Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Alberta Bound

"Oh the prairie lights
are burnin' bright
The Chinook wind 
is a-movin' in
Tomorrow night 
I'll be Alberta bound
Alberta bound, Alberta bound
It's good to be Alberta bound"
     - Gordon Lightfoot

These were the lyrics that were floating through my head when I woke up this morning.   I've never been this far west, and thanks to songs like this, and basically the entire Corb Lund catalog, my head was full of visions of Alberta.

This was farm country. Horse country.  Oil country.  The place where the prairies end and the Rockies begin.  Its the place where Wayne Gretzky won his 4 Stanley Cups.

I was excited to get there and check it out for myself, but first I had to drive the rest of the way across Saskatchewan.

My wife and I had woken up in Saskatoon, and after saying goodbye for a few days to our Scavenger traveling companions, we piled into the Geovan of Destiny and headed west along the Trans-Canada Highway.

We were, finally, Alberta bound.

One of our first stops was a pull over to do an earth cache.  The place provided a great view of the Saskatchewan River.
Our next stop brings us to an important part of this road trip that has so far seen little to no mention:  Tim Hortons.
It would come to no surprise to any Canadians reading this, but every single day since we left on this road trip we have stopped multiple times at various Tim Hortons we've come across.  It has provided us with much needed caffeinated beverages and calories for the road, washroom breaks, and free Wifi.  It is my opinion that the plethora of Tim Hortons is one of the reasons why, God forbid it should be required, Canada will win the war.

(The other reason is the abundance of chip trucks.)

Shortly after our much needed pit stop, we started seeing signs for Table Mountain, and the related ski area.  Since Saskatchewan has so far been the flattest place on earth I have ever seen (and yes, American friends, I have been to the mid-west states) I was very curious what constitutes a "mountain".

So we took a detour.

After about a 10KM drive down some of the magnificent dirt roads (seriously, I am not sure what voodoo the province of Saskatchewan uses to maintain their roads, but they are glorious), we had our answer:
You can see the ski slopes on the hill in the background on the right.  Apparently, according to the Internets, the slopes are 100m, 330ft, high.

Mountains, it seems, are relative.

On the way back we took in some more of the Saskatchewan scenery.
We continued west and by lunch we had crossed the Alberta line.


At this time we started doing some more geocaches, and I am glad I did, since it introduced us to some of the most friendly horses I've ever met:
One of the first caches I did in Alberta was a bird house at the corner of a field.  As I approached, these three horses came trotting across their field to say heya.  We spent some time together, bonding over geocaches and muzzle-petting.  I found out later that these horses are famous for being super-friendly to geocachers, and have a history of pulling a geocache from the hiding spot on the fence into their field.

We went further off highway, which quickly means on more dirt roads, to grab some more geocaches.  We did one cache right in front of a Hydro crew (Electrical power company crew for you non-Canadians), and ended up introducing them to geocaching (they got a kick out of it).

So far, Alberta was promising to be as awesome as my mental image promised.

One thing that quickly became apparent is that the flatness of Saskatchewan  was over.  Alberta landscape is full of vast wide open spaces, but they are also full of rolling hills.  It makes the place feel alive.
We cached our way halfway across Alberta and ended up at our destination for the day: Elk Island National Park.  We were planning on camping there for a couple days.

One of the great things about being a geocacher is that it is a small community.  One of the local cachers put on a geocaching event in the park so I could meet some of the locals (including, as it turns out, the CO of the caches I did near the horses above).  So once we finished setting up camp, we headed over to the event.
After the event was over, we wandered over to the lake and enjoyed some of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever experienced in my life.  We took some time to snap some photos, and soak in the amazing nature that lay before us.
Yep, Alberta promises to be good to us.  I can't wait to explore more of it tomorrow.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Sask-Cache-One

Little known fact:  Scobby Doo and the gang live in Saskatoon.  I have proof.

This is just one of the things I learned while exploring Saskatoon for the day.

Road tripping is a lot of work, so its good to add a day or two along the way where you don't have to put in mileage. That day for us happened in Saskatoon.

We spent the morning geocaching until the quilt stores opened, then my wife went shopping.  I of course tagged along.  While I was waiting for her to finish checking out the local offerings I checked my phone for geocaches.  Turns out there was one 50ft away, in a bakery.

Tastiest. Geocache. Ever.

Afterwards we headed downtown to do a highly favourited cache. It turns out that cache was in the main branch of the local library.  Fun!.

Along the way we ran across some classic Canadian honesty: 
After lunch we headed out of town to check out the surrounding farmland.  We soon drove off the main roads and hit the dirt roads.
By the bye, Saskatchewan dirt roads are really nice, as far as these things go.

Our goal for this adventure was to grab the oldest cache in Saskatchewan, called Sask-Cache-One.

It was located down an old road along a farmers field, so we went for a walk.
A little while later we had this elder cache in hand.
Afterwards we grabbed a few more caches, then drove around, checking out the countryside.

One of the first things we noticed when we hit the prairies was fields of bright yellow.  These are, apparently, fields of rapeseed - also known as canola.  If you've ever had canola in your margarine, or cooking oil, you have fields like this to thank.
(I won't mention that canola was developed by two Canadian scientists in 1970).

After our drive we hit the hotel for a well deserved nap and a relaxing evening.  It was nice to unwind, but tomorrow we were hitting the road once again, in search of adventure.
Once again we planned to live out a Gordon Lightfoot song... which one?

Stay tuned to find out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Long Gone To Saskatchewan

The story so far:  A week ago a plucky gang of Canadian expats returned to their native homeland to kidnap a photographer. Their heist complete, they raced off to find adventure and glory.
... And we would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for you snooping kids!

(wait, wrong story).

... And along the way we ran into many photographers from our tribe of Scavengers.  We have made it as far as Winnipeg where we crashed the pad of another unsuspecting Scavenger.

Early the next morning we took our convoy westward.  Before we could hit the highway, the skies opened up and dumped a deluge of water on us.  I've rarely seen that much rain fall all at once.  Roads flooded! Tires splashed! Windshield wipers wiped!(dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!).

However we soon got thru the worst of it and hit the ol'Trans Canada Highway and headed left across the map.  Our goal for the evening was the booming prairie town of Saskatoon Saskatchewan.
However before we left Manitoba we had some business to attend to. We stopped by the town of Brandon to meet up with Sandra Parlow. (Yep, we met with another Scavenger... don't believe me?  I have proof!)
When one mentions they are planning on visiting Saskatchewan one of the first things mentioned is how flat it is ("Saskabush is pretty, yep she's pretty flat" - Corb Lund).  They ain't kidding.  However they also say that there isn't much there, and it is extremely boring terrain.  Here they couldn't be more wrong.  For example here is a modern style grain elevator.
(and over the horizon, cows!)

We didn't get much of a chance to enjoy it, however, as we were soon going to face more storms. 

Just as we approached Regina, and our path went from westward to northward, the skies started getting windy, and the rains started to fall.  It was an incredibly tense storm.  The reports on the radio said 80KM/H winds, and tons of rain.  Luckily there were few hills, trees, or buildings to block the wind.  It was some of the most intense driving I've ever done just trying to keep the van on the asphalt.

The rain did slow down enough near Chamberlain that we pulled over for fuel.  I grabbed this shot while standing at the pumps while the Geovan of Destiny was topping up. 
By the time we got to Saskatoon a few hours later the storms had passed.  We were left with a rather pleasant evening.  We took advantage of said evening to go down to the South Saskatchewan River, which cuts thru through the city, to take some sunset shots.
After this we headed for bed.

This ends the first phase of the trip.  Tomorrow our party of plucky Scavengers is due to split up for a few days.  Ron has a client in Saskatoon, so he had to go to work. Liz is going to act as his padawan learner.

The wife and I will be heading off on our own.  Don't worry! Our party will rejoin in a few days. Until then there is plenty of solo adventuring for us to do.

Stay tuned!

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: The Naked North

One of the fun things about northern Ontario are some of the fun names they have for places.  Some are just fun english names, like Moose Factory.  Others are based off of native Canadian names, like this mouthful (as stolen from Wikipedia):

Kakabeka Falls /ˈkɛkəˈbɛkə/ is a waterfall on the Kaministiquia River, located beside the village of Kakabeka Falls in the municipality of Oliver Paipoonge, Ontario.

See what I mean?

Speaking of Kakabeka Falls (see what I did there?), that was our first stop on the fifth day of our epic road trip across Canada. Kakabeka Falls is called the Niagara Of The North due to its size and ease of access.  Also like Niagara Falls, the Canadian side is prettier (tho to be fair there is no American side, but when you are Canadian you are used to suffering under an inferiority complex with our southern neighbours, so we like to point out all the ways in which we're superior - so take that, America! (sorry, eh?))

Kakabeka Falls is just outside T'under Bay, so it was our first stop of our convoy of Scavengers for the day.  

They look relatively like this:
If you take a step back, you get a view of what its like to travel with a group of Scavengers.
Speaking of which, what does one call a group of Scavengers? A posse? An aperture? A bracket? 

Well, while the group is mulling it over (drop your suggestions in the comments), here is a view downstream.
A little later on in the day, Ron finally got a picture of a moose (we didn't have the heart to tell him it was made of concrete - don't tell, OK?)
After lunch we finally made it out of Ontario - just took 4 days of westward driving.  At which time I found my first Manitoban cache, at this "petrified stump".
We rushed thru Manitoba because we had supper plans with yet another Scavenger, Pat Dickson from Winnipeg.   For those keeping track, the number of Scavengers we have seen on this trip so far has... um... increased by one (counting is hard.)

We enjoyed a wonderful evening sitting around Pat's porch, eating steak, drinking drinks, and talking old war stories about photography and various other photon capture technologies.  That night we camped in her back yard.
So we're now over half-way, distance wise, across Canada, and just two provinces away from Alberta.  In fact just inside the Manitoban border is a sign marking the geographic center (east, west) of Canada.

Tomorrow should prove to be interesting as we spend our first full day in the prairies, face some nasty weather, add yet another Scavenger to our list, and learn exactly just how flat Saskatchewan is.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: On The Way To T'under Bay

One thing that becomes quickly apparent when one embarks on a trip across Canada is that Ontario is really, really big.

At this stage of the tale, my wife and I (along with a Scavenger we kidnapped along the way), have been driving west across Ontario for 2 full days now, and still only made it half-way.

Today we put on another 8 hours of driving towards our goal, but to avoid unnecessary dramatic buildup, we won't make it out of Ontario.

We will make it to Thunder Bay tho... but I am getting ahead of myself.

My last post had us doing a ton of early morning photography then heading off in search of the most noble of quests: breakfast.

We found that breakfast at a Tim Hortons (surprise, surprise) in the town of Wawa, which is also famous for this:
Yep, the Wawa Goose.  A Great Canadian Landmark if ever there was one.

Speaking of Canadian landmarks, did you know Winnie The Pooh was Canadian?  The bear that inspired the stories was adopted when it was a cub by Lieutenant Harry Colebourn during WWI near the town of White River.  The cub became his unit's mascot, and was taken overseas.  Before they were shipped off to France, he donated the bear to the London Zoo for safe keeping.  It was at the Zoo that A. A. Milne, and his son Christopher Robin, saw the bear and started making up stories.

We stopped at the monument for Winnie The Pooh in White River.

So far I have not talked much about my main hobby of geocaching.  I have been doing some caching along the way, but nothing really blog worthy.  However it did lead us to a wonderful and fortuitous experience.

There exists a highly favourited cache at an overlook along the Trans Canada highway, right at the top of Lake Superior.  We stopped to hunt it down.  I ended up hunting for several minutes, and not having much luck.  However as we did a train came around the bend, and gave us an incredible sight to behold.  Definitely something I would not have seen had I not stopped to cache.

Looked like this:

I never did find that cache (turns out the coords were soft).  However caching also brought me to this pleasant scene:

As well as this scene.  This one is associated with a legend of the Sleeping Giant.
As we entered the city limits of Thunder Bay, we came across the memorial to Terry Fox. To any Canadians he needs no explanation, however to the non-Canuck among us, let me sum up.

Terry Fox lost his leg to cancer. In 1980 he started the Marathon Of Hope, and started running across the country to raise money for cancer research. Starting in Newfoundland, he ran the equivalent of a marathon a day - on one leg no less.  He made it as far as Thunder Bay when the cancer spread to his lungs. He became a Canadian folk hero, and due to his efforts, and annual events held in his memory, over $600 million dollars has been raised for cancer research.

This evening we were joined by another Scavenger by the name of +Liz Kaetterhenry, who would caravan with us for most of the rest of the journey.

So the three have become four (an increase of 33%! - a great return on investment.), and our journey continues.  Tomorrow we seek a way out of Ontario (finally) and get our first glimpse of the grasslands beyond.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Agawa Bay

My last post about the Great Canadian Road Trip told the tale of how we arrived at Agawa Bay campground on the north shore of Lake Superior.

We have been hoteling it so far, but the chance to spend the night out doors by a great lake was irresistible, so we made sure to bring our camp gear with us.

When we arrived we set about the business of setting up camp at a spot right along the water.

Then we set about the business of grilling some steaks over a camp fire.

Then we set about the business of photographing some of the fantastic landscapes that northern Ontario has to offer.

Since we were on the north east shore, we had a great view of the sunset.
This stump was sitting at the mouth of a creek that flowed thru the campground an drained into the lake.
This shot was taken from our campsite while I was getting the campfire started.
Early the next morning Ron and I woke up at 5AM and hiked up to Awausee Overlook to catch the sunrise.  We started the ~1 KM hike in the pitch dark.  This shot was from the trip down afterwards.
Awausee Overlook is on the edge of a large hill that is part of the Algoma highlands. It is a bare rocky outcroup that sits several hundred feet above the level of the lake.

Personal historical note:  This shot is the first HDR shot I have published.
The view of the lake from the overlook is breathtaking.  For reference, the campground where we stayed the night is passed the bridge and in the tip of the bay.
When we arrived back at camp we quickly packed up and headed down the road. We stopped a few minutes later where we checked out this cool rocky stream.  Here Debbie got into the photographer game by taking shots of an inuksuk.
Ron headed off to grab some shots of the water fall.
All of this happened before breakfast.  So when we done with the stream, we drove off in the Geovan of Destiny in search of more places to shoot - and a Tim Hortons.

Photography, it seems, is hungry business.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: The Big Nickel

For those keeping track, we are on the third day of tales from The Great Canadian Road Trip.

We, being my wifey, a Scavenger friend by the name of Ron, and Yours Truly, woke up this morning in the gateway to the north: North Bay Ontario.

We hopped into the Geovan of Destiny and headed left on the Trans-Canada Highway.  Our destination?  Adventure! (also Agawa Bay, but adventure sounds more dramatic.)

Our first stop of the day was at Science North in Sudbury.  This is a science center, and home to the famous Big Nickel (Sudbury being the nickel mining capital of the world, so they say).

We arrived just in time for the sky to open up and dump a deluge upon the ground, and threatened to soak everything on said ground.  Since we were on this rapidly saturating ground we headed indoors to check out the stone globe.
When the rain stopped, we headed back out to the van (luckily we did not reach "ark" stage).  In case you missed the demonstration of the Big Nickel by Indy above, here is a better look.

Since northern Ontario is lightly populated, I was excited at the possibilities of checking out some things that are seldom seen.  Turns out they keep all of stuff down this road here (convenient, eh?)
They have a saying down south that "everything is bigger in Texas". Such hubris!  Apparently whoever said that has never been to Ontario.  For example, our chairs are bigger than your chairs.
Other things that are larger up north: the length of the Canadian highways (and the grip on the dream that the Leafs will win the cup this year).

The north is also known for its plethora of animals.  Here is Ron taking photos of some Canadian wildlife in Sault Ste. Marie.
Actually what we wanted to see the most was a nice wild moose.  Moose are awesome creatures.  Huge, cranky, majestic, slightly smelly, and horny (I mean antler-y).   We didn't have much luck spotting them.  At one point I thought I got a glimpse of one...
... but it was just Ron. (Damnit Ron!)
We spent a good portion of the days trip driving in, and then beside, lots of water. After a while we drove past Lake Huron and arrived at the big lake they call Gitche Gumee, aka Lake Superior (the largest freshwater lake in the world - no doubt as it took us all of tomorrow to drive to the other side, but thats getting ahead of myself).

It was kinda awesome finally getting to put eyes on (and a toe in) Lake Superior.  We played Gordon Lightfoots: Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald as a tribute to this vast body of water (not to mention it satisfies the requirement that every day should include at least one Lightfoot song.)

During one of the first sights of the huge lake we noticed that a fog bank was sitting just over the water.  It was a very odd sight to see, so I stopped by the side of the road for a photo op.
I love partially overcast days - the dramatic light of a cloudy sky with a bright sunlit ground makes for some fantastic light.  I was glad the lake offered up such a great view of her majestic shores.

Our destination for the night is a campground on Agawa Bay, deep in Lake Superior Provincial Park, on the northeast shore of Superior.  When we arrived we quickly set up camp, then settled in to enjoy the awesome nature that Canada is famous for.
She's a beauty, eh?