Monday, July 7, 2014

Crossing the Canadian Prairie

Arch says driving across the Prairie is a lot like watching the water go over Niagara Falls. At first it is awe-inspiring and amazing but after about half an hour it is just boring.

We started out from Okotoks, Alberta on a beautiful, sunny day:
good by Rocky Mountains
As we drove along we were chatting and admiring the scenery and missed a sign that said “road closed at the Bow River” so after about 50 kms we were confronted with this:
The bridge was washed out by the floods, we assume
We weren't the only ones to miss the detour sign. To the right you can see a white SUV. He was trying to find a way around the detour. Eventually he turned around and came back.

So, for us, there was nothing to do but take the car off the dolly, unhook it, turn the Adventure Bus around and reconnect everything.


In the photo above you can see, behind us, another car that missed the detour sign. There were five or six cars that passed us and turned around. Obviously the road closed sign was not too visible.

Eventually we headed out again around a 100 km detour and were on our way . Here are some sights from the road:
Endless Sky
and endless highway
oil wells
The big teepee at the Medicine Hat Information Centre
I understand you can boondock here for the night. We decided against it as it is very close to the highway and therefore, very noisy.

The day we crossed Saskatchewan it was very rainy. But we still saw lots of grain elevators:

At one point we passed a man on a unicycle. I wanted to stop and find out what he was doing but the rain was pelting down and the wind was blowing it sideways so we decided against it. Later I "googled" him and learned he is cycling "across Canada" from BC to Ottawa to promote unity for climate change.

What struck me most about Saskatchewan was the amount of wetlands we crossed:
It is no wonder they get so much flooding in the spring rains. As you can see in the photo above the water comes right up to the Trans Canada Highway.

Saskatchewan is also home to the largest saline water lakes in Canada. This one is Chaplin Lake between Moose Jaw and Swift Current:
The rain makes it difficult to see but that is hills of salt, not snow, at the edge of the lake.

Manitoba was more of large farms and endless highway.

It took us four days to cross the Prairies and we missed a lot but decided not to stop as we were running very much behind schedule and we were due in London, Ontario on June 10 so we pushed on through. If we could go back we would take a day to visit Aberta's badlands, a day in Moose Jaw to visit the Al Capone tunnels, a couple of days checking out Saskatchewan's wetlands and Grasslands National Park and a couple of days at Lake Winnipeg. We missed a lot but that gives us a reason to go back some day.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump - A UNESCO World Heritage Site



The name alone makes this site worth a visit but it also tells the amazing story of the life the aboriginal people of the plains lived for nearly 6000 years.

This was a time when vast herds of buffalo roamed the great plains and foothills of Alberta. They were the main source of nourishment over the harsh winters for the aboriginal people. So once each year, in the fall, tribes from all over the west and north came together in this area to slaughter the buffalo they needed by driving them off  steep cliffs.
Part of the process of herding the buffalo over the cliff is that one person runs in front of the herd, jumping out of the way at the last minute. The story goes that one brave warrior did not get out of the way in time and went over the cliff with the buffalo. He was found later with his head smashed in by the cliffs and buffalo. Thus the name.

The interpretive site is staffed by native people and is extremely well done. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours here. History buffs could spend all day. The location is easy to reach but remote so plan to eat in the cafeteria or bring a picnic lunch.

Start your tour by watching the on site movie telling the story. Then head out to explore the cliffs and imagine the experience.
Then return to the interpretive centre to learn the complete story of the Plains People and the life they led until disrupted by European explorers.

From there we decided to take the "cowboy trail" back to Okotoks. So off we went but were soon diverted by a sign saying it was 30 kms to Crows Nest Pass. We both knew about the Crows Nest Pass but could not remember why. So we decided to go see what we could learn. And expected to climb to a very high pass through the mountains. But that is not what we found. But what we find find was far more interesting.
The Frank Slide, which occured in 1903, was Canada's most deadly rock slide. An estimated 90 people were killed. It happened when the side of Turtle Mountain gave away, burying Frank, a town of 600 people at its base.
The slide area today
At the interpretive centre you can hike a trail out to the slide area itself but the must do is to view the 30 minute docudrama which recreates the night the slide came down. There is also a video about the history of the Crows Nest Pass and many interactive displays. Another 3 hour stop.

By the time we headed back to Okotoks the weather had started to close in

But it was still a spectacular drive through Alberta's vast ranching country:

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Friday, July 4, 2014

A Visit to Alberta Ranch Land

As you may have discerned by now, we are not really "city people". We find them quite overwhelming and difficult to explore on a budget. As a result, we pick the cities we visit carefully and usually go to specific sites within the city. There was nothing we really wanted to see there so I can't tell you much about Calgary. Except that is is obviously very wealthy and interestingly, very colourful. Its skyline is spectacular, in an unassuming, Canadian kind of way:
note the different colours of the buildings
The Children's Hospital was interesting and beautiful:
But we were really there to visit Arch's nephew, Fraser and his wife, Norma. They live in High River, a town about 25 kms south of Calgary. And take in some of Alberta's ranch country.  It was a lovely and educational visit.

In the spring of 2013 High River and surrounding area were drowned in flood waters from a fierce spring rain storm. Calgary and other towns around the area were also badly effected but High River took the brunt of the floods and is still rebuilding. I cannot begin to tell you the devastation we saw and won't even try. But what was impressive was the ability of the town to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding. They have a very long way to go and a lot of tough decisions to make regarding dike building and flood plain lands but one can see that they are getting there quickly.

This is a photo from Fraser and Norma's deck:

This entire area was completely flooded and most homes had their first floor full of flood water. Today it is so serene and beautiful with flower beds, walking trails and duck ponds that it is hard to imagine the devastation caused by the flood.

Because of the floods the campgrounds in High River were closed so we stayed in Okotoks, a town just north of there. And enjoyed several meals with Fraser and Norma. One at their home where Fraser planked and barbequed a salmon he caught on his annual British Columbia fishing trip:
On go the secret spices

Ready to serve
It was delicious and Fraser agreed to share his "secret" recipe with you. Unfortunately, as I had no internet access for a while I tucked the recipe away where I would not loose it and you know what? Now, I can't remember where I put it. *sigh* Getting old is not for the faint of heart. Anyway, I think I remember most of it and, Fraser, if I missed anything please email the corrections.

Planked Salmon

Ingredients:
cedar boards - 3/4" thick, soaked in water overnight. (as you can see above they will still burn so watch them while cooking)
salmon fillets
olive oil
fresh dill
maple syrup
seafood seasoning (I think Fraser used Club House seafood seasoning but Old Bay would work well also)
salt and pepper

Directions:
Rub the salmon with olive oil and drizzle on maple syrup. sprinkle with dill, seafood seasoning and salt and pepper.

Place on wet cedar planks and set directly on barbeque grill. Set heat to medium, close lid and cook until salmon flakes easily. About 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Serve at the table from the boards.

Fraser used cedar fencing (not hard to find in Alberta) for the planks. If you do this be sure it has not been treated with anything.

Another night they joined us for s steak barbeque at our campsite:
We bought good Alberta beef steaks so no need for a recipe here. Just put on the barbeque and grill to desired level of done-ness. Do you know how to tell how well meat is cooked? It is easy using the touch system. Stretch out your arm full length and touch your muscle. What you feel is rare when you touch a cooking steak. Then bend your arm half way and touch the muscle. This is what medium feels like. Now, bend your arm all the way and show off that hard muscle. This is well done.

And to end, our impression of Alberta ranch land:
It is a land of wide open spaces
And big farm equipment
overseen by the Rocky Mountains
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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Banff National Park

I had a camera disaster while we were in Banff - I lost its HDMI cord. And must order a new one from the manufacturer. Which must be mailed somewhere - Nova Scotia, I suppose. Meanwhile I must improvise with a remote charger.

The result of this sad story is that I don't have many pictures of Banff and area.

We stayed at the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Park - Parks Canada's name for an RV Park. Nice sites with full services.
The view from our front window.
When you choose a site on the reservation service look for one that faces south if possible.
Banff National Park was Canada's first national park and the world's third. Spanning 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, it is one of the world's premier destination spots.

As a result, both Banff and Lake Louise are very busy and crowded in the summer, so plan your visit accordingly. In Lake Louise there is over-flow parking on the highway - and a good bus service to transport you from site to site. Banff also has a good public bus service.

I suggest you start your visit at the park information centre in either Banff or Lake Louise. There is so much to do and see you need to take some time to orient yourself to the park and its services. And watch any movies that are playing. The one we saw provided a lot of useful information about enjoying the park safely and in an ecologically friendly way.

If you are a hiker there are endless hiking trails. If you cycle the bike trail from the eastern park entrance to Banff is amazing. If you are a fan of the arts there is the Banff Centre for the Arts. If you golf there is a wonderful golf course. Kayaking and canoeing, yes. And on and on.

We drove the Bow Valley Parkway (great to cycle as well) from Banff to Lake Louise. The scenery is mostly rocks and trees but it provides access to many interesting hikes and view points. I recommend you take a day for this drive and stop at all the historical markers and especially go to Johnston Canyon. Spectacular. If you are able you must do this hike.

Another "must do" is a visit to the Chateau Lake Louise in its spectacular mountain setting. It is so beautiful. Even with the ice and snow that was on the lake when we were there it was really beautiful.
I also suggest that, even if you visit in mid-summer, take some warm clothing. The park staff call this area "Canada's Icebox" and it can be chilly. It was a late spring this year and we were there mid-May which explains the ice. But, 40 years ago, we were there in the middle of July and I remember finding it cold. So go prepared. But go.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Driving the Icefield Parkway

Another spectacular day. On this trip we drove many of America's scenic by-ways - the Blue Mountains Parkway, The Natchez Trace, The Big Sur, The Oregon Coast. But nothing, nothing more spectacular than the Icefield Parkway in Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta.

When we left Valemount the weather was not the greatest. Drizzly with low clouds. But we decided to push on taking the Yellowhead Highway to Jasper. We could decide there what to do next.

Mount Robson was our constant companion on this section of the drive:
A moment of excitement when we saw several moose. Unfortunately there was a semi truck behind us and the moose were on both sides of the highway with a narrow shoulder so we could not slow down to take a photo so the one here is a little blurry
It is important to know that the Yellowhead Highway is relatively flat and the favoured route for truckers to take through the Rockies. We did not find their presence a problem (this is not the 401 between London and Toronto) but they are there. At Jasper they will continue of to Edmonton.

Jasper is your typical skiing/hiking town with lots of hotels, restaurants and sports shops. not to mention all other types of shopping. But no big box stores in sight. Its main feature is the historic train station (Jasper was developed as a railway town):
It is now a major stop for "The Canadian" a popular train with dome cars that runs from Toronto to Vancouver. It was pulling into the station as we arrived. People disembarked to spend some time in Jasper while others were enjoying coffee and waiting to board:
About an hour later they were on their way through the Rockies
Also seen in Jasper:
This company rents uniquely painted camping vans, cheap.
Not sure I would want to drive around in this
After a delicious lunch at the Jasper Pizza Place - Arch said it was the best pizza ever, and believe me he eats enough of it to be an expert - we headed down the Icefield Parkway. First excitement was when we spotted a bear grazing at the edge of the highway.

If you see any wild animal on the parkway do not, I repeat, DO NOT get out of your car. In fact the parks service asks that you do not stop the car. Simply slow down, get your photo and keep on going. People who approach the bears are a danger not only to themselves but the bears as well. There is an excellent movie at the Lake Louise Information Centre telling you how to interact with and protect yourself from the wildlife in the park. And protect the wildlife from you.

The drive down the parkway is spectacular:
One of the Park's famous emerald lakes. caused by powdered lime in the melting snow. 
There are two long high passes on the Parkway. The first is the Sunwapta:
Near the top of the pass, but still climbing
Glass skywalks seem to be the latest tourism attraction and there is one that just opened on the Parkway, at the top of the Sunwapta Pass:

We walked on the one at The Grand Canyon several years ago. and were totally unimpressed. It was very expensive. Not only did you pay to go on the skywalk but you first had to pay to enter the Hualapai Nation lands, after driving over 10 miles of dirt road. Then you pay to enter the skywalk. And you cannot take your camera out on the skywalk - they take a photo and charge big dollars for it.

We did not take the Glacier Skywalk but it appears to be much more spectacular and much more reasonably priced. And for $25 we suggest you try it.

Incidentally, Canada's Nation Parks charge a daily admittance fee or you can buy a yearly pass. At $120 for the two of us it is a little more expensive than the US National Parks pass ($80) but very much worth the money if you plan to spend more than 3 or 4 days in the parks system.

There is no parking at the Glacier Skywalk. They bus you up from the Columbia Icefield Centre. The Icefield Centre also offers dry camping spots for $15 per night. That is where we stayed for one night. If you do this be sure to get there early to get a relatively flat spot - it is on the side of the mountain.

We found a spot that was reasonably flat and had a great view of the Athabasca Glacier:
 The glacier is very large. If you look carefully at the lower left corner of this picture you will see a orange spot that is circled. That is a snocat that was grooming the glacier in preparation for the many trips snow machines (large buses) make taking people up to the ice field.

It is a massive area. I took this photo of an info board at the Lake Louise Information Centre that shows the size of this ice field:
The red "X" indicates the Columbia Icefield Centre where I was when I took the picture above and the yellow "X" is the base of the Athabasca Glacier. In my picture the rest of the ice field is up and behind the mountains.

The trip down the mountain from the Icefield Centre is pretty spectacular:
Look over the rail in the centre of the photo.
That small squiggley thing down there between the mountains, under the clouds, is where we are going.
The road down - that is a big curve up ahead!
The only gas station on the Parkway is located at Saskatchewan River Crossing, just as you leave Jasper National park and enter Banff National Park. DO NOT PLAN TO BUY GAS THERE. It was 1.80/litre, expensive even for Canadian prices. Gas at other spots in Alberta was about 1.23/litre so fill up in Jasper before heading down the parkway.

The Weeping Wall:
Way more spectacular than any of the falls we saw at Yosemite
Our next big climb was to the Bow Summit:
Up, up we went
To a frozen Bow Lake and lots of snow at the summit
What goes up must come down
Then more spectacular scenery into Lake Louise where the road becomes a four lane highway and the wildlife is diverted over these especially designed overpasses:

Next post: Lake Louise and Banff.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Time to Speed This Adventure up a Bit

The time has come for us to seriously point the Adventure Bus east and head home to Nova Scotia. In the past 7 months we drove about 13,000 kms and we have 6,000 kms still to go. In 7 weeks. With friends to visit and lots to see. It is time to hustle our butt a little bit. So, with a few exceptions, from now on this blog will be mostly about the drive.

We left Peachland about a week and a half ago and headed north towards Jasper. With a couple of stops along the way. We are still getting the hang of "hustling our butt".

It was a spectacular drive:

Lake Okanagan and Peachland in our rear view mirror
Entering Kelowna from the south
Kelowna is the Okanagan's major city - a very pleasant spot on the lake with good shopping, a beach, lots of golf clubs, wineries and orchards, etc.

North of Kelowna we drove by a number of lakes



Leaving the Okanagan Valley and heading to Salmon Arm BC
Entering Salmon Arm
I believe Salmon Arm is officially considered the north end of the Okanagan Valley. It too is surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountains. We stopped at the Walmart parking lot to make our lunch. Easy in and out.
What a great overnight stop this would make.
Grass, trees and a marshland full of birds on the other side of the fence.
And it is away from the road.
We went around Kamaloops and pointed the car straight north on the Yellowhead Highway (rte 5)
Fire damage in the mountains north of Kamloops
The road followed the North Thompson River most of the way
,
Which, due to snow melt in the Rockies, was very full.

And flowing very fast with lots of rapids.
That night we stayed at the Chinook Golf and RV Park in Barriere, BC. A beautiful spot with a great little golf course that ran along the side of the mountain. So naturally we had to stay an extra day to give it a go.
Arch is standing in the white tee box. The reds are where the two people are behind him. And beyond him you see a person on the green.  A short hole but you hit straight down hill over a large ravine. We both lost balls here.
The next day we entered the land of the big bears
And we pushed on to Valemount BC. The gateway to Jasper National Park. We did not see any bears, basically just rocks, trees and the river.

Next post will be about our drive down the Icefield Parkway in Jasper and Banff National Parks.

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