Winter Break

Health is a fickle thing. One minute you are great, the next…not so much.

My Christmas break was filled with sleeping, lab appointments, more sleeping mixed in with visits to my Doc. While I am steadily improving – not 100% – I am back at work and felt good enough to get outside. Sunshine and fresh air are magical elixirs that boost me up. The best part about getting outside is the sun is on its way back to me! Darkness isn’t always present and sometimes I can see the sun when I leave work. This is the best feeling – sure its dark when I get home, but sunshine in my mirror is lovely.

There is a National Park not that far away from me. Elk Island National Park is home to Bison, wolves, deer, moose…and a myriad of other creatures. I always ask the universe to show me some creature while I am there. I am never disappointed.

The Captain and I headed out mid-afternoon because I wanted to capture some twilight over Astotin Lake. We drove directly to the Bison loop in hopes to spot the heard. No such luck. I just caught the moonrise over the prairie.  The Red Chairs are a lovely spot to sit and contemplate.

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We left the loop to make our way to Astotin Lake but found a ‘bear jam’ on the way. It wasn’t really bears – but that is a common term for wild animal sighting. There was two bison across the beaver pond. They looked like rocks or boulders – but I knew they were the bison I was looking. ei7.jpg

After seeing those two fellas, I was hopeful I would spot a heard at the lake, or at least one more fellow. No such luck. everyone and their dog was at the beach today. I know it seems like an oddity to head to the beach in January. But Albertans don’t let the weather stop us from living our best life. We pack a lunch and make a day of it. Who doesn’t love the beach? Families were snowshoeing, tobogganing, skiing, sitting around a fire – there was a lot of fires. The smell was heavenly. It reminded me of winter cookout’s past. Pack snow around the fire as wind protection, roast hot dogs and apples and you are having a great time! The snow doubles as a cooler for beverages! Win/Win!

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We popped out of the car and started walking towards the lake, but the snow was deep and Cap didn’t enjoy it touching his belly. He is a big boy too so the snow must have been nearly a foot. He led me to a cleared path and we went exploring in the woods instead.

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There is a denseness I can’t explain unless you have experienced it. The snow absorbs sound so everything seems silent but yet you can hear voices carried across the lake. The crunch of the snow sounds different in January than it does in March. This is the height of winter and its perfect.

Further down the road, we discovered ungulate tracks – it looked like bison to me! Yet there were no large animals to be found. Cap loved the smell and followed the tracks for a while.

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Soon we found ourselves back a the beginning of our adventure. We did the full loop and that tired us both out. Cap slept all the way home and continued napping for the rest of the evening. He is a healthy guy but as he ages, he sleeps more. Kind of like me. Obviously, we are kindred spirits.

Elk Island National Park is located about 50km east of Edmonton on Hwy 16. You do need a discovery pass to enter. A single day is available at the gate. I have a yearly pass and try to make the most of it. Since I purchased the pass we have visited Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Pacific Rim National Reserve and Elk Island National Park. I hope to get to Yoho and Waterton this year before it expires. Get out there and take in that blue sky!

 

 

Discovery

Parks Canada celebrated 2017 and Canada’s 150 birthday celebrations by issuing everyone who wanted one a Discovery Pass. This let everyone enter Canada’s National Parks free of charge. I have no idea what it ultimately charged the taxpayers but I happily partook in the offer, thanks, Justin!

I visited 4 National Parks this year.

Jasper National Park

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Pacific Rim National Reserve

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Banff National Park

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Elk Island National Park

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I appreciate how these spaces are preserved and protected. I saw all types of wildlife, black bears, coyotes, bald eagle, red tail hawks, grey wolf footprints, harbour seals, sea stars, molluscs, dolphins, porpoises, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bison, deer, fox, elk and numerous squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, geese and songbirds. Yesterday was the last day of the year to use my park pass, so I packed up my pal Captain and we made our way to the closest National Park from my home, Elk Island.

It has been bitterly cold here as with the rest of North America. The temperatures were hovering around the -30C mark with winds dropping the windchill into the low -30 or high -40 range. The type of cold that freezes your nose shut and pinches your face. Happily, the cold is about over and plus temps are on the horizon!

I drove to Astotin Lake to watch the sunset at 4:30pm. Cap and I walked across the frozen beach and he would pause to lift his paws. It was too cold for him.

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We looked at the sunset and then braved the easterly winds back to the car.

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I then drove to the Bison Paddock hoping to catch a glimpse of a bison or two. We saw about 10 females with their calves as we drove down hwy 16 towards the park. Obviously, we didn’t stop on the icy roads to take a pic, but we were rewarded with seeing a lone fellow munching on the frozen grass.  But first, we had to turn right following the loop.

The first stop was the famous red chairs. They had been turned around facing west this time. Normally they overlook the meadow to the east.

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Perfect for viewing the sunset but too cold to sit in the chairs. I have yet to stop to sit, maybe next time. Behind the chairs, the full moon was rising. It was spectacular in the pink sky.

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My face and fingers were frozen by this time, so I jumped back into the warmth of my car and continued around the loop. To my amazement, this guy was still there snacking on some exposed grass.

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Sunsets on the prairies are beautiful and the colours seem to be brighter in the fidged temperatures.

I watched him for a while before heading home.

Receiving and using the Discovery Passes were a great gift. I suspect the purpose of the free passes was to reignite the passion Canadians feel for their country, especially with the drama that is happening around the rest of the world. I think the point is want to have a pass for 2018, it was a subtle marketing ploy that I think I have bought into. I still want to explore Tawayik Lake with The Captain, there are other parts of Elk Island I have not seen and I also want to get to Waterton Lakes National Park this year. If everything goes as planned, I will make it back to Pacific Rim and head east to Cape Breton Highlands National Park and really explore what it has to offer.

Let me know your favourite Canadian National Park so I can put it on my list.

The Red Chair Project

It happened.

I turned 50.

I had great expectations for turning 50 but I couldn’t name any of them. It was vague but it was going to be great.

I took my birthday off. It was in the middle of a hectic week at work and my thoughts were filled with shoulds. As in ‘you should do this…’  Only I didn’t do that.  Listening to Love, Sex and Money podcast with Anna Sale, I heard Ellen Bernstein call those kinds of days ‘Shouldless Days’. I took her advice and gave myself a great gift. August 16th became the Shouldless Day.

I had spent the last 9 months in a daily meditation practice and it changed my perspective and showed me what was important. Worrying about work was not one of those things. So in the busiest season, the busiest week, I took my birthday off.

Best thing I ever did.

Here are the Coles notes from that day:

  • I took myself out for breakfast
  • went for a walk with my pal The Captain
  • I received a special birthday gift from my grandfather
  • I received a life-changing email
  • I went out for dinner
  • I cried from happiness

It was an epic birthday. I declared my 50th year to be the year of Epic Adventure.

Canada celebrated its 150th year as well….ok I am not getting into the ins and outs of colonization or the political reasons etc, but for better or worse, it turned 150. With that, Parks Canada celebrated by opening up all the national parks with a free park pass. I thought this would be a great way to spend my 50th year, I would visit National Parks. I live fairly close to 2 parks and not far from 2 more. I could make an effort to visit these… but money was really tight. Finding a way to visit those distant parks was going to be expensive.

 

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City Hall Edmonton

 

I decided not to worry about the how I was going to do it, but focus on the intention of going. I wanted value from my park passes so I made an effort to visit Elk Island National park. It is only 30km away from me. Cap and I could make the trip, explore a little bit and go a few times this year. Done. Value out of my park pass! When we arrived at the park, we discovered Red Chairs! Parks Canada has installed Red Chairs at scenic points in all the National Parks. My first visit was at the height of winter.  I found 3 pairs of chairs. Then I went back in the summer and saw them differently.

I was now obsessed with these Red Chairs. I convinced the Hubs to go to Jasper National Park, it is about a 4-hour drive from my home. Money was still tight so we decided to call it a day trip.

Not one Red Chair was found and I was disappointed. I got over it quickly because, you know, JASPER! I did find green chairs!

 

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Athabasca River View

 

I had googled where the Red Chair locations were but couldn’t locate them. Not to worry, Jasper is one of my favourite places on the planet, we enjoyed our day and Captain loved it as well. So many new things to sniff!

My birthday happened and then a week later my life changed. I was offered a new position with a new company, the Hubs retired and unexpectedly we had the opportunity to travel for one week. We thought about traveling to all kinds of places, but the idea of going to Tofino really appealed to me. We had not been since we were first married over 21 years ago. Tofino is located on Vancouver Island. One week on the ocean sounded like the perfect opportunity to relax.

We flew to Victoria and rented a car. From there we drove up-Island and over to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This was easily the greatest vacation I ever experienced. We stayed at a local resort, I played in the tide pools and stood in the waves for hours. At Chesterman Beach, we spotted a two more pairs.

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We explored trails through the rainforest and found another pair of Red Chairs.

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I wanted to stay another week but commitments required me elsewhere.  My plans for other National parks were on hold. New job starting, a trip to New York City was in the works. my 50th year had started off awesome and was just getting better.

Before I knew it, I had a few extra days off allotted to me. We had new things to celebrate. My kids received great news and we thought this deserved a family vacation celebration. We all decided to drive to Banff National Park. Since we were all traveling as a family, we needed to find a location that permitted  The Captain. As safe and friendly as some kennels are, it was not something I wanted Cap to experience, we either all go as a family, or we don’t go at all.

Tunnel Mountain had A-Frame cottages that allowed dogs,  a four day weekend was now in the works for us. We arrived before the snow fell, went for dinner and enjoyed our evening by the fire. The next morning our adventure was about to begin.

We drove along Tunnel Mountain and less than 5 minutes into our trip, I spotted Red Chairs. We stopped and took in the view.

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Bow Valley was beautiful and crisp. After our fill, we traveled to the Hoodoos to take in that view. We found another set of Red Chairs. These ones were part of the restoration trail project.

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I sat on one and took in the view. I had not meditated yet that day and the family was exploring the hoodoos, so I decided to sit in silence for my morning ritual. I had explored this practice in Tofino. There is something magical about meditating in nature.

Soon we decided to head up to Lake Minniwanka. As we rounded the corner and stopped at the look-out, we noticed the road going south. I had never explored this road before and I had no idea it was a loop, one that navigated south along Two Jack Lake. 50 years of visiting Banff National Park and I am still finding new things.  Before long, we spotted another set of Red Chairs.

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Again I sat in silence and enjoyed the view while my kids explored the peninsula and skipped stones. The view was beautiful.

After this stop, we ventured over to Vermillion Lakes, no Red Chairs but another spot I had never explored before. This weekend was all about new experiences. It was fantastic.

We needed to pick up some items for dinner so we drove into Banff and stopped at IGA, they also had a Red Chair – a giant one very different from the National Park Chairs, but it still counted in my eyes.

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Now it is November. I canceled my trip to New York but may have an opportunity to visit Waterton National Park before Christmas. The park experienced extreme fire this summer and I don’t know what is left but I think I will take time to explore Glacier Lake and the village to see for myself. I heard there is a pair of Red Chairs that face the Fairmont. It looks like my Epic 50th year and the Red Chair Project will continue. Next year, I think I will visit the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada to explore more National Parks and see more views from the Red Chair.

Canada 150: Elk Island Park

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Canada turns 150 this year and Parks Canada has opened up its gates to give visitors free access to all the national parks across Canada. When I say ‘free’ I mean I paid for it with my taxes but not out of my wallet.

I ordered my Park Pass in December and it never came – or hasn’t yet but the temperatures were so lovely to day (-2C) that I decided to get up early and head 45km east to Elk Island National Park. I went to the gate and it directed me to the Visitor Pavilion where I went in to get my pass. I was asked a few questions:

  • How many people will be using this pass?
  • What is your postal code?
  • Have you ever been to Elk Island National Park before?

Have I ever been? Sure I had! I like to bring visitors from out of country here. EIP is a nature preserve and is filled with Bison, both Wood and Great Pains. So for someone who had never seen one before, coming here is pretty spectacular. It isn’t a zoo though. It’s not like you can go to the Bison enclosure and take a look at them. It is wilderness so you might see one or you might not. I had been here when I was younger and saw herds of them and I had been and only saw a single one. Today I was hoping to see a few. The park is also filled with elk, deer, moose, wolves, coyotes and birds.

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So I hung my pass on my mirror and away I went! I didn’t have snow shoes and if I am coming back here, I think I need to either rent a pair at the Visitor Pavilion or buy a pair. The snow was deep and walking was not easy. I looked at the map and decided to head to Astotin Lake. It is the only lake where you don’t have to hike to, the parking lot is right by the beach. So that was my destination. But first I was going to circle the Bison Loop Road to see if anyone was out in the paddock today.

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That was a negative. There were lots of animal tracks but none around. What I did see was the Red Chair. These Red Chairs are set up all over Parks Canada and are located in special view point spots. These beauties were overlooking the paddock on Bison Loop Road. I saw two earlier at the Visitor Pavilion. Now I want to see all of them in Alberta.

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After I left the loop I drove north to Astotin Lake. We (me and Cap) came to the parking lot and I saw a single bison munching on grass in the distance. I rolled down my window to take a photo and my pup was over my shoulder barking, snarling and growling at the bison – who was unaffected and just ate. Bison are a lot like cattle. They seem docile and only concerned about eating. This was was no different, although I am smart enough to know to keep my dog away and not to approach these large creatures. They are after all, wild animals.

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We left the beach parking and I headed up to the golf course because I just didn’t want to fight with Cap. I knew there was a nice little 6k loop around the lake and thought it would be a nice diversion.

We got out of the car and I noticed the silence. I didn’t even hear birds which was weird for a park that has 250 bird species.

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My goal was to head out to the next set of Red Chairs. Cap found all kinds of new smells. As a former wild dog who has now retired to a cushy city life, he was sniffing and digging in search of all kinds of old familiar scents.

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We hiked through a foot of snow towards the bison gate.

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I was happy I decided to wear snow boots instead of my trail shoes.

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Once we made it to the gate, Cap was a little reluctant to go any further. He stopped dead still and listened. I heard nothing, but being deaf I wasn’t all that surprised. Still, the silence was so peaceful. We were the only two city people out and I was the only human except for the park ranger. Early morning does that, people are still in bed.

We made it around the bend before Captain stopped and would not go any further. He sniffed the ground and looked further down the trail. He sniffed again at a very large paw print. it was 3 times the size of his. The he turned around and began pulling me back towards the gate. I have a sled dog. This fellow can pull me up a hill without much effort. He is about 75lbs and is a big boy. Pulling me is something we fight about. He is not allowed to do that, but he sensed danger so we needed to get out and fast. I had never seen such urgency in him before.

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I think the track was wolf. Likely more as they run in packs. The difference between a coyote and wolf track is the size and the claws at the end of the toe prints. This thing was huge. Captain wanted nothing to do with this smell. He was going so fast and so hard he pulled the leash right out of my hands and he ran for the car. Stopping every now and again to look over his should to see if the wolves were coming. Once he got to the car, he sat and waited. I swear he was tapping his foot say ‘COME ON HUMAN – HURRY UP!’

As soon as I opened the door he was in – he usually goes through the back hatch, but he jumped into the front seat and then made his way into the back where he sits. He was not getting out of the car again.

I drove back to the beach and the bison was far off in the distance. I wanted to get out but Cap would not leave the car.

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I got out and took some photos but it was less fun without my pal, so we left for the drive back.

I am definitely coming back. I will rent snowshoes and bring a picnic lunch. Skating round the island opens up in February so that might be fun and this is the perfect spot to set up the telescope at night. With my handy pass and the park being only a 30 minute drive from my doorstep, I can see me here a lot this year. I am also not coming without my pal, clearly he is the watch dog I need. Who knows what might have happened if I snuck up on a pack?

I am so very thankful I live here. Thanks Parks Canada!

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