Thursday, July 18, 2019

Cowboy Time in Alberta, Canada

After two days, we're on the road to our second stop on our Canadian adventure. Instead of driving north up the interstate, we're taking the less traveled and more scenic "Cowboy Trail" aka Highway 22.

We've seen a little farmland, but the vistas are mainly filled with miles and miles of prime ranch land. We passed the Waldron Ranch, whose sign proudly proclaimed they had 65,000 acres of land here along the cowboy trail. That's a big ranch! We also saw some unusual signs along the side of the highway. It looks like those cowboys have to cinch down their hats as we were warned about the wind several times. We were glad to be driving this route on a wonderfully calm day.

We can now say that we have experienced our first Canadian overpass. It's a little scary when you approach, and you hope you know your motor home's height in meters.

We did the math, and we're just a little under 4 meters, so we cleared this railroad bridge easily.

Our destination today is the city park in Longview, Alberta--Tales and Trails RV Park. This tiny town has a gas station and a jerky store. So we did our part to support the local economy and bought a package of the jerky made from that famous Alberta beef.

Because we bought a national park pass, we also get free admission to certain national historic sights. So we headed out to the U Bar Ranch soon after we got into town. We were glad to take the optional transportation from the visitor center down to the ranch buildings.

This is the only Canadian historical sight that celebrates the ranching history of this area. This was once part of a 160,000-acre U Bar Ranch. At their peak, the ranch owned 30,000 cattle. They have restored some of the buildings, and keep some livestock so city dudes can come and experience a day on a ranch like it was in the 1800's.

That would include stopping in at the chuckwagon to talk to the cook. This was once a surgical wagon from the Civil War. The cooking table was originally the operating table, and a Texan by the name of Charles Goodnight figured out it would make a great rolling kitchen.

The big horses that pull the wagons at the ranch are percherons. At one time U Bar owned 1,000 percheron horses. Today, it looks like six are all that are needed at the historical site. While one team was working this afternoon, four of their friends were just hanging out in the corrals.

These big guys are friendly, and enjoyed making friends with a traveler from the United States.

We visited the ranch house, the blacksmith shop, the tack shop, the barn . . . It was an interesting look at ranch life in Canada. With all that touring, we also took a break to try out these red chairs. We have read that the national park system has placed these bright adirondack chairs in nice spots to take a break throughout their parks.

Enjoying some cowboy time was a nice introduction to this cowboy trail section of Alberta, Canada. But the main reason we are here in Longview is its proximity to the mountains. So we'll be changing from cowboy time to mountain time.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Waterton Lakes National Park--Seeing the Wildfire Destruction Two Years Later

Our camping spot at the Great Canadian Barn Dance is just a thirty minute drive from one of Canada's national parks, so we pointed our wheels that direction early the next morning. We love the mountains, so our excitement mounted as the views of the Rockies got closer . . .

and closer on the short drive this morning.

We loved this picture of a little white church framed by the peaks on our way to Waterton Lakes National Park.

We've actually visited this park before. We were here for a day-trip from Glacier National Park in the summer of 2017. But just a few days after our visit, a lightning strike started a fire that burned almost half of this national park. The charred trunks of the trees are testament that this inferno caused great damage throughout Waterton.

The bad news is that both of the roads that take visitors to sights around the park are still closed to cars.

The good news is that visitors with bicycles are welcome to ride these roads, with majestic mountain views all around them.

The other good news is that the wildflowers are just gorgeous right now! While the fire destroyed the trees, the charred ground makes a great bed for the smaller plants to flourish.

The ranger told us that this display of wildflowers is extraordinary for this park.

We are blessed that we first saw the blue bonnets in South Texas in March, and now in July we get to enjoy their cousins again in Canada. We certainly live a charmed life!

It is great to be able to enjoy a bike ride without worrying about car traffic on this road. But when we drove this road in the car two years ago, we certainly didn't remember it being uphill. It is 14 kilometers (that's 8.4 miles) and we are working hard to get to our destination this morning.

At times this is more like a bike-assisted-hike, as we have to dismount and walk our bikes up many of the inclines. Between the thinner air at this high altitude and the long uphill stretches of this road, it's a workout!

These mountains certainly look different than they did two years ago. All those toothpicks standing on the sides of the mountains were healthy forests two years ago.

Our destination is Red Rock Canyon. We're not sure where that name came from. (just kidding!)

We remember taking pictures in the canyon two years ago. It was hard to get a shot without lots of other visitors in it. Now with only hardy bikers allowed to enter, this feels like a ghost town.

From the canyon, we took the short hike to Blakiston Falls. It was sad to see all the blackened trees in the forest. But the ground under the trees was amazingly green and lush.

Now walking instead of biking, Denisa can take even more pictures of the wildflowers at her feet.

Denisa learned a new flower name. This dainty little purple flower is harebell. That explains why one of the main streets in the town of Waterton was named Harebell Avenue.

The metal viewpoints at the falls are still intact, but the area around it is sadly blackened. We took a picture of Blakiston Falls today . . .

and compared it to the one we took in 2017. What a difference a forest fire makes even two years later!

As we saddled up to make the return bike ride, Denisa was dreading that 14 kilometers. But then we realized that we had already done most of the work, and it was going to be largely downhill back to the car. We stopped for some more pictures of the mountains and the rivers around us.

We also stopped to do a little hiking, like this walk through the lupines. We like to take pictures of the places that we stop to eat, and this made for a delightful spot for a snack.

The Red Rock Canyon drive is notorious for bear sightings. With our slower pace and less traffic we were sure we were going to see bears today! But alas, we were skunked in the bear department today. The only picture we got was of this wooden cut-out bear on the side of the road. We heard later from our neighbors that they had seen a bear on the golf course today. I guess we were looking in the wrong place (again).

The only wildlife picture today was of two deer that bounded onto the road in front of us. We saw them for just a couple seconds, and then they were gone again into the tall brush. We wonder how many times we missed other momentary animal sightings on our ride.

We made it back to our vehicle, and our legs were glad to use our car to do the rest of the touring around Waterton. That would include a stop at the Prince of Wales Lodge.

A monumental effort saved this grand old hotel from the flames, while the national park visitor center across the road burned to the ground. Even though it's a big lodge, it is dwarfed by the even bigger mountains and clouds around it.

We had yet another picturesque picnic spot today, as we ate our lunch on the lawn, overlooking Waterton Lake.

Two years ago we took a boat cruise on the lake, and we thought about launching the kayak here. But the gusty winds and clouds kept us on the shore today.

The other road that takes visitors deeper into the park is also closed, so our only other sight-seeing was to Cameron Falls right on the edge of town,

and the water-side walk along Lake Waterton.

So it was a minimized trip to Waterton Lakes National Park, but we're glad we made the drive. We bought our Canadian National Park pass today, as we'll be visiting seven national parks during the next six weeks. But we're guessing that none of those other parks will have more beautiful wildflowers than we have enjoyed today.

On the drive back home, we passed this pole with a big nest on top.

It was fun to see the osprey family that lives on top of that pole. We drove by this intersection three different times, and each time one of the adults was standing guard at the top of the pole.

We spotted two babies in the nest, looking quite vulnerable in that open nest if it weren't for the watchful eyes of the parents.

Even after seeing the terrible destruction of wildfires, we have been blessed with another reminder of new life as we wander God's wonders!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

We're Dancing our way into Canada!

We ate a hardy breakfast this morning, trying to consume more of the food that we have read might be confiscated at the Canadian border crossing. We have read that you can't take eggs, or milk, or potatoes, or raw meat, or anything out of its original wrapper, or any fresh fruits and vegetables. So we have forced ourselves to cook and eat at home to use up as much of our food as possible. That darn residential refrigerator can certainly hold a lot of food! Then we were on the road for the last forty miles of this Big Sky state. We are driving right beside the Amtrak rails, so it is fun to watch the passenger train whiz by the canola fields with us.

The only town we drive through today is Cut Bank, Montana. According to the resident penguin, this is the coldest place in the nation. Actually, the fine print should read that this is the coldest place in the lower 49 states.

We are crossing the border at Del Bonita, one of the smaller of the border crossing stations. In fact, the narrow road would discourage less hardy travelers from taking a motor home this route.

The border station looks more like a house than an official government agency that was going to rip away the last of our apples and cherries that Denisa couldn't consume.

The professional agent asked where we were from, where we were going, why we were going, if we had fire arms, alcohol, pepper spray, or cannabis, how long we were staying, how many were traveling in our vehicle, and if we had a boat. Never once did food come up in the questions!

Then he asked us to pull over to the side, and we worried that they were going to search our refrigerator. But no, they could care less about our fresh fruits and vegetables and milk! Instead, we had to pull over to get our kayak inspected. After all Denisa's fretting about this border crossing, she gets to keep her apples and cherries! The other good news is that now we have an inspection certificate, so we can put our kayak into the mountain lakes of Banff and Jasper National Parks. They even gave us a free chamois to dry our boat as a "Welcome to Canada" gift.

Denisa took pictures of the signs as Mark drove out of the inspection station. Welcome to Alberta--our first Canadian province!

The next sign alerted us that all speed limits would be in metric. So no, we won't be driving 100 miles per hour. That is 100 kilometers per hour, or 62 miles per hour.

We had another hour-long drive to our first destination north of the border on this beautiful weather day. The fields of bright yellow canola was especially nice with the Rockies in the background!

The last few miles were on a gravel road, as our destination is the Great Canadian Barn Dance RV Park. You better believe that we're going to stop at any RV Park that has the word "dance" in it!

After parking in the camp site on the end, we could hardly wait to take a picture of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. We love this view from our motor home window!

During a walk around the park we discovered the pond, with its families of geese. Do we still call them Canadian geese now that we're in Canada?

But the star of the park is the big red barn, where all the fun happens. On Friday night they have a live musical show, but we are here for the Saturday night barn dance. It starts with an all-you-can-eat cowboy buffet. We skipped lunch today, so we really enjoyed the food. Then we headed upstairs to the barn loft for the dancing.

It started with an hour-long lesson that included learning the line dance called "The Electric Slide." That's pretty basic for line dancers like us. Then we had some two-step lessons, also pretty basic for us. Finally, the live music began at 8:00, and didn't stop until 11:00.

Our feet were really tired, but it was a great evening of fun. When we needed to cool off, we could take a break on the barn's deck where temperatures were in the 50s and it didn't get dark until 11:00.

The owners have been doing this for over 30 years, and they insist on blessing the food before we ate. They also don't allow alcohol or cursing in the barn, so we were guaranteed a wholesome evening that families can enjoy. Good job Great Canadian Barn Dance! We've had a great welcome as we danced our way into Canada!