Great Plains Tour by the Numbers

We finished out our Great Plains tour with a return stop in Winnipeg. We played a great scrabble like card game called Quiddler with Ashley’s family, with son Kyle nudging out Ashley`s dad Rick to win. It was great family fun. Thank you Kyle and Ashley for hosting us at this joyous time. We look forward to meeting Baby Morgan soon. All our love!

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Ashley, Kyle and Baby Morgan

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With Ashely`s parents Tina and Rick and brother Kyle 

By the numbers our Great Plains tour:

  • 21 days, 10 in the U.S, 11 in Canada
  • Ottawa to Winnipeg return by air
  • 6025 kms of driving in a rental car
  • 5 states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana
  • 3 provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta
  • 18 sunny days, 2 rain and 1 dusting of snow
  • stayed in 5 Best Westerns, 1 park lodge, 2 other motels, 1 prayer house
  • 3 family stays, 2 friend stays/visits
  • best attraction Old Faithful
  • best wildlife – buffalo in Yellowstone Park
  • weight gain – won’t say
  • best little town – Cody, WY
  • best Canadian experience – Saskatoon
  • best all round place – Winnipeg
  • most peaceful stay – Qu’Appelle River Valley, SK

A few highlight pics follow.

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Brenda and Greg

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On the Boise River

 

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Linda, Michael and George

 

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Christine, Linda, Brian, Maggie and George

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Angela. Julius, Valentino and Victor

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Rick and Gaylene

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John and Anita

 

 

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John`s baby

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Why did we call this the Great Plains tour rather than the Prairies tour?  Because of a remarkable little book by Walter Prescott Webb.  Written in 1931, it tells the interaction of people with the vast central plains of America and into Canada, starting with the Plains Indians, then the Spanish/Mexicans and finally the Americans.  Overcoming relentless geography, the lack of water and very little wood took much technological ingenuity and trial and error in order for colonization to proceed.   The horse was indeed the sacred animal of the west that enabled the progress to happen.  Highly recommend this book to educate about this fascinating piece of our history.

Great Plains

Thanks again for travelling with us.  It`s good to be home again!

Dave and Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Great Plains – Days 18 – 19

On our last day in Saskatoon we head out to the Wanuskewin Interpretive Centre. It is a Prairie Cree historical winter camp site that is still being excavated. We learn how to raise a teepee and watch a young man do a traditional hoop dance with 24 hoops. Wow, he manipulates the hoops on the fly to become an eagle or. A buffalo shape. Dave helps raise a teepee until some younger more skilled kids takeover.

We head south of town to visit friends John and Anita. They have a lovely country home and 8 acres of property that keeps them busy. We catch up over a wonderful dinner and make plans to meet on Sanibel Island in future. John and Dave met in university and keep in touch.

We checked with Kyle and Ashley and all is calm on the pre-baby front. We decide to book our flight home a few days hence. There are snow flurries here and more in the forecast.‎ We tour the Cathedral of the Holy Family and marvel at it’s moderness and stained glass beauty. We attend Mass there and laugh as the little ones run up to put a coin in the children’s collection basket. This is a truly butteful Church that we hope to visit again.

Then it’s off to Fort Qu’Appelle and the Oblate House of Prayer there for a night. Our hosts‎ are Tim and Cathy, lay volunteers from Winnipeg. Residents Fr. Glenn and Sister Margaret are ‎away on retreat. We hike the coulees (indented hills) followed by a delicious dinner. Our evening ends with a contemplative prayer service.

We are very thankful for the rest and peace and glad to be returning to Winnipeg tomorrow after a great activity packed road trip.

Thanks Rick and Gaylene, John and Anita and Tim and Cathy for your hospitality and warm welcome.

Dave and Marie

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Great Plains – Days 16 – 17

Only a few more‎ days to go on this pilgrimage you will be happy to know…

We drive from Lethbridge to Saskatoon. It is raining for the first time on the trip but the sun comes out after Swift Current. There are more and more wheat farms, elevators and terminals as we go. We descend a hill and as we cross a small lake we notice thousands of white dots floating on the lake. There must have been 5000 of them. ‎ These are snow geese on there way south we learn.

Arriving at Marie’s brother Rick’s in Saskatoon is most enjoyable. He and wife Gaylene roll out the red carpet for us. Over a great dinner we catch up and reminisce. Their daughter Angela drops over with her family. We have a great time seeing them again.

The next day we visit Queens House an Oblate Retreat Centre. We tour the facility and marvel at the beautiful chapel and prayer room. We chat with Brendan the Director and then walk down to the S. Saskatchewan. It’s cold but sunny. We have time to visit the Sask Berry Farm and pick up some jam. Then it’s off to tour the Canadian Light Source. It is one of the largest research centres in Canada. The light produced is fast moving electrons that are used in applied health, agriculture, environmental and materials research. E,g, they have found a way of converting A and B blood types to O here.

We finish our great day with Rick and Gaylene at a Greek restaurant.‎ The trees are in their prime colour, there is a snap in the air. This is Saskatchewan in the Fall. We love it.

Dave and Marie

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Great Plains – Days 12 -15

We leave Boise today for Lethbridge, AB. We drive out through a desolate region of Idaho and stop at the ‎Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. It is a vast lava field that is black. Some vegetation has crept back. It’s spooky.

We make good time along the deserted highway and arrive in Butte, MT. It is a small city nestled between steep colourful hills. All the buildings are one story and visible as there is only a tree here and there. We are up and at it first thing in the morning after the best Best Western breakfast yet.

We continue north and cross the Missouri River again in the most beautiful of canyons. The golden hills are dotted with green trees and the majestic Missouri wanders calmly through them lined with trees and green vegetation. Glacier National Park mountains can be seen on our left. Huzzah!!

We cross into Alberta at Sweet Grass. We get pulled in for a random inspection at Canadian Customs. Oh, oh, we are slightly over on our declared wine import allotment…After a few minutes of tense waiting they hand us back our keys and passport‎s and say you are free to go. It pays to be low risk seniors we figure. Phew!

We arrive at Marie’s brother George’s in Lethbridge. Linda cooks us a wonderful meal as we catch up. It is good to be back in Canada. Their lovely condo is situated at the east end of the Lethbridge Viaduct – the largest train bridge structure in the world – over 1.5 km long and 100 m high over the Oldman River. This place used to be called Fort Whoop-Up for the contraband liquor sales to the Blackfoot nation in the 19th century. We whoop it up a bit over a bit of wine and turn in early.

The next day we visit their son Michael for lunch and Brian for dinner. We visit Henderson Lake Park and hike through the “buttefull” Old Man River basin park. Lot’s of laughs and hugs are in order. The it’s on the road again after a great family visit. Thank you George and Linda!

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Great Plains – Days 10 – 11

We reach the terminus of our western journey in Boise (boysee), Idaho. Dave’s friend Greg and his wife Brenda live here in the summer. Dave and Greg met in 1974 in Vancouver when they both worked at Ioco Refinery in Port Moody. They became friends and kept in touch ever since. Greg and Brenda live in La Quinta, CA the rest of the year.

The first day we catch up on our lives and reminisce about the good old days. The next day, we tour Boise located on the Boise River. We are further west here than the eastern BC border. Oregon is only 30 min away.

We walk in various parks in Boise. It is a clean, modern city with lot’s of flowers and friendly people. We have a great steakedinner with Rudy their English cocker spaniel calmly looking on.

Did I mention we bought 15 lbs of Idaho russet potatotes. They taste great! On the way in we saw fields and fields of potatoes growing, being harvested into dump trucks and being transported on the highway in huge semi-trailer trucks. There is a place in town we went where you have a choice of 5 or 6 different types of potato to be cooked up as frys. Yum, love those tators!

It’s time to head north to Canada as our road trip west has now ended.‎ Marie and I are having a great time on this pilgrimage trip. From Best Western breakfasts to visiting with friends and relatives. Thanks for traveling with us so far!

Ciau!

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Great Plains – Day 9

(We have just learned of the tornado that‎ hit Ottawa area yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the injured, those whose property was damaged and those still without power. This storm made the weather channel news down here.)

We head west‎ out of Cody and climb up through the Shoshone River canyon. It is a thousand feet down and beautiful. We pass through the Eastern gate of Yellowstone Park. Established in 1872, it is one of the most bucket list places in the world.

We descend through lodgepole pine forests to a Yellowstone Lake. It is huge and reminds Marie of the Newfoundland shore – gravel, driftwood and windy. We soon turn down the Yellowstone River valley. The park gets its name from this river which flows north into the Missouri in Montana. Deposits of elemental sulfur‎ coloured the shore line leading to it being so named by natives many years ago.

We turn into the South RIM drive and stop at Artist’s Point. There are hundreds of cars and people so we know we are in for a treat. We look up river and see some magnificent falls tumbling to the river thousands of feet below. We hike downstream and gaze at the magnificent canyon walls all coloured in yellow, red and golden hews from the seeping water over the years. The river is thousands of feet below us – one of the most beautiful sites we have ever seen. Better than the Grand Canyon in our view!!

Continuing on‎ the road we lament the fact that apart from a few deer, we have not seen much wildlife. Suddenly on our right we spot a wolf 200 yards away. He seems to be eating something, perhaps a rabbit or prairie dog (gopher). Wow. Continuing on we suddenly see a bison walking towards us in the other lane with a procession of cars following! We snap a picture when he passes our window less than 10 feet away!! We stop and see a heard of about 75 and take photos up close. There are some 4300 wild bison (buffalo) foraging in the park we learn.

We stay the night at The Old Faithful Snow Lodge‎. It is a 2 minute walk to Old Faithful Geyser. We hear and see it blow and hiss as do hundreds of others, every 90 mins or so. We are in a huge cauldron, the centre of an ancient volcano. The cauldron cooled and sunk and cracks formed deep into the earth’s crust. Ground water seeps down over hundreds of years and comes in contact with hot rock floating above molten lava. The water superheats and rises. The pressure rise overcomes the weight of the ground water above. The superheated water flashes to steam and blows out the vent. The pressure drops again and the geyser seals until the cycle repeats. What a fantastic glimpse of what is going on in the earth’s crust!

We wander around all the steam holes and marvel at their beauty. There are aquamarine pools of hot boiling water and the gurgling sound is amazing. Listen to Yellowstone.

Stay safe.

Dave and Marie
XOX

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Great Plains – Day 8

Shopping day. We drive to Billings, a city of 110,000. It is a major crude oil pipeline node and we see 3 oil refineries and acres of steel, truck and oil equipment yards coming into town. I am reminded of the 5 years I worked in an oil refinery. I miss it and I don’t. I can’t imagine the technology changes since the 70s.

‎We find Costco and stock up on some food and clothing. They sell wine and beer in the store too. We head SW in our white Tucson and fit in with all the white pick up trucks.

Desolation greets us left and right again. Scrub land with some large hills in the distance. The buttes here have smooth tops indicating glacial smoothing. We cross over the Shoshone River and arrive in Cody, WY – the rodeo capital of the world. This is where Wild Bill Hicock and Buffalo Bill Cody tamed the west and made it famous.

It is a nice town with wide streets and plenty of souvenir and western gear shops. We tour part of the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West museums and pick up some souvenirs.

It feels good to be here in the sunshine.

Dave and Marie

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Great Plains – Day 7

I forgot to mention yesterday that we also stopped at the Crazy Horse monument near Custer. It is a work in progress huge mountain sculpture of the Sioux Chief Crazy Horse who lived much of his short life in these hills. ‎A great segway into today.

We emerged from the east side of the Black Hills heading west into Wyoming. To our left as far as we could see was real desert – a moonscape of flat rolling dry scrub land – no crops – no settlements. The odd oil well could be seen pumping next to a small storage tank. The Bad Lands.

A mountain‎ range could be seen in the distance with some snow cover. We turned to the NW and crossed into Montana. Our destination was the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

This site is where Lt Col George Custer and 250 of his men met their demise in June 1876. The Lakota Chief Sitting Bull had led his people and the Northern Cheyene led by Crazy Horse from their reservation in the Black Hills, to settle here to resume their native way of life. A gold rush in the Black Hills had sparked massive American incursion into the reservation violating the treaty. So the native Americans left in defiance and were ordered back to the reservation by the US government.

George Custer with about 600 cavalry tried to surprise them and was outnumbered‎ by the 1500-2000 Indian warriors here. He made a fatal mistake when he split his forces into 4 smaller groupings trying to surprise the village before the warriors could mount up. Surprise was lost and Custer found himself and his battalion completely surrounded. They were anilated.

We toured the battle site by car‎ and looked at the headstone where he fell. It is sacred ground for sure. There is a headstone marking where each cavalry man had fallen and now more and more where each native warrior had too.

Ironically we had to leave hurriedly when a scheduled power outage shut down things at 4:30. We headed up the road and stayed the night after another great sunny day.

Dave and Marie

(Sitting Bull survived the battle and fled to Canada before returning to be arrested years later. Crazy Horse kept up the fight and was shot in a US prison at age 36 or so‎. George Custer was seen as a hero for the next 50 years or so but gradually this view changed. He is now seen as neither a hero nor a villain.)

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The Great Plains – Day 6

The Black Hills are a small mountain range in SW South Dakota that emerge out of the plains. The highest peak is about 7500 ft and not snow covered now. There is a thick cover of pine trees that from a distance makes the hills look black. The Lakota tribe of Plains Indians had their home hear.

The number one attraction is Mt. Rushmore. We make our way there on a “buttefull” day. We get there early and pay the $5 entrance fee. We walk up the central aisle between columns – one for each state with the year they entered the Union. Delaware was first on Dec 7, 1787.

In front of us emerges the iconic structure of the four granite faced presidents created by Gutzon Borglum and his son and completed in 1941. We walk down a small path to get as close as possible. I recognize George Washington and Abe Lincoln for sure. I think Thomas Jefferson is there too and ask a man. Strangely he does not know. I am still unsure about the 4th – turns out it is Theodore Roosevelt. It is a very stunning tribute to these great leaders.

As we leave we notice license plates from virtually every state in the Union. Apart form 1 Ontario plate, we are the only other Canadian plate (Manitoba rental). ‎ The low CDN dollar is no doubt a factor.

We continue our drive and stop at buttefull Lakota Lake. It is surrounded by granite buttes and stocked for fishermen. We take a 45 min hike around the lake in the warm sun and notice some large animal tracks. I bravely assure Marie not to be alarmed, there are no grizzlies around here as far as I know! As we emerge from the path a group of trail riders on horseback lazily emerge from another direction. If we were to ride horses, this would be the place.

We head back through Custer State Park dotted with small lakes, campsites and nice lodges. There is a buffalo herd of some 1300 that roams the range but we do not spot any today. Lot’s of RVS and this is the shoulder season. We explore the small town of Custer named after George Custer the Civil War hero and Indian fighter. Nothing much too exciting here – rock stores, photo stores and antiques.

Satisfied, we head back to our BW suite for a swim and hot tub. Another great day on the Plains.

Dave and Marie

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The Great Plains – Days 4-5

We say our goodbyes for now and wish Kyie and Ashley a relaxing weekend. We head out of Winnipeg on the Pembina Highway. We are quickly surrounded by wheat fields as far as the eye can see. Crossing the border at Emerson is a virtual thing – the wheat fields stretch out endlessly into the flat distance.

We are in the Great Plains of North America. Extending from Mexico and west Texas to Saskatchewan. ‎From the Rocky Mountains in the west almost to the Mississippi River in the east. Agriculture that we see now was unknown to the Plains Indians as there was no water or wood . They were nomads who followed and hunted buffalo on horseback to survive.

The Spanish could not conquer them nor the terrain. The fierce Apaches and Commanches were master horsemen, able to fire a dozen arrows in a minute while clinging to the side of their speeding horse. The Spanish gave up and withdrew in the 18th century. It was not until the invention of the colt six shooter‎ pistol in about 1870 that Americans were able to route the natives at their own game on horseback and enable settlement to proceed, in what was known then as the Great American Desert.

We journey SW across North Dakota. We stop at Oscar-Zero, one of the Ronald Regan era ballistic missile launch sites now mothballed. I go to take some pictures and realize my camera battery is back in Winnipeg still charging. A tour takes an hour so we press on for Bismarck.

Finally a few rolling hills are seen and very much welcomed! We cross the mighty Missouri River about mid-state. Tonight we find a nice motel in Mandan just past Bismarck and enjoy some great chicken and potatoes before‎ nodding off.

On Day 5 we are up and at it and heading SW again. We start to notice a few small ponds and the odd rocky butte. The vistas our stunning‎ with a few trees now dotting the rolling fields. We cross into South Dakota. It is desolate – we drive 100 km with nothing but wheat fields, sunflowers and canola – no services, no houses, the odd barn and grouping of silos.

We stop for lunch at a Conoco gas station – most people wear leather cowboy hats and are in a pickup or on motorcycle‎. It’s windy. We feel a bit out of place. In Rapid City I manage to buy a battery and charger for my camera. Yippee! We continue on to Hill City in the Black Hills area in SW South Dakota and check into a huge Best Western suite room.

Some more chicken and wine and we call it a night.‎ It was a long but great day.

Dave and Maire

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