(July 11 – 18, 2015)
Everything that we have heard so far about Manitoba and Saskatchewan is that it’s flat, there isn’t much to see, it’s a long boring drive and you are happy when you finally have it behind you. Well we certainly can attest to that it’s flat, but we definitely didn’t find it boring.
Fields as far as the eye can see
It was really hot and steamy as we crossed the border into Manitoba. Totally sweaty the only thing we could think about was finding a lake to jump into. Just on the other side of the border from Ontario is Falon Lake and so we decided to head directly there to cool off. Unfortunately for us the only thing that was cooling was under the ice cold showers they had to rinse off with. Nevertheless we felt much better after our swim and hopped back in the landy and put a few more miles behind us. The landscape didn’t change too much at first but after a while we noticed that the forest started to thin out, until suddenly the arrow straight road split fields that seemed to go on forever. We drove through seas of yellow canola (rapseed), different grains and huge Hemp fields. We’ve been eating Hemp seeds as a healthy supplement on our fruit salads since Ontario and it seems that Manitoba is the place where it’s grown in Canada.
We arrived in Winnipeg the next morning at the Forks historic park and were please to find that there is a farmers market on Sundays; we hadn’t yet had breakfast (a thunderstorm early in the morning had made it a bit difficult) so the timing couldn’t have been better. We strolled through the market sampling a few of the yummy snacks and restocked our pantry with fresh vegetables and home made bread. To our pleasant surprise we found some tasty milk-free cinnamon buns. We were in the middle of our milk-free experiment and it seemed the perfect treat; surprisingly enough we weren’t finding it all too difficult. The only thing we really missed, with the weather the way it was, is ice cream. But where there is a will there is a way and a solution to that problem is called Sorbet. You can’t find it everywhere but at the farmers market we got lucky!
With full bellies and feeling refreshed we headed back out in the heat toward our next destination. The thermometer climbed all the way up to 36C a few times and without AC in the landy we longed for another chance to go swimming.
Riding Mountain National Park
Just to make sure you don’t get the wrong idea, yes we are still in Manitoba, and no there aren’t really any Mountains per se. Apparently any mound that has the nerve to lift itself more than 10 meters above the endless flatlands seems to be called a “Mountain”. And Riding Mountain is no exception; we would call it more hilly than Mountainous. The park is nevertheless really beautiful and a wide variety of animals call the park home. Over the next 4 days we had the chance to confirm that fact for ourselves. First a fox crossed the street as we entered the park and then we watched 2 beavers as they gathered material for their house. Excited about our encounters we headed toward Wasagaming, the little town within the park. It is situated direct on the shores of Clear Lake; which also happens to describe the lake perfectly. It’s apparently a very popular vacation destination with lots of little cottages, resorts, hotels, restaurants and bars. Little shops line the streets as well and it was fun just to walk through the little village and enjoy the vacation atmosphere. We booked a spot for 2 nights in the un-serviced section of the huge campground, and took advantage of available bike trails and simply enjoyed the lake. With the heat wave we were having we practically had a thunderstorm every evening, which usually provided a little break from the heat. Gary decided to try and find a solution to the weak spot in our roof tent: Water tends to pool above the canopy where the ladder is and to prevent the possibility of damage during heavy rains we have to constantly empty it, even during the night. After some experimentation he found a solution by tying an extra rope to pull the tent fly taunt thereby preventing the water from collecting and also letting us sleep the night through without worry.
We didn’t have to go on any hikes to see the wildlife at the park as our campsite provided plenty of opportunities. It’s practically better here than on a safari! We had the feeling that all we had to do is sit here quietly and sooner or later some animal would walk by our campsite. During supper a Doe walked a few meters away from our site. A few minutes later a Black Bear just strolled through the campground. The next morning we were surprised to discover another Black Bear right next to our site! He wasn’t interested in us at all; he was more interested in searching for breakfast and the (Bearproof) garbage cans. Our “pet” came by for its regular visit and was very interested in our food. To date in every National Park we’ve had our very own personal pet in the form of a squirrel or chipmunk that always seemed to come to visit just in time for supper. The cute little visitors are very entertaining, they seem very tame and we have to be careful that they don’t hop up onto the table and steal our food. Why they are so tame is obvious to us, the visitors to the park feed them. They may be really cute and all but by feeding them they become a real nuisance. And it’s not only the squirrels and chipmunks that people feed, but also bears. Feeding bears is not only dangerous but also stupid because when a bear becomes a nuisance they generally get destroyed. We didn’t feed the squirrels, of course, but had a lot of fun watching them skitter around our camp. We ended up having two little pets at this park: a squirrel and a ground squirrel who took turns coming for a visit looking for handouts.
On a bike tour along the lakeshore we came across something bigger: The 3rd Black Bear in two days. Gary stopped suddenly looking into the bushes next to the bike path where he saw the bear. I only saw how the bushes were being shaken around and pulled down as though some giant bear was thrashing about. The Bear didn’t notice us at all so we retreated back along the path to wait until it moved off. Apparently it was preoccupied with filling it’s belly with Saskatoons, which grow in abundance in the park, we had also tried them on occasion; they have a unique taste but not exactly to our liking.
Riding Mountain National park is also known for its Bison enclosure, which is a fenced in area you can drive though like on a little safari. There are about 40 Bison in the enclosure and if you are lucky, when the weather is just right, you will get a chance to see them. Since it was a somewhat cloudy day and not as hot as the previous days the Bison were out on the prairie part of the enclosure eating so we got a pretty good look at them. We were really excited, and probably quite lucky, as we saw a newborn calf; it must have been just born prior to our arrival in the enclosure. After some time observing the bison the herd started moving off towards the road and forested area beyond and so we got a really close up look at these majestic animals.
That evening we camped at the remote Audy Lake campground and were once again amazed at the variety of animals that call the park home, this time in the form of a Loon family (with young), pelicans and of course a pet (a ground squirrel again). I am really fascinated with loons, they have found a special place in my heart. Ever since our canoe trip in 2012, where we experienced our first real loon “concert”, I became fascinated by the call of the loon. To me it is the call of the wilderness. It’s even more impressive at night when you are laying in the tent and they start calling, it gives me goose bumps every time. If you have never heard it before it’s an eerie haunting sound that gets under your skin and is at the same time deeply emotional. So it was really great to have a loon family to observe at the lake the whole evening and the next morning. The 3 of them swam by our camp on numerous occasions and made our evening into something very special.
Saskatchewan – Land of living Skies
“Land of living Skies” is printed on the provincial license plates and it’s definitely accurate. We didn’t really see all that much from this province since we drove through in 2 days, but we could watch the fascinating unbroken sky the whole way. The landscape stayed flat, but surprisingly just after the border from Manitoba it turned really swampy, though soon we were back to driving through endless canola fields, that seem even larger than in Manitoba. Now and again we passed large lavender fields accompanied by the living sky. It may not be the most exciting or adventurous landscape that we have driven through but it’s everything but boring. We haven’t had the chance to see such a broad expanse of sky like this every day; it almost has a somewhat oppressive feeling to it. You feel so insignificant with all that sky above as you drive hour after hour into the horizon.
On our second evening, after leaving the city of Saskatoon behind us, we found something that we have been looking for since the beginning of our trip: A simple campground next to the road especially built for overnighters, with self registration and a really low price ($10). Now if we could only find more of these along our travels!
More Photos on Flickr: Manitoba & Saskatchewan