On the Cowboy Trail

CAMPGROUND: Sundre Municipal Campground. Right on the Red Deer River, in the little town of Sundre. A small campground with about 40 sites. Most have electricity, like ours. It is next to the town’s museum. $21/night. Big sites with trees separating sites. Decent bathrooom, although a little dated. Fire pit and picnic table. 4 stars (almost 5) out of 5
LOCATION: Sundre, Alberta, Canada – about an hour NW of Calgary
WEATHER: Miserable in the AM; warming up in the PM to 62

We started the day in Paddle River in cold rain. We quickly hooked up and headed south. We spent the entire day, 200 miles, on highway 22, otherwise known as the Cowboy Trail.

Driving due south, we passed a lot of oil and gas fields, canola fields, and big cows. We had planned to stop in Rocky Mountain House or Caroline, but it was still early, and still cold (50) and rainy.

When the car’s temperature gauge finally showed that the outside temperature hit 60 and it quit raining, we decided to look for a campground. We found this one – so delightful! We enjoyed chatting a bit with the campground host – a man from England, with a strong Yorkshire accent. He took me around in his golf cart to select the site that we preferred. We found one right on the river.

We walked around the town and did one of the town’s riverfront hikes. Then, I made a fire. (I am getting good at this!) Meanwhile, George took advantage of the sun and rearranged the back of the truck.

We have quite a bit of firewood we need to use up before crossing the US border in a few days. So, we placed the wood in an accessible place and I piled more on the campfire.

Speaking of crossing the border, we need to use up our liquor, too, so George sipped on beers while working on the truck. I did my duty by having a glass or 2 of wine….

DINNER: We had planned on eating Phillipino caregiver Jack’s meat pies with Leo and Martha, but that was the day of the mud experience and we didn’t have a chance to eat them. So, tonight I warmed a few up for dinner. Very tasty – very British. I made a mustard sauce for them. Sides were leftover Brussels sprouts and a salad.

Tracing my (muddy) roots…

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night at Paddle River Campground
LOCATION: Mayerthorpe, Alberta – about 60 miles NW of Edmonton
WEATHER: Cloudy with some rain. A few hours of sunshine in the PM. High 65

The main reason we selected this area to camp is because this is where my mother and uncle Leo lived with their parents in the 1920s and 1930s. Today’s plan was to check out their home and surroundings.

We found Padstow Road, a major family landmark, just a few miles from our campground. Uncle Leo remembered a lot and guided us along the way. Aunt Martha had studied a lot of the history and filled us in. The first stop was the one-room school house that my mom and uncles attended until about 8th grade.

The building is still there, pretty derelict and falling down behind the trees.

Mom had always told me tales of walking to school for miles and miles (especially when I complained about having to walk a few blocks to my school). It was true! The house where they lived was about 8 miles from the school.

Leo remembered that the house was down a narrow range road, so we turned down it. Big mistake! The road looked at first like it might have a bit of gravel, but quickly turned into a terrible, muddy mess. The problem was that we could not turn around; there was just no place dry enough. So, we kept on going, hoping for a turn-around. Meanwhile, the road got muddier and muddier.

We finally found the old farm house. It was where my mom and uncle were born. My grandparents farmed the land. They lived there about 20 years, finally leaving due to….(guess what…..the mud!)

Three miles down this muddy bog, we realized that it was just getting worse and that we would have to back up. First Martha, then George, cautiously backed us up the 3 miles. There were several low areas where we were seriously stuck. We had to stop several times to let the engine cool down. We had visions of sitting there for hours waiting for a tow truck, but finally, slowly, we made it to the main road.

Once on the highway, the car started shaking violently. It felt that all 4 tires were flat. We thought it perhaps was the rocky mud on the tires. We pulled over and George and Jack tried to get the worst off.

We passed the site of the family’s church, the farms of old friends, and the “old swimming hole” where my mom and her brothers had played.

We limped into the small town of Mayerthorpe, which was considered the big town when Leo and mom were young. Leo said they went into town about once a month. Here we found a carwash. After putting in about $20, we got most of the mud off.

George got a lot of the mud on himself!

The car was still shaking a bit. We didn’t know if it was more mud, or something more serious. We found a tire shop where they kindly squeezed us in. They hoisted the car and found more mud stuck in the bowels of the tire parts. They were able to remove it, and we were on our way again.

We drove about 3 miles to the town of Rochfort Bridge. This is the town closest to the old farm. The family would come into this town to shop, collect their mail, and to catch an occasional train ride to Edmonton. Leo thinks that they just flagged it down; there was no train station. Leo and my mother attended school here for a short time, boarding with families in town.

By this time, it was after 5:00, and we were all pretty exhausted. We returned to the campground just as the sun started peeking out. We enjoyed a nice campfire again, then cooked dinner outside.

DINNER: Jack’s Phillipino dish called adobo. It is chunks of pork that have been sauteed, then slow cooked with herbs and spices. It was really good. Sides were rice and sauteed vegetables.

We sadly said goodbye to my aunt, uncle, and Jack the caregiver. They will return tomorrow to their home in Grande Prairie, and we will be back on the road.

Heading south on Moose Alley

CAMPGROUND: Paddle River Campground, a county-run park next to the Paddle River Reservoir. Huge, gravel sites with picnic table and firepit. New electricity and water hookups at each site. Very nice, new bathroom. Our site is on the river! $29/night. 4 stars out of 5
LOCATION: Mayerthorpe, Alberta, Canada
WEATHER: Miserable most of the day. High 58 and rain almost all day

We (Uncle Leo, Aunt Martha, caregiver Jack, George and I) got packed up and left their house right on schedule. We took the highway toward Edmonton. It has a lot of steep hills and deep river valleys. Yellowing canola fields along the way made it very pretty. The highway’s unofficial name is Moose Alley. It seemed to be a moose-y day with cool weather and rain, but all we saw was this….

Leo, Martha, and Jack got settled in their motel room while we set up camp. The manager put us in what he described as his best site. He was right! We are right on the water. Due to all the recent rain, the river is very high and is rushing by the back of our Airstream.

George got out his fishing pole and gave it a try.

Unsuccessful, we went back to Plan A for dinner.

While he was out fishing at a nearby pond, I made the campfire. I used the firestarters that I had made with some friends back in Texas. They worked really well, and soon I had a good fire going.

DINNER: Spaghetti with meatballs and Italian sausage. We grilled the meat on the campfire, then added it to the pasta sauce. Side was lettuce salad. Molto bono!

Mexican day in Grande Prairie

LOCATION: Visiting my aunt and uncle in Grande Prairie, Alberta

WEATHER: Mostly cloudy. High 68

Today’s fun event was a Mexican lunch here at the farm. Aunt Martha had invited some friends and neighbors over for a treat.

Uncle Leo’s caregiver, Jack, and I did the prep. He is from the Phillipines, loves to cook, and is interested in learning about new dishes. I was able to find cilantro in the grocery store, a new herb for him. We made shrimp quesadillas and my “famous” margaritas. It was a fun lunch with good conversation and food. (I forgot to take a photo of the lunch) 😦

George spent the morning under the Airstream, finalizing the temporary repair to the fresh water tank. We think it is fixed now, so we won’t have to go to the Airstream factory afterall. (I forgot to take a photo of George at work, too) 😦

In the afternoon, we started packing up, as we leave Grande Prairie tomorrow.

We made a bonfire in the firepit and enjoyed cocktails.

DINNER: Since we had eaten so much at our late lunch, we only snacked. I topped some tortilla chips with the leftover shrimp quesadilla mix and cheese for a platter of nachos.

Brews and a bear in Peace River

LOCATION: With my aunt and uncle in Grande Prairie, Alberta

WEATHER: Partly cloudy. High 65

We are already pretty far north – 300 miles northwest of Edmonton, but today’s trip took us even farther north – up toward The Northern Territories. Our first stop was in a tiny town that has a brewery, but doesn’t have a tasting room. We bought some beer from a shop there, and continued north and west.

We drove by miles and miles of farmland – hay, wheat, and canola. We stopped for lunch in another small town, and met up with one of my aunt’s friends. The restaurant had a surprisingly cosmopolitan menu, even out in the middle of nowhere.

Sadly, a common occurence on the highways here is getting a ding on your windshield from a piece of gravel thrown up by a passing big truck. Today, this happened to my aunt – we got a big hit causing a starburst on the windshield. We have 2 small dings in our pick-up truck, and our friend Tony got a big one while we were traveling together in Saskatchewan.

Then, on to Peace River, about 150 miles north of Grande Prairie. Our first stop was an overlook over the river town, where we learned about the early settlers, fur traders, then farmers.

Down in the town, we stopped at the visitors’ center, the former train station, for information.

We drove around the town, which hugs the river, and found its brewpub. A great place!

The owner came out to greet us, so surprised that we had driven so far, just for a beer.

As we were leaving the Peace River Valley on a scenic highway, a bearcub scampered away in the ditch. He was really moving!

We stopped in another town on the way home to check out another a brand new 2-week old brewpub, and had an appy.

It was nice to get home. A great day!

DINNER: Being late (8:30), we just had leftover potato salad, ham, and cheese.

Happy 4th of July…Canadian style!

LOCATION: At my aunt and uncle’s house in Grande Prairie, Alberta

WEATHER: Partly sunny. High 70

I spent the morning spiffing up the Airstream – mopping the floor (hard on the knees!), making the bed (hitting my head on the cupboards), and defrosting the freezer.

Once complete, Jack, my uncle’s caregiver, made us a Phillipino lunch. Called si-sig, it is smoked pig head meat, cooked with herbs and spices.

Leo enjoyed the sunshine on the deck

We took a spin around Grande Prairie – stopping for a beer flight tasting at Grande Prairie’s brewery.

We stopped at Canadian Tire, a unique store in Canada – seems to have everything. This is a new one, one of Canada’s largest. We bought a gas grill and grill table. George loved it!

Back home, we enjoyed a fire around the firepit, toasting the USA.

DINNER: Normally Jack cooks, but I wanted to share a typical American 4th of July dinner. George grilled some brats. We had corn-on-the-cob, potato salad, and zucchini. Dessert was apple pie, very American, but made by Jack’s Phillipino-Canadian family…a nice twist!

Grande Prairie Living

LOCATION: At my aunt and uncle’s farm in Grande Prairie, Alberta

WEATHER: Mostly sunny. High 70

Today was errand day in Grande Prairie – groceries, propane, RV shop. We rewarded ourselves with lunch in a restaurant. We shared a hamburger, made with delicious Alberta beef.

We drove by my cousin’s business – JDA – Jarvis Dawson & Associates. His company services oil and gas rigs out in the oilfields. They keep very busy and have a lot of huge equipment.

Grande Prairie is an oil and gas town. It currently has about 70,000 population. It is sort of a boom and bust environment. Now it is booming. It is 300 miles NW of Edmonton. Americans on their way to Alaska pass through here. Yesterday, we saw some RVs on their way back from Alaska – you can tell, as they are very dirty.

In the afternoon, we met Jack, a caregiver from the Phillipines who help out my aunt and uncle. He returned from his vacation, bringing lots of Phillipino food that we are anxious to taste.

DINNER: Appetizer was Jack’s spring rolls. We BBQd a rotisserie chicken. Sides were Brussels sprouts (my brother’s recipe) and baked potato wedges.

Work, and then an outing as our reward

LOCATION: With my aunt and uncle in Grande Prairie, Alberta on their farm

WEATHER: Mostly sunny. High 66

We took advantage of the sunny day by doing a lot of cleaning of the Airstream and pick-up. The Airstream now is really shining!

We also did a little gardening and tree-trimming.

After all of that work, we decided to have lunch in a cute, little cafe out in the country. It is a Norwegian community whose Heritage Association runs the cafe. Everything is homemade. We had soup and sandwiches, followed by homemade wild blueberry pie. Martha is delighted….

Back home, I worked for several frustrating hours planning our trip following this respite with Aunt Martha and Uncle Leo. Traveling in the summer is not nearly as fun as in off-season. Summer travel requires reservations for many places, so you lose your spontaneity. Almost every place that I looked at today is already full. I will continue searching tomorrow.

DINNER: After our big lunch, we just had a salad. It was quite good – a chef’s salad with spinach, green onions from the garden, lettuce, chopped chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, and Parmesan.

Celebrations galore!

LOCATION: With my aunt and uncle in Grande Prairie, Alberta

WEATHER: Mostly overcast and rainy. Not good for Canada Day celebrations.

Since the days are so long here, the fireworks to celebrate Canada Day today started at midnight last night!

We celebrated Canada Day and birthdays at my cousin’s house, just down the lane from my aunt and uncle’s house. They just added an indoor swimming pool/party room to their house.

We celebrated my cousin’s birthday as well as his granddaughter’s birthday.

The birthday girl just got a baby sister last week. Here she is with her grandmother..

My cousin is also redoing their backyard. My aunt and uncle will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary here next month.

After an afternoon of swimming (and eating), we returned home. We watched PBS shows and had popcorn. Very nice! (We didn’t need any dinner after snacking all afternoon).

Looking for a great road trip with your RV?

This is to share a great itinerary through areas that are not too touristy, yet beautiful. Six years ago, we met friends Tony and Jenny in Newfoundland. Since then, we have met up with them about 16 times camping all over Canada and the USA. This summer, they were on their way from Nova Scotia (their home) across Canada to Vancouver Island. We joined them for this segment of the trip. Tony had done all the great planning. We met up with them in Winnipeg, Manitoba after the Airstream Alumapalooza in Ohio. If anyone is looking for a great trip, check this out….

1. Arrowhead R/V Park about 10 miles south of Winnipeg. We stayed there 3 nights. It is a lovely commercial park with super friendly owners. It is a great location from which to explore the vibrant city of Winnipeg.

2. 268 kms (162 miles) to Riding Mountain National Park, northwest of Winnipeg. We stayed in Wasagaming Campground 3 nights. Great hikes. Cute town within the park.

3. 282 kms (176 miles) to Moose Mountain Provincial Park. We stayed 3 nights at Fish Creek Campground. Located in SE Saskatchewan, it is a very popular park in the summer, but not too crowded in June. There is a golf course in the park.

4. 251 kms (156 miles) to Bengough, also in SE Saskatchwan. We stayed 2 nights in the small, municipal campground there. It is a cute, small town from which to make day trips to the Big Muddy area.

5. 154 kms (96 miles) to Grasslands National Park. We stayed in the newer, more primitive East Block side in Rock Creek Campground. Really, really remote. Gravel road to get to the park. We stayed 4 glorious nights there – great night sky and hikes in the Canadian Badlands.

6. 44 kms (276 miles) to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. We stayed on the Alberta side, rather than the more developed eastern Saskatchewan side in Elkwater Campground. Beautiful, wooded area – quite a contrast to the grasslands surrounding it. We stayed 3 nights. Unfortunately the rainy weather limited hikes, but they would have been fabulous in sunnier times. Not too far from Medicine Hat, for a nice day trip.

7. 155 kms (96 miles) to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in South Central Alberta. Terrific park with guided tours to see the rock art. Great hikes around the hoodoos. We stayed there 4 nights. Not too far into Lethridge for a day trip to get more metropolitan vibes, including brewpubs. 🙂

8. 439 kms (273 miles) to Bow Valley Provincial Park. Definitely recommend scenic Highway 40 most of the way. We stayed 2 nights in Bow Valley Campground. Located about an hour east of Calgary, Alberta, it is a great starting point up to visit Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.

From Bow Valley, we headed north to visit family. If you are doing this trip, I would recommend doing it in early June. School in Canada gets out June 26, so for the most part, the campgrounds were not crowded. Reservations are recommended, though, except for Bengough.

We will continue our trip in a few weeks, and I will update readers with a new route.