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

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

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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