Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Bison In The Mist

When last we spoke of the Great Canadian Road Trip, Liz and I were off in search of bison.

We had awoken at 5am that morning in a vain attempt at a sunrise, but were thwarted by rain. So we made a retrograde maneuver, jumped into the Geovan Of Destiny and headed off in search of bison.

If you haven't guessed yet, this is the post about the bison.

Elk Island National Park is home to a wild heard of wood bison. Note that the proper term is bison, not buffalo as is commonly thought. Despite the fact that this misnomer has been going on since the 1500s, and for reasons too complicated to get into here, I will stick to the name bison to refer to these magnificent creatures as there is a small but vocal minority who will feel the need to point out the inaccuracies of the buffalo thing (one of which is my wife, and I don't need that sort of domestic drama at present, thanks!)

Anyhoo, we arrived at the aptly named Bison Loop Road, and sure enough there were bison hanging out (this was not a sure lock as we had driven this loop twice already on previous days and had not seen anything). Thrilled at victory, we armed ourselves with the big glass, and set off around the loop to photograph the herd.

One of the first things we saw, actually, was a coyote hanging out midst the herds. He quickly scampered off into the woods, never to be seen again.
The herd was distributed over a wide series of fields, and consisted of a large number of animals (a scientific estimate ranges from "quite a few", to "a whole mess of 'em").
Since these are wood bison, it was not unexpected to find some bison in the woods. They seem to rut against the trees.  This one is calling out as he didn't like our presence. Their noises are more like constipated grunts than mooing, which is a little off-putting (if you get a mental image of a drunken scotsman trying to angrily yodel, you'll get the rough idea of what they sound like).
This one looks like he's ready to charge (spoiler alert: he didn't).
Some of the bison liked to paw out (hoof out?) a bare spot of mud and wallow in it.
These are magnificent and rather daunting creatures. With those horns, I certainly would not want to tangle with one.  They really demand ones respect. (I call this one "Sir.") (please refrain from any "buffalo wing jokes". For one they've already heard them, and two, please see the fourth paragraph above.)
A couple of males fighting for dominance.  They butted heads several times before one backed down.
Of course it would not be a proper herd story without some pics of the calves.
One last shot of a baby bison before we head off down the road. D'awww.
We ended up spending a couple hours watching the bison. After the first time around the loop we headed back to the camp to pick up my wife so she could see the bison as well.

So thats the bison.  After this we packed up camp and headed to Red Deer for a different kind of photography all together, which was a new experience for myself.

Stay tuned!

Friday, September 04, 2015

I Saw The Sign(-ing): A Levan Original

You have likely heard of artwork by Matisse, Picasso, Rembrandt, or Rockwell.

Those are all in the past.  Future generations will be talking about Levan, and I am now in possession of her first signed print.

Nancy Levan is a photographer and artist, who my wife and I have known thru the Chrysta Rae Photo Scavenger Hunt on Google Plus.  She recently started making these intricate abstracted drawings of women of various types, all having this great ethereal quality.

We decided to buy a print of her Ballerina to put up on Abigails room.

When I hit up Las Vegas, I hung out with her for the day (details to come in a later post), and I brought along the print for her to sign.  She signed her name on the front.
And a dedication on the back, including some much needed provenance (a word I learned from Pawn Stars - thanks boys!).

She ended up signing it at the famous Las Vegas sign - the symmetry is almost too good for words.

So now I have the first signed Levan.  I'll add it to my retirement fund (it pays to think about the future).

She sells her work on Fine Art America.  If you want to check out more, please visit her gallery

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Elk Island National Park

Canada has lots of amazing landscape and beautiful scenery.  As we've been following the Trans-Canada highway west we have been enjoying a lot of what the Great White North has to offer.

Fortune has found us camping at Elk Island National Park for a couple days.

I spent some time exploring the park solo, and in the company of my wife and some of our Scavenger friends.  Ron and Liz have been carpooling with us across the country, and Chrystajoined us at the park for the afternoon.

The park is amazingly photogenic, and we all, being photographers, took full advantage.  We were also on vacation, so we did a lot of "sitting and enjoying the scenery" as well. Often these two goals intermingled quite conveniently.
The canoe on a lake is an iconic Canadian view, so it was great to get some shots of that.  The sunset in the background didn't hurt either.
The sunset cause this awesome orange hue in the sky and the water.  This particular sunset is going down in my history books as one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
One last shot for the evening of... another canoe. Cause: canoes.
Having experienced the sunsets that Elk Island had on offer, Liz and I decided we wanted to sample the sunrise as well.  We got up at 5AM, only to find that it was raining. We figured we'd only get this one chance at a sunrise shoot in the park, so we headed out anyway. Besides, there might be wildlife along the way.

Our goal was a mile down a pathway, which would take us to the edge of Lake Ashotin, the main lake in the park.  The rain was hit and miss, so we managed to grab a few shots in between the showers.
Damp, but pretty.  
The walk back turned out to have some interesting shots as well.
Elk Island is home to a herd of wood bison.  They roam free in the park, except in the campground.  Since the sunrise lacked the promise of its setting counterpart, we headed off back down the trail to the Geovan of Destiny.
Our goal is to track down that elusive herd of bison.

Spoiler alert: we find them.  But you'll have to wait until next post to see the pictures.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Geocaching In Bon Accord

When in the course of road trip events it becomes necessary to take a day or two off the road, one can take the time to really explore an area.

In our case, having a day without travel, and staying at Elk Island National Park in Alberta, that exploration will take the form of geocaching, and the area will be Bon Accord, a very small town just north of Alberta.

By small, I am not kidding.  It is basically big enough to support a hockey rink and an Irish pub, and not much else.

Bon Accord has a bunch of geocaches placed by the town.  A lot of these caches are unique and interesting.

It also has what they claim is the largest travel bug in the world  (more on that later).

Bon Accord is about 40 minutes away from Elk Island National Park through some of the beautiful and active Albertan countryside.

Along the way I stopped to take a photo of the wide sweeping canola fields.
 However to get to those fields, I had to dodge a road full of big rigs.
 Once we hit the town we started finding geocaches.   They certainly lived up to reputation, and all of them were unique and interesting.  An example is this micro hidden in a frog in a tree (I don't mind showing this one as it is now archived).

 Oh, about that travel bug.  It is written on the back of a two storey building that houses both the town library and the fire department. They claim that it is the worlds largest travel bug, but I already found another travel bug that claimed to be the largest on this trip, just north of Sault Ste. Marie.  I suppose it depends on how you define the bug.  This one is definitely a larger image of the barcode bug.  The other was an accurate model of the traditional dog tag, just 33x larger.  This one was attached to a small library and fire house, but the other was attached to a whole hockey rink.

I'll let you decide, but for now the image of the Bon Accord travel bug will suffice:
Once we finished with Bon Accord, we headed back to Elk Island to get some rest, and meet up with some Scavengers, including the two we've been traveling with, and the original Scavenger herself.

Stay tuned for more from Elk Island and the beauty and wonder that is Elk Island.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Alberta Bound

"Oh the prairie lights
are burnin' bright
The Chinook wind 
is a-movin' in
Tomorrow night 
I'll be Alberta bound
Alberta bound, Alberta bound
It's good to be Alberta bound"
     - Gordon Lightfoot

These were the lyrics that were floating through my head when I woke up this morning.   I've never been this far west, and thanks to songs like this, and basically the entire Corb Lund catalog, my head was full of visions of Alberta.

This was farm country. Horse country.  Oil country.  The place where the prairies end and the Rockies begin.  Its the place where Wayne Gretzky won his 4 Stanley Cups.

I was excited to get there and check it out for myself, but first I had to drive the rest of the way across Saskatchewan.

My wife and I had woken up in Saskatoon, and after saying goodbye for a few days to our Scavenger traveling companions, we piled into the Geovan of Destiny and headed west along the Trans-Canada Highway.

We were, finally, Alberta bound.

One of our first stops was a pull over to do an earth cache.  The place provided a great view of the Saskatchewan River.
Our next stop brings us to an important part of this road trip that has so far seen little to no mention:  Tim Hortons.
It would come to no surprise to any Canadians reading this, but every single day since we left on this road trip we have stopped multiple times at various Tim Hortons we've come across.  It has provided us with much needed caffeinated beverages and calories for the road, washroom breaks, and free Wifi.  It is my opinion that the plethora of Tim Hortons is one of the reasons why, God forbid it should be required, Canada will win the war.

(The other reason is the abundance of chip trucks.)

Shortly after our much needed pit stop, we started seeing signs for Table Mountain, and the related ski area.  Since Saskatchewan has so far been the flattest place on earth I have ever seen (and yes, American friends, I have been to the mid-west states) I was very curious what constitutes a "mountain".

So we took a detour.

After about a 10KM drive down some of the magnificent dirt roads (seriously, I am not sure what voodoo the province of Saskatchewan uses to maintain their roads, but they are glorious), we had our answer:
You can see the ski slopes on the hill in the background on the right.  Apparently, according to the Internets, the slopes are 100m, 330ft, high.

Mountains, it seems, are relative.

On the way back we took in some more of the Saskatchewan scenery.
We continued west and by lunch we had crossed the Alberta line.


At this time we started doing some more geocaches, and I am glad I did, since it introduced us to some of the most friendly horses I've ever met:
One of the first caches I did in Alberta was a bird house at the corner of a field.  As I approached, these three horses came trotting across their field to say heya.  We spent some time together, bonding over geocaches and muzzle-petting.  I found out later that these horses are famous for being super-friendly to geocachers, and have a history of pulling a geocache from the hiding spot on the fence into their field.

We went further off highway, which quickly means on more dirt roads, to grab some more geocaches.  We did one cache right in front of a Hydro crew (Electrical power company crew for you non-Canadians), and ended up introducing them to geocaching (they got a kick out of it).

So far, Alberta was promising to be as awesome as my mental image promised.

One thing that quickly became apparent is that the flatness of Saskatchewan  was over.  Alberta landscape is full of vast wide open spaces, but they are also full of rolling hills.  It makes the place feel alive.
We cached our way halfway across Alberta and ended up at our destination for the day: Elk Island National Park.  We were planning on camping there for a couple days.

One of the great things about being a geocacher is that it is a small community.  One of the local cachers put on a geocaching event in the park so I could meet some of the locals (including, as it turns out, the CO of the caches I did near the horses above).  So once we finished setting up camp, we headed over to the event.
After the event was over, we wandered over to the lake and enjoyed some of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever experienced in my life.  We took some time to snap some photos, and soak in the amazing nature that lay before us.
Yep, Alberta promises to be good to us.  I can't wait to explore more of it tomorrow.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Sask-Cache-One

Little known fact:  Scobby Doo and the gang live in Saskatoon.  I have proof.

This is just one of the things I learned while exploring Saskatoon for the day.

Road tripping is a lot of work, so its good to add a day or two along the way where you don't have to put in mileage. That day for us happened in Saskatoon.

We spent the morning geocaching until the quilt stores opened, then my wife went shopping.  I of course tagged along.  While I was waiting for her to finish checking out the local offerings I checked my phone for geocaches.  Turns out there was one 50ft away, in a bakery.

Tastiest. Geocache. Ever.

Afterwards we headed downtown to do a highly favourited cache. It turns out that cache was in the main branch of the local library.  Fun!.

Along the way we ran across some classic Canadian honesty: 
After lunch we headed out of town to check out the surrounding farmland.  We soon drove off the main roads and hit the dirt roads.
By the bye, Saskatchewan dirt roads are really nice, as far as these things go.

Our goal for this adventure was to grab the oldest cache in Saskatchewan, called Sask-Cache-One.

It was located down an old road along a farmers field, so we went for a walk.
A little while later we had this elder cache in hand.
Afterwards we grabbed a few more caches, then drove around, checking out the countryside.

One of the first things we noticed when we hit the prairies was fields of bright yellow.  These are, apparently, fields of rapeseed - also known as canola.  If you've ever had canola in your margarine, or cooking oil, you have fields like this to thank.
(I won't mention that canola was developed by two Canadian scientists in 1970).

After our drive we hit the hotel for a well deserved nap and a relaxing evening.  It was nice to unwind, but tomorrow we were hitting the road once again, in search of adventure.
Once again we planned to live out a Gordon Lightfoot song... which one?

Stay tuned to find out.