Thursday, May 8, 2008

EPISODE NUMBER FORTY-FOUR ALBERTA, APRIL 24 - MAY 4, 2008

EPISODE NUMBER FORTY-FOUR – ALBERTA, APRIL 24 – MAY 4, 2008

THURSDAY, APRIL 24, 2008

WHISPERING PINES RV PARK, GOLDEN, B.C.

The weather is milder today but overcast. There is still plenty of snow on the ground in the shady areas, but at least the roads are clear.

I walked Ripley along the road next to the RV park and encountered a flock of Bighorn Sheep once again. They were simply lounging around and grazing on the grass surrounding the nearby motel, quite unconcerned as humans drove, biked and walked along the road. For me, it was a thrill to see them, but the manager of the RV park said they were a nuisance because they climb on the picnic benches and leave their feces everywhere! Two different points of view.

As we traveled into Yoho National Park, the scenery became even more spectacular. The park has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, with good reason. The mountains are higher and snow-covered as we went through Kicking Horse Pass, but I was disappointed to see that all the trails are still closed, due to the unseasonable weather.

According to the statistics, people who live in B.C. live longer than anywhere else in Canada. I think it’s probably because there are so many who are into outdoor healthy activities. I’ve seen many people running, walking, cycling and I know that skiing and snowboarding are big deals here as well.


ALBERTA

The friendly hostess at the Visitor Centre in Field gave me lots of good information as well as a free map of Alberta because it was last year’s. Otherwise, I would have had to pay $2. Behind the building was a large pond, still snow-covered, but Ripley and I walked around and enjoyed the scenery. Field is a small town at the foot of a large mountain – very picturesque. I had lunch in the parking lot before continuing.

The Trans Canada Highway was built in the lower part of the Rockies, but it was still necessary to create tunnels along the route in order for cars, etc. to continue. Most of them are built with side vents in order to let light in, making it safer to drive.


LAKE LOUISE & BANFF NATIONAL PARK

I can well understand why people from all over the world come to the region of Lake Louise and Banff. It is hard to put into words just how beautiful it is here, with the mountains dominating everywhere you turn.







The area is straight off a postcard. The village of Lake Louise is smaller than I had imagined, with very few amenities, but again the attendants at the Visitor Centre were very helpful and I decided to book a tour called “Discover Banff and Its Wildlife” for tomorrow morning. I will be picked up at the campgrounds.

I had planned to get some groceries at Lake Louise, but changed my mind when I saw that a loaf of bread was $4.99!! Instead, I headed to the campgrounds nearby at the turning in the road. Unfortunately, there was a big sign there warning that the road to the lake itself was not suitable for RV’s, and I never did get to see it as a result. The campgrounds are unmanned at this time of year and you pay $32.30 on the honour system. That gives you electricity only.


But the campgrounds were beautiful, situated amongst the trees (and therefore there was lots of snow on the ground and adjacent to the Bow River. One advantage of traveling at this time of year is that you can have your pick of sites and don’t have to worry about a vacancy. Later in the spring and summer, it would probably be impossible to simply show up and expect to have a site. Have a look at what two of my fellow campers made!



I chose one beside the heated bathroom, featuring wonderfully hot showers and an inside water tap to replenish my water storage tank. The outside taps are still frozen, of course, so it is necessary for me to use my own water. But all I have to do is to walk a few steps to the showers.

MUSINGS

In this area where bears are plentiful, a bear-proof garbage container is a must, and here in the park I came across this one. In order to open it, a person has to put her hand inside a handle and then push up. It is impossible for a bear to get its large paw inside this. It’s quite ingenious.


The railway line runs right along the edge of the park, linking Canada from coast to coast.





I’ve been enjoying catching up on my reading of back issues of McLean’s magazine which Robin gave me, to find out what has been happening in Canada during the last couple of months.

I’m able to get a Calgary radio station now, so that I don’t have to listen to my cassette tapes for the tenth or twentieth time. It’s rock, but it will do. My RV only has a cassette player, since she is older, and I’ve found that the adapter to run CD’s stops whenever I hit a bump.

Lake Louise is the hiking capital of Canada.

There is, of course, no TV hook-up in the park, so I will miss the return of Lost tonight.

It’s the first time that I beat the computer at Scrabble! I’m convinced it cheats because it eliminates words that I know are really words – like “limp”.

Here are a few items from the Rocky Mountain Outlook for today:

· Banff is in the early stages of investigating the possible elimination of plastic bags to try to reduce the national park town’s waste and impact on the environment
· Three residents of the Golden Eagle View Long Term Care celebrated their 100th birthday
· Snowboarder dies after fall from cliff
· Banff is considering allowing sidewalk cafes
· A Filipina nanny was killed by a falling tree as she walked with two young boys in her care and their father
· Three locals re-create a historic ski touring journey


FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2008

I was up early in order to catch the bus tour, but it appears that there was a huge misunderstanding. Because I was in Lake Louise where I picked up the brochure and because I booked it through the Visitor Centre in Lake Louise, I just assumed that the bus would collect me at the campgrounds here. BUT, it was waiting for me at the campgrounds in Banff! Their representative called me, and we cleared up the misunderstanding and re-booked for tomorrow, when I will be in Banff.

Today was very brisk but sunny, so Ripley and I took a walk over to the Bow River before departing. We couldn’t cross the bridge because of the snow drifts, but I did take a few photos.

BANFF –TUNNEL MOUNTAIN CAMPGROUND

After dumping, we headed out after paying $1.30/Litre for gas. The scenery continued to be spectacular – what else! But it did start to snow on the 57-km highway to the town of Banff. The campgrounds are located beside Tunnel Mountain, and only the cleared areas were open. Instead of parking amongst the trees, this campground offers paved surfaces with hook-ups on both sides of the road, with grassy islands in between. I can imagine how crowded and noisy it must be during the peak season, but now it was quiet, with only a few RV’ers and one intrepid tenter in the whole area.





When I took Ripley for a walk around the campgrounds, we came across any number of Columbia Ground Squirrels standing beside their burrow holes. They hibernate all winter and begin to come out in the spring.





And imagine my surprise when we came across a herd of elk peacefully grazing in the campgrounds! It’s best not to get too close to these guys, but I couldn’t resist moving a little closer to get some photos. Fortunately it is not the rutting season because many tourists get hurt trying to have their photo taken with these dangerous animals.



I spent the rest of the day housecleaning and backing up my photos - not terribly exciting but the temperature outside is too cold to spend much time there.

SATURDAY, APRIL 26, 2008

It was -5 degrees Celsius at 7:00 a.m. I am so glad to have electricity, and therefore heat! My little ceramic heater keeps the front part warm where the furnace doesn’t operate very well, but the two combined keep everything fairly cozy inside.




Mt. Rundle




In our morning walk, I saw three coyotes as they were moving swiftly through the meadow, and then three elk right beside one of the RV’s. That was really something!

DISCOVER BANFF

As I mentioned previously, I had signed up for a bus tour. It is often difficult to take the RV to places that a small bus can go, and I often miss out on seeing things for that reason and also because I simply didn’t know the sight was there. So, I’m leaving the driving to the tour company and will enjoy the scenery.

At 8:45 I stood at the appointed spot just outside the campground, to be picked up by the Discover Banff bus. Alex, our bus driver and tour guide introduced me to the four others (two girls from Brazil and a couple originally from Spain, but working in Ireland – I can’t imagine how the Irish people could understand the Spaniards, and vice versa, considering that they both have very strong accents.) I was happy to see a small group because it meant that we would have a more personalized tour.




Spanish couple, Brazilian girl, Alex, Brazilian Girl




Alex is a young man who lives in nearby Canmore, and who will shortly be going on to a job as a conservation officer in the Kananaskis region of Alberta. He was very personable and quite knowledgeable.

He explained that Mount Rundle is famous and probably the most photographed mountain in the area, as it towers over the town of Banff. Tunnel Mountain, where the campground lies, got its name because originally the surveyors had determined that they would have to build a tunnel through this particular mountain in order to lay tracks for the railway, but in the end they actually used a different route.

He showed us the hoodoos (unusual stone shapes carved out by prehistoric rivers), white-tailed deer and bighorn sheep as we traveled towards Lake Minnewanka, a very large lake that freezes in winter and which has no cottages on it!! It’s in the National Park and therefore protected. It seems that originally there was a village on one side, but a dam that was built flooded the village. Scuba divers often search the area for artifacts, both summer and winter.

While we were standing there, two young men drove up in a car and prepared to cross the lake in order to scale the glacier on the mountain opposite. We watched as they put on their ice cleats and started off across the icy lake. They say it takes all kinds!

In the winter the road around Lake Minnewanka is closed because it is a wildlife corridor, and in particular, wolf packs cross the highway frequently. Isn’t it great that the safety of the wildlife is considered important, for a change? However, now that it is spring, we were able to drive around, and continue to Vermillion Lake where Alex pointed out a bald eagle nest (no one home). I asked how the lake got its name. Nearby there is a supply of red ochre, which the natives mixed with clay and used as face paint, and the ochre colours the water.






We then entered the town of Banff, past the famous Banff Centre for the Arts and on to a good viewpoint for the Banff Springs Hotel. Alex explained that the head of the railway determined that building the hotel would bring tourists to the area on the railway, thus producing a profit. And the hot springs nearby is the original reason for creating the National Park. It had nothing to do with preserving the ecosystem back in the 1800’s, but of course the mandate is very different now.

CAVE AND BASIN NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

Cave and Basin is a National Historic Site, where people can walk through a cave to witness the underground hot spring in one location. Around the corner there is a pool containing an endangered species of snail that can only be found in the sulphurous hot pools of this area and nowhere else in the world. We were warned not to put our hands into the water because the residue on our skin can pollute the snail’s environment and cause them to die.





Our last stop was at Bow Falls where Alex mentioned that the water level was very low at the moment. The falls are not very tall, but the surroundings are gorgeous, with the water flowing into a lake and the mountains in the background.

After spending the morning on the tour, Alex dropped us off at designated spots and took me back to the entrance to the campgrounds, where I wished him good luck on his new career.

VILLAGE OF BANFF

By now the day had warmed up and the sun was inviting. I wanted to see more of the village, unhooked the RV and headed down the road to find a parking spot beside the river, just down from the main street. There is a walkway along the river, so Ripley and I walked around to the main street, facing the mountain, passing by an international assortment of people who had come to Banff from all over the world. Of course, there is every kind of gift shop and restaurant plus hotels to cater to the tourists, but there are also three very fine museums, the Whyte, the Parks Canada and the Buffalo Nations Luxton. As I had only a limited amount of time, I chose to visit the latter museum. I took Ripley back to the RV and headed across the main bridge to spend an hour or so browsing through the fine exhibits. There were many original artifacts demonstrating the life pattern of the tribes of the region, with dioramas of their teepees, sled dogs, dances and everyday life.














Clothing of both men and women, their tools, their eagle feathered headdresses, etc. were on display in the rooms; the entire concept is the legacy of a white man named Luxton who was an honorary member of the tribe.






On the way back, I stopped for a coffee and sat outside on a bench basking in the sun and watching the parade of people as they strolled by.




Main street of Banff




BANFF HOT SPRINGS

You can’t visit Banff and not go to the Hot Springs, so the next stop was up Sulphur Mountain to the public bathing area where I paid my $3.50 admission fee, changed and entered the pool. I had thought that, since it was now supper time, that it might not be too crowded, but boy, was I wrong. Although the pool is very large, there was little room in it. Nevertheless, it felt really good to bask in the hot mineral water. People have been coming here for many years for just this reason.






The speed limit on the road to and from the Hot Springs is 30 km/h and I could see why. I passed some mule deer who decided to cross the road and held up traffic as a result.

MY OWN TV SHOW

When I arrived back at the campground, I decided to move to a spot closer to the meadow and enjoyed watching elk grazing right outside my bedroom window as dusk settled in. And just about 100 metres away there was a mule deer, so I felt like I had a front row seat at a very special show!






And to top it all off, I was able to get Randy Bachman on the radio as he told entertaining stories from his life in music and people he knew, and played songs filling in background information about the recording and the artist.

SUNDAY, APRIL 27, 2008

I made cornbread muffins from a mix, and good decaf coffee. A fine breakfast.

I am very glad that I had moved to a new spot, as last night there were three rigs parked beside each other, and about ten people partying. That’s not why I came to a national park!

Ripley had an exciting time on our walk this morning, as we passed many many Columbian ground squirrels sunning themselves by their burrows.

MOVING ON






As we left Banff, I noticed that so many of the trees were dead, victims of the dreadful pine beetle that is slowly making its way across the continent. These nasty little bugs eat the vital interior of the tree, killing off the pathways for the nutrients, and unfortunately there appears to be no treatment at this time. I read in one of the local newspapers that there was recently a paper published in the magazine Nature stating that these dead trees are responsible for serious carbon emissions into the atmosphere (much greater than the auto emissions), as they decay, posing a serious threat. We are accustomed to thinking of trees as being beneficial to the environment, but in this case the truth is just the opposite.

The mountains slowly gave way to the foothills as we continued on towards Calgary
I noticed that the speed limit is 110 km/h, much faster than my pace of 80 km/h. But at least, I should be saving gas.

On the way, I stopped at a rest area and was disgusted by the amount of garbage that had been strewn around – everything from a baby’s diaper to trash bags and cigarette butts.

PAT AND DUANE BUMSTEAD

After a stop at the Calgary Flying J truck stop to fill my tank, I arrived at the home of the Bumsteads in the southeastern part of the city in the late afternoon. They live on a quiet street very close to the Bow River (there’s an off-leash dog area there) in an older neighbourhood filled with large trees. In fact, their poplar tree was too large and overhanging for me to park my RV in their driveway, but I was able to park on the street directly in front of their house.

Pat & Duane have one dog (mixed breed with probably collie) named Moppet, and after some initial bum-sniffing with Ripley, they both decided to ignore each other. Casey the tabby cat wasn’t too concerned about this intruder (he is old and has multiple health problems), but Theo, the Maine Coon cat disappeared, and was hardly seen during my visit. Pat assures me that this is pretty normal for him.




Casey




Duane cooks on weekends, and we had a delicious salsa meat loaf for supper, along with some apple wine that Duane had made with apples from a neighbour.

I slept in the comfortable suite in the basement where there is a fireplace in the living room adjacent to the sleeping area. Pat has her office down there as well, but prefers to work upstairs. So I took advantage of her wi fi to work on my computer to update my blog and answer emails on a table downstairs.

MONDAY, APRIL 28, 2008

It was back to work for Duane, who is a purchasing manager for Engineered Air, a large company in Calgary. Meanwhile Pat and I got up at a more leisurely pace.

The temperature was a high of 18 degrees C. and sunny today. Ripley played in the fenced-in back yard while Pat watched the birds at the feeders on the deck. She is an expert birder. In fact, she has written two books about them, one serious and one humorous. In addition, she has also written two other books, one on the carnivores of the Pampas and the other on the reptiles of Canada, all of which she has published herself! As if this weren’t enough, she has two personal online businesses, and also handles the website for International Society For Endangered Cats, which sells merchandise and promotes conservation efforts for exotic felines in various parts of the world. A busy lady, indeed. And she’s crazy about Russell Crowe, has all his movies on DVD and has traveled around to see him performing with his band.

I first met Pat at a zoo conference. At that time, she was a volunteer for the Calgary Zoo and was so enthusiastic about gorillas. We would chat about our mutual interest in apes whenever we met at these conferences, and I visited her and Duane the few times that I was in Calgary over the years. Pat is no longer a volunteer at her zoo and concentrates on her other interests now, and I was eager to meet up with her and Duane yet again. And quite honestly, I wanted to get her advice on how to go about turning my blog into a book and how to get it published. She was very helpful and forthcoming with all sorts of advice. A number of people have suggested that this blog would make a good book, and I have decided that, once I return home, I will pursue this project, among others. I know one thing for sure. I do not want to go back to working in an office – ever!

LUNCH WITH AN OLD FRIEND

Another old friend in Calgary is Rob Sutherland, who was head keeper of the gorilla section for many years until he retired, and Pat organized for him to meet us for lunch. Rob is still as handsome as ever, although a little greyer, and is totally absorbed in his nine-year old daughter Sophie. She sounds like a chip off the old block, with her interest in animals. It was really great to see him again and to catch up on the news. I now have his email address, so we can continue to keep in touch.





Pat, Rob and Rob's dog




CALGARY IS DOG FRIENDLY

We loaded Moppet and Ripley into Pat’s car and drove a short distance to a bird sanctuary that is dog-friendly. All sorts of dogs were off-leash in this area, and the more adventurous were leaping in and out of the Bow River, including Moppet. Ripley was more sedate and only went in to the edge, but they both enjoyed having freedom to run and sniff other dogs and all the other good smells that they could sense.





Moppet Waiting for a Treat at PetSmart




Pat identified bufflehead, goldeneye and coot waterfowl and an osprey as we walked along. I’m having trouble identifying any of these unfamiliar (to me) birds, and particularly what Pat calls LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs).

I can’t believe the job situation here in Calgary! It is a real boomtown and Pat tells me that even fast food places like McDonald’s are offering a $500 signing bonus and another $500 if you remain for six months. Salaries for this type of job start at $12/hour. The big catch is that it is very expensive to live in Calgary and many people from other provinces come here only to find that they can’t afford to live here. Thus, it is an employee’s market. She had previously mentioned that all the nearby campgrounds are full because of the out of towners who come to Calgary to work.

Pat is an enthusiastic geek. When we returned to the house, she showed me her Ipod and suggested that this is what I needed for my travels, instead of the bunch of CD’s and cassettes that I presently have. Hers is 8 Gb and holds about 20,000 songs. I should probably have got one while I was in the U.S. where they should be cheaper than here in Canada, as are most electronics. I gave Pat some of my CD’s for her to download on to her Ipod.

Ripley seems to think that pooping in the back yard is off limits, so I took her to an off-leash area just two blocks away along the Bow River in order for her to accomplish her business.





Tonight, we had an organic, free-range chicken. There is no comparison between this delicious bird and what you buy in a grocery store. Of course, I knew that since I used to raise my own chickens, and it was so nice to taste a real chicken again!

After supper, Duane left for his pool tournament. I know nothing about this sport, but apparently he has won several championships, so he must be good.

I spent the evening watching Dancing With the Stars on the downstairs TV (Pat is not a fan) and catching up on emails.

TUESDAY, APRIL 29, 2008

RELIEF AGAIN

Because I was still having trouble with numbness in my left leg and hip, Pat kindly arranged an appointment for me with her massage therapist. It’s funny how small the world is. Phil Wilson and I went to the same high school, Jarvis Collegiate Institute, in Toronto! I will have to check my yearbooks when I get back, but I think he came just a year after I graduated, but we might have overlapped by one year. And, to top it off, he lived a short distance away from where I grew up! We reminisced about life there while he expertly worked on my neck and hip. I was concerned that my sciatic nerve was the cause, but he said it was my I-T (Iliac-Tibia) muscle that was tight. He showed me how I could work on this myself and was very thorough in explaining about all the muscles he was working on and showed me on a chart where they were. I must say he was very good and certainly fixed me up.

Phil also sells homeopathic remedies and suggested that aerobic oxygen might be helpful in providing me with more energy. It is a secret formula manufactured in Calgary, so I thought, what the heck, I may as well try it. The dosage is ten drops three times per day in any liquid hot or cold.

Pat and I dined on leftover chicken and salad for lunch

Casey has not been feeling well, and his appointment with the vet was at 2:00 p.m.
Besides being diabetic and needing shots twice a day, he also has thyroid problems. Last week apparently he wasn’t eating well. The vet took blood and will have the results tomorrow.

I thought it was time to turn on my generator again, but wouldn’t you know it. It wouldn’t turn over! I’m getting so fed up with paying for things to be fixed and then finding out later that they don’t work! I spent $600 in Tucson, and now the damn generator won’t even start!

As I mentioned, Pat has all of Russell Crowe’s movies and we watched A Good Year. I don’t really care for Peter Mayle, who wrote the book on which the movie was based, but the scenery was lovely.

THE REAL DEAL

When Duane arrived home from work, we left for La Casa Latina, not the restaurant they had originally intended taking me to (it was closed), but even better. The server greeted us in Spanish, and I responded in my rusty effort. The only other customers with Latinos and the menu was in Spanish. We started off with Suprema beer (made in El Salvador) for Pat and me, and a Spanish red wine for Duane. The nachos and tostones (fried plantains) were great for starters. Pat had a burrito; Duane had a steak taco and I had a Tipico Uno (refried beans, rice and steak). We were all stuffed and couldn’t find room for flan dessert (too bad – it’s my favourite and Pat’s too). Instead, we took our doggy bag home, feeling totally sated and satisfied with the meal.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30, 2008 -- INCOME TAX DEADLINE

DOWNTOWN CALGARY


Because I had mentioned to Pat that I was having some problems with my income tax return, she had arranged for me to meet with her friend Karen Almadi downtown. Rather than tackle driving and parking down there, we took the bus for $2.50 each way. It was much more relaxing to travel this way. It gave me a chance to witness all the new construction going on. The Stampede Grounds are being expanded, for one thing. Calgary is a booming city, but everywhere there are signs advertising the need for help, regardless of the industry.






We met at a Starbucks in one of the many malls on the bottom levels of skyscrapers in the centre of the city. Karen is a high-energy person who had some good advice for me. She was in a hurry as she was leaving to go out of town the next day, so it was kind of a whirlwind meeting, and she also notarized a document for me that I needed.

Pat and I talked more about the ins and outs of writing a book on the way back, and later I took Ripley and her very bedraggled-looking ball over to the off-leash park. It doesn’t seem to matter to her that the ball is partially deflated and filthy. She still loves to play with it.

I’ve lost interest in watching American Idol since, in my opinion, most of the best singers have been booted off the show. It’s pretty predictable now, I think, so I didn’t bother, but I did watch Dancing With the Stars before working on my blog once again.

THURSDAY, MAY 1, 2008 – MAYDAY

BARGAIN DAY

The local library sells their excess books for 50 cents apiece – just my kind of book. We each bought a bunch, and then headed over to an Antiques Mall where I was able to buy twenty cassettes at 50 cents each. I’ve been getting tired of playing the same tapes over and over again, so now I have a bunch of new ones. However, unfortunately the owner of the booth was not interested in buying any of mine, so I’ll have to find somewhere else to dispose of them.

We stopped at The Future Shop where I got more printer paper and cartridges and Pat got a cover for her Blackberry so that she doesn’t accidentally dial when it’s in her purse or pocket. She really is getting a kick out of her new gadget which she got just recently!

At my suggestion, we goofed off and watched another Russell Crowe movie – American Gangster, also starring Denzel Washington. Although it was very long, it was excellent.

After supper I went downstairs to watch Lost (probably my favourite TV show – I love the twists and turns in the story), and then returned upstairs to watch CSI with Pat and Duane. Since Duane leaves early for work and I am leaving tomorrow, I said my farewells to him before retiring to bed.

FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2008

I took Ripley for one last walk along the river, packed up and said goodbye to Pat. It was great to spend time with her and get to know her better. I hope that we will meet up again, either in Calgary or elsewhere (she and Duane are talking about wintering in Arizona too) before too long. They were both very hospitable and I greatly appreciated their kindness.

The day is sunny and mild, a good day for traveling. I headed east on Highway 22X until it met the Trans Canada Highway (number 1). The terrain changed very rapidly from the foothills into flat farmland.

BLACKFOOT CROSSING

When I started out on my journey last August, I had invested in an annual pass for both the National Parks and the National Historic Sites, allowing me free admission across Canada. One of the National Historic Sites in Alberta is the newly opened Blackfoot Crossing Interpretive Centre located within the Siksika Nation Reserve one hour east of Calgary. The attractive building has been constructed in consultation with the Elders to represent a giant teepee.

As it happens, the majority of the staff were attending an Awareness Day at the local council hall, so there were just a few people on duty. I was given a leaflet explaining the extensive metaphors and concepts surrounding the design of the building. To quote from the leaflet “The entire building design should be viewed as a reinterpretation of a vast range of Blackfoot culture, its sacred icons and the everyday life of the Siksika people.”

As one approaches the building, which is built on a hill so that it appears to be only on one level, one passes by a large buffalo rub rock (where the buffalo would rub their hair off in the spring). Inside, I was invited to watch a short movie explaining about the culture of the Blackfoot tribe, before being guided downstairs to the main gallery where I found many interpretive stations with titles such as Creation Tipi, Circles and Stones, Language, Eurocentric Misconceptions, Societies, Siksika Families and others. The entire glass wall overlooking the valley is the site of an open air amphitheatre where dances, etc. are performed during the summer season. As there are sacred artifacts there, no photographs are allowed inside the building.





At this time of year there were few visitors. The manager of the gift shop told me that, when the building was being constructed, the committee had expected to receive about 100 visitors per day, but in fact they received on average 200 since opening in July, 2007. They were awarded a prestigious Alberta tourist award, ahead of the Glenbow Museum. I spent some time wandering around admiring the various authentic artifacts on display and talking to the interpreter there, before heading back upstairs and outside.

I have to say, it is very impressive, and having had a little experience in what it takes to plan the design and construction of an interpretive centre, I think that they have done a fine job, with future plans to expand to include interpretation of the native plants and animals.

Behind the building there is a trail that leads down into the valley, site of the Earth Lodge Village, ancient surface burials and other culturally significant sites. Ripley had been cooped up in the RV while I was inside and she enjoyed the walk down partway and back.

After lunch in the parking lot, I continued on our way, back up to Highway 1 East, passing the grave of Crowfoot on the way.

As we sped along the highway, I listened to a few of my new (for me) cassettes – Kenny G, KD Lang and Atlantic Starr. Boy, did that bring back memories!

In Alberta the roadside turnouts are very small and do not have toilets, but eventually we came to a rest area, with room for cars, RV’s and trucks (and toilets).

Gas at Brooks cost $121.6/litre and apparently is the home of a huge meat packing plant. I was told that many immigrants work there. I passed cattle and oil rigs and fallow fields, presumably of wheat and other grains.

TILLEY REST AREA

I stopped at Tilley with the idea of walking Ripley, but soon discovered that behind the rest area is one of the many areas under the management of Duck Unlimited. As I drove in, I passed several gophers standing beside their burrows, and upon checking out the pond, I noticed a pair of Northern Shoveler ducks, plus some shorebirds who took off as we approached. The pond drains into a field fenced off where there were other unidentified birds.

This seemed like as good a spot as any to spend the night. It was well off the highway and I saw no signs saying that overnight parking was not allowed, plus I could view birds here.

SATURDAY, MAY 3, 2008

Since I had no power and the generator isn’t working, there was no heat in the RV and it was rather chilly in the morning. Just slightly uncomfortable but I was rewarded with some good bird sightings as I arose at 7:00 a.m. The Field Guide that I am using is not clear enough for me to positively identify some of the birds, so I am guessing based upon the descriptions. One bird was maybe a willet, American avocet or a whimbrel, another possibly a ruddy turnstone, but I also saw a flock of semipalmated plovers.

MEDICINE HAT

In my earlier years I enjoyed making pottery, so it was with some interest that I saw that there was another National Historic Site of an old pottery factory located in Medicine Hat. I set the GPS up to guide us through the downtown area, but somehow Maude kept getting me lost. I even ended up going the wrong way on a one-way street! But eventually I made it to the Medalta Site, only to find that I was a half-hour too early. That was a good opportunity for Ripley to have a wander around the yard.

As we waited, a school bus arrived and unloaded a bunch of children from Weyburn, Saskatchewan along with their teacher and some parents. I silently groaned when I saw them.

Eventually the doors opened, and we all entered the building, partially renovated, that once housed a much larger factory that primarily produced a line of pottery for the hotel industry. At one time Medicine Hat was the scene of many operating clay factories producing bricks, sewer pipes, large crocks and housewares and decorative pottery.











The Medalta factory is the only surviving one and stopped production in 1965. It is now a National Historic Site and the old firing kilns are still there.






After the school group met up with the education coordinator, the collections manager came to greet me and took me on a personal tour. She grew up in Medicine Hat, but as a visible minority (Japanese) she had encountered a lot of prejudice and left to live in Toronto for many years, before returning to be with her aging parents. We talked about the differences in attitude that can be found in cities, amongst other things. After awhile, other visitors arrived, so I thanked her for the tour and went on my way.

It was much easier to find my way back to Highway One and I continued along, passing a sign advertising a bull sale, until I reached Highway 41 where I headed south.

CYPRESS HILLS INTERPROVINCIAL PARK

The terrain along the two-lane road changed to more rolling hills, with few houses in sight, as we approached Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, located in the southeastern part of Alberta. White-tailed deer grazed unconcernedly next to cattle in one field, but I saw no raptors in the sky or on fenceposts as we approached the town of Elkwater inside the park (elevation 1234 metres).





The Visitor Centre is located in the town, as well as the only facilities in over 100 km. I turned off the highway, passing a frozen lake as I entered the town and drove to the Visitor Centre to enquire about campground facilities. The helpful attendant told me that only one of several was open and directed me to the Beaver Creek Campground where I found a site that had power but no water (and that meant no showers). This particular campground was built when RV’s were much smaller, and I found it a real challenge to back into one site. Fortunately, another camper (originally from Sault Ste. Marie) came over to help guide me in, and once I was successfully in I discovered that the power outlet was too far away for my cord to reach. I tried another one, and again this same camper came over to guide me in, and I was successful this time in hooking up. Because of the modified facilities, the fee overnight is only $20 instead of $30, and it is on the honour system.

The campground is located on the edge of the town amidst tall evergreens. When I was at the Visitor Centre, I bought Birds of Alberta, which has excellent full-page drawings of each bird, and it turned out to be a much better guide for me in identifying birds. I now realize that it was most likely a whimbrel that I had seen back at Tilley. I am hoping that this book will also serve me well in Saskatchewan, and possibly Manitoba, as the terrain is not too different in these provinces and should therefore have most of the same birds as in Alberta.

After setting up and having lunch, I took Ripley for a brisk walk along the frozen lake. Unfortunately I saw only gulls, Canada geese and red-winged blackbirds there. On our way back, I heard the familiar sound of brush turkeys off in the woods, and came across a herd of white-tailed deer at the entrance to the campground.

The campground seems to be a favourite place for locals to drive around.

Later, during our evening walk I heard the unmistakable hoot of the great horned owl and another unfamiliar bird call. I had hoped to go up one of the many trails, but they are still snow-covered and/or muddy. Instead, I worked on updating my blog, as I am behind once again.

SUNDAY, MAY 4, 2008

I’ve decided to spend another day here at Elkwater and enjoy the scenery. Ripley and I walked over to the Visitor’s Centre and adjacent grocery store. She wasn’t happy about being tied up outside, but dogs are not allowed inside. At the grocery store, I got a copy of the Prairie Post. As I’ve mentioned previously, I enjoy reading the local papers to get an idea of what is important to the local people. Here are some examples of what is important in the southern parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan:

A new pocket-sized book on the Invasive Plant Species Identification Guide to help identify species that are harmful to the pastures and agricultural lands is now available
The anticipated increase in demand for biodiesel oil feedstock will encourage agricultural producers to seed oilseed crops
The 2008 International Association of Plant Biotechnolgy (IAPB) Conference – Canadian Section will draw scientists and researchers from across Canada and around the world. They will be gathering at the University of Saskatchewan from May 5 to 8 to share information and to advance research capabilities.
Producers in the southwest are bracing for yet another year of drought, and hoping for the best
10-year old Tegan Odland won’t forget how to spell “acetone”. That’s the word that eliminated her from the 2008 CanWest National Spelling Bee Final in Ottawa
Medicine Hat set to host Archeological Conference May 2
African Children’s Choir coming to the town of Consul May 7
Nearly 1,200 people strolled past the booths of Enviroform 2008, learning about the environment and what it will take to sustain it for years to come. Regina’s Street Culture Kidz, Sanders the Burrowing Owl, Twinkle Toes the ferret and face painting were some of the visual delights
The community of Craik (population 400) found a way to save itself from extinction by focusing on creating an eco-centre, under the guidance of Dr. Lynn Oliphant. Completed and opened in 2004, the Eco-Centre is built entirely with environmental stewardship practices in mind including straw bale constructed walls, geo-thermal heating and cooling, tankless hot water heating, and a fully operable composting toilet.
Redcliff residents have tires slashed

As I enjoyed the sun, reading the newspaper outside by the picnic bench, Ripley found some delectable stuff to roll in on the grass nearby. There were several LBJ’s flying around, as well as chickadees, insects and butterflies (!), and I saw one grey squirrel busily chewing on some tree buds. It was quite idyllic, and I was reluctant to move, but I wanted to fill up with gas and take advantage of the wi fi at the Elkwater Lodge, in order to check emails. Gas was $126.9/litre, but it’s the only game in town, or rather in the entire area!

I headed down the highway 41 a short distance, to turn off at the road leading to Lake Reesor, located within the park, hoping to see more wildlife. I’m not sure if it is simply the season or whatever, but I saw very little. The lake was still frozen and therefore not conducive to attracting waterfowl or shorebirds. At least there were few cars traveling on the road.

The 13 km road to the lake passes by an elevated viewpoint that looks out for miles over the surrounding countryside in every direction, before descending down to Lake Reesor and the campground where I parked and let Ripley out for a session with her tired ball. I watched the gulls walking on the ice, and breaking holes in the ice to catch fish. A gopher appeared near the garbage bins, catching Ripley’s avid attention. I did see one hawk flying over.





During the summer, the road continues on through Saskatchewan to the other part of the park, and eventually to Fort Walsh, but is impassable at the moment. This has led me to have to make a decision about where I will head next. Originally, I had planned to travel directly through the park and on to Grasslands Provincial Park in Saskatchewan. But now I will have to revise my route to do this. The attendant at the Visitor Centre checked online and told me that Highway 13 is in good condition for the most part, and would take me in the same location, so I will try it tomorrow. If I were to return to Highway One and then head south to the Grasslands park, it would add on about 60 miles to my trip, according to the gas station attendant who filled my tank back in Elkwater. He looked as though he had lived here all his life, and therefore should know. He said Highway 13 is gravel but he may have old information. I hope so.

After eating a sandwich at a picnic table by Lake Reesor, I headed back to the Elkwater Campground, stopping at a part of the lake that was melted where I saw a pair of buffleheads as well as Canada geese. More white-tailed deer. More brush turkeys in town.





When I arrived back at the campground, the weekenders had departed and there was only one other camper. It seems so weird but quiet.

11 comments:

ar said...

I Love the Canadian Rockies, and especially Banff and Lake Louise. I just read most of your Ep.#40, and I really enjoyed reading it, and almost living it. One thing that I have to mention is that last December/Christmas 2007, we were in Banff and Lake Louise, and we also took a Discover Banff Tour (Winter Tour) and our tour director/guide was Alex, he was the nicest young man, and like you said very knowledgeable, he took us all the way to Simpson's Num-Ti-Jah Lodge-Lake Louise, Alberta, and all the beautiful sights along the way. Our family fell in love with him. I am glad to know that he is moving up in his career, and that he's doing so well.

Thanks so much for sharing your blog, I will keep reading. I wish you the best, along with Ripley.
Much love form Southern California.
~ar

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