I love camping. I enjoy waking up to the skies at first light and being able to watch the sunrise. At home, we have dark curtains to help block out the artificial light that would otherwise come through; though we have stayed at a campsite that was so bright the birds thought it was still daytime. That is not the case this morning as we stir from our sleeping bags and watch the sky turn from black to purple.
Breakfast is had at a gas station in Melville, the smallest official city in Saskatchewan, about an hour’s drive from camp. From there, we head north to Yorkton to drive east and then south on Riding Mountain National Park’s main road. We could’ve stayed on route and taken the small roads east along the south side, but this way we get to see the crosswalk art of Yorkton: silverware, piano keys, and neck ties in place of regular stripes to draw attention to pedestrians and drivers to make downtown a more safe place to visit.
The most discreet province yet. We almost miss the sign for Manitoba, and a time zone change, because we are focused on the body of water at the curve in the road. All provinces and territories of Canada, but Saskatchewan have rivers, lakes, and coordinate lines as boundaries. Sometimes the landscape change is gradual and other times more subtle as we cross these physical and imaginary lines. We could travel between fields of snow and desert plains or simply from stretches of grass to tall forests – it’s all new.
We lose our second hour of this trip. It’s a good thing we aren’t trying to keep track of time as we immerse ourselves in the moment, but we think about how DST leaves us with dinner in the dark or the sun up at 4:00 am like we slept in until 9:00 am. We think about how Canadians must feel with almost endless daytime, though I’m sure this weather makes up for snowed-in days. I’m happy to have more daylight as I know there are not enough hours in the day – especially while on vacation.
There are remnants of a Ukrainian Village near Dauphin, and though the buildings are closed, we are able to see the Drifting River School erected in 1920; the General Store; Paul Sydor’s, the cordwainer, shop; Rhodes (Musicians Hall of Fame) Hall built in 1933; and their church with onion domes, amongst the other buildings and the fairgrounds where people are given a chance to show off their achievements and build relationships. But not today, so we will drive on to Riding Mountain National Park, just 15 minutes away.
Our first stop is Beach Ridges. It’s supposed to be an easy hour covering 3.5km of gravel and boulders that used to be covered by the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Agassiz, that left Lake Winnipeg among others in its place when it was drained into the Hudson Bay, Lake Superior, and the Mississippi River. It has left the ground fertile and a recent rain must have left it muddy. The area is covered in baby frogs and hungry mosquitoes. Lucky for us, Sparky can see his way around the messy path and Piggy stays in the parking area to lick something off the car tire.
So we decide to walk Kippan’s Mill Heritage Trail instead. It’s 1.5km is also supposed to take an hour to explore the grassy path that represents the logging era. The new sawmill was built in 1937 and all that remains today are some cement pads and a few firebricks. The layout was efficient. The main saw was above ground so that the sawdust could be collected to be used as fuel. I know the mill owners chose this spot for its location and lumber, but it’s also great for its white flowers (a mix of popcorn and morel mushrooms) and the Northern Leopard Frogs that call this place home – now safe to do so.
Moon Lake is our next stop. We walk past two guys with their motorcycles in the parking area and a couple playing cards in the grass on our way to the water. Perhaps the lake got its name from being somewhat of a crescent, reflective, and having a beautiful surface. I only wish the Moon had a floating dock that I could walk on to admire its spacious qualities. But unlike the Moon, we are able to see rocks below the water, where there may only be patches of ice in the lunar craters due to space’s composition.
This park is part of the boreal, northern region, forest that comprises most land north of the 50th parallel, the largest ecological zone on earth. Over one hundred thousand species rely on this cold wetlands area, consisting of fens and bogs. The trees that dominate the landscape are spruce, fir, aspen, and pine – ones that can withstand temperatures, on average, ranging from 23 – 41 degrees Fahrenheit and rainfall between 8 – 79 inches, mostly snow.
Our visit to the forest is part path and part boardwalk where we feel it will be safe to let Sparky get some free time off his leash as there are no plants or animals for him to harm or scare on the wooden walkway. That is until he decides to jump off the trail for some exploring. We see Sparky decide he has made a mistake, but the fall was farther than he expected and he can’t make it back up by himself. Caleb leans over the edge to grab him by his toes and get him on his leash again.
We stop at Clear Lake, in the heat of the day, to enjoy the view and let the dogs play. Sparky plays fetch with a stick in the water and desperately wants to play with a rock, but can’t get it out of the constant waves hitting shore. Piggy is scared that she is going to get wet, but I ensure her that she will be fine as long as she stays near us on the rocks and doesn’t go through the bushes to the parking lot. There is a couple selling jewelry and a family returning from a boat ride.
They may think the dogs are cute from a distance, but now we have a wet one. Even when washed with soap at home they don’t smell clean until they’re dried. Caleb grabs a towel out of the back to get the excess water off and then a blanket so Sparky can relax in the front seat and get warmed in the sun. This is where he would stay for the majority of the ride to a wheat field north of Minnedosa. I stopped to have a mango for lunch and Caleb found out that we happened upon a farm of future bread. Maybe next time I can ask the grower for a quart full of wheat berries – about enough flour for two loaves.
On the other side of Portage La Prairie is the Fort Le Reine Museum and the information center where we will be picking up our map and visitor guide to Winnipeg to get a start on our hotel search for the evening. What we think is across town, to the Airport Motor Inn, is actually only a third of the distance into the metropolis where we will be sleeping. Up the steps, through the back door, past the beer window, to the counter across from the door that leads to the strippers, karaoke, and video lottery terminals.
There is a $100 refundable deposit required. (This place holds it on your credit card. We stopped at one place that wanted cash – hell no!) The room is $88. We have access to a restaurant with nothing on the menu we want, coin-operated washer and dryer that we will use, and a hot tub with children being loud in the pool. Oh ya, and no dogs. We find a park less than two blocks from the Inn to let them run around in a fenced in area and Pad Thai restaurant under four miles away for us to order food.
I get a lychee martini while we wait on our spicy noodles and veggie rolls and we stop at the beer vendor at the Inn to try a Rockstar mango with vodka. Before the booze and food could make us sleepy we finished the laundry and headed to the hot tub. I don’t know if a working water slide would have given us more time to ourselves or if the bubbles got the kids’ attention, but now that our muscles are warmed up we can go back to the park to let the dogs stretch theirs before a night in the car.