Wednesday, May 21, 2008

EPISODE NUMBER FORTY-FIVE - SASKATCHEWAN MAY 5-10, 2008

EPISODE NUMBER FORTY-FIVE – SASKATCHEWAN - MAY 5 - 10 , 2008

sorry for the delay in posting. I haven't had wi fi opportunities for awhile now.

PHOTOS NOW HERE

MONDAY, MAY 5, 2008 – SOUTHEASTERN ALBERTA

Before leaving the campground, I baked some blueberry muffins for breakfast.

Since there is no through access to Saskatchewan at the moment in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, I decided to head south on Highway 41 to Highway 510 and then go east from there. The only problem is that it is a gravel road! It’s close to the Montana border and there are no houses for miles and miles on either road, so I hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t have a breakdown. There are no fences either – just wide open prairie.

SASKATCHEWAN

I would not have known that I had entered Saskatchewan if there had not been a sign welcoming me. There are no other dividing lines between the two provinces, and it looked to me as though some farmers owned land in both.

I have been told that the southern part of Saskatchewan has been the victim of a drought and that it has been fifty years since they have received so little moisture. Certainly the levels of the sloughs are low, and some are even completely dry, making it difficult for the wildlife to find enough moisture.

RED COAT TRAIL

But it was thrilling to drive by several groups of pronghorn antelope as I continued along the gravel road marked as Highway 13 in this province and an extension of the Red Coat Trail.
This is the original road that the North West Mounted Police used to patrol the border lands from British Columbia through to Saskatchewan. Hence, the name “Red Coat”. The majority of it is paved, but parts of eastern Alberta where I am presently are not.

I took my time, traveling at 70 km/hour in deference to the gravel, but the dust brought up infiltrated all the nooks and crannies of the motorhome, leaving a thin layer on everything in the cupboards and compartments. There are no radio stations in this part of the world, and I listened to some of my new (for me) cassettes – Frank Chacksfield, Wyndham Hill guitar music and Debarge.

WILDLIFE

Despite the rough road, I was glad that I had chosen to take this route because of the sighting of wildlife, plus the lack of traffic. It truly felt as though I was in the middle of nowhere. The land is flat and the horizon limitless, with few houses and barns.

I stopped on a bridge flowing over a creek to pull out my binoculars and check out the waterfowl, and was so busy doing this that I failed to see the truck that was trying to get by me until the driver walked up and politely asked me to move to the side. If I had done this is an urban area, I’m sure the driver would not have been as polite!

Besides the pronghorn I saw several raptors flying overhead and their nests in the few trees scattered along the prairie road. None of these trees could have been more than 10’ tall, so I suppose these birds have adapted to the lower levels for their nests.


As I approached the little village of Consul, I came across one of the original grain elevators that dot the prairies. Although I didn’t see them, I read later that Consul boasts more murals in their village than any other Saskatchewan town.


The friendly woman at the Consul Co op filled my tank at the price of $1.23/litre.


Shortly after leaving Consul, I came across the only pigs that I have seen in this area.

FRENCHMAN RIVER VALLEY

I was now on pavement once again and made better time, finally arriving at the Frenchman River Valley where the terrain changed to rolling hills leading down into the pleasant little town of Eastend.

T REX DISCOVERY CENTRE, EASTEND


At first glance, Eastend seems an unlikely place to have a tourist attraction but it is, after all, the site where the most complete skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Rex in Canada was discovered in 2003. The Discovery Centre houses the actual bones in the laboratory portion where visitors can look through floor to ceiling windows to watch the paleontologist from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum working on the various bones dating from 65 million years ago.


When I first entered the building, which is constructed into the side of a hill overlooking the valley, I was greeted by a female geologist and invited to watch a short video describing the search and discovery of the bones of T Rex, fondly nicknamed “Scotty”.
It was actually a local volunteer Robert Gebhart, who discovered the first vertebra and a tooth fragment! The video demonstrates just how difficult it was to unearth each piece and to transport them back to the lab, as some of the pieces weighed over a ton.

“THE VALLEY OF HIDDEN SECRETS”

She then took me on a guided tour of the exhibits which included other fossils in the region, as well as plaster casts of the head of Scotty, Black Beauty and other dinosaurs found in the region, including horned and duck-billed dinosaurs and large marine reptiles. Field work continues every summer and there is no doubt that more important fossils are waiting to be discovered in the hills surrounding the Frenchman River Valley. The geologist commented that finding fossils was very much a scavenger hunt and that a lot of luck was involved.
Triceratops Skull
There are no doubt many more secrets to be found in the surrounding hills in the future. Unfortunately the Discovery Centre and the paleontological work is badly underfunded, with only one staff member actually working on cleaning and putting together the bones of T-Rex, so it is taking a very long time to complete the work.

EASTEND –A WRITER’S HAVEN

This little town is or was the home of no less than six published authors, beginning with Pulitzer prize-winning Wallace Stegner, who wrote “Wolf Willow” in the early 1900’s describing life in the lawless era. I have not read his book but plan to check it at the library when I return home. I have, however, read two of Sharon Butala’s books and have enjoyed her refreshing description of present-day life on the prairies. She was a professor at the University of Saskatchewan who married Peter Butala, a farmer and environmentalist. Together they donated the Butala homestead of 13,000 acres to The Nature Conservancy of Canada, and it is now called Old Man On His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area. I was told that Sharon Butala is currently away on a tour promoting her latest book. Her husband passed away in the fall of 2007.

I was curious to see Eastend, which has four main streets and had lunch at Jack’s Café where I ordered the special -- a bacon and tomato sandwich, with french fries and salad, all for $5.95. As in all these small towns, the server greeted me when I entered and brought my food promptly. I eavesdropped on two elderly gentlemen who seemed to be regulars, listening to their comments about the lack of rain and the crops to be planted.


At the Discovery Centre, I had noticed that the town had a campground but there were no hook-ups. But the Riverside Motel did have, and I headed over there. Ed Saunders greeted me and helped me to get settled. He was very helpful and showed me where to hook up the cable TV, giving me a splitter to add to my cable. It turned out that he has wi fi and offered to let me use one of the motel rooms if I couldn’t get connected in my RV. Ripley enjoyed running around and went into the reception area to greet Ed. He and his wife bought the motel just 14 months ago and he runs it while his wife stays at their home in Calgary and comes out on weekends (that’s about a six-hour drive!). I didn’t delve too deeply into that, but it seems that she loves visiting ghost towns and they came across Eastend while they were pursuing this hobby, fell in love with the area and decided to buy the motel. Ed is slowly refurbishing it and I wish him success in this venture.

Ed also gave me a map of the local hiking trails. I was pretty tired, but took Ripley for a walk along the Frenchman River where we encountered Sam, a border collie and a little poodle, both of whom accompanied us for awhile on our walk. We did come across a few white tailed deer browsing in somebody’s back yard on the edge of town!

There were three other RV’s at the motel, belonging to men who are working locally.

Since I had cable TV, I had intended to take advantage of it to watch Dancing With the Stars, but it was on an hour earlier than I had anticipated. But I did watch HGTV which I find quite addictive. It’s fascinating to see how people can decorate a house, or see how the house is prepared for sale, etc.

I developed a sinus headache, and it feels as though it might rain.

TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2008

It didn’t rain and instead today is sunny, mild but windy.

I’ve decided to stick around for another day and explore the town a little more.

Eastend has no less than nine art galleries or gift shops plus a few bed and breakfasts, and it must be a bustling community in the warmer weather. For now it is tranquil and I walked Ripley up the main street past the small commercial district. To my surprise I came across a reptile and insect “zoo” but decided not to go in. I get too upset when I see animals that might be poorly cared for.

Instead, I stopped at the bookstore and cappuccino place for a latte, tying Ripley up outside while I went in to order. It was a bit chilly but I sat at the outdoor table to drink my coffee and to enjoy the surroundings.

The museum was closed but is supposed to house some interesting artifacts and fossils that were donated by Corky Jones, a colourful fellow from the late 1800’s. A few artists reside in the town as well, according to the brochure that I found, but they are very discreet in their signage. There is a pottery studio featuring work made out of the local whitemud clay but I couldn’t find it.

Sign on sidewalk in Eastend
The town also boasts a swimming pool, two parks and a golf course and, of course, churches. The local Co-op not only dispenses gas but groceries as well. Some of the houses are well maintained while others could use a coat of paint

The house that originally was Wallace Stegner’s is now used for a writer in residence, who is currently Catherine Vandall.

All in all, it was a pleasant walk.


I didn’t have any luck in connecting to the internet either in my RV or in the motel room, not because of the poor signal but because there seems to be an incompatibility with my wi fi. Ed very kindly loaned me his personal laptop so that I could check my email.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 2008

I had planned to visit the Northhill Birds of Prey centre today, but Ed informed me that it is no longer open to the public. It seems that the owner Tom Donald is away quite a bit using his raptors to scare away birds at the airport. I had contemplated backtracking to Old Man On His Back, but in the end, decided that I couldn’t really afford the gas to do so. Instead, I departed eastward once again, passing the odd oil rig. I spotted a ferruginous hawk sitting in a lone tree and saw farmers out working their fields, and yet more raptors either flying overhead or in the isolated trees.

SHAUNAVON

As I entered the town of Shaunavon to get gas, I passed a sign proclaiming it to be the home of Hayley Wickenheiser (she is one of the Canadian gold medal-winning hockey team members).

Gas cost $1.27.9/litre. My Saskatchewan tourist guidebook had mentioned the Grand Couteau Heritage Museum and library and I stopped in for a look to ask about the bird sanctuary that was mentioned. They directed me to the sloughs on the edge of town.

I was quite amazed at the number of birds in the three smelly sloughs. It appears to be used by the local townspeople as a dumpsite for construction materials and there are large slabs of concrete and other stuff piled around the edges.
Judging from the smell, I would guess that sewage also makes its way into this “bird sanctuary”. But it doesn’t seem to deter the many Canada geese from nesting there. There were many waterfowl too far away but I identified two American avocets,
lots of very pretty Bonaparte’s gulls,
lots of ring necked gulls, mallards, blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, hooded merganser, killdeer, American coot, pintails and starlings.

From Shaunavon, I headed south to the small town of Climax, passing several raptors on the way as the land changed to gently rolling hills while listening to another new cassette – Reflections in Guitar.

Every once in awhile I have come across a “Point of Interest” sign directing tourists to stop and read a plaque. Wood Mountain Trail was one such signpost, explaining that the road I was traveling on was originally an old cart trail used by homesteaders and the NWMP patrols. The North West Mounted Police were an important factor in the development of the southern edges of western Canada and it is only fair that they are recognized on these plaques.

I was told by a local in Eastend that people here have a very different concept of distance than do many of us. They will think nothing of driving two hours to drop in on a neighbour for coffee. I can well believe this story, as your nearest neighbour could be several miles down the road.

As I traveled south towards Climax, I suddenly came across huge canyons following the Frenchman River Valley as it meandered through the countryside – the same river that I had left behind in Eastend. It reminded me again of how wild and unpredictable this area of Canada is and the victim of huge natural movements of earth in the prehistoric past. One moment I was passing through prairie, and the next through this primitive area. It seemed fitting that the sky was overcast and mysterious.

At Climax, I headed east on another rough road (paved but lots of potholes that had been hastily filled in with asphalt), passing seven pronghorn in a field and white tailed deer standing next to a half-empty slough. I couldn’t get over just how many gophers there were standing erect by the sides of the highway, some choosing to run across the road just in front of me. I tried my best to avoid hitting them, but short of ending up in the ditch, I did have to hit a few. I know that the farmers would thank me, but I always feel badly about ending the life of an animal.

The only radio station that I could get in this area was coming from Montana, just across the border.

There were many raptors sitting on fenceposts or flying overhead, and I suppose they were making meals of the gophers (also known as Richardson’s Ground Squirrels).


One marker that stands out in the majority of even the smallest town is the grain elevator, a mainstay in an area whose main crop is wheat. However, many of the old elevators are no longer used, in favour of more modern smaller stainless steel storage bins.

The entire southwest and most of the southeast of Saskatchewan has had a serious drought for the past few years (I was told the worst in fifty years), and many of the sloughs that would normally be the home of migrating waterfowl, are empty or close to it. Wells are dry and water is scarce. So it was surprising to encounter some slight rain just east of Orkney – but it didn’t last long and was more like spitting than anything else.

VAL MARIE

Every town seems to have been the home of some hockey or baseball star. Val Marie is the home of hockey star Bryan Trottier. It just goes to show just how deep the talent is in the west.

GRASSLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Val Marie is the gateway to one of the newest national parks in Canada – Grasslands National Park, with the mandate to preserve a portion of the disappearing mixed prairie grasslands. Sitting Bull took refuge here after the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, so it has historical significance as well.

At the Visitor Centre, Colette was very helpful, providing me with various brochures and giving me a brief history. The park was conceived in 2001 and the official plan put in place only in 2003. A herd of bison was transplanted to the park in 2006, and there are no facilities within the park itself as of yet. There are hiking trails and one gravel road for a 28 km. “Ecotour” in the West Block, with five signed stops along the way. The park will eventually encompass 900 square kilometers (350 sq. miles) in two distinct areas. The Frenchman River Valley flows through the West Block. The brochure states “This glacial meltwater channel features deeply dissected plateaux, coulees and the conspicuous 700 Mile Butte which rewards the adventurous with an impressive view.” “The East Block features the Killdeer “Badlands” of the Rock Creek Area and is representative of the Wood Mountain Upland”. There is a considerable distance of private land between the two blocks. Work is underway now to establish a campground within the East Block.


Colette put on an introductory video for me to watch, indicating the various wildlife that inhabit the park – ferruginous hawk, yellow-bellied racer snake, golden eagles, sharp tailed grouse, peregrine falcon, loggerhead shrike, Baird’s sparrow, longbilled curlew, eastern short-horned lizard, rattlesnake, badgers, coyote, long-tailed weasels, and three endangered animals -- the swift fox, the burrowing owl and the black tailed prairie dog (this species is found nowhere else in Canada). The park itself protects one of the most endangered habitats in the country – prairie grasslands, due to the human settlement. Bison, swift fox, plains grizzly bears, elk and other wildlife were extirpated from the area years ago, and efforts have been made to re-introduce some of these species (not bears).

Colette warned me that there were lots of ticks in the grass, so I will need to be extra diligent when wandering around. Ripley has received her monthly application of Advantage (kills fleas and ticks within three hours) and I will wear light-coloured clothing, tucking my pant legs inside my socks. Nevertheless, I did find ticks inside my shoes when I checked later.

Armed with the various brochures indicating the trails and the signpost markings, I headed off along Highway 18, 14.5 km east of Val Marie to the gravel trailhead.

STOP NUMBER ONE

The brochure has a quote from Wallace Stegner that I thought was quite apt “A distance without limits, a horizon that did not bound the world but only suggested endless space beyond”. Apart from the fact that I was driving a modern vehicle, I felt like a real pioneer setting off across the prairie grasslands as it might have looked in the 1800’s. There were no other people around, but I soon encountered the first numbered stop at the tabletop. Ripley and I went partway along the edge of the coulee, encountering cactus and various grasses.



As I’m not a fan of climbing down and up hills, we turned around to continue on the gravel road.

STOP NUMBER TWO

Just a short walk from the road is a large reddish rock, once used by the bison to rub their itchy hair off when shedding in the spring. The rock has been rubbed smooth from their efforts.



Nearby are tipi ring rocks where once the Cree, Assiniboine, Blackfoot and Sioux tribes erected their tipis, using the rocks to keep it from blowing away in the winds that never seem to cease.

From this vantage point, one can look across and see the 70 Mile Butte far to the west, marking the 70 Mile river crossing on the North West Mounted Police trail between Wood Mountain and Ft. Walsh.

STOP NUMBER THREE

The brochure has an ominous warning that, if it should rain, you should get out immediately, as the road soon becomes impassible. The sky was still overcast and I was a bit cautious about continuing, especially when I came to the valley bottom where the road was comprised of only sand.

However, I was soon mesmerized by the large numbers of sharptailed grouse all around me and was treated to the courtship behaviour of the males drumming their wings and puffing out their chests and vocalizing their distinctive “hoo hoo” to attract the attention of the females. They all seemed quite unconcerned that I was standing so close to them, so long as I didn’t move. Close by there were red winged blackbirds perching on the tall grasses.


As I crossed the bridge in the valley bottom, I spotted a long billed curlew on the river’s edge below before it disappeared behind a bend.

STOP NUMBER FOUR

I just can’t imagine anyone homesteading and living in such a remote area, but of course that’s what people did back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Here the old ranch house built in 1923 of Walt and Marjorie Larson still stands. According to the brochure the house was built on what was once the original homestead quarter of author Will James, whose real name was Earnest Dufault and who was actually a French Canadian.

STOP NUMBER FIVE – PRAIRIE DOG TOWN

This was the stop that had drawn me to the Grasslands National Park in the first place. The black-tailed prairie dog is highly endangered and was nearly extirpated by farmers who hated their elaborate burrowing habits. In fact, this national park is the only place left in Canada where they can still be found in the wild. They are much larger than the gopher, have a brownish coat with white underside and a black tipped tail. During daylight hours, they are found close to their burrows, grooming, playing, foraging for vegetation and insects, and taking turns on guard duty. They are a very sociable creature and live in social units within a “town” of burrows. At the moment there are 25 colonies within the Park, spread out over a vast distance.



As is the case very often in nature, the natural balance of the ecosystem of the prairies was destroyed when farmers perceived the prairie dog as a competition for food with their cattle and a danger to livestock. They were poisoned, trapped, shot, flooded and dynamited out of their homes. But this activity also destroyed burrowing owls (they used the burrows for their nests and homes), ferrets (their only food source was the prairie dogs), snakes, swift foxes and badgers.

A SHORT DIGRESSION

It is only through the efforts of personnel of Parks Canada and others that these animals have been brought back from the brink of extinction. The prairie dogs seem to be doing well, and are being monitored carefully by park personnel. It is hoped that very soon a small number of black footed ferrets can be introduced into the park. This has a particular significance for me personally as the zoo where I worked for 22 years (Toronto Zoo) has been diligently working on a breeding program, in partnership with the Wyoming Fish and Wildlife Department. Not so long ago, there were only twelve animals left. They were captured and brought into a captive situation in an effort to save the species, and the program has been successful enough that some of the offspring of these ferrets have now been released into the wild in Wyoming. Hopefully the same can be done in Grasslands National Park. The problem seems to be that the prairie dog colonies are spread out over a very wide area.

The swift fox is another example of human interference bringing it to the brink of extinction and being saved by others who captured some of the remaining numbers to breed in captivity, and then release to the wild. Mr. & Mrs. Smeeton of Cochrane, Alberta began breeding the foxes in 1973 with the hope of re-introducing them into the wild. They are now joined by the Swift Fox Conservation Society and government agencies to restore this nocturnal animal to its rightful niche in the prairies. The brochure mentions that “It is dependent on native short and medium mixed grass prairie for its survival”. However, pesticides continue to be a threat, since the swift fox eats insects that have been sprayed by these poisons. Releases of these native animals have been going on within the East and West Blocks of the park beginning in 1990 and in the survey conducted in 2000-2001, it was estimated that 96 live within the park boundaries, another 560 live along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border and 221 live in Montana. Instead of being listed as Extirpated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), it is now listed as Endangered – another great success story.

According to the brochure provided by Parks Canada, the burrowing owl population has been steadily declining for years because of habitat loss, pesticides, food shortage, road kills and fewer burrow sites, and has been designated an Endangered species. It lives in short grazed prairie with plenty of holes for shelter. In particular, they like to use the burrows of prairie dogs, badgers, gophers, coyotes and fox. The young can make a sound similar to a rattlesnake inside the burrow, in order to frighten off predators. The owl preys mostly on insects, mice, birds, snakes and frogs.

When I was in Arizona, I had not realized these facts and therefore did not appreciate the owl that I had found in the abandoned subdivision. I now understand that it was most likely the presence of the burrowing owl that prevented the subdivision from being completed.

From these examples, it can easily be demonstrated the interdependency of species upon one another and how important it is to set aside areas such as Grasslands National Park. I haven’t even touched on the importance of preserving the various grasses and plants that would disappear forever without this park and others.

Perhaps this background information will provide information as to why I had wanted to visit the park and in particular the prairie dog colonies. Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive to seeing too many of the animals. I arrived at the large colony on the Ecotour route around 6:45 p.m. Plenty of time, I thought to see these fascinating creatures. However, the day was cold, overcast and windy, and consequently it looked as though most of the animals had chosen to go belowground. I did find a few foraging for food beside their burrows, or standing erect on their hind legs on guard duty and watched for perhaps half an hour through my binoculars. One pair did vocalize a bit in their high-pitched whistle, but, I have to admit that I was disappointed and considered returning tomorrow.

As more and more of these little animals descended into their burrows, I continued on my way, passing a herd of mule deer and a number of unidentified small birds. A short while later, I exited the park boundary and continued on private land, passing through several Texas gates (cattle guards across the road) approximately 34 km back to the main road. There I noticed a sign for The Crossing advertising RV campsites and vacation suites, on the border of the Grasslands National Park and decided to spend the night there, so that I would have fairly easy access back to the park in the morning.

After selecting one of the few sites with electricity, I noticed the open gate to the park was just feet away, a good place to explore tomorrow. Shortly afterwards, the owner Ken Jensen arrived to collect the fee of $20 and to point out the showers and washrooms attached to their house. He welcomed me to The Crossing, named for the spot where the NWMP used to cross the Frenchman River. The water at the site is currently off, so I will again rely upon my water storage tank. Mr. Jensen mentioned that their guests in one of the vacation suites at the house had seen two burrowing owls at the prairie dog town earlier today. I had not been as lucky. I am the only camper here and the first they have had this season.

The night soon came, and I enjoyed gazing up at the clear night sky as I lay in bed.

THURSDAY, MAY 8, 2008

It dropped below freezing overnight, and the morning brought an overcast sky, with chilly winds. I let Ripley out for her to do her toilet and went about starting breakfast. A few moments later, I looked out the window only to see a coyote also in the campground about 20 feet away from Ripley, gazing at her. I imagine that she was just the right size for breakfast, and I hurriedly rushed outside to call Ripley, who had been staring intently at the coyote but not barking. I was later told that coyotes have a trick of luring domestic dogs away, over a hill where the rest of the pack is waiting to make short work of the dog. That was a close call, and a lesson to me to be more diligent in wild areas like this.

Since we were right on the boundary of the park, after breakfast I headed out with Ripley on a leash to explore. Johanna Jensen had told me that I could head towards the Two Trees Interpretive Trail, named for the only two trees apparent in the entire region. We struck out over the rolling countryside, encountering lichen-covered rocks,



with unusual colours, grasses of various types and many burrows, some large and some small. A horned lark perched on a small bush nearby and I saw more mule deer through my binoculars.


As we walked up to the top of one hill, I looked into the gulley below and was startled to see a dead animal. In order to be sure what it was, I climbed down and found the carcass of a white coyote which had been dead for a day or two. It had not deteriorated much, and I took a photo because of its unusual white coat.

Further on, as we climbed up and down, I came across the bleached vertebrae of what might have been a long-dead cattle from the days when this area was still a ranch.

There weren’t many birds out, nor did I see any other animals through my binoculars, possibly because the wind was raw and the weather in general not very inviting. On my return back to the campground, I debated whether or not it would be worthwhile returning to the park today, since the weather was so inhospitable, and decided that I would drive through the town of Val Marie 5 km up the road, and then continue on my way. I doubted whether I would see any more wildlife than I had yesterday.

As I mentioned earlier, I checked Ripley and myself for ticks, and found a few in my shoe. But I think it helped to be wearing white jeans and tucking my pant legs into my white socks. These are such nasty little creatures that don’t appear to serve any useful purpose.

VAL MARIE

Driving into town, I passed a ring necked pheasant walking along the side of the road. In town I paid $1.27.5/litre at the local Co Op, and then headed to the local library to avail myself of the internet service that most libraries offer, free of charge. It was a very small one-room branch, and it occurred to me that they might be able to use my old cassettes, some of which are books on tape. I offered them to the librarian, and after a discussion about having to find a tape player, she agreed to accept them. I do hope that they will be of some use to the inhabitants of Val Marie. I noticed there was a seniors home there, and I would expect that one or more of the people there would still own a cassette player.

It looked to me as though tourism may become an important item for the economy of the town. I noticed a sign for a bed and breakfast placed called The Convent (I assume that it originally was a convent), and the municipal campgrounds provide an alternative type of accommodation. And the town wouldn’t be complete without a sports arena and rodeo grounds.

Up the road a little further, an old schoolhouse has been converted into a museum and gift shop in aid of Grasslands National Park. There are a number of specimens of the animals found in the park on one side and a coffee shop on the other. I couldn’t resist ordering a latte and a homemade almond tart, both of which were delicious. The gift shop had several books on the plants, animals and history of the region but I settled for buying some postcards and a burrowing owl pin.

Since I had noticed the dead white coyote, I stopped in at the Parks Canada office across the road from the museum to see if they would be interested and spoke to their communications officer. She took down the particulars and said that she would pass the information along to one of the conservation officers. We talked about the possibility of re-introducing the black footed ferret to the area and she said that censuses of the prairie dog population were being monitored in order to determine if there would be a sufficient food supply to make a successful reintroduction. At the moment, the prairie dog towns are spaced too far apart, but it is hoped that soon this will change.

Moving on north up Highway 18, I passed a raptor flying low and carrying a gopher in its claws, and more raptors sitting on fenceposts. There were a great number of gophers standing or running on both sides of the highway, providing a good food source for these raptors.

I listened to David Foster and Andreas Vollenweider in this area where no radio signals are found. I am so glad that I found a new set of cassettes to listen to!

I passed very few vehicles as on this stretch of road, and the same applied when I turned east back on to Highway 13, the Red Coat Trail.

The town of Ameroid boasts that it is the home of hockey star Patrick Marleau. A little farther up the road a coyote crossed the road in front of me, heading off into another field.

In the town of Woodrow, I paid $1.29.9 a litre for gas.

The railway crisscrosses the highway back and forth through this whole area.

When I came to a sign announcing Wood River, I was reminded of a song composed by a Canadian in honour of this river, and which I had heard sung by Young Singers of Ajax. Liane James, the daughter of my friends Lynn and Michael James, sang in this choir and I have a CD of the choir singing Wood River and other songs.

There were an amazing number of gophers popping up everywhere as I continued east, with an equally large number of raptors perched in the few trees available, or hovering overhead.

ASSINIBOIA

Assiniboia is a medium-sized town with more amenities than most in the area and it was my destination for today. It is a central storage area for grain with a huge number of stainless steel units on the edge of town, along with a Co Op store/gas station, restaurants, banks, Thrifty Food store (where I got some groceries), a bargain store, attractive court house, arena and a municipal campground. The only problem was that the campground was closed. So, what to do? Continue on in the hope of finding one that is open? No, instead I used some ingenuity and headed to the Starlite Motel and negotiated with the manager to park there and plug into their power, with the added bonus of wi fi. I didn’t have TV, but did get the audio portion of CTV on my radio. It helped to pass the time as I downloaded and labeled my photographs. It was raining and I really didn’t feel like traveling any further, and the motel parking lot was just fine. I had robins singing their hearts out in the rain just outside the RV, and an adjacent large field for Ripley to play ball, so what more could I need? Maybe some better weather!

FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008

My sister in law Jennie is scheduled to have surgery in Rochester, New York today, and I had arranged to have flowers delivered to the hospital there. I hope that all goes well.

It was -2 degrees C. with snow overnight. The sky continues to be overcast, but the robins were happily singing first thing in the morning anyway.

Here’s what the citizens of Assiniboia find interesting in their local newspaper this week:

The Assiniboia & District Museum officially opened their Military Display on April 28, 2008 with His Honour, The Honourable Dr. Gordon Barnhart, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan there to cut the ribbon
Yvonne Burland traveled from Calgary to take her 90 year old mother Myrtle LaCasse to the Assiniboia Bull-A-Rama, an event that she hasn’t missed since its inception in 2005
The Rockglen Bowling Club held their wind up get together with a potluck supper following a local bowling tournament.
Early morning fire destroys home, killing two pets

As we drove along the Red Coat Trail, the music selection this morning included Roger Daltrey and Gold & Platinum Hits #6 (Beach Boys, etc.). It’s at times like this when I can’t tune in a radio station that I’m happy to have these oldies but goodies.

The terrain is slowly changing and here and there one can see the remnants of the forests that once covered this land before pioneers cut the trees down. The sloughs contain more water, and it is apparent that more rain comes to this region than in the area that I left behind.

I did a double take when I saw what certainly looked like reindeer in a fenced field, just west of Highway 28 on the Red Coat Trail. Perhaps someone is breeding them here?

Something that I have noticed is that the Red Coat Trail has no litter on the sides of the roads, either because there are groups of people who diligently pick it up, or the residents of this region know better than to deface their landscape and I don’t suppose that too many visitors use this road, preferring the faster route along the Trans Canada Highway further north. Personally, I am enjoying the quiet nature of the Red Coat Trail as it meanders through town after town.


At Weyburn, I prevailed upon Maude to direct me to a photocopier store so that I could get copies made of the next installment of my blog for two of my friends who do not own computers. Maude led me right to the store and from there to the post office so that I could mail these copies off. Gas cost $1.31.9/litre here.

OIL BOOM IN SOUTHEASTERN SASKATCHEWAN

The owner of the copy shop had told me that there is an oil boom going on in the southeastern region of Saskatchewan, and as I continued east towards Stoughton, I encountered large numbers of oil wells pumping away and making the farmers who owned the land wealthier every day. From what I have learned, the oil recently found in this region has turned it into a major oil-producing area, with more still being discovered. Saskatchewan will soon transform from a have-not province into a have province.

With the influx of workers connected to this oil boom, all the little towns nearby suddenly find the hotels and restaurants busy, and even the campgrounds are full, according to what I was told.

MY FAVOURITE SANDWICH

Americans seem not to like canned salmon, something I greatly missed traveling through the U.S. (there are canned tins of tuna everywhere, but I never could find salmon), so it was with great delight that I bought wild-caught canned salmon to make my favourite sandwich – salmon mixed with lots of Hellman’s mayonnaise and spread on bread. To top it off, I opened a jar of pitted olives for a piquant flavour, and enjoyed every mouthful!

Having said that, I found the Lions Club campground in Carlyle to be completely empty. There were only eleven spaces, set amongst the trees, so I chose one, plugged in to the electricity and relied on my water storage tank as the taps were turned off.

As I walked around with Ripley, I counted no less than five baseball fields and two batting cages, as well as an outdoor pool and a tennis court, so I assume that baseball must be a big deal here. And, as it happened, around 6:00 p.m. several men showed up for practice. I could watch from my dining room table as they pitched balls back and forth.

There was nobody around to pay the fee to, so I guess I’ll be staying here for free.
The sky continued to be grey and overcast, but the weather forecast is for better weather tomorrow.

SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2008

I am getting a sense that the baseball fields are used quite a bit. Shortly before 9:00 a.m. a bunch of cars showed up, with families to watch their sons play ball. A family of a woman and five children drove into the camping area to play frisbee while one of the boys was practising with his team, and shortly after that another car drove in and parked beside them. My natural curiosity got the better of me when I saw a man get out of the second car and hold hands with the woman, who was wearing a skirt despite the cool temperature. They went off for a walk, leaving the children behind to play. So, here’s my scenario. She is a single mom; he is married and came to rendezvous with her in a manner that wouldn’t arouse suspicion at home. He only stayed for about an hour and then drove off. I may be way off base, but it was fun to speculate.

The CBC radio sends a signal to this area, and I enjoyed listening to The Vinyl Café, with Murray McLaughlin as the guest this week. Stuart McLean created a very humorous take-off on the old-time radio dramas, in which Murray McLaughlin participated, as well as singing some of his hit tunes.

I passed yet more oil rigs. I had read in the Brandon newspaper that the provincial government is not going to lower the gas tax because they need the money to repair the roads. I have to agree that they certainly do need fixing. I have driven over some very rough roads across Saskatchewan, where potholes have been roughly repaired with asphalt but which are by no means smooth.

I now have not had a shower for several days because the water has been turned off or not available, so I really do need to stop next where I can wash properly. By coincidence, I stopped at Redvers at “The Log Cabin”, a museum (it was closed) devoted to the North West Mounted Police, with a gigantic statue beside the highway.


I pulled in to take a photograph and found myself in the adjoining campground where – yes, there were showers with lots of hot water! And a place to dump. But, again there was no one around to pay, so I left a donation in the registration box, after enjoying a long shower.HH

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