Day 07: Howdy, Alberta

Although we were up and at’em by 7am, we didn’t actually get on the road out of Saskatoon until 10am.  The town just kept drawing us back in, with stops at Tim Horton’s, the grocery store, and a Rogers phone store for a SIM card in Jim’s Jason Bourne-esque burner phone.  It felt like we were moving in, especially since we now have a Saskatoon phone number.

Does this seem like a realistic scenario?

Does this seem like a realistic scenario?

It was an overcast day, borderline foggy, as we headed west on the Trans-Canada #16 (TC16).  About an hour west of Saskatoon we transferred over to Hwy 40 to the town of Cut Knife, Saskatchewan, to put eyes on the World’s Largest Tomahawk.  It is 54 feet long and almost 40 feet high, weighs 8 tons, and is cantilevered through the top of a 30 foot teepee.  My notes indicated the tomahawk handle is an actual fir tree, but that did not appear to be the case.  Truth be told, and in spite of our deep love for superlatives, this one probably could have been given a miss.  Even Barry, our travelin’ monkey companion, wasn’t impressed, and he’s usually pretty excitable.

It's always Spring in Vegreville

It’s always Spring in Vegreville

Leaving Cut Knife we re-joined with TC16 west toward Edmonton.  As we drove through the provincial border city of Lloydminster and entered Alberta the skies opened with rain.  It continued to get darker as we went west and the rain began coming down harder and harder.  It was an aggressive rain, like driving through a car wash for hours only with thunder and lightning.

Hmmm.  This was dampening our big plans a bit, but screw it anyway, we pulled off the highway in Vegreville, Alberta, to witness the World’s Largest Pysanka.  Pysanka?  Yeah, it’s an Easter Egg.  A big fancy one that’s 25 feet long, made of aluminum, and surely glints in the sunlight.  There would be no glinting today.

Welcome to Elk Island.

Welcome to Elk Island. So what, I’m a bison.

Our ultimate destination for today was to visit Elk Island National Park.  With all the rain we were a bit dubious we’d accomplish much in the way of peeping, moosing, and hiking, but as luck would have it the rain slowed to a drizzle as we entered the park from the North Entrance.  We didn’t care about a drizzle.  And do you know who else didn’t care about a drizzle?  The welcome committee, a humongous bison standing alongside the road a few kilometers into the park.  In fact, I don’t think he’d care if golf-ball sized hail were coming down, nothing was going to deter him from eating and acting nonchalant.

Someone was begging to have their photo taken

Someone was begging to have their photo taken

Our first stop was to hike the 3.5km Beaver Pond Trail, where we saw a variety of birds (nuthatches, sparrows, downy woodpeckers, ruffed grouse, black-billed magpies, etc.), and a couple red squirrels.  We also saw great big evidence piles of large ungulates on the trail but no sign of them.  It’s entirely possible there were great big piles of them hiding in the woods watching us slip around on the wide-and-well-maintained-but-muddy trail, thankful they had 4-wheel drive on a day like today.

Next we went down by Astotin Lake to walk the short Living Waters Boardwalk Trail.  There were gorgeous vistas over the lake and lots of waterfowl, but even better were the muskrats.  Lots of muskrats.  And they loved Jimmy.

Jimmy's little shadow

Jimmy’s little shadow

You see, there was a boardwalk that went out onto the lake and sat low in the water.  Jimmy was a little ways away and we were both photographing the muskrats.  At one point Jim stopped taking pictures and looked at me, and at the same time I saw (but he didn’t) a muskrat come to the water’s surface right below his feet alongside the boardwalk.  I started to say something but suddenly the muskrat slapped the water and disappeared.  I thought Jimmy was going to disappear down into the water with him, as it startled him a great deal and he almost fell in.  The boardwalk went on for a little bit more and dang it if it didn’t happen two more times to Jim, and always when he least expected it.  Of course, it didn’t help that Jim knew muskrats could be “precocious” based on stories I’ve shared over the years from my wildlife rehabilitation experience, and it really didn’t help that I kept telling him they might come up and charge him (unlikely, by the way).  Jimmy spent the rest of the walk down the boardwalk suspiciously eyeing the water and wide-stepping over any gaps in the boards.  I, of course, spent the rest of the walk down the boardwalk in hysterics.

This lodge has an eco-certified green roof

This lodge has an eco-certified green roof

Our last hiking for the day was down the Amisk Wuche Trail, where we started the hike but then the rain started to increase and we decided to turn around.  First, however, we were able to get down to a big pond and eyeball a beaver lodge up close.  They are incredible works of craftsmanship and it made me wonder if it’s ever really finished, or do improvements carry on in perpetuity?  There were also a few more muskrats in this pond, which may have had something to do with Jim’s desires to return to the car.

Dusk was setting upon us and we wanted to do a quick spin around the Bison Loop Road before leaving the park.  The irony is we passed another bison along the road on our way to the Loop, but never saw a single one on the Loop itself.  I think the ones on the Loop were like screw it, it’s raining, there’s no one here, and there is no reason for us to stand out here trying to out-nonchalant each other anymore today.

Over all we loved Elk Island National Park, and would like to thank all the feathered and furred denizens for their hospitality.  Especially the muskrats.

Once again we had no lodging booked for the evening so we drove a short distance to Edmonton and stopped for dinner at the White Spot (they advertised they were Legendary since 1928, and we figured they were doing something right) before wandering next door to the Hampton Inn for a place to crash.  And boy were we beat.  We’d been hitting the road hard for a week now, covering a lot of miles, and now we were looking forward to slowing down in the Canadian Rockies for the next 6 days.  It was time to go vertical.

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