Elk Island National Park – Time to Relax

The past three weeks have been packed with music, biking, urban adventures, exploration, new friends, old friends, and the usual off-the-wall stuff – the essentials for what makes us want to keep on traveling. Yet we were feeling the need to chill just a bit, maybe take a hike. So we headed for Elk Island National Park which features lakes, wildlife, hiking, and a small campground. It’s famous for its bison conservation work. I’m not making this up.

Between the park and the weather, Elk Island was exactly what we needed.

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Calgary, AB

Calgary skyline

Calgary (rhymes with strawberry) is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, with a current population of 1.3 million. It’s a diverse city with 60% of the population of European descent and 36% ‘visible minority’ (non-white, non-aboriginal), the remainder being indigenous/aboriginal/First Nation. A former Olympic city, one of the largest in western Canada and a hub for the region’s agriculture, mining and oil activities, this should be an interesting place to explore.

We knew we wanted to visit Studio Bell, site of the National Music Centre and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. We also checked our festival list and assumed we’d be able to find some interesting event. Well, dontcha know, we would be in Calgary for their biggest event of the year – The Calgary Stampede – billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.’ The Stampede attracts 1.3 million visitors from outside the city each year.

With our recently boosted confidence in urban camping, we set a course to arrive just a couple of days before the start of the Stampede.

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Drumheller, AB, part 1: Badlands and Dinosaurs

Canadian Badlands near Drumheller, AB

Southeast Alberta is a flat to slightly rolling prairie dotted with large farms and ranches. About an hour east of Calgary we crossed the Red Deer River Valley, paused and wondered what happened to the prairie. Canadian Badlands? Really? Due to a unique mix of prehistoric sandstone formation, glaciers and floods that occurred millions of years ago, the Red Deer River carved a more-or-less diagonal slash through this part of Alberta creating deep colorful badlands approximately 2 km (1.2 mi) wide and 28 km (17 mi) long. Having spent time on our trip two years ago in the Dakotas, we found the spectacular geology of this area to be surprisingly familiar.

Ron, our jam buddy from Prince Albert, suggested we visit the Drumheller dinosaur museum. Larry, our jam buddy from Linden, and his wife Barb suggested we go to Drumheller to tour the Badlands. More than enough for us to set a course…

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Saskatoon, SK

The view from downtown Saskatoon

Our approach to trip preparation includes doing a bit of reading and talking to people about where we’re heading. Based on what we learn, we go to our trusty electronic map and add e-pushpins indicating friends and family, potential places of interest, and music festivals. When we left home, Saskatchewan was looking a bit thin with not quite 4 pushpins across the entire province – Prince Albert National Park, Doug’s guitar buddy TerryB, the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival in Saskatoon, and the name of an old drumming colleague (but no current contact info).

As we approached Saskatchewan, the sparsity of pushpins turned around in a fashion reminiscent of the classic (original series) Star Trek episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles…’

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North Manitoba – The Pas, Snow Lake

Wekusko Lake near Snow Lake, MB

North? We’re getting somewhere! Winnipeg, in southeastern Manitoba, is north of the northernmost point we visited in North Ontario. The province considers anything north of the 53rd parallel North Manitoba, and describes it as ‘a vast untamed wilderness’ which sounds like our kinda place. So from Winnipeg, we headed north…

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Winnipeg, MB

Just about everyone we talked to about Winnipeg suggested we stop to visit the Canadian Human Rights Museum. That’s more than enough reason for us to make a stop. In order to get to the Prairie Wind Music Festival last week, though, we needed to drive on through Winnipeg (with a quick stop to pick up a part for our truck) and return to Winnipeg after visiting Riding Mountain National Park. Fortunately our return trip took us through Minnedosa.

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Riding Mountain National Park

Clear Lake

Riding Mountain National Park opened in 1932 and is the oldest national park in Canada. It rises 457 meters (1,499 feet) above the pretty flat prairie in all directions. At its center is Clear Lake and the town of Wasagaming. Its most recognizable feature is a line of cliffs along the eastern border formed by the Manitoba escarpment.

We planned to visit. Our new friends from the music festival confirmed it was a must see in Manitoba. We set a course.

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Prairie Wind Music Festival

The morning after

Our approach to non-planning our trips always includes having a list of music festivals and dates handy so we can be on the lookout for where our trajectory might intersect a festival. Most recent example: if we bypassed Winnipeg on our  first pass (planning to double back to visit later), we could attend the Prairie Wind Music Festival in Cypress River. To continue a theme from the previous post, Neil Young wrote about this town – the town where his dad grew up – in his song ‘Prairie Wind.’

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North Ontario

The edge of the boreal forest

We wanted to explore north Ontario. Yeah, we hear you. You took a look at our travel map and said: ‘North? That’s not north!’ It is, in Ontario. There is exactly 1 continuously paved, east-west road across north Ontario – the Trans-Canada North.  There are a few paved roads that head north a few kilometers. And there’s one, mostly paved, 300 km (180 mi) road further north to a fishing camp at Pickle Lake. We don’t fish so we decided not to visit.

South Ontario? That is what’s east of Detroit.

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