Furries, feathers, and fireflies

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you are no doubt aware that hubby and I love to camp, hike, and kayak. Here in Canada, the season for enjoying those activities is short and if we’re not careful our calendar fills up with other activities such as the meetings that we’ll be attending next week as delegates for our church. Sometimes we have to be creative in order to carve out time for the things we most love doing, so that’s what we did this past week.

Hubby had a medical appointment in Vermilion, a town a little less than an hour and a half northeast of here. (You know you’re in Canada if you measure distance by how long it takes to drive somewhere!) Vermilion happens to border a provincial park with a campground, an extensive network of trails, and a reservoir suitable for kayaking. What could have been a day trip for a doctor’s appointment became a three day camping trip instead!

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We quickly discovered that Vermilion Provincial Park is built on a giant gopher colony. These furry little creatures, a bane to farmers when they take up residence in their fields, were absolutely everywhere! At any given moment, we could see half a dozen or more of them grazing, standing like sentinels, or wrestling and playing on the grassy slope in front of our trailer. The young ones were particularly entertaining to watch. They were very curious about us too!

Vermilion is hometown to Beckie Scott, Canada’s most decorated cross-country skier. A three time Olympian, Beckie won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, becoming the first Canadian (and the first North American woman) to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. The road leading into Vermilion Provincial Park is called Beckie Scott Trail and the Vermilion Nordic Ski Club, based out of a renovated 1905 train station in the park, maintains groomed ski trails during the winter which are used for hiking in the summer.

We did a 7.5 km hike on Thursday afternoon. While much of the hike was fairly level, as we made our way up and down some of the hills along the way, I was glad I was on foot and not skis! As a former cross-country skier, I knew that some of those uphill slopes would have been gut-busters!

As we set off on the trail, we noticed a “Bear in Area” sign. According to other campers, it was a mama with cubs. Not wanting to come face to face with her, we kept our bear bell jingling as we walked and we also had bear spray close at hand in case it was needed. Thankfully, it wasn’t. The only wildlife we spotted was these two bunnies who didn’t seem too concerned about our presence.

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Much of the time, the trail followed the edge of the Vermilion River reservoir. The water was almost dead calm, unlike the previous afternoon when we contended with a fairly stiff breeze while out in the kayak.

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Red-winged blackbirds are a common sight when kayaking on Alberta lakes and rivers, but I managed to get better photos of these ones with my feet solidly on the ground than I’ve ever been able to get from the boat.

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After a day in the fresh air and an invigorating hike, we were ready to let the campfire die out and head for bed by 11 PM, but I had to stay up later. Earlier in the day, a couple camped near us had told us that they’d seen fireflies the night before, something we’d never seen in Alberta before. At this time of year, however, with the longest day of the year less than two weeks away, the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10 PM and it isn’t fully dark until close to midnight. I had to stay up long enough to see those fireflies! Sure enough, when I stepped back out of the trailer just before crawling into bed, little dots of light flashed all around! It was magical!

The Great Sand Hills

Today’s photos might lead one to believe that we traveled to Morocco or Mongolia, but we were actually exploring a very unique bit of Canada, the Great Sand Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan! 

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The Great Sand Hills is approximately 1,900 square kilometres (730 square miles) of desert-like sand dunes, native grasses, and small trees and shrubs. Sediment deposited by glacial meltwater during the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet approximately 13,000 years ago, then shaped and reshaped by strong winds, created this unique landscape. The first of the giant sand hills is just a short walk from the parking lot. Climbing up the dune, you truly feel like you’ve entered a different world, a world of sand and sky!

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We soon spotted a series of faint trails leading off toward more dunes in the distance, so of course we had to investigate. 

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Climbing up the steep side of the dune, we were greeted by another vast expanse of soft, powdery sand. After walking around a bit, I had to take my shoes off and feel its warmth between my toes! 

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Can you spot Richard on the horizon below? 

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Canada has it all… mountains, prairies, forests, rugged coastlines, rivers, lakes, and even a wee bit of desert! 

First hike of the year

Here in Canada, tomorrow is a federal holiday known as Victoria Day. Initially, the holiday always fell on Queen Victoria’s birthday (May 24), but since 1952 it’s been celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25. The connection to royalty has been gradually lost over the years and now most people simply refer to it as the May long weekend. It’s the unofficial start of the summer season and the first weekend of the camping season for many. Rather than camping, since the nights are still very cold, we’re visiting my younger brother and his wife in the small village of Irvine in the southeast corner of Alberta. This afternoon, while our sister-in-law was working, the other three of us set out for our first hike of the season.

The 464-acre Chinook conservation site, a native grassland area, lies just 8 kilometres south of Irvine. Very different from the hiking that we do closer to home, there are no trails, just wide open expanses begging to be explored.

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Leaving the vehicle, we set off across the grassy plain toward the hills some distance away.  Of course, once we reached the top of the first bluff, we had to carry on up the next one, and then the third.

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Here’s the view from the top of the third hill with the second one in the foreground and the first, much lower one below it. Can you spot our vehicle in the distance? How about the little bit of cactus at the bottom of the photo?

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Here’s a closer look at some of the ground cover. This is snake country, but fortunately, we didn’t see any of those!

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After returning to the vehicle, we crossed the road and made our way across more rough grassland and through the bush to Ross Creek where we saw lots of evidence of beaver activity.

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In the final photo, you can see one of the peaks that we climbed way in the background.

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Along the way, we also saw clear signs of the deer and pronghorn antelope that inhabit the area and were reminded of the old western song, Home on the Range. “Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play!”

If the weather cooperates, tomorrow will be another adventure.

Salt water and sea air

On our first day in Victoria, we walked approximately 10 km. Today, our last day before heading toward home, we walked at least 7 more!

We woke to a chilly, wet morning. In fact, there was even a bit of snow in the air. Thankfully, however, the forecast promised better things to come. After a leisurely breakfast in our hotel and a little while spent relaxing back in our room, the rain stopped and we headed out. Our first destination this time was the oldest Chinatown in Canada and the second oldest in North America after San Francisco.

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I’m thinking that it must also be one of the smallest. Barely more than two blocks in size, there are a number of authentic Chinese restaurants and businesses, but I was also surprised to see a sushi shop, a schnitzel restaurant, and a taco place! 

Victoria’s Chinatown is perhaps best known for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. Only 0.9m wide (about 4 feet) at the narrowest point, the alley is filled with boutiques and shops selling clothing, jewelry, music, and other items to both tourists and locals. In its early days, however, it was home to a variety of less savoury places including gambling and opium dens. 

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On Sunday, we walked the beach at Cordova Bay and yesterday we did a harbour tour on one of Victoria’s little green “pickle” boats, so-called because of their colour and shape, but I’m a coastal girl at heart and I wanted a bit more of the sea before heading back to the prairie. 

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After returning from Chinatown, we drove about 20 minutes to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites. Consisting entirely of original structures, Fort Rodd Hill, a west coast artillery fortress on active duty from 1895 to 1956, is one of the world’s best preserved and most complete examples of its kind. The buildings are closed during the week, but the grounds are open and many interpretive signs make it an interesting place to explore. Until our visit, I had never really thought about how vulnerable the Victoria area must have felt after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. By 1944, 17 powerful searchlights clearly lit up the Victoria-Esquimalt harbour area. One of them was housed in this building, camouflaged to look like a fisherman’s hut, complete with a ramp and boat!

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In the background, you can see the Fisgard Lighthouse which was built in 1860 as the first permanent light on the west coast of Canada. Although administered together with Fort Rodd Hill, it is a separate national historic site and there is no historical connection between the two. 

I absolutely love lighthouses, but I won’t subject you to all 24 pictures that I took of this one! I’ll try to restrict myself to just a few favourites. 

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Though the light has been automatic since 1928, prior to that time it was manned.

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The lighthouse is now connected to land via a manmade causeway, but in those days it stood offshore on a tiny island. The only means of transportation that the lighthouse keeper had was a rowboat like this one. Every item he needed had to be rowed across the bay from Esquimalt. Unfortunately, in 1898, the unoccupied boat was found floating in the bay with just one oar still in it. Joseph Dare, the keeper at that time, had fallen overboard and drowned while trying to retrieve the other oar. Had he been wearing a life jacket, he likely would have survived. 

On the rocky point beyond the lighthouse, we found a pair of the red Adirondack chairs that have been placed in National Parks and Historic Sites across Canada. Of course, we had to sit in them and enjoy the view. 

 

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After visiting the lighthouse, we walked the long beach in front of Fort Rodd Hill and then returned to the vehicle via a well-kept nature trail. 

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Now that I’ve enjoyed a fix of salt water and sea air, I’m ready to return to the prairie feeling refreshed! 

 

Tea at the Empress

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Victoria’s iconic Fairmont Empress hotel, overlooking the city’s inner harbour, started serving Afternoon Tea when it opened on January 8, 1908 and continues to serve freshly prepared scones, pastries, and tea to over 80,000 guests every year! Yesterday, we joined that number.

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From our comfortable corner table by the fireplace, we had a gorgeous view of the harbour as we lingered over our lunch.

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The set menu, made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, arrives on a three tiered tray. On the bottom layer are raisin scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve. I must admit that, until yesterday, I didn’t know what clotted cream was! The name brought to mind something lumpy and gross, but it is far from that! It’s smooth and soft, similar in flavour to a high-quality unsalted butter and somewhere between butter and whipped cream in richness. The second layer consisted of finger sandwiches, mini quiches, and cold smoked salmon on tiny blinis. It doesn’t look like a lot of food, but we were getting full by the time we reached the top layer that held five delectable mini desserts for each of us. We ate two of them and packaged the rest to bring back to our hotel for later.

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We had our choice from a vast selection of teas, so we chose two different ones and sampled both. The original china was gifted to the Empress by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) on a visit to Canada in 1939 and the pattern is reproduced exclusively for the Empress.

Tea at the Empress is pricey. So pricey, in fact, that my frugal nature almost convinced me that we shouldn’t indulge. Hubby insisted, however, and I’m glad he did! It’s definitely worth doing if you’re ever in Victoria.

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Victoria on foot

I’ve always said that the best way to see a city is on foot and Victoria is no exception. We purposely chose a hotel in the harbour area so that we’d be able to walk to most of the things we wanted to see. Today, I’d estimate that we walked approximately 10 km (6.2 miles)!

First, we joined the David Foster Harbour Pathway across the street from our hotel and followed it along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. 

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On the way, we stopped to find a couple of geocaches. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this high-tech adult treasure hunt, you can learn all about it here.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a unique destination with working fishing vessels, pleasure boats with live-aboard residents, float homes, and commercial businesses all moored at the docks. I loved the colourful float homes. Imagine living in a house that gently rocked with the movement of the water! Richard, a lifelong prairie boy, didn’t think he’d like that, but as a displaced coastal girl, I’m pretty sure I’d love it! He did have a point when he commented that there’d be no place to park our golf cart though! 

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After a delicious lunch of fish and chips on the Wharf, we continued our walk eventually ending up at beautiful Beacon Hill Park, the crown jewel of Victoria’s park system. 

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We found several more geocaches while exploring the park. We even had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with another couple who were also hunting for the hidden caches. In addition to the ducks and geese that make the park their home, this gorgeous peacock was just a few feet away from one of the caches and seemed completely unconcerned about our presence. He didn’t oblige us and spread his beautiful tail though. 

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These turtles sunning themselves on a log on one of the park’s ponds appeared to have about as much energy as I have after our very long walk!

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Eventually, we made our way all the way through the park to the oceanside where we could look across the Juan de Fuca Strait to Washington State in the distance. 

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As you can see, it was a sunny, but very windy day. Perhaps that’s best illustrated by this, one of the windsurfers we saw riding the waves. 

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Before beginning the long trek back to our hotel, we stopped at the monument marking Mile 0 on the Trans Canada highway that spans the country from Victoria to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Our geocaching pals offered to take our picture there and I suggested to Richard that perhaps we should visit the other end of the highway this year too. A trip to Newfoundland has been on my mind since acquaintances of ours moved there a few months ago and started posting amazing photographs and videos on Facebook!

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Nearby stands a bronze and granite monument to Canadian hero, Terry Fox, as this was where his Marathon of Hope would have ended if cancer had not returned and claimed his young life before he was able to complete his cross Canada run. 

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And now it’s time to go soak my weary muscles in a hot bath, but do stay tuned. I’ll be back with more of our Victoria visit soon. 

A day on False Creek

On our final day in Vancouver, the rain had finally stopped and we decided to spend the day playing tourist.

Vancouver has two inner harbours. Burrard Inlet, the fjord that separates the north shore with its coastal mountains from the city proper, is the main port and welcomes ocean going freighters and cruise ships. To the south of downtown is the smaller inlet known as False Creek. False Creek is home to a vast array of pleasure crafts, some houseboats, and the little False Creek ferries that shuttle passengers between Granville Island and eight other stops along its shores. 

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We parked beside the Vancouver Aquatic Centre ($14 for a full day). Ferries between the Aquatic Centre and Granville Island run every five minutes, so we had only a few minutes to wait before beginning our adventure. Climbing aboard the little blue ferry, we purchased day passes which would allow us to hop on and off wherever we wanted all day long ($14 each for children and seniors, $16 for adults).   

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Granville Island which is really a peninsula, is home to a Public Market and many interesting shops. We decided to leave it for later in the day so that if we bought anything, we wouldn’t have to carry our purchases with us for the rest of the day. We had to switch ferries at the Island stop and wait for one of the boats that travels the red route #3 on the map. They run every 15 minutes all day long. 

Our first destination was David Lam Park. After disembarking, we first walked along the seawall to nearby George Wainborn Park, then back to David Lam enjoying the sights. 

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We had planned on getting back on the ferry to ride to the next stop at Yaletown, but soon realized that we had walked most of the way! Continuing on foot, we soon came across a delightful art installation known as The Proud Youth. 

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I first read about the gigantic 5.5 metre high (18 feet) boy with the mischievous grin back in March when Vancouver blogger, Frances Sprout of Materfamilias Writes, published this post. The whimsical sculpture by Chinese artist, Chen Wenling, is meant to encourage us to live a carefree life in a world of strife; to embrace our inner child and have some fun! What a perfect message in the midst of a worldwide pandemic!  

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The sculpture is so big that it can be easily seen from the other side of False Creek as seen in this photo taken later in the day. 

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Still walking, we admired the many sailboats and yachts in one of many marinas along False Creek. If you look closely, you can see the top of a gigantic super yacht towering above the others in the right hand side of the photo. That’s the 46 metre long (152 feet) After Eight, owned by the Don Wheaton family. 

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Further along our walk we came across another interesting art installation, the Time Top by Jerry Perkins, looking like it had just arrived from outer space! 

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After strolling around the trendy Yaletown area a bit and enjoying lunch in one of it’s many restaurants, we boarded another one of the little ferries and rode it to the final Village/Science World stop.  

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The giant “golf ball” that houses Science World was originally built as the signature building for Expo 86. Today, the sparkling structure is an iconic part of the Vancouver skyline. 

Our next stop was at Stamps Landing where we again went for a walk and enjoyed some of the sights. Though it had been cloudy most of the day, the sun was beginning to come out and I love the way the sky is reflected on the water in this final photo. 

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Returning to Granville Island, we wandered through the market and browsed a few shops. By this time it was late afternoon, so we crossed the water one last time back to the Aquatic Centre where we’d left the vehicle several hours earlier. 

If you’re ever in Vancouver and wondering what to do, I’d highly recommend a day on False Creek. Though I didn’t get photos, we even saw a couple of harbour seals and, at a distance, a giant sea lion! 

Two rainforest hikes

I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past two and a half weeks which hasn’t inspired a fashion post for today. Instead, I’m going to begin sharing some highlights from our trip.

Two full years had passed since our last real visit with our son and his family and my brother at Vancouver. I’m not counting the four days that we spent at the coast at the beginning of December 2019 helping my father settle into long term care and dealing with the contents of the assisted living suite that had been his home for several years or the return trip three months later when he passed away. Those trips were all about doing what needed to be done and left little time for anything else.

Though Covid still made traveling somewhat of a concern and we were extra cautious due to the clinical vulnerability of some of the family members that we’d be visiting, we felt that we couldn’t wait any longer. Grandchildren change so much in two years! 

One of the things that we had hoped to do while we were at the coast was hike. In spite of several days of heavy rain (6 inches in one 48 hour period!) we managed to enjoy two wonderful hikes in the coastal rainforest; so different from our prairie hikes close to home. 

Cypress Falls, West Vancouver

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday, October 11. While our daughter-in-law was preparing a delicious turkey dinner, hubby and I joined our son and his youngest for a hike to Cypress Falls in West Vancouver. 

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Just a short distance from the highway, Cypress Hills Park is easy to access. Though we were never far from civilization, this was definitely a wilderness park. The first part of the 2.7 km out and back trail was easy, as shown in the photo above, but it became somewhat steeper and more rugged further on.

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Mist from the water thundering over the lower falls hung in the trees above and provided a perfect environment for lush ferns and mosses. 

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Many varieties of mushrooms grew on the forest floor. I particularly liked these little splashes of colour. 

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Continuing on through stands of old growth Red Cedar and Douglas Fir, we reached the impressive upper falls at the end of the trail.

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Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver

The following Sunday, after days of rain, the weather cleared enough for us to enjoy a second hike, this time with the entire family.  Lynn Canyon Park, which is home to several beautiful trails, is located within walking distance of our son’s house as well as my teenage home. We hiked from the north entrance of the park, across Pipe Bridge and down to the very popular 30-Foot pool. Leaves from the park’s many maple trees formed a wet, but beautiful carpet.

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Never have we seen the creek and the pool so full!

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Toward the end of our hike, we crossed the 40 metre (130 foot) long suspension bridge that hangs 50 metres (160 feet) above the canyon. For much of my life, an extreme fear of heights kept me from crossing the bridge and enjoying the trails on the far side of the creek. Several years ago, however, I conquered that fear and this time I was able to stop and take photos from the middle of the bridge! 

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These are just two of the many beautiful places to hike on Vancouver’s beautiful north shore. In my next post I’ll share another one of our adventures, but this time in the heart of the city. 

300+ km!

Yesterday morning, on a quiet walk beside Grebe Pond in Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, I crossed an invisible finish line! If you’ve been reading my blog over the summer months, you know that on the second of May I challenged myself to walk and/or hike 300 km by our 45th wedding anniversary on October 2. With just 10 days to go, I accomplished that goal!

On Monday morning, we headed off on one last camping trip before cleaning out the trailer and preparing it for winter. We knew that the nights would be cold (in fact, it was 4°C or 39°F when we got up this morning) but with an extra quilt and a furnace, we were toasty warm. The days were crisp, but great for hiking and over the three days that we were there, we hiked over 19 km (almost 12 miles). 

In addition to Miquelon Lake itself, the park is dotted with small bodies of water, home to many kinds of waterfowl. The “knob and kettle” terrain consists of hummocky mounds (the knobs) and water-filled depressions (the kettles). Hiking trails wind up and down, around and between the ponds and at this time of year, colourful foliage adds to park’s natural beauty. 

So, let me share a bit of that beauty with you…

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Tuesday’s hike was the longest; 9.2 km on the park’s backcountry trails. We packed a lunch and set off about 10:30 in the morning when the air had had a chance to warm up a bit. This was the view from our lunch spot… 

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Just me enjoying another view…

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The next photo was taken close to my self-imposed 300 km finish line. I’ve always loved reflections on water. 

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And finally, a couple of shots from the end of Moose Trail, our last hike…

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Bergen Rocks!

The blog has been unusually quiet for the past couple of weeks. We spent the first week of August at Camp Harmattan in the valley of the Little Red Deer River between Olds and Sundre. There, we had no internet or cell phone service.

One afternoon, we took a short drive to the rural community of Bergen to visit Bergen Rocks International Sculpture Park. Sculptor, Morton Burke, has hosted four international symposiums on his acreage where the park is located. Twenty-three sculptors from around the world have visited, each for a period of one month. While there, each artist created a monumental sculpture in stone that was then placed in the park. One of Burke’s goals for the Bergen Rocks program is to have the sculptures moved from his property to public places in central Alberta where they can be seen and enjoyed by a wider audience. At present, two such exhibits exist, one in Olds (more about that later) and the other in Sylvan Lake. “If we can establish a few more, it’s conceivable that central Alberta will be able to claim the title of Sculpture Capital of Canada and we will start to experience art tourism which will be a new industry in our area,” says Burke. 

Come take a walk around his property and look at some of the sculptures with me…

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Carved in sandstone by Ireland’s Paul Haggins on his second visit to Bergen in 2009, The Elder, is an imposing piece inspired by the ancient monuments that the artist explored as a boy. Though it’s difficult to see in the photo, an eagle feather carved into the shaft of the cross represents Canadian heritage while a triple spiral, or Celtic Triskele, on the reverse is an ancient Irish symbol representing the Earth, the moon, and the sun.

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The torso is a common theme for German sculptor, Tanja Roeder. In 2010 she came to Bergen and created Reflection. Carved in marble, a woman stands beside a waterfall. Directly in front of her, the water is turbulent, but further out there’s a calm pool where she can see her reflection.

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Movement in Space, a sandstone sculpture of a man diving through the air with a baby on his back, perches atop a tall granite pillar. It was created in 2008 by Peerapong Duonkaew from Thailand. His objective was to create a feeling of lightness and movement using heavy rock.

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Moods of the Sea, created in 2008 by Armenian sculptor, Vahe Tokmajyan, consists of three marble seashells and represents three moods of the sea; peace, tranquility, and turbulence.

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Ancient Memories by Iranian, Mohamad Reza Yazdi, was one of my favourite pieces. Carrved in 2010, the marble sculpture of a father goat and his kid was inspired by earthenware found in the ancient city of Susa. The little kid looks up to his father with his majestic horns and dreams of someday exhibiting the same magnificence.

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At first glance, Repression by Saeid Ahmadi from the Ukraine, looked less appealing, but then I read the description. Made of sandstone and steel at the 2010 symposium, it is a visual representation of the stress and strain of life in modern times. It gives the illusion of a solid material being bent and twisted by pressure created by the cables and wires tightening around it.

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This one, Holy Horses by Amgaian Tsmegmid from Mongolia, was hubby’s favourite. Carved in marble in 2011, two horses stand in a patch of bushes on the Mongolian steppes. The artist captured the movement of the wind blowing their manes and tails and if you look closely, you’ll also see little birds flying out of the bushes that they’re standing in.

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Connection is another marble sculpture that was created in 2011 by Min Kyoung Uk from Korea. The millions of fibres that would make up the two enormous ropes represent the different peoples of the world interacting with each another, but not completely connecting. If mankind figured out how to properly connect with respect for one another, the knot would come together and we would have made the right connection.

Our daughter and her three children joined us for our final weekend at Camp Harmattan and then we brought the grandkids home with us. That explains why the blog continued to be silent for another week! On the way home, we stopped at the sani-dump station in Olds to empty the trailer tanks. While our oldest grandson helped Grandpa with that task, the younger two joined me for a quick walk along the Olds Rocks! Highway 27 Sculpture Pathway. Here are just a few of our favourites…

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Dominating one end of the pathway stands another cross created by Paul Haggins on his first visit to Bergen in 2008. Like The Elder, Ancient Cultures pays homage to the early cultures of both Ireland and Canada. The Celtic cross references Ireland while once again an eagle feather on the shaft speaks of the ancient cultures of Canada.

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Canuck, a stylized portrait of an Iroquois man, also pays homage to our Indigenous people. It was carved in marble by Canadian sculptor, Tony Deguglielmo, at the 2009 symposium.

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Prelude, also carved in 2009 by Carlos Valazquez Darias from Cuba, depicts a couple sharing a kiss.

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Peerapong Doungkaew from Thailand created Rising Sun on his second visit to Bergen in 2010. It was inspired by his first visit when he saw the sunrise from his bedroom window each morning.

Now I look forward to seeing the sculptures in Sylvan Lake someday! I also join Morton Burke in hoping that other communities here in central Alberta will join the Bergen Rocks program so that more of the works that stand on his secluded rural property can be moved to locations that are more accessible to the public to be enjoyed by a much wider audience. Until that time, however, it’s well worth a drive out to Bergen to see them if you’re anywhere in the vicinity.