Hidden gems

In addition to world renowned sites like some of the ones in Jasper and Banff National Parks, Canada is home to many hidden gems usually known only to local people. We also found some of those on our recent travels.

After saying good-bye to our son and his family and leaving the mountain parks behind, we spent another week in the nearby foothills where we camped at Bottrel, Alberta with our daughter’s family. There’s actually nothing at Bottrel except a general store and a small unserviced campground, but we heard about it because our son-in-law’s mother lives nearby.

The campground is only 40 minutes from our daughter’s home in northeast Calgary. As soon as we’d set up camp on the bank of the lovely little creek that runs through the campground, we drove into the city to pick up Drew, our oldest grandson, who enjoyed two days of camping with Gram and Grandpa before the rest of the family was able to join us.

One of the things that we wanted to do during that time was introduce Drew to kayaking, but the creek was too small for that and we didn’t know of any lakes in the area. Richard spoke to the storekeeper, who also runs the campground, and learned of a small fishing lake nearby that’s known only to the locals. The highlight of our outing to Winchell Lake was the rare opportunity to watch a loon and her chick close up!

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About 20 minutes from the campground, on our way into Calgary, we had also passed signs for Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. A quick online search revealed that its 2.3 km (1.4 miles) hiking trail with an elevation gain of only 20 metres (66 feet) was popular with young families. Not intending to do the hike until the rest of the family joined us, we decided to take a drive over to the park just to check it out. Drew was so enthusiastic, however, that we ended up hiking the entire trail that day! Of course, as little boys are inclined to do, he put in a few more steps than we did!

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Later in the week, we packed a picnic lunch and returned with the rest of the family. With Drew as our guide, we did the hike again.

An interesting geological feature in this small park, which is located in a beautiful coulee, are the mounds of unusual rock called tufa (too-fah). Apparently tufa forms when water, rich in calcium and carbonate, emerges from the ground. As it comes to the surface, it releases carbon dioxide into the air and forms outcroppings of calcium carbonate rock.

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The first part of the hike was particularly pretty following a stream with lots of little waterfalls.

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I believe this was 3-year-old Simon’s first hike, but he was very keen to go!

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Later in the afternoon, back at the campground, the creek was a great place to cool off!

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Kayaking northern Canada’s lakes

I’m so glad we bought our kayak before embarking on this trip! Northern Canada has thousands of gorgeous lakes, many of them easily accessible by road.

Twin Lakes, Yukon

As we drove the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Dawson City, we followed the shoreline of Fox Lake for several kilometres. Noting that there was a government campground near the northern end of the lake, we determined to stop there on our way back. When we mentioned that plan to our brother-in-law, Grant, who has spent most of his life living in the Yukon, he suggested that we try the smaller Twin Lakes instead. It was excellent advice!

Smaller than Fox Lake, the western Twin, where we camped and paddled until I thought my arms were going to fall off, was so much fun to explore. As you can see in the view from the campground, there were many little islands to paddle around and hidden bays to discover.

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As we approached one of the little bays, I heard an enormous splash. We stopped and listened. A second splash followed, much too big to be a fish jumping. It had to be a beaver. Paddling ever so slowly and quietly toward the rippled water, we soon spotted a furry brown head just above the surface. Following at a distance, we watched the beaver until he used his flat tail to signal yet another warning and then slipped out of sight. Just around the next bend, we spotted his home.

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Boya Lake, BC

A few days later as we made our way down the Cassiar Highway in northern BC, we stopped to camp at Boya Lake Provincial Park. We lucked out, snagging the most beautiful site in the campground right on the lake front.

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Again, paddling this lake was every bit as interesting as Twin Lakes had been. Though we didn’t hear any loud splashes this time, we did spot another beaver. The colours of the crystal clear water, quite shallow in places, was absolutely beautiful!

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It was the ever changing view from our campsite that was most mesmerizing though. As evening settled in, the water became dead calm and the reflections amazing! I was constantly jumping up to take another photo! Here are just a couple of my favourites.

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If you decide to travel to the Yukon or northern BC and don’t mind camping without any services, I highly recommend government campgrounds. Located in beautiful spots like Twin Lakes and Boya Lake, they offer spacious treed sites and are meticulously maintained. At just $12/night, the Yukon campgrounds are a steal of a deal. BC parks aren’t far behind at only $20/night.

Packing time again!

LogoIt’s packing time again! I seem to spend a lot of my life packing and unpacking, but I’m definitely not complaining. The gypsy in me can hardly wait to be on the road again!

This time I’m preparing for six weeks in our 24 foot trailer. Much of our time will be spent exploring remote and wilderness areas, but we also have a wedding to attend. We’ll be travelling in Alberta, BC and the Yukon, so weather will likely be quite variable. Closet space is limited and opportunities to do laundry may be few and far between. So, what do I pack? 

First of all, I need to think about what we’re going to be doing. In addition to the wedding, there will probably be a couple of social evenings out when we’re in urban areas. For those, I’ll need outfits that are dressy casual. Much of our time will be spent hiking, kayaking, and sitting around campfires though. Those are times when comfort is of utmost importance and I’m less concerned about what I look like. We might not have many opportunities to use them, but our golf clubs are going with us, so I also need to pack appropriate golfing attire. Our final week will be spent at our church’s district wide family camp, a time of fun and fellowship where I’ll be doing lots of socializing, attending worship services and listening to speakers. The camp is located in a rustic, forested setting on the banks of Alberta’s Little Red Deer River. I don’t want to be overdressed, but I do want to look well put together.

Fellow fashion blogger, Jennifer Connolly, of A Well Styled Life is also spending an extended period of time in her RV right now and she recently wrote this post which contains some great tips. As she points out, layering is always an important key to coping with varying temperatures. I’ll definitely want to be able to add or subtract layers as the days warm up or cool off. I’ll also be following Jennifer’s advice and packing a variety of accessories. They take up very little space and easily add polish to an outfit when that’s what’s needed.

A change of shoes can also give an outfit a lift. That’s one area where I can indulge myself on a trip like this one. When we fly, the number of pairs of shoes I can take is limited by suitcase space, but when we travel with our SUV and trailer, I can fit in many more! I’ll need dressy shoes for the wedding, of course. I was thinking of wearing heels, but after looking at the venue online, I’m guessing that the ceremony will be held on the lawn. If that’s the case, I’ll want to wear flats. There’s nothing worse than sinking in and feeling like you’re aerating the grass with every step! In either case, I’ll be taking a pair of dressy flats as well as a couple of casual pairs. I’ll also pack my rubber boots, my hiking shoes, my golf shoes, one or two pairs of sandals, and some flip flops.

Hats are another important item. I even bought a couple of new ones for this trip, but perhaps I’ll tell you about those in another post.

For much of the time that we’re away, we’ll be without internet access. In the past, I’ve discovered that even when a campground or RV park advertises that it has wifi, service can be extremely unpredictable. As a result, I don’t expect to be able to post very regularly and Fashion Friday may not appear every week. I’ll do my best to share some travel posts, however, and hopefully I can also do as Jennifer did and share a little of what I wear along the way.

Bringing the Beatrice home

In 1984, shortly after my father retired, my parents ordered a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van from the factory in Germany. They traveled from their home in Vancouver, BC to Germany via Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, through China, across the USSR on the Trans Siberian railway, and into Europe! After picking up their brand new van in Germany and outfitting it with dishes, bedding and other basic necessities, they lived in it for a year and a half as they traveled around Europe and the Middle East.

Clearly, I came by my wanderlust honestly!

When Mom and Dad finally decided that it was time to return to Canada, they had the van shipped home to Vancouver. Because they’d owned it for over a year, they were able to bring it into the country duty free.

For almost two decades, the blue camper van traveled through the mountains almost every year bringing Grandma and Grandpa to Alberta to visit their grandchildren. It continued to be their only vehicle until Dad, now 93, finally gave up driving a few years ago. At that point, he passed it on to our niece who was a college student at the time. She drove it until she graduated from college, but once she got a job she bought a little car and the van sat under a tarp in my sister’s backyard in Vegreville for the past two years.

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This summer, our son, who also lives in Vancouver, acquired the van from his cousin. Matt plans to use it as a camping vehicle for his young family. Prior to their visit to Alberta last month, we rented a U-Haul auto hauler and moved it to Sedgewick.

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Matt knew that after sitting unused for so long, the vehicle would need some work to make it roadworthy and he came prepared.

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When he knew that the van was going to be his, he joined TheSamba.com, an online site for Volkswagen owners and checked out other informational sites. In addition to learning important information including the common quirks of the vehicle and where to access parts, he discovered that owners of these vintage vans often give them names in the same manner that boat owners name their crafts. I was touched when he chose to name his Beatrice after my late mother!

Sadly, though he had hoped to drive her home to Vancouver, the Beatrice needed more work than Matt was able to accomplish in the few short days that he was at our place. That’s when Plan B came into being and here we are in Vancouver! We loaded the van onto another auto hauler and pulled her through the mountains. Now she’s tucked into a corner of Matt’s backyard where he can work on her as he has time. This has also afforded us another opportunity to visit Dad before winter sets in as well as a few unexpected days with our grandsons!

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In addition to bringing the Beatrice home to the coast, we brought our 17 foot Coleman canoe for Matt, Robin and the boys to enjoy. It’s an extremely durable, very stable family canoe, but bigger and heavier than Richard and I want to haul around anymore. As I paddled it through some fairly rough ocean waves at Porteau Cove on the Sea to Sky highway yesterday afternoon, I knew my paddling days weren’t over though. A couple of waves crashed over the bow and left me soaking wet, but it was a blast and a lightweight kayak is definitely on my wish list!

Robin’s ride

After our day of dinosaur fun at Drumheller, we moved on to Banff where we camped at the beautiful Two Jack Lakeside campground. The main reason for choosing that destination was our daughter-in-law’s participation in the Banff Gran Fondo, a 150 km bike race/ride on Saturday morning.

Our grandson’s, Sam and Nate, slept in the trailer with us on Friday night so that Mom could get a good night’s sleep before her big ride. Before any of us were out of bed in the morning, she was already on her bike! At 7:15 am, we headed over to the campground entrance to watch and cheer her on. As the first wave of riders rounded the curve and came into view, excitement built and it was an emotional moment for all of us when Robin rode by. We are so proud of her!

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It takes a lot of determination for any young mom to prepare for something like this and even more so when she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis! She is definitely one of my heroes!

In addition to offering us a front row view of Robin’s ride, Two Jack Lakeside campground, just minutes away from Banff itself, was a perfect spot for us to explore the area from and just down the path from our campsite were the most stunning views imaginable.

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Dinosaur fun!

It’s very rare that we ever have all five of our grandchildren together in one place. Three of them live in Calgary and the other two in Vancouver. Last Thursday was just such a day, however, and I was one happy Gram! We were camping at Drumheller, Alberta with our son, daughter-in-law and grandsons from the coast and our daughter’s family came out from Calgary to spend the day with us.

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The Drumheller Valley is known internationally for its rich abundance of dinosaur fossils and what can capture the imagination of children more than dinosaurs? Our day began at the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology where life sized skeletons abound.

My five littles are hardly any bigger than five giant dinosaur toes!

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After our morning at the museum, it was time to visit the world’s largest dinosaur, an enormous statue at the downtown Visitor’s Centre.

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Climbing the stairs inside and viewing the town from within the monster’s mouth 86 feet above the ground was fun, but so was clambering over its enormous feet!

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Our third stop for the day was the hoodoos, natural columns of rock composed of sand and clay. Formed by thousands of years of erosion, their solid, strong capstones protect the softer, underlying bases creating their unique mushroom-like shape.

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The surrounding badlands are a surreal landscape that just begs to be climbed and explored.

While some of our group climbed to the very top of the valley, the littlest one was sad to be left behind!

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He was happier when we returned to the campground for some time on the playground though!

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Our day ended around the campfire with hot dogs and s’mores.

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It will be Christmas time before we’re all together again, but until then we’ll enjoy our memories of a great day of dinosaur fun!

Fall camping

IMG_5618I’ve always wanted to go camping in the fall; always hoped for just one more outing with the trailer before winter hit. As teachers, it never happened. We were back in the classroom and up to our eyeballs in work by late August or the first week of September. Then, with retirement came several years of helping our friend, Louis, with harvest. I loved being out on the combine, but it meant that there was no time for camping in the fall.

Finally, this year it happened! We packed up the trailer last Wednesday morning and headed for Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, less than an hour and a half from home. Surrounded by the spectacular colours of the season, fall camping was everything I always thought it would be! Though we got caught in the rain while out geocaching on Wednesday afternoon, the clouds soon disappeared and for the remainder of our time the weather was glorious.

Here in Alberta, we don’t get the wide variety of fall colours that are found in eastern Canada, but everywhere I turned I was surrounded by beauty and I took dozens of pictures!

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We found 14 geocaches within the park boundaries, but the highlight of our trip was definitely Friday’s hike. We left the trailhead late in the morning intending to hike 7.3 kilometres, but we’d completed all but 1.5 km of that by the time we stopped to eat lunch! Digging out our trail map, we quickly decided to add what we had originally thought might be a separate hike sometime in the future. In the end, we covered 13.2 km! Considering the fact that just a few months ago, I couldn’t walk more than two km without playing out, I was pretty stoked!

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Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for very long know how much we enjoy exploring old abandoned houses that give us glimpses into life in days gone by. Imagine our surprise and delight when Richard spotted an old brick chimney rising out of the bush a short distance from the trail. Of course, we had to take a closer look! Although the girl manning the park office couldn’t give us any information about the house or its original inhabitants, it was easy to see that the two storey structure and its smaller outbuilding must have been there long before the park was established in 1958.

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Though we didn’t see any of the larger wildlife, including deer, moose and elk, that live within the park, there was clear evidence of their presence along the trails. Plenty of fresh hoof prints and droppings told us they weren’t far off. What we did see were squirrels, muskrat, tiny frogs, a surprising number of garter snakes and an abundance of water fowl. As Miquelon Lake and the numerous wetland areas within the park are located within two of North America’s migratory flyways, flocks of migrating geese honked their way overhead and settled on the lake each evening.

Miquelon Lake is also part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, an an area that has been established to reduce the glare of artificial light and increase the visibility of the night sky. Each evening, as we sat around the fire in the crisp evening air, darkness settled around us and stars filled the sky. What could be more relaxing?

Dare I hope for one more camping trip before winter arrives?

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