ANOTHER FUNNY: Still catching up on sharing the oldies…in Annapolis, Maryland, on US-50 there is a sign that says “Crashes Are No Accident. Drive Safely.” Hmmmmm. With the exception of those perpetrated by the criminally insane, aren’t all crashes accidents?
SIDE RANT: I LOVE Amazon. I also HATE Amazon. Recently, I ordered several things to be delivered to our campground in Minot. All arrived in a timely manner and were waiting for us upon arrival. One of the packages contained a fitness tracker. I’ve been trying to find one for a while that I like. I want something that tracks walking and biking, keeps up with sleep information without being too bulky, and IS NOT A WATCH. (I am a watch person, so I have several that I love and change out regularly.) I also don’t want to spend a gazillion dollars. I finally found the perfect thing…the Amazon Halo Band. I ordered it and two different colored straps on 4/20. On 4/26 at 12:40 PM, I received the exciting message that my band had been delivered with details on how it will change my life! Awesome! On 4/26 at 4:10 PM, an “Important Message About Amazon Halo” arrived. Very exciting, until I read it. The gist…Amazon is proud of their Halo, its associated apps, and the following they built with it, but well, they’re scrapping it. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN???? The brand new fitness band that I had not even seen yet would not work past August 1, 2023. The service was CANCELLED. The entire program was DUMPED. I was VERY disappointed. There are so few options that aren’t watches, and of those, most are too large. To add to the frustration, although the three items were delivered together in the same box, when I initiated the return, there were two separate shipments with different instructions for each (box/don’t box, print label/no label needed). What??!! I just put the whole shebang in a box to take to the UPS store.
On Monday, May 1, we originally planned to hit the road extra early. We would be crossing the Canadian border and had no idea how long that would take, plus there was still that odd sound in the truck that had us both a bit worried. (There was nowhere in Minot to get it looked at over the weekend, but we had a plan for Moose Jaw.) Our departure was delayed, though, because the UPS Store did not open until 8:30 AM. We headed into town with plenty of time, and were rewarded with a glimpse of a bald eagle. Just about the time I spotted him up about 200′, he saw something in the field beside us. Man, they dive fast! He was on his prey in a matter of seconds. It was a sight to see. We made it to the UPS parking lot early, so grabbed a bagel (me) and some java for Mr. Wonderful (MW) at Caribou Coffee next door. At UPS, the girl was on the ball and had it all sorted in a matter of minutes. Then we were finally on the road.
We followed US-52 all the way up to the border crossing at Portal, North Dakota. The weather and scenery were gorgeous. It was odd to us that there were some ponds/small lakes still frozen solid, while others right next to them had no ice at all. Wonder if it was depth? The land is mostly very flat with a lot of farms and a little cattle all the way to the border. We were surprised to find lots of oil wells, too. I just don’t associate oil with North Dakota. We went through the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. There was also a LOT of snow melt water in fields and along the roadway. We saw thousands of water birds, mostly mallards and Canada geese. There were plenty I could not identify, but pics at 60 mph are tough, and they fly as soon as you slow down. We also saw another bald eagle, a hawk on the hunt, and lots of pheasant. I made many attempts to capture a pheasant pic and finally managed two. (I’ve been trying since we first started seeing them in South Dakota!)
At Portal, North Dakota, we stopped for gas just prior to the crossing. As I was walking into the store, an old man came out and said “Tennessee, Huh?” I was surprised, because there was no way he could see our tags from the store. I responded in the affirmative and asked how he knew. He passed us a few miles back. I was a little concerned about our upcoming border crossing when he said he comes through at least once a month, and they hold him for 2-3 HOURS every time! What??!! I told MW we might be in for a wait. When we pulled up, there was one car at the window on the passenger vehicle side. Within 5 minutes, they moved on, and it was our turn. The agent appeared to be in training and was very polite. After looking at our passports and asking for our tag number, the questions began. “Why are you coming into Canada?” “Where are you staying?” “Where do you live?” “Do you have reservations?” “Can I see them?” “Do you have raw/fresh food or meat that wasn’t commercially packaged?” “How much alcohol do you have onboard?” “Do you have any cannabis products?” “Do you have anything else to declare?” MW answered everything and told him about my Thanksgiving Cactus, while I was praying I could keep it. (It was a gift given to me when my son was born 38 years ago. When we sold our house, I split off a bunch of little pieces and distributed to various family. This is only one of two surviving sections.) He closed the window for about 15 seconds to confer with his partner, then told us we could go on. Whew!! We were back on the road in 5-7 minutes.
On the other side of the border, we headed northwest on SK-39 and were surprised at a sudden change in the landscape. Oh, it was still flat with quite a lot of oil wells, but not too far northwest, there were tailings from strip-mining coal everywhere for miles. The Westmoreland Coal Company is still active there and appears to cover thousands of acres. In Estevan, Saskatchewan, we stopped for lunch at The Flats Eatery. It was not good. We both ordered flatbread; MW’s had so much juicy stuff on it that it was mushy, and mine was nothing like expected. It was supposed to be a Margarita. Admittedly, I did not read the menu description, but that usually incorporates fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella. The reality was a lot of overly sweet pizza sauce with a bunch of what looked and tasted like American cheese. We both ate part of ours, then got back on the road. My stomach was unsettled for the rest of the day, most likely from the odd sauce.
We continued northwest on SK-39 all the way up to CAN-1, where we turned west for the last few miles to Moose Jaw. We passed through Yellow Grass and Drinkwater, which I assumed are very practical names. We also went through Ralph, and I wondered what kind of last name the guy had that caused them to go with his first. In Weyburn, they had giant wheat sculptures around the river. Saskatchewan is so wheat-oriented that the province road signs have little wheat bails on them. We finally arrived at the Prairie Oasis Campground around 3 PM. It had been an absolutely gorgeous day for a drive.
Our first order of business, after checking in with the office, was to set up my new level system. Our rig does not self-level, so it always takes manually figuring out what level is. Years ago we bought a Level Master that is bolted to the front of the hitch. MW should be able to look at that as he backs up and see when we are level side-to-side. In practical use, though, that metal ball appears to be in something with more viscosity than water, so the responsiveness absolutely stinks. It will say level, then a few minutes later…nope! The front-to-back part is a small bubble level on top of the main one. It is fine except that the bubble pegs at about 1/2, so you never know if you are talking 4 inches or much more. That info is pretty important, particularly in instances where the nose needs to go down. Do I have to have 4″ of leg or 8″? The result of all of this has been, at least for a year or so, me grousing and using the carpenter’s level on the inside floor. That requires a bit of back and forth, which is REALLY annoying when setting up in rain, snow, and/or cold wind. To say I am over it is a serious understatement. Enter my new toy…after looking at several options, I ordered the LevelMate PRO. It is a small receiver that mounts inside the rig, in our case in the front of our pass-through, and communicates via Bluetooth with an app on my phone. Initial setup requires a little work taking some measurements, getting the rig level with the slide out, then bringing the slide back in. The result, though, is a system set at zero in all directions. Now, we should easily be able to see level, and bonus, it shows how many inches it needs to change. So helpful! Plus, before we take Petunia off of the hitch, we can mark the hitch location to easily back right up again. I’m really hoping this works as advertised. We’ll give an update after we use it a couple of times.
After getting everything set up, I had to run out to mail my baby sister, Kate’s, birthday card. (She is a Cinco de Mayo baby.) Parking at the post office was metered, so I went by an ATM to get Canadian cash, then headed to the grocery store for vegetable beef fixin’s and change. The cashier gave me a tutorial on what the meters would take…nickels, dimes, quarters, 50-cent pieces, loonies, toonies…wait what? The latter are $1 (named for the loon on the coin) and $2 (a combo of two and loonie). Turned out not to be an issue, though, because a nice lady in line directed me to a local drugstore that had a post office in the back and free parking. (Bills are the same denominations as ours, but much more colorful.) Right now a Canadian dollar is about $0.75 American, which just takes a little getting used to when looking at prices. I sent the package, but was dismayed to find it will take 10 BUSINESS DAYS! I guess Kate won’t be getting her card for her big day, but her gift should arrive on time. At least that’s something. The other adjustment when I am out driving by myself is the speed limits. Our analog speedometer doesn’t even show kilometers, so I was constantly working the math (100 km = 62 mph). I finally pulled into a parking lot and figured out how to set it up in the digital display. MW made fun of me for not being able to navigate in a strange area while also doing math. It is just too much!! LOL. That changed our temp to Celsius, though, so that’s another adjustment. Across from the bank, I saw their cool version of Mickey D’s.
Saskatchewan is a central province in Canada located right above North Dakota and Montana. It and Alberta are the only two land-locked provinces in the country, and it’s known for the abundance of lakes and rivers. Almost all of the towns and roadways are in the southern half of the province, and most of its 1.2 million residents live there. The capital is Regina (pronounced with a long “I”), but the largest city is Saskatoon. The current premier’s (governor’s) name is Moe, and we were assured by a new friend in Maple Creek that Curly and Larry are definitely helping out! Sounds familiar, eh? The economy is heavy in agriculture, mining (mostly potash and uranium), and energy (lots of oil and natural gas, and some wind and solar). Wheat, which is on the provincial flag and most readily associated with Saskatchewan, was overtaken by canola production in 2017 as the leading agricultural product. They are also the world’s largest exporter of mustard seed. Who knew?! The entire southern portion of the province is prairie, either rolling or flat, and to the north is the Boreal Forest. We talked to someone from the northern part of the province who said it is totally different, beautiful, and a Mecca for hunters and fishermen. In the southern part, it can reach the 90s and even over 100 (F) in July, but it can also stay in the 50s. The wind is always blowing, which is great in warmer weather, but smacks you in the winter, when the temps can be below zero (F) for weeks at a time. That’s bad, but the hottest ever is 113 (F), and the lowest is -70 (F). Whew! The provincial fish is the walleye, and something we don’t see in the U.S., they have their official tartan, which was registered in 1961 in Scotland with the Court of Lord Lyon King of Arms. Wow. Now you know.
Tuesday morning began with a bit of writing for me while MW headed over to Murray Chevrolet across the road to talk about Brutus. After learning of our situation, Alex agreed to work us in, and this time, thankfully, the guy did hear the issue on the drive. MW left him there and walked back, but they said it might be Wednesday before they were able to look at it. We were hoping that: 1) they would find the issue, because it’s stressing us out; 2) it would be fixable quickly; and 3) it wouldn’t cost a fortune. I’m an optimist, but even I don’t think all of that will happen! It will work out, one way or the other, though. It was a beautiful day, so we walked over to Streets Steakhouse & Bar, a local joint, for lunch (delicious wings), then over to check out the Visitor Center. There we saw lots of prairie dogs in the grass, saw a Canadian Air Force trainer, and came face-to-face with Mac the Moose. The latter’s title as World’s Tallest Moose, was stolen by Stor-Elgen in Norway. Moose Jaw couldn’t stand for that, so in 2019 they removed his old antlers and installed larger ones. Mac’s boasting rights are secure…for now. Everyone is familiar with the prohibition era in the U. S….you know, taking away the booze, the rise of gangsters and bootleggers, the beginnings of NASCAR. What neither MW or I were aware of is that Canada had prohibition simultaneously. Did you know that Al Capone spent some time up in Saskatchewan? Me either! Moose Jaw, commonly known as “Little Chicago”, has a rich history and underground tunnels all tied to the battle for the booze. Saskatchewan’s version of Eliot Ness was A. J. Hawke, the province’s prohibition enforcement officer. In the end, just as in the U. S., everyone came to their senses and a good glass of whiskey/beer was once again legal. Today there are thriving industries in specialty distilling and brewing all over the U.S. and Canada. We finished up by purchasing a few Christmas gifts, then headed back to Petunia. You guessed it, there was a bit more writing. I am getting closer to caught up, though…honest!!
Wednesday was a quiet morning, and around noonish, we walked over to McDonalds for a bite. This Mickey D’s had a lot more pastry/muffin offerings than I’m used to seeing. Next we walked over to the Chevrolet dealership to confer with Alex and Adam, the technician. (More on that later.) Clearly we were going to be here for another day or two, and there were a few things to see in town that were too far to walk to. We decided to rent a car, and thankfully, there was a Hertz a short walk away. Mission accomplished, we went back to the campground where MW walked up to the office to change our departure day to Friday. While he did that, I changed the arrival date at our next location. Later in the afternoon we headed downtown to take a driving tour of the Murals of Moose Jaw. There are actually 47 pictures painted by a variety of artists designed to show visitors the town’s history. Moose Jaw is much larger than I expected it to be. There is a very active downtown area that is about 10 blocks by 3 blocks. Stores were filled with every day goods and services, not touristy or high end stuff, and there were lots of people walking and riding bikes. I even saw a guy roller blading…didn’t even know they sold those anymore! Outside of downtown, there is also a bit of spread that encompasses some shopping centers, lots of dining/fast food, and of course, Wally World. Back at Petunia, I did a little writing in the evening.
Early Thursday morning MW took a walk over to Tim Horton’s for a bit of coffee and a bagel. Although they do have Starbucks in Canada, this is more their go-to. When MW had people from up north working for him, they were always telling him not to miss out on Tim’s in our travels. He says their coffee is okay, and they do serve a mean breakfast bagel. I spent most of the morning doing laundry at the campground. About 8 AM, I walked up to the office and asked about washing. You pay there and then go into the back room to wash. The lady said that, usually they don’t open the laundry until 3:30 PM, but she didn’t have any washing to do and let me in. They had two washers for my five loads, so I let her know it would take a while. She was super nice and said I would have access all morning. When I got back to Petunia, MW saw a guy rolling a suitcase towards the front office and commented that he was probably doing laundry, too. Later, when I went up to change stuff over, the lady had a story. Apparently the guy walked in and said he was going to wash. She let him know that she had committed to my five loads, but he could do his right after that. He TOLD her that it was his day off and, since he was there, and I was not (bear in mind my clothes were still washing, and I came back before they went off), he WOULD be putting HIS in next. She got in his face and told him HE WOULD NOT at which time he apparently became belligerent. Her response…she walked over to the laundry door and put the “closed until 3:30 PM” sign back up. Now he wouldn’t be getting done until much later. He stormed out, and she was very happy with herself saying, “when I make a commitment, I keep it. Plus, no one is going to waltz into my office and tell me what they are going to do with my machines!!” That is the perfect example of that “flies with honey thing” your grandma always told you.
Once everything was cleaned and put away, we headed downtown for lunch at Rosie’s On River, where MW could not resist Zach’s Dorito Burgerito (a burger with Swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, sriracha mayo, and SWEET CHILI DORITOS, snuggled up in a tortilla blanket). How can you go wrong with that?? On the way back to the campground, we popped in at the Real Canadian Superstore, Canada’s answer to Walmart. It is SO nice to have an option, because you guys know how I feel about Wally World! Later in the afternoon we got the call to meet with Alex and Adam about Brutus. I’ll touch on all of that later, but we were able to pick him up and turn in the rental. Yay! We could get moving again!!
Friday morning we planned a later than usual start. MW put the spare tire on Petunia’s right front first thing. While we were setting up the leveling system earlier in the week, we noticed that the front right tire was almost completely bald on the inside third. It had been fine when we changed the rear flat in Missouri. That’s not good! Maybe something was thrown off in its structure when we unknowingly drove a few of miles on it with the flat back then. That’s what I’m hoping, because other causes would be worse. Once on the road, our westward trek continued on CN-1. Just an hour or so into the drive, we saw LOTS of white. It looked like frozen lakes and mounds of pristine snow, but surely it was too warm for that! Turns out it is all mineral mining. Chaplin and Old Wives lakes, south of the town of Chaplin, are both salt lakes. I had no idea! Apparently there are quite a few alkaline, or soda, lakes in North America. The only one I’d heard of is in Utah. Remember that “learn something new every day” thing. Add this to my list. The giant piles are part of the mining operation for sodium sulphate, which has been going on since 1948. We continued to see sporadic spots of sodium along the sides of the road and around ponds for a while.
At Swift Current, we stopped for lunch at Original Joe’s, a chain across southern Canada. It was VERY good. MW had the Nashville Spicy chicken sandwich, and I tried The Kona. (I love a burger with teriyaki and pineapple.) The real winner, though, was the Brussels sprouts…flash fried with red pepper, bacon, parmesan, cilantro, and lime crema…YUMMMMMMM!!! We continued west on CN-1 to SK-21, where we turned south the last few miles to Maple Creek. Our first stop was Kirk’s Tirecraft to get the replacement for the bald one mounted. Rob was really nice and said we could pick it up the next day. Then, about 2:30 PM, we drove a few blocks down to Willowbend Campground.
During setup, we tried out the new leveling system. It is very intuitive and does make things a lot easier. (I forgot to set the hitch location, so we will have to try that feature next time.) After relaxing for a while, we took a nice walk around the campground and town. Maple Creek has a North West Mounted Police post, but we didn’t see any of the guys in red.
The rain started overnight, and Saturday morning dawned grey, cold, wet, and windy. I started with some writing, and MW headed over to pick up the tire. Later we headed south to check out Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, which is partly in Alberta and was Canada’s first interprovincial park. During this time of year, there isn’t much going on, but you could tell it was ramping up for summer. They also have quite a bit to offer during the winter months. For those of you interested in coming through in the summer, there are hundreds of campsites in a multitude of campgrounds and enough activities to keep the entire family busy. We started at Ivan’s Restaurant, named for its founder Ivan Cheng, at The Resort at Cypress Hills. It had a varied menu, which included sandwiches, entrees, and Indian and Asian options. We both opted for noodle bowls, and they were delicious! Afterwards we drove around the park and checked out the overlook.
Apparently cougars are a problem at Cypress Hills, so they have signs posted on how to behave. There are several things noted, but I have questions on a couple:
- Stay calm, sightings are usually brief. Does that mean they kill and eat you fast?
- Do not run, pick up small children. Is that on the list because some parent ran away and left their child as bait?
- Never approach, leave an escape route. Are there really people who actually approach a cougar after seeing it?
- If the cougar is aggressive, it says to make yourself appear large, hold up your arms. BUT, next it says to throw rocks or wave a stick. So you will be psychologically torn between being large and getting small to pick up that danged rock!!
- If a cougar attacks, fight back! Now that I can get behind. I’d prefer to do it with a firearm from at least a few feet away, though.
On a related note, later in the week I was talking to a couple of ladies at coffee. They said the deer come closer into town in the winter to find food, and they used to have a lot of wild turkeys do the same. What happened to them? Cougars followed them into town, so for a while it was apparently a little dicey. They had not seen wild turkeys in several years, so they assumed the big cats took care of them.
We passed a historical marker in the valley on the way back to town that marked the location of the Fort Qu’Appelle – Fort Walsh cart trail. The main route prior to the railroad in 1883, this northeast to southwest path was used by traders, freighters, mounted police, ranchers, and settlers. They couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place to traverse.
Back in town, we headed over to the Co-Op for groceries, then went home and put our feet up. Later MW decided a trip to Rafter R Brewing Company was in order. They don’t serve supper, so we picked up takeout from Cypress Pizza and Chicken to take with us. There were a few folks whiling away the gloomy, damp afternoon when we arrived, but they cleared out before long. That left us to get to know owner Ryan Moncrieff, a pretty cool guy. He and his wife moved to Maple Creek about 3 years ago, just as all of the Covid mess was starting. Like many small businesses at the time, he was too invested to back out by the time restrictions began popping up, so they just jumped in with both feet. He said it was a lot of stress, but the community rallied around them. Thankfully, although the government kept changing the rules (not unlike in the U.S.), there was never a time they had to shut down completely. He brews about eight beers at a time, and has a good variety of styles. What we tried was very good, and the company was, too. Before we left, the evening crowd began streaming in. Proof that we aren’t the only ones impressed.
Sunday we had a relaxing start, then headed out to St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church for services. It is a beautiful, small church whose main building is over 100 years old. Everyone was very welcoming, and I enjoyed the lay minister Ed Bath. He had a terrific sense of humor while teaching about God’s granting of prayers and why, sometimes, what we want doesn’t happen. I particularly appreciated the readings/responses being shown on a screen. It is hard for this Baptist-raised girl to keep up otherwise. Like several of the churches we’ve visited recently and ours in Tennessee, they have been in the midst of a preacher/priest search. Their new fellow is moving to the area in a few weeks and starts his job in September. I know that will make them all happy. After the service, several folks asked us to stay for coffee, which we did. It ended up being coffee or tea and dessert with all of the neighbors sitting around the table catching up. They do it every week, and I think that’s terrific, especially in winter when it is so dark and bleak there. Before leaving, I was given a tour of the community garden project in progress. The project leader, Joann Haughian, showed me the wonderful raised bed boxes and described a pretty cool, bottom-watering system that keeps them from having to water twice a day in their dry summer. She is very excited to get it all planted with the help of a small volunteer army, including her two little munchkins. Then anyone in the community can come help and/or benefit from the bounty. What a great idea! Wouldn’t it be nice if churches everywhere did this?
Willowbend Campground is in town and within walking distance to just about everything. Their amenities include a grass volleyball court, horseshoe pits, fire pits and onsite firewood, and playground. They also have camp kitchens for groups and reunions with pavilions. They have two fully furnished, year-round cabins, and also offer rental RVs during the summer months. The campground is partially treed and very grassy. Sites are gravel and can accommodate any sized rig. Open year-round, but with partial services in winter, campsites have full hookup, and there are 50- and 30-amp options. The bathhouse is older, but was very clean, and unlike many of the parks we’ve stayed in so far in Canada, the showers were free. Cell service was fine, but there were no over-the-air tv stations. Although we didn’t actually see any deer, there was poop everywhere and plenty of hoof prints, so they are there often. The only real downside to this park is the proximity to the train tracks, which are used often, including blowing the horn. Honestly, though, we were able to tune them out fairly quickly, and they never kept us awake at night, even with the windows open. We would stay again. For this visit in May 2023 we paid $122.98 for 3 nights.
Well, there you have it. I’m caught up for this trip, but still have one prior post to finish. Getting there! Next up…Brutus Bummer, Okotoks, and Into the Mountains. See you on the path!!
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