After 75 days and 12,000 kilometres, we arrived home safely on Saturday September 16. It was quite a trip, and we are very grateful for all of the wonderful places and things we have seen, not to mention the great people we have met along the way. Most of all, we are thankful for our safe return. Thank you for following us and for your comments and good wishes. Where next? We’re not sure, but we’ll let you know when we find out!
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, and the designer of the Interpretive Centre, which opened in 1987, won the 1990 Governor General’s Award for Architecture. It is easy to see why; it rises in levels set into the cliffside, and is so unobtrusive that you literally can’t see it until you are standing directly in front of it. At the top level, there is access to the Upper Trail, which takes you to the cliff which the Blackfoot used to herd buffalo over.
The name Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, contrary to popular assumption, does not refer to the buffalo, but rather, seems to have derived from a legend:
“A long time ago, the people were driving buffalo over these sandstone cliffs. A young brave wanted to watch the buffalo rumbling past. Standing under the shelter of a ledge, as if behind a waterfall, he watched the great beasts fall. The hunt was unusually good that day and as the bodies piled up, he became trapped between the animals and the cliffs. When his people began the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed by the weight of the buffalo carcasses. Thus, they named this place “Head-Smashed-In”.”
When first used 6000 years ago, the cliff was 20 metres high. Each time the jump was used, thick layers of bone, tools, rock rubble and soil built up. Today the cliff is only 10 metres high:
The view of the Oldman River Valley from the Upper Trail:
We spent close to 2 hours in the Interpretive Centre (far longer than we had planned!) because there was so much to see and learn. It is one of the most well-designed and engaging centres we have ever come across, and we enjoyed all of it, topped off by an outstanding video which recreated the hunt which would have taken place thousands of years ago, acted and narrated by Blackfoot actors. It was absolutely riveting.
Here are some photos from inside the centre:
And then there was this one of a kind piece of wood art; it is 70 inches high by 49 inches wide, made up of cedar, walnut, Tiger Wood, American cedar, Osage, Amarillo bloodwood, Purple Heart, bokote, zebrawood, Lacewood, canary wood, Yellow maple, rosewood, applewood and white aspen, which took 14 months to complete. Yours for only $18,000.
As we continued our drive toward the BC border on the Crowsnest Highway, we could see the fires burning near Pincher Creek and Cranbrook:
We stopped at Yahk Provincial Park for the night and found a lovely campsite next to the Moyie River:
The next morning, we were up early, with the goal of reaching at least Osoyoos. Driving Highway 3 (Crowsnest Highway) from Lethbridge to Osoyoos was new for us. We have driven it from Hope to Osoyoos going east, but never beyond that. What a treat! It is easily one of the most scenic drives anywhere, with stunning views around almost every turn. We actually wound up pushing as far west as Princeton before stopping for our last night on the road in Manning Provincial Park. Hard to believe that we will be home tomorrow!
We will celebrate our last night with some wine and a couple of games of cribbage in our cozy van seeing as it is 8 degrees outside and going down!
We said goodbye to Connie and Gary on our way out, then headed for Grasslands National Park. As we drove through the native reserve, this sign caught our eye:
We stopped in Weyburn to grab some breakfast and a few groceries, then continued on. The weather was still hot, but it was quite smoky and hazy, due to wildfires burning in Montana. There was also quite a crosswind to contend with, and the traffic was terrible:
We arrived in the village of Val Marie in the late afternoon, which serves as the gateway to the Park, and stopped at the information office. It was another half-hour drive into the park to arrive at the small Frenchman River Valley campground, which was pretty much full. The sky was a literal blanket of stars, since there is little light pollution out here in the middle of the prairie.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we drove back out to Val Marie to fill up our fresh water tank. Here is a little bit of history about Val Marie:
We then embarked on the “Eco Tour Drive” back towards our campground. Here are a few highlights:
The following pictures were taken at one of the Northern-most Black-Tailed Prairie Dog (not to be confused with the common gopher) colonies left in Canada. This is the only place in Canada where prairie dogs still exist in their natural habitat. Less than 3% of the historic continental population still exists, and Canada has listed them as a species of Special Concern. They are cute as the dickens:
A “Buffalo Stone”:
The Red Chairs. As we mentioned some time ago, every National Park has at least one pair of these:
Swallows nest and a family of swallows in the recreation building of the campground:
We have been reflecting lately on the wonderful diversity of topography and vegetation we have visited on this trip, and we have learned anew that every geographic setting has its own charm and fascination, even if it is not immediately obvious. Tomorrow we will be leaving early for the 7 hour drive to Lethbridge. While I am working on this post in the rec building, there are 4 swallows perched on a piece of electrical conduit above my head, chirping away happily to each other. Can’t put into words what a special feeling this is.
We left Frenchman River Valley at about 8:15 this morning (Wednesday), and on our way out of the park, we came across this herd of White-Tailed Deer (or Mule Deer; I’m not sure which) grazing just off the road:
With a stop in Gull Lake for fuel and a bite to eat, we arrived at our hotel in Lethbridge in mid-afternoon. After settling in, we ventured out to a mall and bought some throws at Quilts Etc. and some Prosecco at Costco (no provincial sales tax in Alberta!) We’re not quite sure where we will stop when we leave here, but we will make a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, then 2 more nights somewhere before we catch the Duke Point ferry on Saturday.
After arriving at Sue and Jack’s house in Stonewall in the late afternoon, we spent a lovely evening chatting with them and having dinner at a local hotel Pub. After returning home, we talked for a while longer over a glass of wine, then retired to the RV for the night. The next morning (Wednesday), we went out for breakfast with them. The restaurant we went to was quite the place as everyone knows everyone including the senior aged waitresses with attitude. We laughed so much. The less than 24 hours with them was one of the highlights of our trip. We made plans for them to come to the Island and coordinate with Mary Catharine for a weekend of fun and frolic! The next morning we left for the Rally site in Winkler, arriving about 1:00. After getting settled, we spent the next few hours connecting with some people we had met at the Osoyoos Rally earlier and making some new friends among our neighbours.
After a delicious dinner (all meals were prepared and served by young people from the local Mennonite Community; the Rally site is on the grounds of their Bible Camp, which is technically “dry”, so all Happy Hour gatherings were kept a bit circumspect), there was an Orientation/Meet n’ Greet session, followed by a rousing Card Bingo session (we old farts still know how to whoop it up). We won, (hold on to your hats), a journal and a deck of cards! We then daringly stayed up until after 11:00, fortified by good wine and good conversation with our neighbours.
After breakfast on Thursday morning, we attended a seminar put on by the Leisure Travel Van reps. After lunch, we boarded a bus for an Artisan tour in the town of Morden, which included Pure Anada (a local family company that produces and retails a line of cosmetic products made from pure, hypo-allergenic ingredients, which started in the founder’s kitchen and has now reached the stage where it ships products all over the world). Even as the token testosterone in the group, I quite enjoyed seeing how they went about making these products.
There was also a stop at the Quilters’ Den, occupying an old barn moved to this site and restored. Fortunately, our credit card emerged unscathed. (The same cannot be said for the cosmetics store.)
After dinner, we all gathered for a beach fire beside the camp’s small lake, accompanied by a young lady playing classical guitar.
As we headed back to the van, we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, not as spectacular as in the Northwest Territories, but still a nice surprise this far south.
Next morning we had to be up by 7:00 in order to get our van to the factory for some repairs to a couple of things that had happened en route. Our table anchors needed replacing as did our sky light. We (or should I say Chris) had to use every bungee cord we had to secure the table from shifting back to front, right to left, and to tie down our sky light from flying off! So we got there on time and had a shuttle back to the camp ground in time for breakfast. After that we stayed in the dining room for a cooking demonstration geared for making meals in an RV. Again, this company, which is now international, started in the owne’rs kitchen. She was part of a Mennonite family, married with a child, but suddenly found herself embroiled in a divorce which was not her choice. Finding herself a single mother, she started cooking for dinner parties etc. and was encouraged to write and publish a cooking magazine. Her first edition was mostly made up of recipes from aunts, cousins, Mum, etc. from her community. The business grew and grew and she is now a very successful business woman. Both parents were at the demonstration and she told lots of stories of her upbringing and her parents’ values. She was very proud of her family and their legacy.
The demonstration mostly centered on Italian cuisine and we all received samples of what she was cooking in front of us. Seared scallops with tomato sauce, sundried tomatoes, and black olives (Chris predictably declined that one); baguette slices with fig spread and brie; a different sort of tuna from Italy salad with olive oil and balsamic just to name a few. It was a very engaging demonstration with lots of laughs.
In the afternoon, we took a 3 hour bus tour of Winkler, narrated by an old boy who has lived here all his life (more about his narrative later). After watching every new residential and industrial complex roll by, we had a chance to get out and explore the lovely local park:
In the second paragraph in the picture above, there are references to “military exemption” and “difficult decisions”. These diplomatically relate to the fact that, although the Mennonite community were conscientious objectors, several young men enlisted. When the survivors returned, they were shunned by the community.
When the early Mennonites arrived, setting up businesses was not a priority for them. Travelling Jewish peddlers soon filled the void, setting up retail establishments along the main street. Our venerable tour guide used the following less than politically correct phrase to explain this piece of history: “The Jewish like to sell things”. The other deathless phrase to escape his lips several times was “If you look out your side of the bus…”. When we got back Chris was taken back to the factory to pick up the van. I had wine with some good people from Manitoba. I fretted about how much the repairs would cost even though they had to be done. So Chris arrived back and parked in our spot. I went over and said “OK just tell it to me straight. How much?” He put a little grin on his face and said “Nothing”. We think that the Leisure Travel Van people want to ensure that their owners are happy and well taken care of. The thought being that we will tell potential buyers that the company is very good at looking after their people after the fact, even after warranty is up. I was amazed and very grateful. And we would pass on the information of client care to anyone interested in Leisure Travel Vans.
In the evening, a group of us went to a Junior A hockey game between the local Winkler Flyers and their American rivals, the Thief River Norskies. It was a lot of fun to watch, and the local team was victorious, 5-0. We were then given a tour of the team change room and training facilities, and learned a lot about how the team operates. As often happens, we found a connection to home; one of the Winkler players had “Lacasse” (Number 11 below) as his last name:
After breakfast on Saturday morning and a lot of goodbyes, we finally turned towards home, heading west for Moose Mountain Provincial Park in Saskatchewan, about 20 km. north of the Red Coat Trail, which we are using instead of the Trans-Canada. Around noon, we stopped for lunch in Souris, whose claim to fame is what is reputed to be Canada’s longest swinging suspension bridge (604 ft.)
We arrived at the park in mid-afternoon, and after some confusion, finally settled into our campsite, but not before coming across this about-to-be-married couple being photographed.
About mid-morning on Sunday, who should roll in but our neighbours from the Rally, Connie and Gary, who live in Kelowna, and, like us, are on the way home. Once they were settled, we joined them at their site for a pot-luck breakfast; we reciprocated by hosting Happy Hour later in the afternoon.
We will be leaving first thing in the morning for Grasslands National Park, about 5 ½ hours away, for 2 nights. The next jump will be to Lethbridge, where we have booked a hotel room for the night. We are undecided about what follows, but we will probably be 2 more nights on the road, arriving home sometime on Saturday the 16th.
Jeannine drove today’s leg to Crooked Lake Provincial Park, set in the Qu’Appelle Valley, a very picturesque fold in the landscape some 200 kilometres east and north of Regina. On the plus side, our campsite was right beside the lake:
The downside was a constant wind that blew for most of the two days, with occasional very strong gusts that actually shook the van. In light of this, we decided to forgo the extra night we had planned to stay in favour of making contact with Sue (Mary Catharine’s sister), who lives in Stonewall, just north of Winnipeg. We will spend the night camped out in their driveway, then be able to arrive at the Rally site (about 1 ½ hours away) a bit early and hopefully better rested than we would have been after the original 5 ½ hour drive from here.
This morning, most people in the campground had pulled out, but we did spend a bit of time chatting with our neighbours before they left, a lovely couple a little older than ourselves who live in Lemberg, about 45 minutes north of here.
We will leave here around 9:00 AM tomorrow and stop in Moosomin for breakfast and to post these blog entries. Since I’m not sure when we’ll have access to WiFi again, our next post may be after we leave the Rally next Saturday.
We spent a pleasant (although a bit breezy at times) couple of days at Blackstrap Lake Provincial Campground, just south of Saskatoon. It is perched high above Blackstrap Lake itself, which is a reservoir created in 1967, supplying water to a couple of neighbouring communities and two nearby potash mines. We had quite a view, both during the day and at sunset:
Also located above the lake is a ski “hill”, created for the 1971 Canada Winter Games. (Rumour has it that it is actually built on a huge mound of garbage). The lodge burnt down in 2009 and the hill was abandoned, although most of the old equipment has been left:
A pretty uneventful few days. We spent another pleasant day in High Level, then moved on to the campground we stayed in on the way north at Lesser Slave Lake. We were in the same campsite a few steps from the beach. The weather stayed nice, so we spent our time relaxing on the small beach, and Jeannine had her last swims. We noticed a significant drop in the lake level from our last visit, with a number of sandbars visible that had not been there before.
After leaving the campground on Wednesday, we took Highway 33 south to Edmonton, a very pretty drive with little traffic. After a brief stop in Whitecourt to refuel, we arrived in Edmonton at noon, and after a quick stop at Costco to pick up a couple of things, we found our way to the West Edmonton Mall, where we spent the next few hours. We met up with Kathryn Rambow and her family for dinner:
After a 2 ½ hour drive, we finally arrived in Lloydminster to spend a couple of nights at the Ramada.
We got up this morning and had breakfast at the hotel, then ventured out to visit the Lloydminster Museum and Cultural Centre, which is very nicely done and is currently featuring an impressive Anne Frank exhibit. The Museum is actually in Saskatchewan, since Lloydminster straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Located on the grounds of the Centre is the historic “Minster Church”:
The Comox Valley has its Elasmosaur; Lloydminster has “Big Bert”:
We wandered through the local mall and bought a few items that were on sale at the Sears store, which is being closed. After returning to the room for a rest, we attended the hotel Happy Hour, with free wine and nibblies (we felt it would be ungracious not to attend). Tomorrow we leave for Blackstrap Lake Provincial Park in Saskatchewan, an easy 3-hour drive.