We began this portion of our road trip once we left Canmore, Alberta and Banff National Park. We headed due east for a relatively short drive to Calgary, Alberta for a three night stay. As we began our drive we noticed that we had left the largest mountains behind us and were seeing more and more prairieland ahead of us. The view certainly changed but the adventure continued.
While in Calgary we visited the Calgary Tower and we took the ride to the top where we could view the entire city. I’m not crazy about heights much anymore but it sure doesn’t bother Claudia. She stepped right out on those glass floors and took pictures straight down. Not me!! Following the tower we walked along a portion of 8th Avenue, about a block from the tower that was full of restaurants and shops with no access for vehicles. The architecture along the street was fascinating, mostly buildings built mid to late 1800’s. There we meandered around for a while, bought some souvenirs and enjoyed some lunch along with some local brew. Now we can say we’ve been to Calgary.
Our next stop took us to Drumheller, Alberta for a two night stay. We had another short drive to get there so we were able to enjoy our first afternoon touring the area. Drumheller is considered the Canadian Badlands and is also known as the dinosaur capital of the world. We began our drive enjoying several areas overlooking the Badlands of Alberta. It just so happens that the road we were travelling required a ferry ride across the Red Deer River. Not just any ferry but the old cable run Bleriot Ferry originally built in the early 1900’s that fits only a few vehicles and connects the two sections of the dinosaur trail. It turns out we were the only vehicle requiring a crossing when we arrived. Along the way we discovered an area with some Hoodoos (columns of weathered rock in various shapes) to enjoy so we stopped and spent some time hiking around that area.
Following the hike around the Hoodoos we stopped and walked across an old suspension bridge that was built to help miners cross the river to the old coal mines that they worked in. After the suspension bridge we decided to travel along a road calling itself the eleven bridge road to a small town a few miles away. It did in fact have eleven bridges. We know because we counted them and Claudia took a picture of each one. At the end of the road we discovered the Last Chance Saloon sitting all alone just off the road. We couldn’t resist so we stopped in for a drink and a snack of poutine. In case you don’t know, poutine is a dish of French Fries covered in brown gravy and mozzarella cheese. The Last Chance Saloon was built in 1913 and at one time served as the local post office, and is still a working hotel. It was filled to the brim with nostalgic collectables. All in all it was a pleasant drive with some great stops on a beautiful day.
Unfortunately, our only full day in Drumheller ended up with thunderstorms. We did venture out for a couple of hours and took a hike along the Badlands Interpretive Trail. It was a nice hike along and through some of the Canadian Badlands. After that we stopped at the Tourist Information Center in downtown Drumheller. No, it wasn’t for any information but rather so Claudia could climb up into the massive dinosaur that was built just so that tourists can climb up into its mouth for some views of the area. I stayed below to take pictures of Claudia in the mouth while she took pictures of me down below.
Our next stop took us to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for a few nights. The campground we stayed at was part of a much larger town park named after the famous hockey player Gordie Howe. Our first full day started out overcast but when the sun finally did come out we decided to drive over to a nearby dog park so Stella could do some running. Well she did a lot more than that. This dog park was the largest we’ve ever been to with miles and miles of trails as well as its own shoreline of beaches along the South Saskatchewan River. Stella not only ran around off leash but enjoyed the company of other dogs and spent a whole lot of time in the water, swimming and running along the shoreline. The trail we took was over two miles long and we were all exhausted by the time we got back.
On our second day in Saskatoon we enjoyed a one hour cruise aboard the Prairie Lily, a 118 passenger riverboat along the South Saskatchewan River and through the heart of the city. It was a beautiful day for a boat ride and a great way to see much of the city we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. One thing we noticed about Saskatchewan was how much public land they have set aside for recreational use. There are cycling and walking trails all over, especially along the river. In Saskatoon alone we noticed dozens of public parks. And then of course there are the ten or more off leash dog parks set aside especially for the people with dogs. Everywhere we went there were people walking, lying on the banks of the river, riding bikes or walking with their dogs. It was an impressive visit to a beautiful area of Canada and we enjoyed our brief stay.
Our next campground after Saskatoon was a one night stop in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. It was Canada Day (July 1) so we had plans to watch the fireworks celebration in a park next to the campground. The daughter of some of our friends from Texas was on her way back to Saskatchewan from Manitoba and treated us to a visit. Our plans were to watch the fireworks together but that fizzled out when a fairly significant storm front moved through the area. Instead we rode out the storm and enjoyed a wonderful visit with a really nice young woman.
Following Saskatoon we stopped in Dauphin, Manitoba for a one night layover before completing our trip to Winnipeg Beach for the start of our planned houseboat trip. We arrived at the home of our friends Garry & Carolyn as planned, and on schedule. Once there we relaxed for a couple of days as we prepared for our week on the houseboat. We enjoyed some down time together but also did some necessary shopping and packing. Bright and early on Saturday morning, with everything packed up in Garry and Carolyn’s truck and fishing boat we hit the road for the four hour drive to Sioux Narrows, Ontario.
Once we arrived at the dock we transferred all our stuff onto the houseboat and hitched up the fishing boat to the back. Garry and I then took a crash course on navigation. Lake of the Woods is over 70 miles long and wide, and contains more than 14,000 islands and 65,000 miles of shoreline so it would be easy to get lost. With that said, we selected our destination off the map which indicated possible beaches to stay on. With some help from the owner of the houseboat we selected what he described as one of the best spots on the lake with good walleye fishing nearby. So off we went, hoping it wasn’t already occupied. With Garry at the helm and me at the map we headed off in our 40’ houseboat to areas unknown. It didn’t take long for us to get the hang of navigating the islands and inlets by paying attention to the map, the GPS and keeping a watchful eye out for buoys and rocks. After about 4 hours we arrived at our destination and were thrilled to see that it was unoccupied. So with me at the helm, I made my first beach landing since my Navy days over 45 years ago.
Once we were tied up we took a look around and discovered just how beautiful our spot was. We were in a secluded cove, surrounded by forest which kept the boat protected from the wind. We were on the backside of a spit of land sticking out into the bay with the quiet cove behind us and a beautiful view of the bay in front of us. To top it off, we had our own personal gorgeous sand beach to swim at just a few feet away. We all decided right then that we wouldn’t be moving from this spot until it was time to leave.
For the next five days we enjoyed ourselves more than we ever expected. The weather was great most of the time although we did have a storm or two come by to add to our excitement. Our daily routine normally began with three or four of us heading out for some fishing. It turns out the coves behind us were great places to fish. Claudia and I were the rookie fishermen on this trip but with help from Garry and Carolyn we both caught our first walleyes. All in all we enjoyed two dinners of fresh fish and we still have more in our freezer now. I’m sure we were funny to watch as both Claudia and I hooked our live minnows as bait for the first time. I also held my first fish and removed it from the hook, an accomplishment I am now quite proud of. Luckily, Garry did all the cleaning of the fish so we were spared that task.
Our afternoons were normally spent walking over to the beach for a swim or sunning on the upper deck. While up there we usually enjoyed a cocktail or two (ok, maybe more). As entertainment we were treated to views of all sorts of wildlife including a friendly snapping turtle who lived under our boat, a group of pelicans that enjoyed the treats we gave them after the fish cleanings, a few deer including a fawn, a couple of bald eagles, lots of seagulls and a variety of other birds and turtles. And as a grand finale each evening we enjoyed some delicious dinners and desserts.
Eventually our week came to an end and we packed the boat up and backed off the beach. The weather was beautiful and the return trip to the boatyard was uneventful. We were after all, experienced seamen by now. The plan was to stay in the boat and eat at a local pub that evening but Stella ended up getting sick the night before and she was still quite sick when we arrived back at the dock. So we decided to pack everything up and head back to Winnipeg Beach.
Once we returned to Winnipeg Beach we kept busy unpacking and reorganizing. Stella was finally beginning to feel back to her normal self and I kept busy working on some minor repairs to the motor home. Garry had the tools I needed (not to mention his expertise) in order to make some of the repairs.
On July 17th, Claudia and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. We are still in awe at how fortunate we are to not only have found each other but to have ended up enjoying our lives together as much as we do now. We were lucky that Garry and Carolyn were able to join us this year as we enjoyed a wonderful meal and an excellent night together dining in style at a great Italian Restaurant in Winnipeg Beach.
Two mornings later, we headed out as planned and enjoyed four days at the Manitoba Stampede. Our campsite was just outside the gate so we were able to come and go as we pleased, making it easy to take care of Stella throughout the day. The only admission cost was for the rodeo events so walking around the midway, exhibitions and vendor stands was easy. We enjoyed each day at the rodeo which included bucking broncos, calf roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing and bucking bulls. There were also chariot and chuck wagon racing which we found especially exciting. On one day, the town of Morris hosted a parade dedicated to the Stampede that we were able to enjoy as well. There were also many competitions throughout the weekend that involved horses, steers and even dogs that kept us entertained. Garry and Carolyn had the site next to us so we were also able to enjoy each other’s company as we relaxed outside at our sites as well as at the Scratching River Saloon within the Stampede grounds where we enjoyed several musical groups.
On July 22nd we crossed back into the United States for the first time since June 11th. We settled in at our campground located in Itasca State Park in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Itasca State Park contains the headwaters of the Mississippi River so we headed off for a couple of short hikes and a visit to the trickle of water that flows in from Itasca Lake and begins what we all know as the mighty Mississippi River. We only had one night to enjoy there but we plan to return another time in order to enjoy more of the trails that exist within this 32,690 acre park.
Next we spent a week with some of our Texas friends at Avatan, a resort in Minnesota. We had a great week of sunshine and a whole lot of friends from Texas to share it with. In addition to plenty of time at the pool and frequent happy hours we also headed out a couple of times for dinner over at Moonshine Whiskey’s, a nice little pub down the street that has a great menu and a whole lot of local beer to choose from. We also enjoyed a fish fry put on by the resort and a private party of “Sandpeeps” (those of us from Sandpipers) put on by our hosts who just so happen to also live at Sandpipers during the winter. The entire week was wonderful.
Once we left Avatan we began making stops with two to three night layovers as we worked our way towards St Ignace, Michigan to enjoy the Mackinac Island area. This always allowed us a full day or two to explore and enjoy whatever area we were in. We selected a trip this year that included a major portion of the Lake Superior Circle Tour that ran up, over and around Lake Superior. All along the way we were treated to some gorgeous views of the lake and some beautiful countryside.
Our first overnight stop was in Grand Marais, Minnesota, only about thirty miles from the Canadian border. There we enjoyed the quaint shops and lakeside atmosphere along the banks of Lake Superior. Two of our friends from Texas who were at Avatan with us decided to join us for a couple of days in Grand Marais and as we were helping them get set up we recognized another couple we know very well from Sandpipers. Seventeen hundred miles from home and we had no idea they were anywhere near us. What a great surprise!! So the six of us headed off and had a great dinner together.
Our next travel day took us back into Canada. We’ve crossed the borders many times but for the first time we were questioned more seriously than usual. The main focus was about guns but in the end they only decided we had too much beer and wine on board. We’ve carried more liquor on other crossings but for this trip we had just picked up a couple of cases of beer and a few bottles of wine in Minnesota since it’s so expensive in Canada. It turns out if you add the $46 duty put on us by Canadian Customs it’s quite expensive regardless. The worst thing was, once we spent five days in St Ignace, we would be returning to Canada and they could charge us that same duty again unless we could drink it all by then and that didn’t happen. Oh well, lesson learned. It’s all just part of the adventure.
Once in Canada we spent the next three nights in Rossport, Ontario at a campground within Rainbow Falls Provincial Park. We had a gorgeous campsite only a few feet from the beach with a beautiful view overlooking Lake Superior. In addition to enjoying the fantastic weather and the wonderful views we headed off and did some hiking. This time we took Stella with us since she is welcome in Canada’s provincial parks and we took a hike along a trail to view the Rainbow Falls. We also enjoyed a picnic lunch with a great view of the falls and Stella enjoyed a swim. On our final full day there, a couple more of our friends from Texas stopped by to say hi. They were making the entire Lake Superior Circle Tour trip on their motorcycles with friends and we had been keeping tabs on each other. Another real treat!!
Our final Canadian campground before once again crossing back into the United States was in Wawa, Ontario and it turned out to be a real gem. There we enjoyed a beautiful wooded site, surrounded by pine trees in a quiet setting. On our one full day in Wawa the three of us headed off to do some exploring. Along our path we stopped at multiple locations including a couple of beautiful waterfalls, a scenic overlook of Lake Superior, a historic graveyard where about twenty frontier men and women are buried and to downtown Wawa for some history. It was a nice day to be out and about.
When we arrived in St Ignace, Michigan, it was a little later than planned. We headed off early that morning but after only 30 minutes of travelling on a quite foggy road, we came to a standstill. Up until 1960, there was no way to reach Wawa by road. It was only accessible by boat, air or a long and difficult horseback ride. In 1960, the one and only road to and from the town was finally completed. The problem is, there is only the one road and today wasn’t a good day for that road. We learned while waiting that there had been a fatal traffic accident about a mile ahead of us several hours earlier. Both sides of the road had been shut down until the wreckage was cleared and the investigation completed. There was nothing we could do but wait and be happy we were safe and sound. After a little more than an hour the road finally opened and we were back on our way. Our next delay came as we entered Sault Ste. Marie and prepared to cross into the United States. We were told to expect a ten minute delay. It turned out to be close to another hour to get through customs. However you look at it, we arrived safe and sound so we had nothing to complain about. We ended up with a beautiful campsite overlooking Lake Huron.
Our visit to St. Ignace, Michigan was a return trip for us because of some terrible weather we had while there two years ago. It was so bad that we couldn’t get to Mackinac Island. This trip was the complete opposite. Every day was beautiful with fabulous weather.
We spent our first day by taking a four mile walk downtown and back to check out the ferry schedule and to do a little shopping. We ended up buying our ferry tickets for the following day and then spent time poking around the shops where Claudia bought a sweatshirt and shoes while I bought some fudge. It’s all about the priorities with me. On the way back to the campground we stopped in to a local restaurant and pub for some lunch before relaxing by the campsite to enjoy a great happy hour overlooking Lake Huron.
Early the following morning we headed off and caught the 9am ferry to Mackinac Island. The water was calm and because we caught one of the “Mighty Mac” ferries, we began our trip to the island by travelling over to and under the Mackinac Bridge. This meant that our ferry trip actually travelled across both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan since the bridge separates the two. We were also treated to a nice lesson about the bridge itself.
Once we arrived on Mackinac Island we headed directly to the Carriage Tours booth since we purchased a combo package which included the ferry, carriage tour and the fort. Once aboard our carriage we travelled across about six miles of the island enjoying the sights, stories and lessons from our tour guides about the island. We traded one carriage for another about half way through when we left the town and headed through Mackinac State Park. Our final stop of the tour was at Fort Mackinac that was active from 1780 till 1895. We enjoyed our time walking around the fort and eventually stopped by the Fort Mackinac Tea Room where we enjoyed a great lunch with an unbelievable view overlooking the town and harbor. Following lunch it was time to begin our walk down from the fort and back into town for more sightseeing and shopping. Eventually we decided it was time to head back to the campground so we caught the next ferry to St. Ignace and headed home to Stella.
The next morning we once again headed off early, this time in the car. We had wanted to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point in Michigan since our last visit, so off we went. The drive took over an hour and a half to get there but it turned out to be well worth the trip. We spent a couple of hours touring the museum, looking at the exhibits and reading about many of the thousands of shipwrecks that have occurred on the lakes over the years. We also watched a video detailing a project that was undertaken to remove the bell from one of the most famous shipwrecks of all time, the Edmund Fitzgerald which sunk during a violent storm just 15 miles from Whitefish Point. With no bodies recovered from the shipwreck that killed all twenty nine crew members on board in 1975, the families hoped to save the bell as a memorial. The video was a great way of telling the story of how this was accomplished and an example of just how violent the Great Lakes can become. Last but not least, Claudia and I decided to take a tour of the lighthouse that was built in 1861 (under Abraham Lincoln’s administration) for a view from the top. After a climb up the narrow, spiral staircase we were rewarded with a gorgeous 360 degree view. It was quite blustery and cool up there but well worth it.
Once we left the museum, we stopped by Tahquamenon Falls State Park that was nearby in order to visit the Upper Falls there. Once we were in the park we took a pretty good hike to the falls which turned out to be quite beautiful. After some picture taking we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park before heading back to Stella who was waiting back at the campground for us.
With one remaining day left in St. Ignace we decided to relax a bit. We headed off to Castle Rock, a high area of St. Ignace that offered us a beautiful, towering view of the surrounding area. Then we headed off for some lunch at Moo Moo’s Ice Cream. I had Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough!! Claudia had chocolate – of course. It was definitely a great way to end our visit.
The following morning started out the same as most mornings we would get ready to leave a campground except that this time I discovered a nail in one of the RV tires as I was putting things away. After having two blowouts in our past I knew there was no way I would attempt to drive in this situation. I headed to the office to discuss our situation and they were a great help. They told me they would move people around if necessary so that I wouldn’t have to leave our site and they gave me the name of the only auto service company in the area. Lucky for us they turned out to be a great contact. I gave them a call, they sent out a service truck, they removed the tire, returned to the shop to repair the tire and returned to remount the tire in less than two hours. And to top it off, the price was fair and reasonable, especially for a Sunday service call. We’re finally beginning to realize that there are a lot more honest companies out there than there are rip-offs. We’ve been very lucky over the years and have never felt ripped off on any of our emergency repairs.
With our repair completed we continued our travels and crossed into Canada for the third time in 2019 to begin the final leg of our travels across Canada. Fortunately the border crossing went a little easier than the last time although these guys have become quite serious about their business and the questioning has become more intense. With what’s going on in the world recently, I can’t say I blame them. By mid-afternoon, we were all settled in at our nice wooded campsite in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
We took advantage of two days of very nice weather to explore the area around the historic Sault Ste. Marie canal. On our first day, just as we arrived at the canal we were lucky enough to watch the locks in operation as a pilot boat approached from Lake Superior in order to continue on to Lake Huron. The Sault Ste. Marie Canal, built in 1895, was the world’s longest lock, the first to operate using electricity and the last link in an all-Canadian navigational chain from the Atlantic to Lake Superior. It was fun to watch as the lock lowered the boat from the level of Lake Superior to the level of Lake Huron before the doors opened and the pilot boat continued on its way. Once the pilot boat headed off we continued to an area along the canal that headed off to some great hiking areas. We took a hike out to Whitefish Island along some scenic trails. Whitefish Island is an uninhabited island that was formed more than 2,000 years ago. It was an Aboriginal settlement where trading was done and was a major source of food due to the abundance of fish. The area was so beautiful and the trails so nice that we had wished we brought Stella along.
On the following day in Sault Ste. Marie we returned to the canal for another hike and this time brought Stella along to join us. We chose a trail that went all around South St. Mary’s Island, located between Whitefish Island and the Sault Ste. Marie canal. This was a trail that wandered through some beautiful area set aside as a wildlife sanctuary and migration stop. Along the way we were able to see Whitefish Island, International Bridge that separates Lake Superior from Lake Huron and the entire length of the canal. As we were finishing our hike, we were once again surprised and thrilled to see more boats arriving in the canal. This time it was a large tour boat and two sailboats. Once again we stuck around to watch the locks in operation and it was a lot of fun to see. We ended our day by walking out to the very end of the concrete pier that stuck out into Lake Huron for some picture taking.
Our next stop was a one night stop in Sudbury, Ontario as we drove around Lake Huron. It was just a place to sleep for the night so we didn’t even disconnect the car. The following morning we headed off to the small town of Tiny, Ontario for a three night stay. On our first day in Tiny we headed over to the town of Midland, known as a tourist community with a large harbor. After enjoying lunch at a restaurant overlooking one of the marinas we took a walk around. We discovered that “Tug Fest”, a festival of converted tug boats was to take place the following day so there were all sorts of unique boats to walk around and see. Some were very large boats while others were more modest. Most of these boats were quite old and had been transformed into some very nice yachts.
We decided to make our next overnight stop in North Wellington, Ontario, just a few miles from our friends Jim & Liz. We needed to head off early from Tiny and they weren’t going to be back at their home till later in the day so the easiest thing to do was spend a night nearby. Just about happy hour time, Jim & Liz came by and we enjoyed a few hours together at our campsite. The following morning we headed off early and arrived at their farm in Palmerston where we set up the camper, complete with electricity and water.
The four of us spent the day touring the countryside. They live in the heart of farming country, full of family farms and so much of what we were seeing was all new to us. In addition to growing crops such as wheat, soybeans and corn, Jim & Liz raise chickens from the time they are just hatched until they are ready for market. They had just shipped off all their chickens and their barn was currently empty so we swung by their son’s farm where we could see for ourselves what a barn with more than 40,000 chickens in it looks like. This was a new barn with all the latest farming technologies and was quite impressive. We spent some great time with their son and his wife while enjoying a few beverages outside in some gorgeous weather. When we left we crossed the road and took a drive around a piece of land that they recently purchased and plan to cultivate that covers 100 acres. Having grown up and lived on a lot of land that was approximately ¼ acre, 100 acres seemed incredible. Next we headed off to drive around and see many different farms and we got a real feel of what it must be like to live in a family farming community in Ontario. It was such a great time and we really enjoyed the tour. On our way back to the farm we stopped in to see their daughter and family for a while and had another great visit. Once back at Jim & Liz’s house we enjoyed beverages, dinner and some great time together. So much off the beaten track but so worth the trip!!
Our final Canadian stop was in Kingston, Ontario. Our plan had been to take a three hour boat tour on Lake Huron to explore the Thousand Islands area but unfortunately, once again, weather changed those plans. It’s unusual for us to miss out on stops due to weather but it seemed to be more of the norm this year. So with thunderstorms and heavy rains predicted for the area we headed off to see what we could visit by car. We decided to make a stop at Fort Henry, originally built in 1812 and located on a high bluff overlooking the city of Kingston. The fort was used to monitor maritime traffic on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario and was considered to be a good location as a defensive fortification. The fort was active up until the end of the Second World War when it served as a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers. For us it offered a great view of the area surrounding us as we wandered the grounds and explored the various levels including tunnels and underground bunkers. We were also treated to reenactments and drills performed for our benefit. The weather turned out to be very nice and we were happy to enjoy our final day in Canada at this historic location.
We really enjoyed these past nine weeks as we traveled across Canada. Not only were we able to share time with some great friends and enjoy a week on a house boat but along the way we were able to enjoy the ride as we drove around or over magnificent snow covered mountains, through isolated forests, across wide open prairies and along roads completely surrounded by farm and ranch lands. The landscape was always beautiful and the roads were well maintained for the most part although rarely more than one or two lanes wide in each direction. There was very little congestion on the roads unless we were near cities and even then, they weren’t nearly as congested as we see in the states. Most of the campgrounds’ electric and sewer hookups were not quite as modern as what we’d hoped for, but the beauty and the solitude made up for it. This was a drive that had been on our bucket list since our first year on the road seven years ago. It was worth the wait, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!