A few days at Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

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Moose on the loose

Several folks we talked to recently were surprised that we had planned a stop in Saskatchewan.  Their one-word question was always, “Why?”.  It seemed to be one of those places people think there’s not much to do, but we usually discover there is.  Maybe there aren’t spectacular activities or “in your face” beauty, but there’s always something to make us glad we stopped.

In all honesty, one of our motivations for coming here was to fill in that hole on Betsy’s map between Manitoba and Alberta.  It was really bothering us!

Maple Creek Saskatchewan

A few days in Saskatchewan to fill in that hole – how bad can it be?

From Waterton Park, Alberta we traveled just over the southwestern border of Saskatchewan to the little town of Maple Creek, where we set up our home base.

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

The main attraction here for locals and tourists alike is Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. During our visit we learned it’s the highest point of land between Labrador and the Rocky Mountains, reaching a height of 1466 meters (4,809′) above sea level.

Reading that little tidbit made us pause for a moment to imagine the relative flatness of the landscape across those thousands of Canadian miles.  Come to think of it, we did notice it was pretty flat in all of the provinces we’d visited along the way!

Bald Butte

Steve met some unhappy morning greeters at the “summit”.

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This is as high as you can get out here, folks!

While there we followed a short trail that we almost didn’t finish due to swarms of mosquitoes.  Fortunately Steve had brought long pants, which he immediately donned when the first wave of attacks began.  The prairie landscape was still dressed with wildflowers, but we rushed this 1.5-mile hike and breezed through the plaques to get back to the safety of our car.  It was about the worst mosquito encounter we’ve had during our journey.

Cypress Hills

Being the only humans out here, the locals eyed us warily.  For sure we were the ones disturbing their peace:

Cow

Oh, so that’s where those huge piles of poop came from!

Buck

The buck stops here

Moose on the loose

Yay, we saw a moose!

We had come into this town at just the right time, as we discovered their one-day-a-year food festival was happening during our stop.  Dubbed “The Taste of Maple Creek”, it features food from all of the local restaurants, and we were happy to make our lunch a tasting of their culinary delights!

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Sushi in Saskatchewan?  It was pretty good!

Maple Creek

Party on the street.  Everyone knew everyone – except us

Also that day was the Creek Classic Show and Shine, which allowed all makes and years and had a decent showing.  Although we spent minimal time at the show, several cars were driven to our campground for a group barbecue dinner afterward.  A small private car show right outside Betsy’s door – cool!

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Steve enjoys the show from his chair.  What a lazy guy, eh?

While walking around town we noticed many well-landscaped yards, with blooming flowers everywhere.  Then we saw one with a sign showing “Yard of the Week.”  I learned later that homes and businesses are chosen each week to recognize those within the community that take pride in the appearance of their yard and do their part to beautify the community.

I failed to take pictures of the yards, as I was drawn to three oversized beach chairs.  I don’t know if this yard had been chosen before, but the garden was beautiful and I just had to sit in one of those chairs! 

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But for sure the highlight of this stop was when I met a Filipino couple, Edwin and Gina, at church.  They invited me to their home for breakfast after the service, and then again for supper that evening with Steve.

Without being biased, I must say they exemplify Filipino traits – friendly, welcoming and warm to strangers.  This was actually the first time in our travels that we’d been invited by complete strangers to their home.  We enjoyed the good company and delicious traditional Filipino dishes.

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Thank you for your wonderful hospitality, Edwin and Gina!

Sometimes the best part of a stop for us is just enjoying the atmosphere and people there.  A small, quaint town like this one with its friendly folks will always win out over the mayhem of a big city for us!

 

Next up:  Speaking of big cities – A visit to Calgary



 

BearFooting in the Kenai Peninsula

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We completed our “bear footing” (having a good time), in Alaska’s playground – the Kenai Peninsula. It left us full of wonderful experiences and spectacular scenery.  The bountiful wildlife in the peninsula borough allowed us to meet the real locals (critters) in Cooper Landing.  We got hooked, we clammed and then traded clams for Halibut in Ninilchik. We gazed at volcanoes and walked and biked the well-maintained pathways in Soldotna.  We went all the way to the end of the road in Homer and to the most westerly point in North America at Anchor Point.  The Harding Icefields and Kenai Fjords National Park formed the backdrop of stunning scenery on the horizon at Seward.  We witnessed frenzy Salmon fishing (or combat fishing as they refer to it) and dip netting for subsistence at the Kenai River in Kenai.  ML even met in person, for the first time, Gemma,  whom  she has been communicating with through FB for eight years.   We spent an afternoon with her, her husband also named Steve and sisters at their home in Nikiski.  The sea life, the Alaskan life,  the glaciers and everything else in between were just astonishing to watch and to experience.

Kenai Peninsula

Kenai Peninsula

The two weeks we spent traveling through the area were not enough. The pictures below are some of the many we took, attempting to capture the essence of what its like to be in the Kenai Peninsula.  We had a great time and we urge you to come and play in Alaska’s playground!

Anchor Point, AK

ML modestly posing at another sign

Homer Spit

Viewing snowcapped mountains from Homer Spit

Homer Spit

Beautiful Sunset at Homer

Anchor Point

North Fork Loop road in Anchor Point

Floatplane

Steve’s first floatplane trip, out of Homer.

Harding IceField

The Harding IceField covers over 700 square miles at the top of the mountain ranges, and spills over the peaks as hundreds of glaciers.

Grewingk Glacier

Grewingk Glacier

Glacier view

Yet another glacier, as seen from the plane from Homer during Steve’s flight.

Mt Redoubt

Mt Redoubt

Mt Iliamna

Mt Iliamna

Gemma, ML, Joy and Wennah

Ninilchik, AK

Steve attempts to fly with the seagulls. They were very graceful, he crash-landed.

Bald Eagle

Bald eagle hanging out near our RV site

Its all about hiking, when in Denali

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If you have more than one day of visit to the park, hiking  is one way to enjoy and explore it.

Our bus/tour driver commented that summer in Alaska is an illusion and winter is the reality. Having heard that made us smile for that is exactly what we had been experiencing since we arrived here. It is summer  yet we have not worn our shorts and tank tops!  So when the sun came out we traversed some of the many trailheads that are near the Visitor Center and the ones inside  the park. With the sun blazing we chose the trail that is labeled strenuous, the Mt Healy overlook trail which was very rewarding once we arrived at the top.  This was a 4.5 miles roundtrip hike that climbs 1,700 feet and up to 25 percent grade. It began easy but steadily  kept  climbing up and the last third was the toughest where we used our  hands for it was rocky and steep. But the reward at the top was well worth the challenge. What we saw at the top was a dramatic view of the valley with the Canyon Village, Nenana river, the visitor center and panoramic views of the  mountain ranges. On our way down we encountered a Moose on the wayside busy eating his lunch.

Mt Healy

We are aiming for the top of Mt Healy!

Mt Healy

The reward a the top

Mt Healy

Come on, lets go!

Moose

Moose grazing along the trail

Beautiful butterfly

MT Healy

Are we there yet ?

MT Healy

Lets keep going

Moose Bark

Check the bark, Indication that a Moose is around

The following day we were scheduled to go back inside the park for another hike. The day started sunny but as we neared the Eielson Visitor center  which is at mile 66, four hours later,  the clouds gathered and it started to  drizzle but we pressed on. We went up to the Alpine trail, a 1010 ft climb gain on a ridge trail and quite steep. There were no bushes or tress but  an unobstructed view of the mountain ranges including Denali if there are no cloud cover. This trail is considered a hike on the dry tundra for it is on the higher alpine areas, interspersed with scree (small loose rocks). Oh my, the climb began at the trailhead and just kept on ascending. To catch my breath I made several stops and admired the many spectacular  wildflowers along the way. They were beautiful ! The view at the top was again awesome and just incredible. On our way down we got a glimpse of Denali for a few moments and then it was covered with clouds again.

Denali National Park

Alpine Trailhead

Denali National Park

On our way down

Wildflowers on the trail

Denali National Park

Pose at the top

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Scree Rocks, can you spot the hikers?

As expected, Steve wants to do more exploring and would like to walk on a gravel bar, the gravel remains of a moving glacier. We did follow the Glacier trail for a while and then there was no more trail. It just suddenly ended and there was no trail towards the glacier. So Steve was feeling adventurous and searching for his own trail. After a few minutes of exploration and discovery, he found himself in the midst of wilderness, tall trees and nowhere to go. He saw a moose trail and upon seeing it he decided that its time for him to come up and get back to the top. On this trek, he found two pair of sunglasses. Yeah that would be a replacement of the sunglasses I lost while also being adventurous on a no-trail hike.

Denali National Park

Can you spot Steve? The gravel bar up ahead is where he wants to go, but there was no trail and he has nowhere to go.

Denali National Park

Lost in the wilderness

Since we were back inside the park, we rode the green bus again and surely enough we stopped at all wild animal sightings. We found mama bear and cubs resting.

Sleeping Bears

Sleeping Bears

During our seven day stay in Denali we wanted to go biking and water rafting as well. Both activities have to be postponed. The weather did not cooperate, wind with a gust of 35 miles per hour descended and rain came  pouring. Oh well, maybe in some other town we can enjoy these activities.

Next stop, Talkeetna.

Denali, wild and shy – what a place!

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Mt Denali

During the next few days we will be at Healy, which is about 11 miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park. We are spending several days here as there is so much to explore, see and experience. One thing of note though is that every morning is a surprise in terms of weather.  We wake up in sunshine one day, rain the next day or windy the next day. We have stopped looking at the weather forecast for it is never correct beyond the current day, if that.

Grande Lodge

View from the Grande Lodge, which is across from the park on a very high hill.

Before going into the park we drove around town and ventured further from the entrance. We noted that the services an the park (e.g.hotels, gas, food and tours) are only open from May through September and go back to “wilderness mode” during the winter.

Denali Village

This “town” is only open 5 months a year. Then everything is boarded up and the stop lights are even shut off!

There is  a lot of hustle and bustle in a nearby town where all the tourists go and cruise people stay and hang out.  This place is humming and pricey as I had the most expensive fish and chips ever, $21 ! Three pieces of halibut and chips, but was very delicious. We also checked out the local brewery in town, 49th State Brewery where Steve liked the stout so much that he wanted to buy a half-gallon growler of it.  Not available until after we leave, though   😦

My $21 Fish and chips, made of halibut and yummy!

My $21 Fish and chips, made of halibut and yummy!

A sampling of local microbrewery beers is in order after our successful flight.

A sampling of local microbrewery beers is in order after our successful flight.

Denali National Park is run efficiently and managed very well to preserve its wildness. It is six million acres of wild land and unaltered landscape.  Although there are thousands of visitors entering every summer, entry is controlled and scheduled by bus system. They are doing this to not only reduce traffic on this one lane, winding gravel road, but also for the preservation and least disturbance to the wild animals.  Green Bus Tour

Green Bus, only shuttle and tour busses are allowed inside the park beyond Mile 15.It is not like Yellowstone National Park where visitors upon seeing an animal, pull over and get noisy and excited to take pictures. Here everyone is instructed to be quiet and if you talk the boss driver won’t hesitate to hush you.  By controlling the visitor’s access and behavior toward wildlife, they have avoided any human deaths by bears in the park.  And unlike Yosemite, the bus maybe full but not crowded as every seat is scheduled and paid for.  If it worked well on the 4th of July, it must work well other times. On a side note there were no fireworks here on the fourth of July as it never gets dark here.

How tourists react when there is a wild animal sighting.

How tourists react when there is a wild animal sighting.

We scheduled the longest green bus trip,  a twelve hour,  92 mile drive  drive round-trip all the way into the park.  This is quite a long trip – we stopped for every wildlife sighting.  On this tour we had 17 grizzly bear sightings, we saw a herd of caribou, some Dall sheep that looked like white dots on the mountain, a shy Moose, ducks, eagles, and birds.

Moose

Moose sighting.

Grizzly Bear

Mama grizzly bear and cubs.

The white dots on the mountain are Dall sheep.

The white dots on the mountain are Dall sheep.

Caribou

Caribou

Grizzly bear and cubs.

And as I mentioned earlier, everyone got quiet when we saw wild  animals up close with cameras softly clicking.  Steve was already sick of seeing moose after almost running one over, and one that came to dinner at our RV park . But we had to respect the rest of the guests who seemed to be awestruck at every sighting.

Denali National Park

Narrow and steep curve in the park.

The  bus tour offered not only wildlife but also unparalleled views of an ever changing landscape, and stunning panoramic views of the mountains.  And speaking of mountains we also came here to see  the centerpiece of the park, the tallest mountain in Northern America – Mt McKinley.  The locals call it Denali  meaning “the high one.”  It stands with a summit elevation of 20,320 ft above sea level.  Well, we weren’t able to see the entire mountain on this tour, but we did see a glimpse of the north and south peaks on our way in and out.

Mt Denali

At the end of our 12-hour tour, at 7pm Denali decided to clear a few clouds so we could get a glimpse.

We’ll have another chance to see it on Saturday when we go back into the park for some hiking, then another REALLY good chance on the 10th when we are scheduled to land on a McKinley glacier during a flight from Talkeetna.  Can’t wait for that!

Denali National Park

Stunning view inside park

Polychrome Glaciers

Polychrome Glaciers

We did some hiking outside the park, and being adventurous we aimed for a trail that we saw from the highway called Bison Gulch.  We didn’t see the beginning of the trailhead so we decided to try a wall of shale rock at the nearest steep hill.  Oh my, I had the scariest moment of my life.  I was literally crawling for about 15 feet on a 35% grade of loose gravel.  I dared not look down for I know I would probably panic.  I kept my cool and and prayed that I would get out of this mess.  Steve was ahead of me and seemed quite amused as he pulled me to the top.  He was very proud of me for “making the grade”.  Whew, that was close.  Unfortunately, my $10 sunglasses fell off during the struggle and remain somewhere on that hill.  The other hikes we did were inside the park with good trails.  They were strenuous, but not as scary as the one we did on Thursday.

Inside Denali National Park

Distant view of the narrow gravel road inside the park.

Denali

Never ending picturesque views of the valleys and mountains.

Denali National Park

There was never overcrowding in any stops.

Toklat River

Toklat River restroom stop at Mile 53.

The McKinley RV Park  where we are staying is not one of our favorite. The office workers are disorganized and incompetent, the sites are not level and big potholes on the driveway. The 30 amps did not work and was not fixed during our stay, so instead they gave us a credit back of $15 per day.

 

Nenana River Viewpoint

Pose at the Nenana River viewpoint.

Hot Springs, Wildlife, and a milestone

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This next leg of our journey took us to a hot spring, wildlife on the highway and our second milestone.

We did not want to leave Muncho Lake but the unpredictable wind, rain and sun got to us. The lake is just spectacular but we have to move on. Our first stop was the Liard Hot Springs, a very popular stop for Alaska Highway travelers. This is on Mile 496 of the highway and used to be the site of a major camp during construction. These natural hot springs are a piece of paradise, from warm to hot to hotter depending on the spot you select. We soaked our tired muscles for half an hour and on our way out we saw a Moose.

As we moved along the highway, wildlife was the center piece. We were the only ones on the highway this early morning so we expected lots of animals on the road. We were not disappointed. We encountered Stone Sheep checking us out, a Moose that scampered away as we approached, grazing Bison and Bears munching away without caring about the tourists gawking at them. This was a slow drive due to some deterioration of road conditions and the increasing amount of wildlife along the way.  However, we have been surprised that the roads overall have been in fairly good shape.  We’ll see if that holds true as we continue.

Arriving at Watson Lake, Mile 635 is the second milestone in our Alaska Adventure.   We are now in the Yukon Territory, the final Canadian province to traverse before arriving in Alaska. This community  is a favorite stop over as it is home to a famous attraction, The Signpost Forest. It was started in 1942 by a homesick GI by erecting a sign pointing to his hometown of Danville, Il. Today, the collection of signs constantly grows due to visitors who wish to promote their own communities. We took a stroll and were amazed at how far the signs have traveled and their number, which has grown to over 70,000.

We stayed overnight at Tags RV Campground right across the Signpost Forest. Big rig friendly, quiet and okay for overnight stop.