trail.  It likely dates back to the Historic Period around 1730 A.D.  Some of the art has been defaced over the years by tourists, so they have the remaining First Nation art behind fencing.

There were many signs on the highway and in the park warning of prairie rattlesnakes.  Apparently they are very important to the grassland ecosystems, so you aren’t supposed to run over them if you see them basking on the road.  That runs counter to every fiber of my being!

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We’re walking Jackson the first day and fortunately he didn’t notice this guy right beside the trail.  We thought maybe it was dead, but my zoomed in picture tells otherwise along with the fact that he was nowhere to be found when we retraced our steps on the way back.  Likely a young snake with no rattles, so no warning sound.

Since we were worried about Jackson innocently sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, we took our next jaunt at sunset without him.

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This time a much friendlier looking creature on the trail.

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Grand views of the Milk River and the hoodoos.

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Going, Going, Gone.  Day is done, gone the sun.

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Then we encounter rattlesnake #2 and decide to call it a day while we can still see the trail and every “one” on it.

Just couldn’t get enough of the landscape here.

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Industrious little beavers stay busy here although we didn’t see any.  Fortunately they have the treed campsites fenced off from the Milk River to keep the them from claiming all the wood.

It was extremely dry and dusty while we were here and the smoke kept us off the trails for the most part.  We definitely want to return one day when the valley is more lush and green and the views are clear.  Still, an extraordinary place regardless of the conditions.

From the moon rise over Banff to the sunset over Little Bow, Alberta was all the brochures promised.  And as they say in Vulcan, live long and prosper.  See you on the way!

 

 

Banff & the Musical Ride

If you take the Icefields Parkway southbound from Jasper National Park, you’ll cross right into Banff National Park.  Stop number two with our free Canada 150 pass.  It’s a spectacular drive in the summer and I found myself wondering what it looks like in the winter.  Ah, but that’s for another trip.

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A dramatic drive to be sure, but the jangle button is on high putting Jackson on high alert.  This is also where the smoke from the summer British Columbia fires finally caught up with us.

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Approaching the Columbia Icefields and heading into the smoke

We stopped at the Columbia Icefields visitor center for lunch and took some shots of the Athabasca Glacier.  The picture in the top right shows the teeny bus heading out onto the glacier.  We were considering taking this tour, but in the end opted to stay out of the smoke since we’ve already walked on a glacier.

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We were so intrigued by these weird looking overpasses.  Turns out they are actually wildlife crossings.  If you peer into that photo, you can just barely make out the mountains we’re trying hard to see through the smoke.

Banff – The Town

We camped in the national park and found it to be an odd setup.  Kinda like camping on the side of the road, but it was in a real campground called Trailer Court.  It served our purpose and was darn hard to get.  We had a whole week booked originally, but shortened it to 4 days since the last 3 required a campsite move.  A whole week in one spot sounds so long to us after our vagabond ways.  We’re happy with this change since it’s very smoky, and irritates our eyes and throats, not to mention obscures the lovely views.

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Eerie red sun in downtown Banff

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Right across the road from Trailer Court is the Hoodoo viewpoint.  What’s a hoodoo, you ask? A column or pinnacle of weathered rock and most often made out of sandstone.  These hoodoos looked like castles above the Bow River and this first night was our best view with the least amount of smoke.

The town itself was crowded and had lots of shops and restaurants.  Initially we weren’t sure we liked it, but it grew on us.  Mainly because we decided to forgo the scenery visits and hiking we had planned, and just enjoy what this touristy town had to offer.  Let’s just say we ate like kings for 4 days, eating out for both lunch and dinner.  If we can’t have stunning views, at least we can sample the local cuisine.  Chinese, Mexican, and even McDonald’s worked for us.  AND there was a Dairy Queen in one of the malls.  Yes, we went every day.

Every evening there were different entertainers on the the street.  This guy on the violin was phenomenal playing top 40 music.  People had great fun dancing with the mariachi band and when was the last time you even saw a harpist?  She was delightful and I applaud her just hauling that thing around.

Each day we had high hopes for clear skies and each day we realized it was not to be.  Since we had time, I enlisted Pat to color my hair.  He did a great job and was certainly cheaper.  Of course I got a haircut at a Banff salon and I’m sure I paid as much for that cut as I normally do for a cut and color.

We also took the opportunity to take in a theater production at the Lux in town.  ‘Mavericks of the Mountains’ was a fantastic comedy with only three players and minor costume changes.  We laughed and laughed and learned about the town and park history.  Banff was the first National Park in Canada and people flock here year round.

Moraine Lake

In the end, we had one clear day in Banff and set out to make the most of it.  We took a drive to Two Jacks and Moraine Lakes and took in as much beauty as we could in such a short time.

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The stylists in the salon said we HAD to see Moraine Lake if we saw nothing else.  Shocking color is the best way to describe it and we just stared at it from all directions.  It’s also surrounded by seven peaks making it awesome from top to bottom.

Just gorgeous aquamarine water

At the end of the lake, we found the stream that feeds it.  On the other end there is a huge pile of rocks.  There’s a difference of opinion on how it got here – avalanche, or carried by water.  We’re thinking it’s a bit of both.  Top right shot shows teeny people who climbed the giant pile, and the bottom shot shows just how big the chunks really are.

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As much of the Seven Peaks as I could capture in one shot

Canmore To The Rescue

After we cancelled the additional three days in the Banff campground, we realized the error of our ways.  Those three days were the crucial three of the Labor Day weekend.  On the one hand, we didn’t realize it was also celebrated in Canada and on the other, we simply didn’t check the calendar.  Where are we going to go?  All Banff park campgrounds are full and we’ve been checking with the rangers every day.  We decided to bug out early on our last day and check a city park in Canmore, just a little over 15 miles down the road.  It’s first come, first served, so we’re crossing fingers.  Happy day!  We get a pretty good spot and it’s perfect for us to enjoy some local events we had our hearts set on.

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Canmore is charming and we enjoy more eating out with perogies on a stick (just yum!).  Jackson gets star treatment with his own water bowl filled from a pitcher by our server.  And how about that for a lunch view?

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This town has some great trails and that ever popular river walk we like.

More of the meandering Bow River

RCMP Musical Ride

You remember my need to to see one Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman actually on horseback?  Well with the Canada 150 celebration in full-swing, the RCMP scheduled musical rides all across Canada.  I was so bummed when I thought we would miss the one in Banff because of our scheduling mishap.  This was my big chance to see not one, but 32 Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen on horseback.  But Canmore saved the day and I promptly bought tickets.

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The RCMP has a group dedicated to performances on horseback.  “Their performance consists of intricate figures and drills choreographed to music. These movements demand the utmost control, timing and coordination”, according to the RCMP website.  You just don’t know how thrilled I was to see this pageantry in Banff at the foot of Rundle Mountain.

The horses were groomed to a high gloss and and the RCMP uniforms were crisp, even in the 80+ degree heat.  Do you think I got my photo op?

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You know it!  Sybil, a 12 year old mare, is the star in this shot.  The Mountie isn’t bad either.  All the riders moved to the crowd at the end of the show, and patiently answered questions and posted for pictures for as long as we wanted.  This mountie noted that the Musical Ride is a full-time assignment for three years.  They perform and raise money for charity year-round.  Canada should be very proud of this impressive group and I’m so glad we were able to see them in action.

Canmore Highland Games

I wasn’t the only one who had a must-see event in the area.  Our stay in Canmore also allowed us to go to the Highland Games.  We saw a flyer in town and thought we’d have to miss this event, too.  We’d never been to one, but always wanted to go rub shoulders with men in kilts.

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The best of both worlds!  A mountie AND a group of bagpipers in kilts.  We are both satisfied this day.

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And how about this enterprising business!  I wish we had something that needed cleaning.

The sheep herding demonstration was great fun.  At one point, a young sheep dog in training chased one of the sheep on stage.  A bit of chaos ensued.

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We also got to see some of the actual games.  All competitors have to wear a kilt and they show off with feats of strength and control.  This is the best shot I could get of the caber toss.  Essentially they have to lift up what looks a lot like a telephone pole, take a few running steps and flip it up and over to land in a twelve o’clock position.  I couldn’t even believe it could be done.  This guy made a perfect toss.

There were pipers, drummers, dancers, and of course food.

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I enjoyed some poutine topped with macaroni and cheese.  A most healthy meal I’m sure.  Definitely a non-skinny choice!

The vendors were interesting and I loved a photo titled ‘Highland Coo’.  That’d be a cow with long horns and a giant gold ring in its nose looking straight into the camera.  We don’t have enough wall space or I would have purchased that lovely.  And finally, my biggest disappointment.  Pat refused to try on a kilt for me.

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What do you do when the dryer is disappointing?

And what do you do when the campground dryer refuses to dry?  You string a crazy clothesline all over the motorhome.  Pat may not be willing to try on kilts, but he does solve problems for this gal when needed.  Underwear was removed from the shot to protect us both.

So, we can’t show you lots of beautiful scenery from Banff, but it’s a great place with or without the mountains in view.  Turns out we did need a whole week here and glad we got it with the Canmore relo.

Next up – more Canadian travels on our way to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.  See you on the way!

Jasper National Park

Canada is celebrating their 150th anniversary this year and providing free passes to all their national parks.  We ordered ours in advance and waited anxiously for months to use it.  Jasper is first up and our first stop in Alberta.  I’m so very far behind on the blog, so keep in mind it’s October when I’m writing this, but we visited at the end of August.

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The end of our drive on the Alcan, but normally you stop here at the beginning.  Dawson Creek is home to the iconic sign that everyone making the Alaska trek has to photograph.  Seemed silly to do it on the way out, but that’s just the way our travels went.  We didn’t actually catch up to the Alaska Highway until the Yukon on the way in, so this was our chance to drive the first half of the famous road.  Can’t say we drove every mile of it since we took that Tumbler Ridge side trip, but close enough for us.

Dawson Creek also had Mary Brown’s Chicken across the street from the sign.  Normally I wouldn’t talk about random regional fast food joints, but this one had chicken breaded like my mom’s.  I hadn’t tasted anything so close to her famous fried chicken since she made it for me over 10 years ago.  Funny how a smell or a taste will just take you back.

Wild Rose Country

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Alberta is our second Canadian province and the stops included Grand Prairie and Grande Cache.  We’re making tracks at this point since we have reservations in Jasper followed by Banff and they were hard to come by.  These are pretty popular places to visit in the summer and seem to be akin to visiting Yellowstone in the lower 48.  Lunch stops were still required and the one almost to our destination was at Berland River.  Nice river view at the turnout and we took a stroll with Jackson.  Getting down the riverbank was ok, but up required a butt shove from Pat.  No photos please!

Whistler Mountain

We could only get 3 nights in Jasper, but it required moving to a new site every day.  A drag, but worth it.  We ended up shortening the stay to two nights.  Definitely a place that deserves much longer and we’ll surely be back.

Only two nights means we have to be out and about from the moment the wheels stop rolling.  We settle in at Whister’s Campground and head on over to the Jasper Sky Tram for a trip up to the top of Whistler Mountain.

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Simply gorgeous view atop Whistler and a few teensy people to give you a sense of scale.

Pat has a little fun at the top

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Together on top of Whistler Mountain

The Sky Tram in Jasper is the highest and longest in Canada with spectacular views.  We were able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Robson, highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, in the distance.  The tram operator said it’s only visible from that spot about once a month.  It’s been particularly elusive this season due to all the smoke from the BC wildfires.

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The Canada parks also have these red chair pairs positioned at particularly scenic spots in the hopes that you’ll take pictures and share them on social media.  I’m going to post this on Facebook, so that’ll be my contribution.  These chairs are at the “faux” summit which turned out to be just about right for us.  The hike up from the tram station was quite steep and us oldies but goodies had to rest a few times on the way up.  We didn’t want to get caught at the top in the dark, so didn’t venture up to the real summit.  At least that’s what we’re going with.

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A few more from the faux summit

Since we took one of the later tram rides up, we had the sunset on the mountain virtually all to ourselves.  So beautiful.

Sunset on the mountain and the city of Jasper from the tram

Maligne Lake

We had one more full day in Jasper, so we opted for a day trip to Maligne (pronounced ma-LEEN) Lake.  First up is a stop off at Maligne Canyon to marvel at the limestone walls and the unique path cut through the rock by the rushing water.

 

The tricky part to this view is walking over the extremely slippery rocks along the path.  They are so smooth like glass and you have to really hang on to the fence rail.  It’s probably impossible to do in the rain.

Next stop, Medicine Lake.  This one drains completely dry every year like a bathtub.  It’s not actually a lake, but rather a spot where the Maligne River backs up much like a slow drain would.  After the rush of snowmelt is gone, the “lake” disappears.  Also a shot here of the burned forest.  There are a lot of old burns in this area.  Finally a shot of the road winding along the lake.

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Remember my one wish in Canada was to see a Royal Canadian Mountie in uniform and preferably on horseback?  Well, the cafe at the lake had this fine gentleman pointing the way to the serving line.  Figured I’d better take my picture with him just in case a real live one didn’t materialize.  As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about, but that’s for the Banff post.

The boat ride on the lake was just too tempting so we bought our tickets and dipped our feet in the cool lake water while we waited.

These people had the right idea paddling out on this lake.  Nice of them to take out red canoes to contrast with the scenery.

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And one of the most photographed views in the Canadian Rockies – Spirit Island.  Simply gorgeous and the destination for the boat trip.  Our guide told us that when Kodak came out with color film, they had a picture of Spirit Island in their ad hanging in Penn Station in NYC.  I must have taken 30 pictures of this little island, ooh-ing and ah-ing over every one.

The drive back from Maligne Lake was a treat, too.  Another look at the scenery from a different angle and a bonus black bear lumbering down the road.  I drove right up beside him.  He turned and looked at me as if to say “move along sister”.  So I did.

Evil Dave’s

They had me at the name.  This restaurant was divine even if the name implies otherwise.  Dinner after our big day out was fantastic and I enjoyed the El Diablo Chicken with the best guacamole I have EVER had.  And that’s not just because I hadn’t had it in a while.  Pat had the Malevolent Meatloaf made with buffalo, bacon and something else we can’t remember.  Meatloaf is the one thing we haven’t made in the motorhome, so he orders it every chance he gets.  If you are ever in Jasper, you must try Evil Dave’s!

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Jasper was, in a word, stunning.  We barely scratched the surface and it’s high on the list for another visit.  I’ll leave you with a view from the back of the boat on the return trip.  Can’t you just feel the wind in your hair?

Off we go to Banff.  See you on the way!

Tumbler Ridge

After NWT and a regrouping stop at Ft. Nelson, it’s time for another side trip.  Pat’s turn to read about a place we must go, and that place is Tumbler Ridge.  We’re on the hunt for chainsaw carvings, dinosaur footprints, and waterfalls.  This little detour promises all three!

On The Way

You know we can’t jump right to the good stuff since we have travel tales to tell.  This detour involves roughly 115 miles on the aptly named Tumbler Ridge Loop, but first we have to get there.  Our original part-way stop was Pink Mountain, but the one site available at the one campground was essentially “in the road”.  So much so that we were considering leaving our slides in so they wouldn’t get hit by traffic.  Then we put the wheels in motion again instead.  This driving day was cloudy, so no eclipse action for us.  It was also sad with a dead moose on the side of the road.  Pat usually calls out “stuffed animal” so I don’t get teary-eyed about a dead critter, but this was just too big for that to work.  Aaaand another windshield chip, this time on the driver’s side.  Harumph.

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We were rewarded by a deer in the campground at Charlie Lake Provincial Park outside of Fort St. John.  It was a nice natural setting like we try to find, but sounded like we were at a truck stop most of the time.

This is a very commercial area with lots of oil and gas activity and the trucks to go with it.  My least favorite part of the entire drive so far was this stretch and a bit beyond.  And here’s why….

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We’re following vehicles like this….

And meeting ones like this…  Lots of axles and they are in a hurry.  Gone are the stretches of road where we hardly meet anyone along the way.

Chetwynd

Chetwynd is our next destination on the Tumbler Ridge loop.  We pass through the lovely Peace River Valley.  It is beautiful, but there are steep grades and lots of big work trucks coming and going.  We soldier on, however, because Pat read about the International Chainsaw Carving Competition held in Chetwynd each year and the sculptures they display all over town.  Now this we have got to see!

“On the way” views.

This is the one place where we were turned away.  The Chetwynd campgrounds were all full of oil and gas workers, so what to do.  Well, they don’t camp at the provincial parks since they don’t have full hook-ups.  Since we don’t need that, we back track just a bit to Mobley Lake Provincial Park.

Another pretty spot and Jackson approves.  Ahhh, more grass for back scratching.

But on to the main event – chainsaw carvings.  We were only here overnight, but that gave us time to stroll around town and see the intricate and amazing work done by carvers from all over the world.

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The town has truly embraced this competition and touts itself as a “community carved by success”.  The competition is held the second weekend in June each year, and the carvers have 3.5 days to create their masterpieces using a variety of tools including, of course, the chainsaw.

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We both really liked Tree Beard from Lord of the Rings even though it wasn’t an award winner.

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I couldn’t believe some of the detailed work on these carvings.  They all had a story to tell and were carved front and back with markers to note the carving name and any awards won.

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This one is called “Building Character”.

A few other favorites.  The town has over 160 carvings on display, so we ran out of daylight long before we ran out of carvings.

Tumbler Ridge

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After our chainsaw carving fix, we set out for the final goal on this route – Tumbler Ridge.  Of course that comes with the road construction price again.  This dandy stretch was over a mile, completely detouring off the main road and at 10mph was still teeth rattling.  This stuff will not be missed!

But, it was worth it when we made it to our Tumbler Ridge campsite.

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First real sunset action we’ve had in a while.

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And looking the other direction?  The sunset rainbow.

Tumbler Ridge is home to some pretty significant dinosaur bone and track discoveries and they have a nice little discovery center to showcase the finds.  The only two Tyrannosaurus trackways in the world!  I originally thought a dinosaur trackway tour would be in order, but we checked out the track replicas first.  I think a lot of fossil discovery is like interpreting an imaging report.  If you say that’s a bone, organ, baby, etc., I’ll take your word for it, but couldn’t identify it on my own.  Dinosaur tracks and even skin impressions (which they do have here, too) are just the same.  I can see a leaf or even a whole fish fossil for that matter with my untrained eye, but actual tracks?  Not so much.  I remembered this from when we took Ethan looking for dinosaur tracks in Texas.  You have to have a good imagination or be an avid paleontologist.  With that in mind, we enjoyed the museum replicas and focused our time on waterfall hikes.

Flat Rock Falls

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An easy and short hike took us to Flat Rock Falls.  The rocks are so interesting and the layers are unlike anything else we’ve seen so far.  Flatbed Creek is tumbling over a “resistant layer of sandstone”, says the trail brochure.

Not a huge waterfall, but we found a spot just downstream on the driftwood to sit a spell and take it all in.  We’re trying to do better with that instead of just the hike to – there it is – and then turn around for the immediate hike back.

Kinuseo Falls

This, my friends, is the thing to see if you are ever in this area.  I read about people proclaiming this to be the best sight on their Alaskan adventure (yeah, right), but have to agree it is pretty good.  It rained all night before the drive and of course this is a “where the pavement ends” adventure.  In fact, 48 kilometers of gravel (30ish miles for you non-metric folk) is required to reach Monkman Provincial Park and home of Kinuseo Falls.  So I’m once again doing my laser-like focused drive on the pothole parkway.

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This is just the warm-up to the main falls.

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Here I am with the real thing, sporting my 4 layers yet again.

 

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Kinuseo Falls – upper view point.  The falls measure 197 feet tall, which is just a bit taller than Niagara Falls.  Having been to both, I’d say the surrounding area and volume of water makes Niagara more impressive overall, but this spot is more picturesque.  And the geology is quite unique.

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The photo doesn’t do this justice, but get a load of the S-curve in the rock on the cliff above the falls.  Imagine the force required to fold the rock together like that.

View at the very top of the falls, looking downstream, leading up to the falls and then there’s Pat.  I took one shot and joked that he looked like a Star Wars Sith Lord with his black hood and red light-saber-walking-stick.  So he makes it look good for one more photo op.

And Why Baggie Shopping is Hard in Canada

I’ve been promising and now I’ll tell you why.  The metric system, that’s why.  Shopping in general has been interesting with the wide variety of things we do and don’t find.  But who knew baggies would be confounding?  We were in need of 1 quart sized baggies.  You see the problem right?  No quarts or gallons and not even “sandwich” size.  I could at least figure that out.  Even the manufacturer doesn’t convert to metric volume.  Nope, you get 17.7 cm x 18.8 cm or “medium”.  Medium does turn out to be quart, by the way. And gallon is large.

We now turn our attention to kitchen trash bags.  We have a small space as you know and use a small plastic trash can in the kitchen area.  That requires a 3 or 4 gallon bag, depending on what you can find.  Don’t even try to convert that.  We ended up with “roommate” size.  What the heck is roommate size?!  About 4 gallons.

I know I’m way behind, but have Jasper and Banff queued up next so don’t go too far away.  The Canada lovelies continue.  See you on the way!

True North

We’ve been a lot of places this year that could claim “true North” status, but the Northwest Territories of Canada boasts to be the real deal.  When we gave up on the Top of the World highway, the schedule opened up and the 100 miles or so side-trip to get to NWT became possible.  I could say we did it because it was always on the list (not), but really, the big reason was the RV travel map.  Yes, we have the US version and are busily putting the stickers on the states we’ve slept in.  A lot of maps have a Canada portion as well and even the people who claim to have been everywhere NEVER have the Northwest Territories completed.  A challenge I couldn’t resist, and now we have one up on all THOSE people.

Summit Lake

Ah, but there are a few stops to make before we head North.  Several people commented along the way that they thought Muncho Lake was the prettiest place they’d been.

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It was lovely with the emerald green water that doesn’t show up in the photo, but we’ve seen tons of pretty lakes by this point.  We were going to camp here, but it was too close to the Hot Springs and just didn’t make sense.  So we (I) set our sights on Summit Lake Provincial Park.  Sounded good from the description and the distance was perfect.

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How’s this for a prime spot on Summit Lake with hardly anyone else there!  We got our emerald green water and some very interesting hills to go with it.  Sometimes I get lucky with my random picks.

 

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Views from the ridge trail with Lucy & Bitsy enjoying a little solitude below.  This lake, at 4,250 ft, is the highest point on the Alaska Highway, and has great views of Mount St. Paul among other limestone peaks.  Sadly, this was just an overnight stop since we have miles to make if I’m going to get my NWT sticker.  And if you think we’re adventurous, you should have seen the guy camping next to us who donned a wet suit and got on an inflatable paddle board at first light.  Well, I didn’t see him but Pat did.  I sleep past first light whenever possible!

Best Cinnamon Buns In The Universe

This place claims to have them and it’s on our way to the next stop.  The plan was to stop for lunch, but we got ourselves in gear earlier (perhaps inspired by wet suit guy?) and made it by mid-morning.  Gotta say – the cinnamon buns were delicious!  We were going to get them to go, but they were warm and fresh and well, who could resist.  The owner guy, Ben, also does artisan meats.  What pray tell?  For us, that meant a fresh slab of bacon that Ben sliced up for us on the spot.  That and a fresh loaf of bread and we’re ready for French toast one of these days.  And grilled cheeses – with bacon!

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Besides cinnamon buns, they also have gifts and of course fuel at the Tetsa River Lodge.  No sniveling indeed.  That’s $1.59 a liter!  Multiply that roughly by 4 to get the price per gallon.  When you need gas, you need gas.  Fortunately we did not.

The rest of the drive was a bit of a mixed bag.  The Muskawa River Valley was beautiful and we’re appreciating the Canadian side of the Rockies.  We are not, however, appreciating the road construction and extreme dust.  They even have signs telling you about the extreme dust, and they aren’t kidding.  At one point we thought there was a fire ahead, but that smoke was really the dust cloud from the trucks in front of us.

Fort Nelson

This stop was back to full service camping at Triple G Campground.  Not a terribly scenic town, but a nice size with amenities.  And when I say amenities you know I mean fast food.  Well at least that’s what we’ve come down to on this trip.  Turns out A&W makes THE best onion rings.  Just to make sure we had them twice.  We also ate at Subway and ordered Domino’s pizza.  We ate the original onion rings at a city park watching the kids frolic in a fantastic splash area.  Yep, still a bit warm (mid-August).

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My favorite flower.  Mom and Dad used to grow these in DeLand and I have pictures of some taller than my mom.  Ok, so not a big stretch since we don’t have tall women in the family.  Anyway, the campground had these growing in planters that looked suspiciously like drain pipes cut in half and supported with cinder blocks.  Great way to have portable planters, and they used them to divide the parking lot.

This was also the spot to get road condition intel from the visitor’s center.  You see, once you leave BC, the roads in NWT are gravel, or at least the ones to Fort Liard – our destination.  I think I need to write a book, “Where the Pavement Ends”, to chronicle all our forays down unsurfaced roads.  Some of the best stuff seems to be at the end of those.  The info we gleaned gave two thumbs up to the paved road up to NWT and then the roughly 11 or so more miles of gravel should be ok for Lucy with Bitsy in tow.  Surely no worse than the road construction stretches, right?

Northwest Territories!

And just like that we’re there on the bank of Hay Lake in Fort Liard, NWT.  Well, not exactly, but the road was as promised and truly better than routes we’ve already driven.

My sign montage to prove we were there.

A few views out our front window.  Of course it didn’t look like this initially.  It rained all day and all night when we first arrived.  But the birds loved it and I spent time with the binoculars watching a pair of trumpeter swans and their 6 cygnets.  Yes, baby swans are called cygnets and I had to google that one.

We spent our 28th anniversary here and made our own steak dinner, followed by some amazing French toast on the big day.  Pat makes a mean breakfast.  The rain stopped and we took advantage of it to hike around Hay Lake.  It was quite mushy, muddy and overgrown.  Good thing there are no snakes here.

A trip to town yielded a small grocery with some souvenirs.  We apparently got the “tourist” discount since all but one item rang up higher than the price stickers.  Pat just went with it contrary to his normal response.  To be fair, he gives back far more than the overcharges he normally points out.  Too much change?  Back it goes.  Forgot to put something on the bill, please add it on.  In this case, it just seemed like the thing to do.  It goes along with my observation of the area.  Northwest Territories promotes tourism, but this primarily First Nations community doesn’t seem to want that.  We definitely felt the outsider vibe here.

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This is probably the best representative view of the Ft. Liard area.  Gravel roads and rolling hills.  Most of the traffic was from gas and oil industry workers and likely why we had cell service the entire time.

We took a drive a little farther along the gravel road to see what we could see.  Surprise – the Liard River ice crossing is closed.  Pretty sure I don’t want to be here when it’s open.  Also crossed the Muskeg River.  This one reminds us of the tannin-colored rivers in Florida, and makes sense since muskeg is a swamp or bog by definition.  Also found a few different varieties of interesting mushrooms on our hike, and saw a black bear crossing the road.  And why did the black bear cross the road, you ask?  To get to the community landfill on the other side.

Only spent two nights here and glad we did.  Everyplace has something interesting and Northwest Territories was no exception.

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In fact, they win the prize for most creative license plate.  Can’t have a rectangle like every other state, province or country.  Northwest Territories has a plate shaped like a bear.  Awesome!

Now I just need that Canada camping map so I can proudly apply my sticker.

Next up – another side trip where we’ll tell you what chainsaws, dinosaurs and waterfalls have in common.  And the baggie shopping?  I haven’t forgotten.  That’ll be in there, too.  See you on the way!

Bison Baby!

Finally, animals blocking the roadway!  All we saw when we were planning the Alaska trip were pictures of all kinds of wildlife in the road.  Imagine our disappointment when we had to search long and hard for any wildlife sightings in Alaska.  We gave up on that for the most part, but Canada came to our rescue.  The blog post title gives it away, but yes, we saw Bison in the roadway and had to come to a complete stop.  Yippee!

Teslin

We last left you in Switzerland, or at least as close as we get for now.  Our drive involved the jangle button on low, with minor bumps back into Yukon.  I have recently read that they don’t like the use of THE to precede the name.  But anyhow, when we reach the Alcan, the jangle factor goes up to medium and Jackson is back on his feet.  Poor dog just doesn’t get his rest on bumpy travel days.  After bumping along, we decide to stop at a full-service campground for a change, mainly for electricity and AC to combat the temps in the 80s.  Summer finally caught up with us in earnest.

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Teslin, YT was a good overnight stop, complete with a bridge.  I do have a fascination with them and we only saw this one briefly on the way to AK.  It also gave us some space for walking.

We’re off the next day and it’s my turn to drive.  Been waaaaay too long and Pat deserves a break.  It turns out to be pretty easy and a straight shot back to Watson Lake where we stayed on the way in.  This stop also requires AC since they were setting records with temps over 90 degrees.  93 to be exact and so very dry.

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This time, the place had all kinds of decorations for the tourists.  We were just too early on the way in.  Lots of Yukon flags adorned the street lights and there were country flags from all over.  I chose the American/Canadian one for my photo op.  Due to the extreme heat for this neck of the woods, we decided to hole up and stay one more night since temperatures were supposed to finally break.  It gave us a chance to attend Mass, do laundry, binge read (Pat), and make 22 cards (Judy).  Jackson slept.

Bison, bison, bison!

We’re on our way to the hot springs in British Columbia when we finally get our wildlife-in-the-road moment.

These jumbos did block our path, so we had to come to a complete stop.  I could at least take some better pictures.  A few walked by my window and gave us the evil eye.  The mommas and babies are the roadway blockers at this time of the year since the bulls are in the higher country.  There are huge overhead signs to alert drivers since the Bison get hit frequently.  That is surely guaranteed car damage.

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And how about this imposing specimen?  Definitely keeping our distance and zooming in for the shot.  We noticed all the trees on the side of the road have their bark missing about midway up from all the bison rubbing.

Liard River Hot Springs

This is quite the popular spot and the campground was definitely hopping.  Fortunately we got there in time to snag a good shady spot, and it cooled down significantly.  I wasn’t really interested in a hot soak at 90+ degrees.  We’re back in the 60s or lower and that is just about right.

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Here’s a shot of the hot springs and people happily soaking away.  You take a long boardwalk over the marshy spots to get here.  We managed to soak in the minerals and warm water on two nights and it’s great for sore muscles.  We now understand the whole hot tub phenomenon, and have added that to our list of must-haves for our stationary spot, wherever that turns out to be.

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The source of the hot water percolating out of the rocks.  According to the park info, this is the second largest thermal spring complex in Canada and the flow keeps part of the marsh from freezing in the winter.  It’s even home to a rare species found only in this spot in the entire world.  DSC00015

This little guy is one of the reasons we had to stick to the boardwalk to get to the hot springs.

Not endangered, but interesting nonetheless.  White berries, red berries and the one I liked best.  Looked like a little red dangle earring.

And the flowers.  Zoom in on that delicate white one for the full effect.  Also bees buzzing around ragweed-type flowers, and the purple ones that look like flea bane from my yard growing up.  Mom always like the weeds just as much as the “real” flowers and guess I do, too.

What a fun little visitor’s center!  Genius really.  They can move it around wherever they want and it’s filled with trail maps and brochures all about the surrounding area.

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This spot is home to quite a few orchid species due to the warm springs.  We couldn’t go to the hanging gardens to see them though, due to a “problem bear”.  They had signs at the entrance noting the experiment the park is conducting with “noise aversion”.  This consists of the ranger shooting these loud firework-type rounds from a pistol.  A rare sight – a Canadian with a gun on his belt.  On the second evening the bear actually came around.  They shot these rounds several times.  We think the bear is now getting used to the sound since it didn’t seem to frighten him away.  When the ranger with the real rifle showed up, we called an end to our soak.  No way I wanted to see any of that action.

Mineral Salt Lick

One side trip at the springs consisted of another drive with Bitsy down a gravel road.  We’re in search of the mineral salt lick we read about and the mountain goats and sheep that frequent it.

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No goats at the lick, but we did see this one on the road.

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A few wrong turns led us down a gravel road to this view of the Trout River.  We consult our map and try again.

After a short hike, we are rewarded with the Trout River valley and the cliffs.  Stark white and a site where stone sheep, caribou, a mountain goats frequently visit to get their mineral fix.  They need calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulphur, and sodium for their hoofs, teeth and fur.  These cliffs have it all.

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The hike back from the salt lick.

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I am happy to report that the hot springs requires bathing suits and other than that is not overrun with rules.  Of course there is this sign.  Bad combination – dogs and alcohol!  We left both in the motorhome.

Vocabulary Lession

A few things of note when in Canada.  No trash cans, but plenty of litter bins.  We’ve picked right up on that and are happy to use the bins when we find them, which is everywhere.  These are usually bear-proof and we’ve managed to master no less than five different versions of latches.  Some are pretty tricky though and keep out more than the bears.

And don’t be looking for mile markers.  You’re in metric country and those would be distance markers.  I use my knowledge of track & field and distance running races to convert in my head.  5k?  That’d be 3.1 miles.  10k? 6.2 miles.  This is like another language for me and I find myself doing an elaborate mathematical exercise.  We only have 120 kilometers to go?  Well that’d be twelve 10k races.  Not sure that is easier, but it’s what I do.  And 400 meters?  Once around the track to that next turn.

Finally you have to get over having America in the name, because we’re not in America.  North America, yes, but not the US of A.  Thus Canada does not have Native Americans.  Their indigenous population is call First Nations.  We’re getting the hang of it slowly but surely.

Next up – Why buying baggies in Canada is hard, AND our trip to the True North.