When life throws you a curve ball ……..

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Our journey through the Badlands, Sandhills and Grasslands to Esterhazy, Saskatchewan had been relaxing and gratifying. Settled in to care for his mom Laddie passed the time with Tulák. The small water leak below the sink was easily repaired. Quick connect fittings for the air lines were installed. He was making progress until he came down with what he thought was a stomach flu.

Three days later Laddie had his brother-in-law take him to the hospital. What Laddie assumed to be stomach flu had been a heart attack. Laddie is in good hands at the Regina General Hospital. Tulák has been moved to our niece’s farm for safe-keeping.

A redirection, but …………….…

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

words by Lao Tzo

Journey to the Grasslands

Although there’s no traffic on these back roads you’re not alone. And you’re being watched.

It is the red-winged blackbird that guards the Red Coat Trail these days.

Eastend, Saskatchewan began as the most eastern North West Mounted Police (NWMP) detachment from Fort Walsh and was the east end of their patrol. Today it is home to the fossil remains of the Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed “Scotty” which was found nearby.

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As we approach the West Block of Grasslands National Park 70 Mile Butte looms in the distance. A four kilometre hike takes you to a 100-metre-tall hilltop and a lookout over the French River Valley.

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The views at the summit are not the only reward along this front-country hike.

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Prairie dogs would be visible until you motioned to take a photo of their colony. Gophers weren’t as shy.

To view bison graze at dusk was a spiritual experience but was captured only in our memory.

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The solitude of the grasslands shall haunt us.

Journey to the Great Sandhills

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East of Dinosaur Provincial Park, the land transitions. Dressed for the occasion, coyote are well camouflaged.

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Tumbleweed congregates in the ditch along the fence line. Rolling prairie leads us to a peaceful campsite alongside the Red Deer River.

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A bump in the road signals you’ve crossed the border from Alberta into Saskatchewan. Gravel replaces pavement. Now, there’s one more river to cross.

The seasonal Estuary ferry transports us across the South Saskatchewan River.

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Pronghorn, known informally in North America as antelope and mule deer roam the fields.

Signage to the Great Sandhills was lacking so we turned into a farm yard. The owner is accustomed to providing directions and sent us on our way after showing us his wolves. He has a breeding pair with ten pups in a licensed, inspected pen littered with cattle carcasses in various states of decomposition.

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Active sand dunes cover a relatively small portion of the Sandhills which have a long history in ranching. Cattle continue to graze on the stabilized sand. The vastness of this landscape astonishes and its fragile beauty delights.

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Journey to the Badlands

Travelling east, dandelions carpeted the slopes along the all too familiar Crowsnest Highway #3.  Anxious to leave the familiar, just past Fort MacLeod, Alberta we headed north. The smell of cow manure permeated the air. We had entered feedlot country.

In Brooks, Alberta we were in for a surprise. Today, it is jobs at one of Canada’s largest meatpacking plants that bring migrants from all corners of the globe. One hundred years ago it was the promise of water that lured immigrants to the land.

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The Brooks Aqueduct was built between 1912 and 1914 as part of an irrigation system to provide water to the arid farmlands of southeastern Alberta. It is an enormous engineered concrete structure, 20 meters high.

What did the pioneers think when they arrived given the spareness of this land?

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To the northeast Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site protects the largest section of badlands in Canada.

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It was here we came to understand the word ‘coulee’ – a derivative from the French verb ‘couler’ which means ‘to flow.’ Often dry, coulees are the products of intense erosion by water. These Badlands continue to be sculpted by wind and water revealing color, texture, form and fossils.

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We had crossed the Oldman and Bow rivers over the course of this day. It would be to the banks of the Red Deer River that we would now travel.

 

Spring travel has its rewards

Fresh, verdant hues colored our Kootenay highway route initially. As we moved into the dry south Okanagan we were delighted to see bouquets of Arrowleaf Balsamroot everywhere the eye wandered.

Arrow-leaved Balsamroot

This member of the sunflower tribe was new to us and we marveled at its abundance.

Onward to Langley, the floral parade now marched in pinks and purples as Azaleas and Rhododendrons strut their stuff. Vast fields of high bush blueberries spread across the Fraser Valley.

Free evening accommodation was available at BC Recreation Sites. West of Rock Creek, Jolly Creek, a grassy site in a tight valley was quiet and dark.

 

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At the Dewdney (Princeton) site on the Similkameen River evidence of the hand laid retaining wall of the historic Dewdney Trail could be seen.

The N’kwala (Merritt) site located beside the Nicola River had us back in Ponderosa Pine territory.

The whining and whistling of semis and trains through the Fraser Canyon didn’t impede Anne’s sleep at the Yale Rest Area alongside the Trans Canada highway.

Vestiges of the past gave us time to reflect on those who came before.

The proprietor at the Vulture Garage had quite the collection but his pride and joy was a bucket dragster.

But it is the hillsides of Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Ponderosa Pine that will be etched into our memory.

Trial is terminated

There’s more than one good reason to stop at a scenic pull-out along the Oregon Coast. During a walk-around to visually check the truck, Laddie noticed some oil. He kept the news from Anne until the next morning when he announced “Anne, we have a problem.”

A leak from the front differential is suspected. Not knowing neither the severity of the problem nor the availability of parts and service during the holiday season, the decision was made to return home. Disappointed? You bet. Lessons learned? Yes sir.

The trip did give us the opportunity to observe what works and what needs tweaking. Over the 6 days travelling 2,675 kilometers we saw some incredibly diverse landscapes.

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  • Desolate volcanic rock & dry sagebrush country
  • Yakima Canyon where eagles soar

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  • White Pass snow and ski belt
  • Oregon Coast sand dunes
  • A dark forest where lichen-laden tree limbs look like reindeer antlers
  • Hawks stand watch in a broad and green “Valley of grasses”
  • Hillside orchards and vineyards for as far as the eye can see
  • Columbia River gorge where nature has chiseled and sculpted the route

We also learned a new word – “dalles” – the rapids of a river running between the walls of a canyon or gorge. This land that Lewis & Clarke and David Thompson travelled 200 years ago is awe inspiring country.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”