CANADA: REASONS TO LINGER IN THE PRAIRIES

I guess you never know how you might react to a bear walking into your path … until the day a bear walks into your path. And they said it would be so boring out here in the prairies.

The mountain folk back west had nothing good to say about the prairies, after we told them of our plan to head east before the snow finally set in. They usually just grimaced and muttered, ‘Stick your truck on the train and fly the plane. You’ll die of boredom out there.’ I have to agree, there are a lot of open, flat, endless … endless fields stretching from south-east Alberta, through Saskatchewan and into Manitoba. In fact, there’s a quaint little tale which says, if you set your dog loose to run across the prairies, he’ll still be at it five days later. Though why should crossing the prairies be all about going in a straight line? A road trip isn’t worth the name unless you meander a little; actually, out here, you have to meander rather a lot, yet it’s definitely worth investing the time. If I met those mountain folk again I’d be sure to tell them how misinformed they are, especially considering our little hike today in the Riding Mountain Park, where we’ve encountered a bison hoovering up thistles, spooked a moose with a rack the size of an oak tree, skirted round an amorous, bugling elk and suffered a garter snake slithering from under my boot …. and that’s all before we ran into the bear.

Okay, so I’ve read all the BE BEAR AWARE brochures appearing like confetti at the entrances to the parks. Several times, in fact; I know how you shouldn’t toss them half your Big Mac, try to beat them to a fifty metre sprint, race them to the top of a tree, or pitch up demanding a selfie. I imagine for a regular hiker in these parks an encounter like this is not such a big deal. However, I’ve only ever watched bears from the safety of the camper, or a specially designed platform. Meeting one face to face on a remote path is an entirely new experience. And now he’s here, right in front of us, I’m feeling ever so twitchy.

‘Look,’ I hiss over my right shoulder, pointing ahead. The bear is about fifty metres ahead of us. In the sunlight he looks very black and shiny and is ambling up the grassy track towards us, not a care in the world. In the next second I scrabble to recall every safety leaflet I’ve ever read about bears; we haven’t much time. We need to make a decision.

‘I don’t think he’s seen us,’ I whisper to Christine. Which gives me this great idea. I grasp her shoulder, shoving her towards a withered rose hip plant. This should do it, I reckon. ‘Let’s hide and watch him go past.’ Perhaps we’ll even get a photo.

‘What if he follows us in here,’ Christine says, not in the least appreciating my grand idea. ‘Then we’re all in for a big surprise.’

I think on what she says and can’t deny it: she’s made a very good point. Never surprise a bear – I’ve read that somewhere.

‘We need to make a noise … let him know we’re here.’

‘You’re right,’ I say, extracting myself from behind our pitiful hide.

As we edge forwards through waist-high grasses, Christine makes an attempt at some opera, whilst I talk in a bass voice about the vagaries of Canadian weather, all the while fumbling with the safety device on the bear spray. When we get back to the grassy track it appears we’ve made precisely the right noises: the coast is clear. The bear has vanished. Phew! That was a close call.

Who says it isn’t exciting out here on the prairies.

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THE BADLANDS OF EASTERN ALBERTA. AS A KID I ALWAYS THOUGHT THE BADLANDS WERE WHERE BILLY THE KID AND THE HOLE IN THE WALL GANG HUNG OUT. HOW DISAPPOINTED I WAS TO FIND THEY WERE SIMPLY LANDSCAPES UNSUITABLE FOR AGRICULTURE. BADLANDS ARE TYPIFIED BY SUCH GEOLOGICAL FORMS AS CANYONS, RAVINES, GULLIES, BUTTES, MESAS AND HOODOOS, AND EXIST IN SOUTH DAKOTA, MEXICO, ARGENTINA, AND THE GOBI DESERT OF CHINA. THE SIOUX INDIANS OF SOUTH DAKOTA CALLED THEM MAKO SICA, WHICH LITERALLY MEANS LAND BAD. THE BADLANDS HERE IN ALBERTA ARE PACKED WITH DINOSAUR FOSSILS.
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THERE WAS A DAY WHEN A ROAD TRIP ACROSS THE PRAIRIES WOULD HAVE INVOLVED DODGING CRITTERS LIKE THIS. I THINK HE MIGHT HAVE DONE MORE THAN JUST CHEW THE LAND CRUISER’S TYRES. THE ROYAL TYRREL DINOSAUR MUSEUM MAKES A WONDERFUL PLACE TO TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME.
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THE CYPRESS HILLS ARE TO BE BE FOUND IN SOUTHERN ALBERTA, ALONG THE BORDER WITH MONTANA, USA. THIS IS A VIEW OVER HORSESHOE CANYON, THE VAST PRAIRIE STRETCHING TO THE NORTH. CYPRESS HILLS,  10,000 YEARS AGO, FORMED AN ISLAND IN A SEA OF ICE. OUR CONSTANTLY CHANGING EARTH HAS MEANT THE PRAIRIES WERE ALSO ONCE COVERED BY A HUGE SEA, FOLLOWED BY A TROPICAL JUNGLE. HOW THINGS CHANGE!
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FOLLOWING THE BACK-ROADS: CROSSING THE PROVINCIAL BORDER FROM ALBERTA TO SASKATCHEWAN.
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THIS IS THE FORMER HOME OF ROBERT DAVID SYMONS, A WRITER, PAINTER, GAME WARDEN, COWBOY AND RANCHER. IN THE 1940S HE LIVED IN THIS CABIN WITH HIS COMPANION AND FOUR SONS, BECOMING A RENOWNED CANADIAN ARTIST. (CYPRESS HILLS)
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CATCHING A FEW RAYS ON OUR NEW SOFA.
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THERE ARE NO BARRIERS AT THE RAILROAD CROSSINGS IN SOUTHERN SASKATCHEWAN, WHERE THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AND GOOD SENSE GENERALLY PREVAIL: IF HE HITS ME I’LL BE FLATTENED – IF I HIT HIM I’LL ALSO BE FLATTENED.
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THE LANDSCAPE IS INVARIABLY CARVED IN STRAIGHT LINES: ROADS, FIELDS, RAILWAY LINES.
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AMONGST THESE GIANT FIELDS AND MODERN FARMING TECHNIQUES THIS HOMESTEAD APPEARED RATHER OUT OF PLACE.
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SOME OF THE NAMES OF THESE SETTLEMENTS IN SOUTHERN SASKATCHEWAN ARE SO CURIOUS – SEVEN PERSONS, BIG BEAVER, HARPTREE, SUCCESS, SANCTUARY, COLGATE, FORGET –  YOU HAVE TO WONDER AT THEIR ORIGIN. THIS PLACE  IS CALLED CLIMAX.
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GRASSLANDS NATIONAL PARK. AFTER THE BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIGHORN IN 1876 AGAINST THE AMERICAN CAVALRY, CHIEF SITTING BULL AND MORE THAN 4,000 OF HIS LAKOTA SIOUX SOUGHT SANCTUARY HERE IN CANADA.
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71 PLAINS BISON WERE REINTRODUCED TO GRASSLANDS NP IN DECEMBER 2005, AFTER A 120 YEAR ABSENCE FROM THE AREA. THE LIMIT FOR GRASSLANDS IS CURRENTLY SET AT 350 ANIMALS TO ENSURE A SUSTAINABLE HERD.
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THE ROLLING HILLS OF THE GRASSLANDS NATIONAL PARK.
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AS PART OF THEIR PROMOTIONAL WORK PARKS CANADA HAVE TAKEN TO PLACING RED CHAIRS AT PROMINENT VIEWPOINTS. THIS REALLY IS “BIG SKY” COUNTRY.
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OH, DEAR! THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND. GPS IN HAND, WE’VE DITCHED THE CAMPER AND HEADED OUT ON FOOT. WE MAY BE SOME TIME …
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THE RARE BURROWING OWL OCCUPIES DENS MADE BY BADGERS OR PRAIRIE DOGS.
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SUNSET OVER GRASSLANDS NP.
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IN SASKATOON, CAPITAL OF SASKATCHEWAN, WE MADE A 20 KILOMETRE URBAN HIKE WHILST THE WEATHER HELD GOOD.
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REFLECTIONS. PRINCE ALBERT NATIONAL PARK.
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LAKE WASKESIU, PRINCE ALBERT NATIONAL PARK.
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THIS YOUNG ELK AND HIS ‘HAREM’ LIVES IN THE FORESTS SURROUNDING WASKESIU, A SETTLEMENT IN PRINCE ALBERT NATIONAL PARK. THEY ARE GENERALLY PRETTY SAFE FROM PREDATORS THERE, THOUGH THE PREVIOUS YEAR A PACK OF WOLVES CAME TO TOWN, BRINGING DOWN ONE OF HIS LADIES OUTSIDE THE HEYWOOD INN.
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FORAGING FOR BLUEBERRIES AND CRANBERRIES IN THE FORESTS OF NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN.
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EVEN IN SEPTEMBER WE MANAGED TO FIND PLENTY.
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THE OTTER RAPIDS, CHURCHILL RIVER. (SASKATCHEWAN)
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HIKING IN RIDING NATIONAL PARK, JUST BEFORE WE MET THE BEAR. (MANITOBA)
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NEXT STOP – WINNIPEG.
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DOWNTOWN WINNIPEG, WHERE WE SET OFF ON A TEN KILOMETRE URBAN HIKE.
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THE LEGISLATIVE BUILDING, WINNIPEG.
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THE LOCAL BOXING CLUB.
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ALL MEANINGFUL URBAN HIKES SHOULD INCLUDE A VISIT TO A CHOCOLATE SHOP.
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FUNKY MURALS.
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ARCHITECTURE FROM THE OLD DAYS.
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SHEPHERDS PIE, FISH AND CHIPS AND TWO PINTS OF LAGER – I JUST LOVE URBAN HIKING.
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One thought on “CANADA: REASONS TO LINGER IN THE PRAIRIES

  1. Oi, lads!

    That was again a nice piece! Thanx! Enjoyed it very much.

    Me

    ________________________________ Van: CITY OF MYTHS, RIVER OF DREAMS Verzonden: woensdag 12 oktober 2016 04:33 Aan: wkeesmaat@hotmail.com Onderwerp: [New post] CANADA: REASONS TO LINGER IN THE PRAIRIES

    cityofmyths posted: “I guess you never know how you might react to a bear walking into your path … until the day a bear walks into your path. And they said it would be so boring out here in the prairies. The mountain folk back west had nothing good to say about the prair”

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