August 3- August 5, 2017 The ABC’s (Anniversary, Bison, Camping)
We left for Fort Smith/Wood Buffalo National Park in the late morning and arrived at Fort Smith in mid-afternoon after an uneventful 3 ½ hour drive on a combination chip-seal/gravel highway, which was in very good shape. We drove down to the Parks Canada information office and picked up all the to-do maps and brochures, booked a tour to the Salt Plains, then drove to Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park and settled in to the campsite. Who knew we would be spending our 43rd wedding anniversary here?
The next day, we headed downtown and spent an hour or so in the very well done local museum. The following picture is of “Canus” (Canada/US”), a Whooping Crane with a fascinating history: follow the link below the picture, it’s well worth the read!
We then gathered with a couple from Oregon to take the Salt Plains tour with a couple of Parks Canada guides. The Salt Plains are actually formed over the bed of a sea that covered this area about 230 million years ago, and is now fed only by groundwater that comes to the surface and evaporates, leaving salt deposits behind, which attract the wood buffalo and their predators, the wolves. Here are a few pictures from our somewhat strenuous hike:
When we returned to town, we were driven to the top of a trail down to the rapids; I went down (because I’m an idiot), but Jeannine wisely declined. This will give you some idea why:
We arrived here on the weekend of the “Paddlefest”, which is a celebration of anything that floats, particularly white water canoe and kayak paddling races. We decided to attend the Community Dinner, hosted by the local First Nations in the arena, where we feasted on fish and bannock. We shared our table with one of the local characters, named John.
John…quite a character. In the ‘50s he was an Oblate Brother who was given his walking papers because he didn’t quite get along with the Bishop at the time. While in the order he took his pilot’s license and was the only one who could fly the plane owned by the order. That meant that only he could make the decision whether to fly to outbound missions and the Bishop didn’t like that he had that much power so he axed him. Now John is what you might say a rather conservative Catholic. He announced that he didn’t go to mass because a “proper” Mass hadn’t been said for 60 years. The last “real” Pope was Pius X, Pope John 23rd ruined the Catholic Church, and there hasn’t been a “real” priest since. He was quite comfortable with his opinions and expressed them in such an amusing way that we just shook our heads. I said to him “I guess you are not a fan of Pope Francis” he just looked at me like I was crazy. Very pleasant, very engaging, we enjoyed ourselves immensely shook hands when we parted and I asked him if we would see him at the little cathedral on Sunday and that’s when he announced that mass hadn’t been said for 60 years. He was quite something and very pleasant. He wasn’t mad or anything just wanted to live in the 50s when the church was soooooo engaging. What a riot.
The next morning (August 5), we awoke to clearer skies and decided to drive to Pine Lake (actually in Alberta), which was highly recommended. It is actually formed from a series of 5 sinkholes that have collapsed into each other. (This whole area is karst/limestone topography, although it is right on the western edge of the Canadian Shield). We were not disappointed, as it turned out to be perhaps the highlight of our trip so far. It was about a 45 minute drive down a dusty but well-maintained gravel road to the Pine Lake Day Use area. Along the way, we were lucky enough to see these wood buffalo:
Once at the Day Use area, we were totally alone and spent a wonderful afternoon;
On the way back, the experience just got better, as we were stopped by a herd of 20 more buffalo.