I am embarrassed to admit how little I know of my Canadian neighbors. I would be hard pressed to list all ten provinces let alone locate them on a map. Even though Minnesota shares a border with two provinces (Ontario and Manitoba), I’ve only crossed the line a handful of times and only for a short period. Now that we’ve spent a few weeks in Canada, Stephen and I are acclimating and learning all about our neighbors to the north.
Drayton Valley, Alberta Canada
We are currently house sitting in Drayton Valley, Alberta a small town known for its oil reserves. The population is 7,000 but fluctuates when the demand for oil surges. Higher demand brings lucrative jobs and attracts workers from all parts of the country. Four years ago during the oil boom this was a hopping town where it was impossible to find a hotel room and the unemployment rate was in the low single digits. There are still oil rigs throughout the area that pump 24/7 but for now the boom has slowed and life in Drayton Valley is a bit quieter.
While house sitting we are responsible for the care of an 18-year-old dog and a big tabby cat. Patch the dog is content to sleep most of the time but does insist on a walk everyday at the exact same time. He has an amazing internal clock and when the clock strikes four Patch steps off his dog bed, stretches and then shakes his whole body while walking to the front door. Time for the daily stroll! No leash is required as he ambles four houses up the street, crosses the road, does his business and then returns home. Gingy the cat who is usually out hunting for mice appears for this walk and accompanies Patch. They spend ten minutes together on the daily ritual and then the dog returns to bed while the cat does cat things. We call it the four o’clock pet parade.
Edmonton, which is 85 miles east, is the closest big city to Drayton Valley. With the population at more than a million, it is a bustling place. We spent a few days exploring and searching for typical Canadian food. The cuisine is not much different than ours but we had to try the coffee and timbits at Tim Horton’s as well as poutine…French fries drowned in gravy and cheese curds.
After all this food we walked the city and discovered a beautiful skyline with the Saskatchewan river running though the center.
Although we did have to show our passports at the border sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m not in the U.S. Many retailers are the same and fortunately Canadians drive on the right. The currency is different but I have yet to touch any paper money or coins. It’s easier to use a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Alberta. Our hosts Dieter and Antoinette have welcomed us and made us feel at home. They are also seasoned travelers and have suggested several new places for us to explore. Our world is expanding and we can’t wait to see what comes next.
On our final day in Banff we hiked up the Larch Valley to see the famous Larch Pines that turn brilliant yellow in autumn. At the start of the trail Stephen and I encountered an older gentlemen in full hiking gear and we struck up a conversation. Gary is a 76-year-old retired car salesman and a local. He loves to hike and was delighted to be back on this trail after a two-year hiatus while caring for his late wife. He gave us some history of the area and then we parted ways as his pace was slower and he did not want to hold us up. An hour later we reached the valley floor and marveled at the pines that were just barely showing a tinge of yellow. Stephen and I both commented that the yellow glow in fall would be amazing. (Maybe a return trip is necessary.)
Larch Pines and unintentional matching blue shirts
Just as we were ready to make our descent, we spied Gary coming around the bend and he encouraged us to hike another mile to the base of Sentinel Pass. He promised the scenery would be worth the effort so for a second time we said goodbye and carried on.
Gary was right, the scenery was wonderful as we passed by glacier fed lakes and then climbed above tree line. In the mountain before us we could see a Z pattern and it slowly dawned on us that this was the trail to the top of Sentinel Pass.
Z trail carved into the mountain
It was a LONG way to the top and if we squinted we could see tiny humans at the peak. Stephen and I looked at each other and said “WE ARE NOT CLIMBING TO THE TOP…NO WAY!” Once again Gary showed up and encouraged us to traverse to the top. Fortunately we had a good excuse. “Um, we didn’t plan for a long hike and both our water bottles are empty.” I was relieved that we could gracefully back out of this difficult hike. Gary then opened his backpack and declared “I brought an extra water bottle and it would be helpful if you could relieve me of the additional weight.” He promised that the view was superb and the climb only appeared difficult. With our water bottles refilled, we said goodbye to Gary for a third time and promised to see him at the top. It took both physical energy and mental fortitude to keep us on the trail….we put one foot in front of the other and slowly climbed toward the peak. As we made our final steps the 360-degree view was stunning. It was a relief to sit at the top and simply rest.
Sentinel Pass….made it to the top!
Gary commented earlier in the day that this may be his last time climbing this mountain so I was happy to see him arrive just a few minutes after us. I had my camera ready and was able to document his arrival. For all of us it was a memorable day. Our short three-mile hike turned into eight miles but we’d never trade the experience or the opportunity to meet Gary and learn of his hiking expertise and persuasion skills.
Our trip to Jasper was rainy and shrouded in smoke from the western fires. We didn’t have much time to hike but the wildlife viewing was abundant. I spotted two bears from the safety of our car. No bear spray needed!
We are arrived at our house-sit in Alberta earlier this week and the Vistabule is stored in the garage for a few weeks. More about this experience next time.
While traveling this summer we’ve adopted an early to bed, early to rise lifestyle. It’s not our preference but the popular parks like Yellowstone and Banff require a different strategy to avoid crowds and traffic jams. This means we prepare and pack our breakfast and lunch the night before and leave only one task for dawn; brewing a pot of coffee and transferring it to portable mugs. We are usually on the road by 6:30 am.
When we arrived in Banff on a holiday weekend after a long day of travel, there were enormous crowds and endless lines of cars.
I was travel weary and not in the mood to tour but Stephen stayed strong and pushed me through the low moment. After a good nights sleep and a 5:30 am wake up call, we drove 30 miles up the mountain towards the renowned Lake Louise. The Trans-Canada highway was busy and all cars were headed in the same direction. We were elated to secure a coveted parking spot and then finally relax knowing we had the rest of the day to explore. It was just 7:00 am.
Before donning our backpacks and hiking gear we decided to scope out the area and collect hiking maps. We walked across the lot full of cars, down a long tree-lined path with streams of people carrying all sorts of camera equipment. The crowds were almost too much but then we rounded the corner and got our first glimpse of the famous lake. It stunned us.
The beauty was breathtaking. The large oval lake glimmered with an emerald-green glow and the jagged mountain backdrop frosted with glaciers added to the drama. Stephen and I were both overcome with emotion…I had tears running down my cheeks. Now I understand the hype! We both stood at the edge of the lake and soaked in the beauty.
Afterwards we hiked up the mountain to the tea house at Lake Agnes and enjoyed many more views but that first glimpse of Lake Louise will always be etched in my memory.
Stephen and I were both content with an early return to our camp site for an afternoon break. We had to catch up on laundry and chase the sun with the solar collector.
We’ve had very few electrical hookups on this trip so we are grateful for the solar panel that keeps our battery charged and the refrigerator running.
Bear encounters: zero
We have hitched up the camper and headed west which means it’s time to bring you up to date. The freak snow storm in early April melted quickly and this allowed us to jump on our bikes and cycle the new trails along the Mississippi River. With all the extra moisture the wildflowers were abundant and the trails bursting with color.
Schaars Bluff trail
Although the weather was cold in April, Stephen was able to usher 35 baseball games for the Minnesota Twins and complete his yearly obligation. He even got some choice assignments in the lower deck which allowed him to keep one eye on the game. I spent many days sewing quilts and also teaching two young friends how to drive. It was a happy day when both kids passed their driving test.
Yar and Paw pass the driving test!
Everyday I reviewed the Trusted House Sitters emails for potential house sits that would allow us to combine a sit with camper travel. I found the perfect three week opportunity in Alberta near the Canadian Rockies. It included caring for an older dog and a cat. We could visit Banff and Jasper National Parks for eight days and then house sit afterwards. Stephen and I have both wanted to see these two iconic parks so when our house sit application was accepted we were thrilled.
The actual house sit begins in August so we decided a mid-July departure would give us time to leisurely explore along the way.
We have been on the road for a week and our first stop was Devils Tower. Located off the beaten path in northeast Wyoming, it is the first declared National Monument in the United States. From a distance the rock looks quite smooth but as you get closer you see weathered striations cascading down the rock face. We hiked around the perimeter and enjoyed photographing from many angles. This was a quick overnight visit as we headed further west.
Neither Stephen nor I have spent much time in Wyoming so we made a point of spending several nights in the Bighorn National Forest. The mosquitos were a nuisance but the coyote howls and forest scenery made up for a few itchy bites. While in the forest we braved many gravel roads to explore the hidden gems of the area. A ten-mile bumpy trek to Castle Gardens brought us to a deserted area with interesting rock formations. It’s not very often that our cell phones register “no service” but we were completely off grid for a few days.
We are both excited to be back on the road exploring. Everyday we see breathtaking beauty and without fail we connect with interesting people. We are grateful to Steve and LuAnne who we met at our last campsite and had tools to help us with an unexpected camper repair. (Squeaking tire rotation). Our fears were allayed and peace of mind restored.
I’ve had numerous questions about our house sitting experience and will try to address them in the next blog.
Yikes. We made it home but it’s been a struggle. We arrived in a snow storm, the kitchen sink backed up and then a blizzard kept us housebound for several days. While I’ve had to dig out my winter jacket and gloves we have nothing to complain about….I’m certain that spring is just around the corner. We are happy to reconnect with friends and settle in a familiar place for a while.
The teardrop has been thoroughly cleaned both inside and out and is resting in the garage. When we left last fall our goal was to visit the five renowned national parks in Utah and attend a wedding in Seattle. We had no idea this trip would take us beyond the U.S. borders and introduce us to so many wonderful people. As Stephen and I reflect, we are grateful and humbled by the generosity and goodness of people around the world. We were welcomed by family and friends across the country and then welcomed by strangers down under. Stephen and I are better for this journey. We have been stretched and pulled from our comfort zone and we see the world from a different perspective. We saw amazing scenery and we both agree that connecting with people along the journey was icing on the cake.
Our summer plans are not solidified but I’m certain that as soon as the snow melts we’ll pull out the bikes and begin riding. Stephen has already started his job ushering for the Twins and I’m sewing quilts. We both look at the map often and dream of our next adventure. Thanks for following along on our journey.
We made arrangements to meet our Minnesota friends Kim and Kurt in Bisbee, Arizona. Our reservations were at Queen Mine RV Park and I didn’t pay attention to the name until we arrived and discovered our campground overlooked an inoperative open-pit copper mine. It was stunning.
Bisbee is a historical mining town dating back to the early 1800’s. It is built on a hillside and many of the buildings have been lovingly restored. The downtown was an easy walk from the RV park and was bustling with interesting stores, music and restaurants. We loved the small town vibe and eclectic mix of people. In 2016 Bisbee was named the “best historic small town” by USA Today. It’s worth a visit if you find yourself in southern Arizona.
Our plan was to attend an “old timers” baseball game with Kim and Kurt on Saturday morning. We were excited to see a game with players dressed in period uniforms. Unfortunately we misread the date and learned the game was scheduled for April…not March. Darn!
Instead we walked across the road to a small park with a farmers market. There were cowboys selling honey, and Mexican women with freshly rolled tortillas. We spent an hour talking to vendors, tasting the samples and learning about the area. In the center of the market we noticed some simple furniture made from recycled pallet wood for sale. I started a conversation with the two men selling the furniture and they shared their story.
John and Dave (and their wives) originally from the Pacific Northwest visited Douglas, Arizona during the winter to escape the cold. They made connections within the community and learned about the large number of young Mexican men who are left at the border when caught illegally in the United States. Often these men have no money and are stuck in border towns with no job and no way to travel home. John and Dave both have carpentry skills and an excess of carpentry tools so they took their skills and tools across the border to Agua Prieta, Mexico. With easily accessible recycled pallet wood John and Dave began teaching carpentry skills and then let the young men create.
John and Dave are not connected with any formal organization…just a desire to help. They are passionate about their work and have since sold their homes and moved permanently to Arizona. Sadly, I forgot to photograph the pallet furniture but we drove to the border and photographed the wall. It’s just a long unsightly fence.
We had a wonderful time in Arizona but it’s time to move north. I unearthed my heavy jacket and am bracing for lower temps. It it will be nice to watch spring unfold in Minnesota.
We heard from several travelers that it would be crazy if we didn’t allot a few days in Sydney before heading home. I quickly booked three nights at a centrally located Airbnb and hoped for the best. After a long flight across the country, Stephen and I navigated the trains and wheeled our luggage down city streets heading to the given address. We walked through a back alley and climbed three flights of stairs to our accommodations. My expectations were low until I looked up and saw a floor to ceiling window with a perfect view of the Sydney Harbor and the Opera House.
We sat for a long spell in front of the window, mesmerized as we watched harbor ferries scurry to and fro. We even saw four huge cruise ships including the Queen Mary blare their arrival horns and dock right in front of us.
Our Airbnb host pointed out the many buses below that brought tourists to photograph the harbor. We had a front row seat and it was spectacular!
For two days we rode ferries and visited the Sidney highlights…the opera house, the botanical gardens and the harbor bridge. In the late afternoon on our second day we both sat down on a bench near the harbor and could not get up….our legs were too tired. I pulled out my phone and calculated our mileage and discovered that we had walked over 11 miles. We were exhausted…It was time to go home and rest.
Our flight back to San Francisco was uneventful and we are extremely grateful for our family spread across California that gave us beds and hot showers while we reacclimated.
Our goal is to return to Minnesota by early April for Stephen to begin his second season with the Twins. We picked up the Vistabule in San Diego and are now in Arizona for a few weeks. We will slowly make our way home and hopefully squeeze in at least one national park visit on this last leg.
As our road trip continued we left the Nullarbor and travelled through the wheat belt, across the Sterling Range and along the coast while making our way back to Perth. Patsy Cline and Australian folk songs continued as our musical entertainment.
After a few long days of driving, our pace slowed and we took time to explore three coastal towns. Esperance, a port city known for its beautiful beaches, has an advertisement on its billboard of a kangaroo sunbathing on the sand. I thought this scene was a hoax so I was completely surprised when Joseph drove the truck onto the beach and there were three kangaroos reclining on the sand. Stephen and I jumped from the truck and immediately started photographing. We had such fun!
In Denmark we walked through the Walpole Wilderness Area where the majestic tingle trees rise to 70 meters. Afterwards we took selfies with the koalas and alpacas.
In Albany we stood at the end of the Bibbulmun track…. a 1000 km trail that starts in Perth and ends in Albany. Earlier in the week we hiked the first 16km of the trail with several of Joseph and Ingrid’s daughters. We hope to return and hike more of this trail.
After our trip we returned to Perth for a big family celebration and goodbye party.
We had a wonderful time and our thanks goes to Joseph, Ingrid and their family for their amazing hospitality.
After two weeks of house sitting we hopped on a plane and flew half way across Australia to Adelaide in South Australia.
Joseph and his niece Joanna made plans to drive his four-wheel vehicle from Adelaide to Perth and they invited us to join them. We jumped at the opportunity to see the Nullarbor, a remote area that is not heavily travelled and sparsely populated. Nullarbor comes from the Latin word meaning “no trees” and this area is indeed a vast treeless plain.
On this more than 1500 km journey across the desert there were small road houses scattered across the two lane Eyre Highway. Joseph’s white four-wheel drive is equipped with a “roo” bar, extra water, spare tires and an air compressor. It’s also important to note the large selection of “retro” CD’s that we enjoyed along the journey. Joseph’s collection includes classics like Patty Page, Bobby Vinton and Roy Orbison. The one riding shotgun is deemed the DJ and responsible for changing the music.
Each day was an adventure. One day we found lodging and dinner at Fraser Range station. This was originally a sheep station established in the 1800’s. We didn’t see many sheep but did encounter a calf and camel playing together as well as emus grazing in the field.
Although we travelled along a desert plain sometimes the road skirted the Southern ocean. Joseph was anxious for us to see the ocean and at one point he drove down a dirt track in hopes of reaching the beach. We started crossing the dunes but the sand was too soft and alas we got stuck. Joanna, Stephen and I hopped out of the vehicle, and started pushing while Joseph gunned the accelerator. Sand went flying but with some heavy pushing we were quickly back on the road.
Fish and Chips was one of our staple meals. Sometimes we ate on the roof of a small shack or on a picnic table while visiting with other Aussies.
Australia is the driest continent on earth and I noticed that everyone has large water storage tanks in their yard. The water is collected from the roof and drained into tanks for use throughout the year. I saw several signs across the Nullarbor where public toilets were closed because the water storage tanks had run dry.
After two long days of driving through the Nullarbor we passed from a dry arid land to hardwood forests of beautiful Gum trees. We’ve still got miles to drive and I’ll elaborate in my next post.
On Monday morning we took a ferry to Rottnest Island located just off the coast of Perth. There were more than 200 people on the ferry and four TV monitors broadcasting the Super Bowl. It was such a surreal moment to see a game playing in our hometown while we are on the other side of the world. As I surveyed the room I noticed that no one (except Stephen) had any interest in the game. I heard one ten-year old ask his dad about the game but his dad replied, “It’s American football…I don’t understand the rules.” Stephen stood next to the TV near our seats and quietly cheered for his team while everyone else watched the dolphins that followed alongside our ferry. Obviously American football is not popular in Australia but it was a good day for Stephen as he saw his team defeat the Patriots.
Rottnest Island is famous for the Quokkas that love posing for selfies. They are described as the worlds happiest animal and look somewhat like a miniature kangaroo with some rabbit-like features. Stephen and I rented bikes to explore the island and search for Quokkas. It was a glorious day to cycle. No vehicles (except busses) are allowed which makes it peaceful and safe for bike riders. The Quokkas appeared halfway through our 15-mile ride and were happy to pose. We didn’t actually get a selfie but these little creatures were not afraid of humans and certainly fun to photograph.
While touring downtown Perth we noticed a sign advertising a free performance of the opera La Bohème at the Supreme Court Gardens. We had nothing else planned so it was a perfect night to hop on the bus for a quick ride to the venue. With just a towel in hand for our seat, we strolled into the park with no expectations. I was surprised to see the entire place full of people picnicking and enjoying the warm summer evening. Six jumbo TV monitors were placed around the area to amplify the sound and add English subtitles. Stephen and I found a small patch of grass among the crowd and watched (along with thirty thousand others) our first opera. It was a perfect evening!
Kings Park is the largest inner city park in the world….yep, bigger than Central Park. We spent a day touring and learning about the plants of Australia. The park has sweeping views of the skyline and a boulevard of Gum trees that begged to be photographed.
Thanks goes to our new friend Joanna (from Poland) that joined us on our trip to Rottnest and Kings Garden. On several occasions she snapped photos of Stephen and me with some amazing background scenery.