Saturday, May 21, 2011

Edmonton, AB

On a rainy cold early morning the last week of April, we drove north to Forest City to pick-up an Itasca Ellipse motor home to deliver to Edmonton. It is definitely a home on wheels. A Freightliner chassis, diesel pusher with a 150 gal fuel tank! Yes, it took us nearly $500 to fill! 43’ long, 101” wide, 13” high with both entire sides able to slide out! Complete with dishwasher, washer & dryer, central vac, fireplace, big flat screen TV, 2 bathrooms, an outside entertainment unit, and an inside infotainment unit with GPS! It looks like a home inside with the silver/green color scheme and glazed cherry cabinets. The wood trim on ceilings imitated the look of exposed beams.

Rain, wind and water sitting in fields, ditches and median. Lakes are bank full. Rivers are flooding. Thru Minneapolis to I-94 west. Small towns, large farms, dairies, partial stacks of bales, grain elevators, dot the drenched landscape that is trying to transition from winter to spring!

Into North Dakota staying at Fargo at a Petro Truck stop for the night! The odometer is in km so we dig out our metric measurements knowing we will need them for fuel prices and to read signs once we cross the border. (Yes, grandkids, learning math is important!)

We are greeted with a partly cloudy blue sky and no rain. Driving through the Red River Valley, which is flooding, we see acres of flat farm ground with small towns and grain elevators. Some of the ponds are still covered with ice. This is also “pot-hole” country with many small land depression in fields filled with water. Lines of trees planted as windbreaks still have snow banks at their trunks looking like they are still “tucked” in their snow quilt for the winter!

We left the interstate to take US#52 to the border crossing at Portal. The two-lane highway makes a red diagonal line across the center of the North Dakota State map. We meet and pass many over-sized loads of various kinds of equipment. Some are being imported or exported to Canada. Some are just moving local farmers equipment. One of the largest was a truck carrying two 27’ bases for grain bins!

View from the windshield:

· The highway runs parallel to a Rail Road track. A crew was working on the tracks. As we drove north trains were backed up waiting.

· Every 10 or 15 miles is a small town with a grain elevator surrounded by acres of farmland.

· The flooding caused water on the edges of the road in a few places. We saw a boat sitting beside a flooded gravel road, a house on an island with a bright blue port-potty in front and sand bags around buildings.

· Grass covered hills still brown from winter with “dollops” of white snowbanks scattered on north facing slopes.

· Cattle grazing with small calves at their sides.

· Very interesting names of towns: Fessenden, Velva, Carpio, Pingree, Voltaire and Adamore. Many had signs indicating a local museum. Would be fun to have time to stop and visit each.

· For miles we drove through grassy hills with white stones on the slopes outlining the numbers of the year of graduating seniors! A project that would take a lot of time and effort since the hills were isolated from roads and the rocks would have to be collected! Do we call it “green graffiti?”

· Grasshopper shaped oil wells. Shiny new ones. Drilling rigs. Hopefully help with reducing our gas prices???

Saskatchewan, Canada

This province of Canada is mainly associated with the prairies and grain growing, but the terrain is far from flat and barren. It also has a rich reserve of heavy oil and over half the world’s known recoverable reserves of potash along with uranium mining, pulp and paper production, commercial fishing and trapping, manufacturing and construction industry. Again we drove many miles of two-lane provincial highways before getting to the trans-Canada auto route, another red diagonal line on the atlas map!

Through the windshield:

· Oil wells & drilling. Pipes being laid. Miles of oil rig and mining equipment sales and rental business.

· Large cranes working on the horizon behind huge piles of sand. An open pit Potash mine. (We would have received train loads and truck loads of this potash when working at the retail fertilizer outlets here in Iowa) Acres and acres with piles in rows of left-over sand from the mines. The older ones are grass covered low hills.

· Then flat acres of farm ground with small towns dotted every so many miles. Each has a grain elevator next to the Rail Road track. Some large seed companies with their bins and legs. The farmers have rows of small grain bins instead of the large ones we see here in Iowa. We think this is because they grow seed and have to keep each variety separate.

· Instead of a sign stating “Historical Marker” they have signs: “Point of Interest!”

· The roads are rough.

· Water everywhere there is a low spot because of the snow melt.

· Through another rain storm. We seem to have rain at least half of every day we are on the road.

· Moose crossing signs. One dead moose in the ditch.

· Interesting that Saskatchewan has signs printed only in English where other provinces are both French and English. But meters and kilometers instead of feet and miles!

· Saskatoon, the “City of Bridges” with six bridges spanning the South Saskatchewan River also had the Flying J for our overnight stay. It was a welcome sight after a long day driving through an area with very few places to park an “elephant!” We turned onto the Yellow Head Highway #16 that crosses Canada. Named because it goes through the agriculture area where acres of wheat is grown.

· Blackstrap Mountain ski resort sign seemed out of place in this area, but it is a man made mountain built in 1971 for the Canadian Winter Games with a main ski run of 1400 ft.

· When talking to a waitress in Denny’s about time difference she explained that the farmers said the cows do not change time so therefore this province does not change time! No daylight savings time for them!

· It is pretty with the sun rising and making the fields of harvested wheat stalks glow. But thunder and lightening and black clouds ahead for our half day of rain?

Alberta, Canada

Again we see many oil wells, drilling, oil field equipment for sale, rent and manufactured.

Past a town, Vegreville, with a sign advertising “largest pysanka.” A pysanka is an Easter egg decorated using a batik method. This is a Ukrainian tradition. This town is in the center of Alberta’s Ukrainian settlements and has the world’s largest known Easter egg. It is 25 ft by 18 ft made of aluminum and decorated in gold, silver and bright colors! On another trip we had visited the Ukrainian Culture Center just east of Edmonton. It is a museum set up as a community with the buildings of the early settlers.

A stop at the Flying J for the dealer fill, a stop at the Truck/RV wash for the dealer wash job and then to the dealer. We found out that this motor home was for the owner of the dealership. This was the greatest display area we have ever seen at a dealership. The walls were a mural of snow covered mountains, tall pine trees, a lake and stream that went all around the area. The RV’s were set in a circle with artificial trees of all sizes, a couple stuffed deer and a life-sized bear. A fountain in the corner gave you the feeling of hearing the mountain stream! The offices around the edge were all covered with a log-cabin design paper giving you the impression that you were surrounded with buildings! It was good that it was a pleasant place to wait because it took an unusually long time to be checked in!

Thanks to Gertrude, our Garmin, we found a motel a few miles from the dealership with a restaurant attached. A cold, damp wind made the warmth of a room welcome!

The Thai Orchid Restaurant was a new experience for us. It is similar to Chinese cuisine. Instead of a fortune cookie we received a piece of tamarind flavored candy. The warm green tea with real leaves was soothing to my sore throat. Not fun traveling with a sinus cold!

We asked the young lady putting out breakfast at the motel if this damp, cold weather was typical for spring. She replied that every year people complained of a cold spring, but this is normal and probably will have a couple more snows before it warms up!

Our plans are to drive south on Highway 2 through Red Deer and Calgary, then take Trans Canada #1 to Medicine Hat driving south from there to Wild Horse to cross the border into Montana and take scenic route #2 east to North Dakota. We knew the mountain roads around Baniff would be still closed with snow.

A variety of landscapes along the Hwy to Calgary. Rolling hills, farm land, pasture with stacks of round bales, farm & ranch buildings, lakes with ice, pine trees are the only green on the brown landscape, white bark of the birch trees accent the forests, oil wells, and towns and cities with malls. In the distance we can see the snow on the side and peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Calgary’s downtown skyscrapers are outlined against the horizon as we enter the outskirts of the city. A dusting of snow left-over from last night snow shower glistens in the sun.

East on Trans Canada #1 through open acres of fields and pastures. It feels like we are driving along a ridge because we can see for miles! Cattle grazing. The farmers stack their large round bales on end in 2 rows, then layer 2 rows on their side, and top with 1 single layer down the middle! The moisture slides off the round sides and preserves the hay for a longer period of time. Prairie pasture architecture!

Huge farm equipment sitting in the fields ready for seeding.

The fields have their fall harvest combine quilt! A pattern with long strips the width of the combine in light and dark shades as the combine tips the wheat stubble different directions.

Long, fast moving trains on the horizon.

Acres of grassland hills, canals to run water & irrigation rigs, but mostly oil wells and cattle grazing. Canada is dealing with energy—many, many new oil wells and new storage terminals.

A Super 8 in Medicine Hat for the night. The Discovery Channel had a segment showing how they make Winnebago motor homes in Forest City, IA. It has been many years since we toured the plant so enjoyed seeing them make what we deliver!

We heard on the news that Montana was dealing with flooding along the Milk River beside the scenic highway we had planned to take. Changed our plans and continued east into Saskatchewan planning to cross the border at Portal.

Saskatchewan, Canada

The signs tell us that we are traveling though the Canadian Badlands. It is an area of sandstone buttes, sharp cliffs and rough-hewn caves among the grass covered hills. In the late 1800’s, this area was a haven for cattle rustlers, horse thieves and stagecoach robbers because of its forbidding terrain and the proximity to the United States border.

Today there is a Buffalo range, oil & natural gas fields and cattle range.

At Moose Jaw we head south on Hwy #39, another red line going diagonally across the atlas map. This one we will remember for a long time! Shortly after turning we see snow in the air. Then accumulated on the ground. Then blowing across the highway that is snow covered. (Later we heard that the wind was blowing up to 80 mph and the storm had started at 3 AM with heavy rain.) Following a caravan of semi-trucks we slow, then stop, then creep along past vehicles and trucks in ditch or nearly in ditch driving on packed snow up to 8 inches deep with “potholes” where surface of pavement is showing.

Several hours of this before we get to the town of Estavan. Only town with a motel! We did manage the unplowed city streets and got the next to the last room at the Days Inn! No restaurants were open. Half of the town was without electricity. But the motel did serve cold sandwiches and a salad in there restaurant by a few of the employees who made it in to work. We were so thankful for a warm place out of the storm and for Jim’s driving skills in the blizzard! It had taken us 5 hours to go 140 miles.

We started late in the morning. The sun was shining, no wind, but the road was still a washboard of “potholes” and snow/ice covered all the way to the border. Back in North Dakota with very little wait at the border. Most of those crossing were trucks. We heard on the radio that most of the towns in north west North Dakota were still without electricity at the end of that day! On a scale of 1 to 10 it was considered an 8+ storm!

The rest of our trip seemed very uneventful after that day!

Thanks for traveling with us,

Prairie Schooners

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