Missed Parts 1 and 2? Read “When Can We Go?” and “And So It Begins…”
It’s Day 12 of our epic Western Canada trek in Wonderwheels. We just left Rushing River Provincial Park and are leaving Ontario, and the scenery is going to rapidly change. We were prepared for any roadblocks at the border; there were none. Highway 17 changed into Manitoba Highway 1 and East and West lanes were separated.
Our destination this afternoon was a Harvest Host on the edge of the city of Winnipeg called Stone Angel Brewery. Located at the end of a small restaurant-lined plaza is the brewery. We parked behind, as per instructions, and entered the pub. We were greeted by Paul, who spoke with a soft Irish accent. Paul took our contact tracing info, checked our vaccine certificates, and poured us some beers. He was very friendly and helpful with information about getting downtown to The Forks in Winnipeg. He noted that the city isn’t RV-friendly and advised us to take public transit. After a drink or two, it was time for a nap. Robyn prepared a delicious salmon and cornmeal for dinner before we went back to the pub. For Dr. Who fans, you’ll recognize the stone angel theme. There’s even a life-sized version of a stone angel eerily staring at patrons though humorously draped with a Liverpool FC scarf (it seems that the pub is Liverpool fans). The beers produced here are British and European-styled, and extremely well made (yes, we bought some for the RV).
Today is August 27: Day 13 and warm sunny weather. Paul told us to take the rapid transit bus downtown, and luckily the bus stop was a 5-minute walk from the Stone Angel Brewery parking lot. The Forks is an art-friendly area with many types of outdoor art installations surrounded by restaurants and shops, including an indoor market. We ate an exceptional Thali lunch at the Clay Oven, an Indian restaurant. After all the walking and the big lunch, we decided to go back to Stone Angel. We had leftovers for dinner and visited the pub for drinks, and before calling it a day, we confirmed to Paul that we would come back on our return trip.
Day 14 was sunny and warm. Wow, two weeks on the road and barely into our trip! We had our coffee and breakfast before driving to Brandon, where our destination, was yet another Harvest Host: Green Spot Home and Garden. The owner, Bernie, was about to leave the country on a trip but gave us the time to tell us where to park, and about the nearby trail and ice cream shop. We checked out the lifestyle store, but Bernie told us we weren’t obligated to buy anything. After dinner, we walked the trail behind the property and saw a small herd of about seven deer crossing the road; it was a beautiful sight and I almost felt we were intruding on their evening stroll. On returning to the RV we stopped by Crow’s General Store. From the moment you walk through the gate you are time-warped to another place — mementos from other eras were strewn about in a non-random fashion. We were in awe. The owner, Don, greeted us and invited us into his spacious ice cream parlour outfitted with every paraphernalia possible. It was like being in a set from the fifties. Don had us wear paper soda jerk hats and posed us behind the counter before taking our photos. I told him about Harvest Hosts as his place would be perfect. We enjoyed a complimentary ice cream cone.
The next morning after a quick breakfast, we parked Wonderwheels at the Crow’s General Store, and Don led us on an exterior tour of his property. A retired landscaper, Don’s dream is to build a mini-putt course through the backfield. Some of the areas had already taken shape. I hope his dream of a family getaway will be fulfilled. Definitely a must-see stop!
We left Don’s amazing place with a long drive to the city of Regina. We stopped for gas and a coffee in Indian Head, and then found a rest area and stopped for a grilled cheese lunch. Once we reached Regina, we headed for Cabela’s, an outdoor activity store. We asked for permission to stay overnight, which was granted. We checked out the store which had a sale running (Robyn scored a nice polar fleeced sweater). Later, it was sushi for dinner.
[SIDEBAR] On this part of our trip, we were keeping our driving times down, aiming for two to three hours. As it happens, this usually stretches with stops, traffic, and construction and because we are on unfamiliar roads, we usually gas up at the half tank or three-quarter empty tank mark.
It was a great day to set off for our 16th stop which would be in Swift Current. There’s not much to see in Saskatchewan — except miles and miles of prairies lined with thousands of telegraph poles, hay bales, and railway lines — so a surefire way to end the monotony is to stop in places you’ve heard of, but never dreamed of visiting. This one, in particular, is home to ‘Mac the Moose’, allegedly the largest moose statue in Canada. We stopped at the Moosejaw tourism office to see this almost cartoonish giant moose statue and then drove into town. The main street was oddly quite wide, lined with various businesses that seemed closed. It turns out that Mondays are retail holidays here. We decided to have a walk around anyway when a fellow got out his camera and took our photo. He informed us that we’d be famous. Very strange, but in hindsight, we realized that we were the only people wearing face masks. We continued on our way to Swift Current and stopped at a Home Hardware. Robyn had read online that they were RV-friendly. They certainly had a big enough parking lot. So we went inside to ask for permission to stay overnight, which we were given. Though the service representative told us that because we were in a downtown area it would be quite noisy, and instead, suggested we go and stay at the Walmart. And so, we Wallydocked.
It’s now August 31, Day 17 and the weather has held. We left Swift Current in the morning for Alberta. Again, the scenery was flat prairie land. A strange (to us) sighting was watering holes that were so dry, it looked like the only thing left was salt, ringed by what looked like a red mossy plant. We’d see a few black cattle and wonder where they get their water from. Partway on the road we stopped in Medicine Hat and spent some time at the Saamis Tepee, an enormous tepee statue dedicated to the indigenous people of the area. Definitely a must-see of the Trans Canada Highway next to the tourism office.
Tonight we would stay at a Harvest Host, Piston Broke Brewing in the town called Brooks. The pub was in a nicely renovated garage with a huge piston and other vehicle parts for decor (the original owners were beer-making mechanics who kept overspending on their hobby). Their beer became so famous with friends and locals that they decided to get into the craft brewing business. Lucky for us that they are Harvest Hosts too, providing us with more tasty treats for the road. By now we had quite an eclectic collection of beer, which much to Robyn’s dismay were always in her way! We had a fairly quiet night. Our server, Emily was very friendly and a fellow Ontarian. She was helpful with her knowledge of the area and suggested a cowboy restaurant at a nearby ranch town called Patricia.
The weather was turning cloudy and cool on our 18th Day (it’s the first of September after all). Today we would be going to Drumheller, a bucket list return visit. We were deep in ‘badland’ country where the lowland prairies opened up into deep valleys and high hills. But first, we ‘had’ to stop in the hamlet called Wayne (population: 25), home of the Last Chance Saloon. As it happened, it wasn’t open, plus the hamlet was getting ready for its upcoming rodeo. Now the rains came and we headed to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. This was a return visit to see the famous dinosaur exhibits without our kids! What an amazing place. After seeing these awesome sights we drove to our campsite for the night (we booked at the Dinosaur RV Park on the edge of Drumheller). Luckily, we were close to the showers and laundry.
As we were coming up to the town of Patricia we decided to stop for lunch at the aptly named, Patricia Hotel, where you can cook your own steaks on their indoor grill (we didn’t). It’s a rustically furnished establishment with humorous cowboy ornaments and posters adorning the walls. You might even be visited by one of the restaurant’s cats. We gassed up in Brooks before checking into Dinosaur Provincial Park. Our campsite was nestled amongst the hoodoos and the Badland’s valleys. Apparently, many of the famous dinosaurs were discovered in this park. It looked like a popular campground with sites slowly filling up all afternoon.
We decided to take a hike. The scenery is stunning. Learning about the hoodoo erosions over the millennia from the Park’s excellent information panels dotted around the trail, gave us a sense of awe knowing that at one time long ago, the area was lush and dinosaurs of all types roamed where we stood. We returned to Wonderwheels for a snack and to relax before heading out on a more difficult trail. Getting to the top of some badlands ridges was easy. Getting down wasn’t. Luckily we brought hiking poles which helped traverse the crumbling surfaces. It was hot and it was time to pack up and continue on our way to Calgary (we were visiting Robyn’s sister, Sherry, and her family).
It’s always a fun time when the family gets together. Lots of conversations catching up on each other’s lives. Lots of libations, including that Irish whiskey, and enjoying great food together (plus showing off our Wonderwheels and the gadgets we brought with us). We even got in a visit with old friends from our days living in Unionville. We presented gifts to our family, including a selection of craft beers from our trip for our brother-in-law, Peter. What? You didn’t think I was going to drink all of it, did you?
On September 6th, Day 23 of our adventure westward, we said our fond farewells and left Calgary. It wouldn’t last long though, as Robyn had left her mobile phone charging there. Luckily we were only twenty minutes away, and Peter graciously drove it to us on a side road.
We had an amazing drive as the Rocky Mountains drew closer and closer. We pulled into the RV parking lot in the city of Banff. It’s placed perfectly and within walking distance of the main tourist area, but it had changed quite a bit since we were there last. We had an obligatory lunch at the Grizzly House. It was Robyn’s third visit! We took a walk to the nearby Banff Springs Hotel — a pretty fancy place! On the way back we saw a young male elk foraging and deer on people’s lawns. Unfortunately at the time of booking, we could only get one night to camp at the Banff National Park. Our site overlooked Mount Rundle in the background, surrounded by peaks and forests — a different kind of site than we are used to. It was basically a road with the post and picnic table to the side. There was a bear warning on entering the park, plus we were warned not to get close to elk due to it being rutting season.
The next morning, Day 24, we set off on the spectacular Icefields Parkway. We are heading to Jasper National Park, and I thought I saw a moose. Perhaps wishful thinking or an apparition, who knows. The emerald lakes, sky-high waterfalls, and glacial mountain peaks are a wonder to witness. Whoever created and engineered this stretch of highway had the tourist in mind. Get out your camera, there’s plenty to see! Even the animals had their own highway with bridge crossings every so often for the creatures to get across the busy road. We stopped several times, including by the Columbia Icefield and its famous receding glacier, a testament to the effects of climate change.
We registered two separate campsites at Jasper National Park because of availability. You know how it is. Luckily we have an easily maneuverable vehicle. We had a private site but noticed the lack of trees in the main parts of the campground. Unfortunately, they were infested by mountain pine beetles and had to be destroyed. Really sad to see as we are in a huge forested area!
The next day, our 25th day of the trip, the weather was drizzly. We decided to take a drive to see Maligne Lake, known for its emerald blue waters. As the clouds rolled in the camera couldn’t quite capture its beauty, reliant on sunlight. The nearby, Medicine Lake was able to show off its blue colour, perhaps because the road was high up, giving us a better view. However it was the first time we could see up close the recent damage caused by forest fires. Very sad to see as we drove by thousands of burnt trees barely standing on the scorched forest floor.
We parked in the town of Jasper and walked up and down the streets getting familiar with the neighborhood. The rain was still a drizzle so we went for a quick lunch. When we returned to the campground our spirits were uplifted by the sight of a large, male elk crossing the road. We pulled over to watch as he tilted his head and bugled his location to other elk in the area. It was quite thrilling to see. The rain had stopped and turned into a light mist for the afternoon. For dinner, we had a light pasta in our rig and sat outside by the fire bowl. With fire bans at the campgrounds we were staying at, the fire bowl came in handy.
Day 26, overcast. Perfect day to do laundry! We had a light breakfast of peanut butter on toasted English muffins and coffee. Downtown Jasper is very RV friendly and there’s an abundance of street parking and lots available. There are two public laundromats for travellers to use. We chose the largest and got our clothes cleaned in an hour. The main street has many accessible amenities close by including grocery stores and a drugstore. We stashed our clean laundry in Wonderwheels, parked nearby, and took a stroll around the very walkable town, looking for a place to grab lunch. Being a tourist town, prices are much higher than at home, but we found Earl’s Kitchen and Bar had a rooftop patio overlooking the street with an amazing view of the Rockies’ skyline. We shared some delicious fusion Japanese-style food and enjoyed the scenery.
As the clouds rolled in, we returned to the campground and our second site which was non-electric. We only saw one other campsite in our loop being used (these were normally tent sites), which was very private and the Wonder was tucked in very well. It rained quite a bit so we stayed in and relaxed, dining on tuna salad wraps for supper before calling it a night.