Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Photos can be made larger by clicking on them
John said to me recently that he had always wanted to see Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. He and Ian were going on July 19, and would I like to come along. After talking it over with my partner, we decided I'd go. It would be my first camping experience since Boy Scouts.
The three of us met for drinks and discussed our needs, meaning who would bring what. We would stay in tents, and eat out of a cooler as much as possible. We were three guys doing guy things, in guy ways...so I wondered if I would fit in.
This is the first day of the journey, which would take more than a week. The distance from Saskatoon to Yellowknife is about the same as New York City to Miami.
In the morning hour, John and Ian picked me up, and we were off.
Rather than taking the obvious route of superhighway (relatively) 16 towards Edmonton, we took a side route part of the way, the scenic 376, which goes from Asquith to Marymont. It is a small road going through farm towns and villages. The road was clear and seemingly endless, with things to see, both near and far.
Yep, an actual cowboy.
We stopped a few times for pictures, including the near-ghost town of Environ (SK), we believe it to be. While this type of subject was not the focus of this drive, on the first day we took the time to respect the past. These empty stores and houses were across the road from an obviously busy horse farm. A couple of dogs came calmly ambling down the road from a neighboring farm, and were obviously friendly, looking for some head pats (which they received in abundance). They stayed around as long as we did, and as we entered the car full of gear, they just as calmly ambled off home.
As we continued on the road, we saw this school for Balmae (SK) that had been decommissioned many and many a year ago in this kingdom (not by the sea).
At the town of Arelee (SK), we saw this enormous church. It had no crosses, or names, but was obviously well kept as the grounds were spotless and groomed. Through research, I found out it is the 102-year-old Arelee Mennonite Brethren Church.
After a few shots, we were on the road again, with beautiful view, including many golden fields of canola north of Sonnindale (SK).
Back on the main highway (16), we stopped at a mall in North Battleford (SK) for some lunch at a Tim Horton's. Recently I heard a comedian say that Tim Horton's is everywhere in Canada, and is even showing up in other stores. He walked into a Starbucks and it had a Tim's (my apologies to the comedian for not giving him credit but I don't remember who it was). The mall was typical box stores that surround nearly every large town that has a major road through it. The Burger King had a bizarre offer (do they have those burgers in the States now, too?), and the theme continued with the gun sale notice, which was made even more surreal by the sign on the truck behind it (this one's for you, Alan).
After a nice chicken salad sangwich (have to keep up on my Brooklynese), we hit the road again. The sky started to turn as angry as North Battleford seemed to be, with dark clouds rolling along. There was not a single day where we didn't see rain on this trip, but we were incredibly fortunate that it was almost always when we were indoors (car, tent, restaurant, etc.). Saskatchewan is called "the land of living skies" (according to the license plates), and here are some examples from near Ranfurly (Alberta) and Chipman(AB). The first photo of clouds below reminds me of the starship Enterprise (the fore to the left, aft to the right); do you see it?
There is a large Ukrainian population throughout the prairies, including orthodox churches, which line the countryside. Below are from Chipman and Lamont (AB), respectively.
Along with churches and farms, it is common to see oil rigs in farm fields and backyards. They are not the pyramid shape that one comes to think of from films (e.g., Giant, Oklahoma Crude), but rather these pumpers that push the oil through underground pipes and bring it to a central storage area. By the refection, it's pretty obvious I took this through the car window as we whizzed by.
Near the town of Boyle (AB), the clouds again were charmingly playful.
We finally set up tent(s) at the River's Edge Campground, inside the town of Athabasca (AB). It's a small college town, which is strange since Athabasca is a well-respected correspondence college. The town and campsite, rest on the shore of the Athabasca River, which was just beyond our tent site. While it ended up being an incredibly noisy spot, it was also beautiful. The road with the metal bridge leading up to Ft. McMurray (not named after Fred) was on one side, the highway on another, and the river triangulating the site. And the sky loomed dark.
We headed downtown to eat at the Lady Anne Restaurant at the Heritage Grill. The meal was decent, and while we ate, it rained for a short while. When we were finished, we decided to take a walk around town.
Lots of value to be had around, which was obviously suffering a bit of an economy strain. There were many check cashing outfits, and thrift and liquor stores.
Sign, signs, everywhere signs. The white ones in the back are at a park on the other side of the river. Note the huge cross.
Two local stores. As a city feller, I find the diversity of product available amusing.
Great name for a store, even though it was closed (as was almost everything else after 9 PM).
The moon was shining as the rainclouds passed.
I knew the Salvation Army had good things in it, but I didn't realize it had pots of gold stored there by leprechans!
The rainbow went across the whole sky to the east. It eventually twinned, though the second was wane.
We headed back to the Aspen Ridge Campground, which was in a historic area destined to be the River Landing Frontier Museum at some point, since it was the set-off point for many of the Klondie gold rushers in the 1800s. There were signs and images all over the area to posit the period. This one is straight out of Media Ecology.
There were murals, most of which seemed to depict people working at hard labor/labour. The first one is on a storage building, and the other on the bathrooms.
The skate park that was on the west side of the campground was empty thanks to the rain. While I have nothing against skaters, I was grateful for the lack of noise. There was certainly enough of other types. Good thing I brought earplugs.
Thus we ended our first day, having traveled 670 kilometers / 416 miles, and were looking forward to the next adventures heading our way.