In 2006 my husband Ed and I decided to follow our dream and take up full-time RVing. We opted for early retirement, sold our home, and hit the road. Our objective for the summer was to tour the Prairies, ultimately ending up in Winnipeg as our final destination before heading back to BC. Both Ed and I were raised in Manitoba so we?ve travelled across the Prairies many times, but never at a leisurely pace. Now we had the time to detour off the main highways and really explore the Prairie provinces. As was so aptly phrased in a travel brochure, we could turn our signal light on and see the sights in the more remote areas.
After we?d made the decision to sell our home we?d spent a couple of hectic months sorting and packing the items that we wouldn?t be taking with us. A house full of stuff needed to be discarded or stored. By the time we were ready to start travelling we were totally exhausted. Our first stop would be Calgary where we planned to spend a few days. We found a campground at Balzac, on Highway #2, and because we were tired we booked in for a week. Lesson number one learned: don?t book a lengthy stay until you?re sure you are going to like the place. We quickly found out that this campground was very noisy. The traffic on #2 was non-stop, 24 hours a day. In addition to the highway noise, there was an incessant clanging racket coming from behind the campground. An industrial business was continuously moving pipe, all-day and late into the evening. We were also reminded of how windy the Prairies can be. The wind blew relentlessly and billows of dust floated about. At one point it was so dusty we could scarcely see across the road. But having paid our camp fee for the week we stuck it out.
We had promised our sons that we would keep in touch so we went to the public library in Airdrie and sent them an e-mail. Throughout our journey we found that public libraries were very accommodating in letting us access the Internet. Some towns had a 15-minute limit for out-of-town users. This is hardly long enough for me as I like to write and tend to babble on, so it forced me to be as brief as possible.
While at Balzac we took a day trip to Drumheller to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Although I have never had a strong interest in paleontology I was very impressed with the displays. I would recommend this to anyone who is travelling in the Drumheller area. It is certainly worth a visit. We paid an admission fee of $9 each. (A 10% discount applied if you presented your BCAA card.)
After we left the museum we continued our exploration of the area. At Rosedale we walked across the Star Mine Suspension Bridge ( 117 m. long), then continued a few kilometres down the road to the Hoodoos near East Coulee. Again, very impressive. We took an endless number of pictures, then later downloaded them onto our computer and deleted any that we did not like. Thank goodness for digital cameras. I can?t imagine what the cost would be if we were using film that had to be developed.
Because we had decided to ?turn our signal light on?, we headed southeast from Balzac choosing secondary roads. I?m supposed to be the navigator so I always have a map on my lap but in spite of this there are many times when Ed has to take the map and head us back in the right direction. (Well, the dot looked like it was on that road!)
After a brief visit with a relative in Kirkcaldy we stopped for an afternoon rest at the Taber Municipal Park and decided to stay overnight. This is a lovely municipal park but the downside is that all the electrical posts are located at least 50 feet from the back of each site. Our trailer?s electrical cord is only 28 feet. Luckily we had a long extension cord. As we settled in for the evening we could hear owls hooting gently from the treetops. Perhaps they were talking to each other about all the fluff that was coming off the Cottonwood trees. It was falling like snow and covered the ground in a blanket of white.
The next day we arrived in Medicine Hat and our first stop was at the World?s Tallest Tepee, which can be seen from a distance as you approach the city. We didn?t linger there very long as a cold wind was blowing and it was starting to rain. Again our digital camera did a marvellous job of the storyboards. Next we consulted our brochures and map and made our way to the Medalta Pottery Works museum. We were given a guided tour by a very knowledgeable young lady.
Leaving Alberta behind, our next overnight stop was at the Eagle Valley Park Campground, 4.5 km west of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. This looked like a very nice park (usually we take a walk around the campground after we?ve set up), but because it was still raining and cold we just stayed in our trailer for the evening.
The next day we headed south through the Cypress Hills. After we passed the entrance to the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park the road became noticeably poorer. It was quite rough with many potholes and broken pavement and it slowed us down considerably. When we reached East End we toured the T-Rex museum. While much smaller than the Tyrrell museum at Drumheller it was still very interesting.
By this time we decided to ?veg? for a few days and chose Shaunavon as a place to rest. We spent the next three days at the Shawnee Campground, doing absolutely nothing except eat, sleep and read. The weather helped contribute to these activities as it poured rain for the entire three days.
Consulting our maps we decided to travel on Highway #13 (the Red Coat Trail) to Assiniboia but the road was so rough that we turned north at Cadillac instead and caught the #1 at Swift Current. As we travelled across Saskatchewan we were surprised at the poor road conditions. Perhaps we are spoiled but we found the Saskatchewan roads to be of very poor quality. Even the #1 has sections that desperately need repair and some of the secondary highways are truly horrible in places. The exception was the #16, which was in excellent condition for the short distance we travelled on it.
By the time we reached the Prairie Oasis Campground at Moose Jaw we were again glad to be off the road for a couple of days. We specifically wanted to tour the Tunnels of Moose Jaw: ?The Chicago Connection? recounts the story of Al Capone?s secret world in the tunnels of Moose Jaw, and ?Passage to Fortune? tells of the poignant early history of Chinese immigrants in Canada. Each tour was approximately 45 minutes long and history was brought to life by very talented actors. To our disappointment we were not allowed to take any pictures in the tunnels.
At Regina we stopped for fuel and received a lesson I hope we won?t soon forget. As we were pulling up to the pumps the attendant came running out pointing frantically upward. The station?s canopy was too low and had we gone any further our air conditioning unit would have got caught. Thanks to the young gentleman a calamity was avoided and it reminded us to always check the height before pulling into a service station.
From Regina we chose Highway #10 to Fort Qu?Appelle. As has become our custom, our first stop was at the Tourist Information Centre. Loaded down with maps and brochures we headed for Fort Campground and selected a site right next to Echo Lake. That evening a flock of pelicans landed on the lake, just a few feet from our trailer. I had never seen pelicans up close before and I got so excited I almost hyperventilated. ?The camera, the camera!? I screeched. We got some beautiful pictures, not only of the pelicans but also of a family of geese, the lake, our campsite, and later at the dam even a beaver. We spent a couple of days touring the area before heading on to our next stop at Churchbridge.
Churchbridge is a friendly little town with an approximate population of 850. The campground was virtually unoccupied and we decided to stay for several days. Shortly after arriving we were invited to attend a game of whist by the ladies that came to collect our camp fees. However, we were tired and so we declined. The following evening one of the local residents came cruising through the campground in his convertible and stopped for a chat. And when we decided to take in nine holes of golf on Thingvalla Road we were made to feel very welcome. Churchbridge celebrated its 100th birthday in 2005 and the downtown buildings are adorned with many murals depicting the town?s history from 1905 to the present. It was fun to walk along the streets and admire the artistry. Again our camera went into overtime. We also visited the local library and accessed the Internet, bought some used books, and obtained information about the area. The librarian mentioned that there was a display and sale of local hand sculpted crafts being held that coming weekend. It was near Langenburg, in the barn of a private residence. She was unsure of the exact location but directed us to the local newspaper office where we obtained directions. It was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
When we left Churchbridge we headed north on Highway #80. As we drove along, skirting potholes, I noticed a sign in a farmer?s field: POTHOLE PARADISE it said. There were many low spots in his field, filled with water. I?m not sure if his sign referred to his field or to the highway, but it made us chuckle. Obviously he has a sense of humour.
The one thing that we found in travelling across the Prairies is that there seems to be an overabundance of mosquitoes. Those nasty little critters seem to find us the moment we step out of the truck.
Each of the campgrounds we stayed in had their own unique flavour. Prices varied from one to the next, and we noticed that the prices quoted in the travel brochures were not always the same as what we had to pay when we arrived at the campground. We paid anywhere from $15 to $28 per night. Some included GST, while at others the GST was extra.
Our next stop will be in Manitoba where we will spend some time visiting family and friends. We have not yet totally come to terms with the fact that we are now retired and not just on a vacation. Currently we are following our dream: Going wherever our whim takes us.