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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Edmonton Tourist: Upper Mill Creek Ravine

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I have been house bound for days. Partly due to illness and partly do to…who are we kidding, I was sick in bed for 5 days. I was feeling slightly better by Friday and today I felt slightly better than yesterday but I then came down with a serious case of Cabin Fever.

I decided to bundle up me and my pup and head to my most favourite part of the city, Upper Mill Creek Ravine. You may recall this summer, I went to the lower creek, north of the pool. Well,my favourite spot is south of the pool in the Argyll and Hazeldean neighbourhoods.

Did I mention how cold it was? I was in the kitchen drinking hot chocolate, you know the kind made from Ghirardelli and milk on the stove? Yeah, THAT kind. So delicious. When I said to my Captain, Want to go for a walk? His head snapped back so fast you would have thought we had not done this in a while. Wait…I hadn’t been at a park with him since November at the Science Park…Sorry Cap.

We both put our jackets on because it is cold. Fahrenheit on the left Celsius on the right. The wind made it feel colder -12F and -24C, that to me is the real temperature because feeling is everything.

Mill Creek Ravine is my happy place. It is the place I go when I am sad, happy, angry, resentful, disappointed, or any other myriad of emotions. I enter and become instantly relaxed. I kind of needed that today. Lets just say I am filled with complex emotions that need sorting out, so off I went.

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The upper trail is groomed and paved. The off leash dog park is way down in the gully. That is where Cap and I were headed. Not that I can trust him to be off leash, he is independent minded so I am not really sure he would come when I call him or if he would just say, “You know what Peasant? I miss living in the woods, I am out of here.” Now I am all for independent thought but I’d rather keep him safe with a chance at a long life rather than struggling to live in the wild, so I keep him on a leash. I do let him investigate all the great mouser places and animal dens. One day I am sure he will find a skunk hallow and then I will be sorry, but until then, it makes me happy watching him be happy.

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Happily there isn’t a lot of snow so far this year. That makes trekking easier and there hasn’t been any freeze/thaw cycles so no ice. This makes it safer for me who is prone to falling.

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Mill Creek trail is built on an old railway bed, so there is a converted trestle farther north, I am not convinced that what this is, it doesn’t seem sturdy enough to hold an old steam engine, but it is built in the old tresses style and is a lovely bridge over the creek. Obviously at temps that have been sub -20C for weeks, the creek is froze solid.

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This is part of the off-leash walk. There are trash cans an dog bag bins all through here. All they are is old grocery bags for people to use. There is zero excuse to be a lazy pet owner. I bring my own eco ones attached to Cap’s leash.

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Lots of pets with their people come down here. If my Real Estate agent called me tomorrow to say he found me a house within walking distance to here, I would cry with joy. Who doesn’t want to live here? It is silent as if you are in the middle of the country but the convince to being 5 minutes to downtown Edmonton. To me it is perfect. I have been down here and have spotted deer, the occasional moose, falcons, hawks, eagles and coyotes. I have heard of a bear sighting once and know there are porcupines and skunks with the odd badger but my trusty pal looks after me.

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After wandering around for about an hour I asked myself why I wait so long to come back? It clearly the best place I can be.

 

Adventure is out there!

I just arrived home from a much needed vacation. It took me a few days to settle into my zen-like need for relaxation and rest. Once I was feeling the relaxed vibe of vacationers everywhere I was able to see things in a different light.

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Canada Place at Burrard Landing

It has taken me a very long time to learn this lesson but I think I have finally understood it completely.

Lesson: Appreciate things as they are without comparing them to what they are not.

So what does this mean? Vancouver is without question an amazing city. Vancouver is not Edmonton. Nor is it trying to be. Just like Edmonton is not Vancouver, nor does it need to be. I love both cities as they are. Each offer a perspective and views that vastly different from each other. I can appreciate eat city for its virtues and be disappointed in them for what they lack without comparison. I have been to Vancouver many times but this time, I could see it for what it is, rather than what it is not. I love Vancouver and all it has to offer.

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Seawall at Coal Harbour

The beauty of Vancouver took my breath away while at the same time frightened me with its ugliness. The juxtaposition of the art, shiny and clean city with the dirty tent cities and homelessness was a lot to take in. Vancouver has done a great job promoting the arts and sculptures on many corners throughout the city add to its vibrancy. The views from various locations were stunning and the amount of filming for TV and Movies made perfect sense. Vancouver is without question a city diverse in its beauty.

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Set front for Once Upon a Time in Steveston (Storybrooke)

People are kind and friendly, at least the ones I encountered are. Dogs are a huge part of the lifestyle of people who live here. I spent my days greeting people with pleasant salutations and admiring their pets while I was taking in many of the sites.

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I spent time downtown, exploring the city, dipping my feet into the sea water, checking out filming locations and stumbling upon open sets and actors – famous and not so famous. I was giddy with excitement when I saw a spoiler for one of my favourite superhero shows and was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw such beauty in the landscape for which I had no words.

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Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver

I saw Orcas, Otters, Harbour Seals, Raccoons and Bald Eagles. I experienced rain, wind and sunshine. I sampled craft beers and local wines. But mostly, I enjoyed my vacation with my family because there were zero expectations and no deadlines to meet other than be sure to catch the ferry back from the Island.

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Cute little critters at Stanley Park

This was without a doubt one of my most favourite vacations. Exploring Canada in a way I had not done it before. I am happy to be home but look forward to visiting again.

 

 

Edmonton Tourist: Whitemud Park

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I am fortunate enough to know this city very well. I explore it enough that I should have a pretty good idea what is what when it comes to the River Valley. Ask me about restaurants, bars and shops. I haven’t got a clue. But the valley? I know my way around.

This week was a very difficult week for me. Emily Murphy or Hawrelak Parks were supposed to be next, but the last thing I wanted was to be amongst the throngs of people utilizing the parks. I wanted peace and quiet or at the very least, I did not want to see people I knew and make small talk or chit chat. SO I packed up my pup and we headed towards the Whitemud Reserve located south of Whitemud park. It is a lovely unpaved path that leads to Rainbow Valley, yes it is a pretty as it sounds.

We hit the park in-between rain storms. The park itself was empty and there was a wedding over at the Savage Centre, but other than the odd hardy picnicker, Cap and I were on our own. Exactly what I was looking for.

The grass was wet but fresh. There was the smell of campfire in the air. The last time my family had a picnic here I was just a kid and the park wasn’t developed as nicely as it is now. I remember watching engineering students traverse of the creek, making a bridge for one of their projects. When they fell to the water below, it was knee deep and mostly mud.

We are on the cusp of berry season. The Choke Cherries were hanging in green bunches, the High Bush Cranberries had finished blooming and the Saskatoons were not yet ripe, but the clover was abundant and Cap decided to munch on some on our journey to the path that would lead us to the creek.

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The path took us to the wide open picnic site where one family had strung a tarp and were keeping the campfire lit. It made me think of all the reasons I love camping in the rain, then I quickly remembered all the reasons I don’t like camping in the rain. Walks were enough.

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We worked our way to Whitemud Creek and walked North towards the bridge.

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This was the spot I remembered sitting as a kid watching the engineering students before the bridge was built.

I love this section of the park. I often map out a great run route that can either be a quick little 5k or as much as a 16k depending on my mood. I avoided the running trails today knowing everyone was training for the upcoming Edmonton Marathon and they were all out for their 16k or 32k long runs today. So after I said hello to the North Saskatchewan River, I turned south and headed towards the Whitemud Nature Reserve.

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The south path takes you up the the major corner of Fox Drive (Hi Charlotte!) and Whitemud Freeway. This by no means is a peacefully quiet park. There is a lot of noise from the freeway, but visually you would think you were in the middle of nowhere.

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Before I went onto the path to the reserve, I looked at the flags that were celebrating the Canadian Olympic Trials happening this weekend at Foote Field. Most of Edmonton was there for that event. Pretty exiting seeing Olympic Champions in the making.

IMG_3637Down the path I went and noticed it might be fun to do a bit of bridge climbing but I think I was not the only one who thought of that.

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Now I was on reserve land, it boarders the Fox Farm to the west.

All along the path were naturalist signs highlighting berries and other plants that grow here in the valley. Information I already knew from my Grandfather years before, only if he forgot the name he would make one up, so my information was sketchy at best until I took my Anthropology: Comparative Medicine classes in University.

We came to a fork in the road that suggested the path was unsafe from all the water we had this year.

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So we crossed the creek again, this time heading East.

We walked past Fox Stairs and the Savage Centre heading back towards Whitemud Park. A storm was on its way and by the humidity in the air and how quickly my hair was curling, I knew a lot of water was going to drop from the sky.

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We made it back to the car just in time. I watered Cap in the car instead of outside as usual.

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I got in myself and the sky opened up.

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The quiet oneness with my pup was just what I needed. This is one of the best reasons to live here in Edmonton. A major urban centre and in 20 minutes from my home I can be in the middle of the wilderness.

 

Edmonton Tourist Globe Trotter

I have spent the last 2 days, on and off, watching movies. I do not do that very often. Each movie had a different theme and message but none of those things stuff with me, it was the visuals. It was the locations. I heard myself say “I have been there.”

Sunset on Great Slave Lake

I have had the good fortune to have parents who taught me the experience is more important than stuff. I had to go through a phase of needing stuff but thankfully I outgrew that. Give me a plane ticket or a Tiffany diamond to choose from and believe it or not, I would take the plane ticket every time.

I have been places that gave me a sense of DejaVu, The Cliffs of Moher. I felt like I had been there before or lived there. Then there are places that frightened me beyond words like the strange FanTan Alley in Victoria. I have no reason to fear it but please never make me go there again. I have been as Far North as the Canadian Arctic and as far south as dipping my toes in the Southern Ocean of Australia. I have wandered around Europe and explored kookie touristy places in Nevada. I still do not feel like I have seen enough.

There are places I still want to visit, like St. Barts or New York or Prince Edward Island. There I places I never want to see, India, Pakistan or Sauria Arabia. I’d like to visit Copenhagen or Prague but I’ll pass on a trip to Seul. Places I have been to and would love to spend an entire summer would be Monterey, London, Vancouver, Inverness or Niece. Places that make me think one and done are Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Tacoma. I am torn at the thought of being given an opportunity to travel anywhere in the world and how where would I go? Someplace new or someplace that deserves more time exploring? How do you decide the place to visit? I have never been that girl who wishes to spend my holiday staying with people I know. I’d rather dip my toe in all the oceans and have someone with me who wants to experience new things than the comfort of same.

This concept has me planning my next vacation to the West Coast of Canada. Sure I have been there before but I now have the means to explore it without someone telling me what I need to do and how best I can accomplish it. That will also be next year’s trip. I am taking my vacation to a city I have dreamed of going to forever. Your trip will not be mine because we do not share the same interests. I have a list that I will check off. Following that trip? I think I will explore the East Coast of Canada and see an Iceberg for the first time.

Where do you love to go?

 

Edmonton Tourist: Queen Elizabeth Park

I have not had the time to spend an hour so on just me. I find that incredibly sad. So I packed up my dog and we headed north towards one of my most favourite parks of all time.

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This park has been off my radar because of the construction on Walterdale bridge and road. The park sign is gone, so perhaps this means a new sign and park update is on the way.

I parked up by Skunks Hollow and if you told me I could live anywhere I wanted to with money being no object, Skunks Hollow would be the place. It is perfect. Your back yard is Queen E park, you have views of the river and you are walking distance to all the best places in Old Stathcona and Garneau!

I walked towards the path I never take because this park is my Friday Night picnic park, or it was. Now that the kids are grown those do not happen anymore. This park is filled with memories that I have shelved for a while. It has my bench, the place I would come for quiet contemplation. MY BENCH is filled with regret and a lot of shouldofs couldofs wouldofs. I made poor choices sitting there. Good ones too but the bad ones were doozies. Thankfully I am smarter now. You can barely see my bench but is it there hidden in the shadows.

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The playground where my children and their cousins learned to take risks while the adults watched between splayed fingers.

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Glimpses of the river is harder to see now that the trees are overgrown and lush. The rain we have had lately has really made the valley gorgeous.

When Cap and I got to the end of the road, we took our life into our own hands and crossed Queen Elizabeth Road to get to the west side of the park.

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We walked past the old pool that is now gone and a headed to the hill crest to view the new bridge in all its glory.

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It will be an amazing structure when it is completed next year, or some year… This bridge has been under construction forever it seems.

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The city views are still beautiful here and I am sure they are nicer at night when the construction is obscured by dark.

I had forgotten how much I love this park and plan to reclaim my bench to make smarter decisions than the ones I did before. But that is the beauty of this park, it gives you time to think. You feel like you are in the middle of no where while you are actually downtown.

Next week a little Kinsmen Park exploration.