I Backpack Canada » Photo http://ibackpackcanada.com A backpackers travel guide to Canada Sat, 16 Aug 2014 19:43:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Park http://ibackpackcanada.com/safari-saskatchewan-grasslands-national-park/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/safari-saskatchewan-grasslands-national-park/#comments Fri, 16 Aug 2013 14:46:41 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5591 Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Finding wildlife in Saskatchewan isn’t particularly hard; however, one will note that cattle and horses often spot the prairie fields and pasture land more often than those more wild. Finding eagles, osprey, bison, moose, bears, and coyotes sometimes takes hours upon hours of driving, and usually quite a bit of luck. For the animal enthusiast, it can be slightly disheartening. Given the size of Saskatchewan (651,900 km²), it’s to be expected. With that being said, there is a clever way to guarantee seeing some unique wildlife.

grasslands-national-park-sunset

Grasslands National Park

Grasslands National Park is a Saskatchewan staple. While it does require some driving (it is Saskatchewan after all), it does mean you have a much higher chance of seeing something photo worthy. Four and a half hours south west of Regina, a stones throw from Montana, USA, Grasslands National Park is one of the truest forms of prairie landscape. This preservation is not only home to some beautifully unique flora, it’s also home to countless species of birds, wild bison, rattlesnakes, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, short-horned lizards, black footed ferrets, and many more.

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Untouched Prairie Beauty

The drive south from Regina will lead you through some of the flattest lands, which evolve into gentle rolling hills, only to be suddenly changed into a grass valley carved out by ancient glaciers. Dry cliffs and rocky buttes poke out from the landscape, creating a beautiful view that many would describe as “non-saskatchewan”. What many people often forget is that before large scale agriculture was introduced to Saskatchewan in the late 1800′s, much of the Saskatchewan landscape was exactly what you see at Grasslands National Park. Raw, untouched prairie beauty. A topography that evolved hand in hand with the flora and fauna of the region.

Frenchman River

A Hiker’s Paradise

During the day, there are countless hikes for every skill level, from quick jaunts, such as the Rock Creek Trail (2km loop) to the more skilled trails, such as the Butte Creek / Red Buttes Trail (16km loop), or the Zahursky Point Route (11km loop). There’s also countless square kilometers of back country hiking for those interested on exploring the park without trails. Each hike offers a different view of this beautiful locale. From stretching landscapes of the badlands of Saskatchewan, to creek crossings and surreal views of the Frenchman River.

Pro Tip

For more information on Hiking Trails at Cypress Hills, grab a copy of the Grasslands National Park Visitors Guide at Parks Canada.

Saskatchewan’s Darkest Dark Sky Preserve

Come nightfall, you’ll be in for one of the starriest nights of your life (clear skies depending of course). The Grasslands National Park is the Darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. For astronomers & amateur stargazers, this is one of the best places to be on a clear night. The recently announced Dark Sky Preserve is not only good for bringing in additional tourists, it’s also good for the habitat of nocturnal species, such as the black footed ferret, which was recently re-introduced into the area.

Grasslands Macro

Snakes, Safety, and Friendly Park Staff

My girlfriend and I had the pleasure of camping in the Park a few weeks back. Park staff at Val Marie were immensely knowledgable and friendly, and ran through all the safety procedures before setting out to hike the Grassland trails. It’s made very clear once you’re this far south in Saskatchewan that you’re in rattlesnake country. My girlfriend, having never entered a land dominated by poisonous reptiles morbidly laughed, “Great, so this is the way I’m going to die!“. The Parks Canada staff laughed and reassured her that it’s fairly rare to come across them, and even if you do, giving the snakes their distance will ensure everyone leaves safe.

The Park Staff even went so far as to offer her snake garders, which are basically thick reinforced fabric leggings which they claim will protect you if one of the slithering fellows decide to strike. The Visitor Center at Val Marie offers anyone who’s going to be doing a lot of hiking the garders, but they’re strictly optional. We decided not to take the leggings, being risk takers & all.

Wild Plains Bison

Wild Plains Bison

After leaving the Parks Canada Visitor in Val Marie, we were fully supplied with maps, visitors guides, and a couple of safety brochures. We drove into the park, and without even trying, came across our first group of wild plains bison. Technically, it was just a pair; however, they seemed content to claim their part of the gravel road as their own. Our car approached them slowly, we both nervously laughed, “I hope they don’t charge the car“. Fortunately, they didn’t. Rather, they moved as slow as possible out of the way. During which time we managed to get a few photos. We high-fived over the first encounter. Success! 

History of the Bison in the Area

Back in December 2005 the Plains Bison were re-introduced to the park. Prior to European Settlement, Bison dominated this region. With millions upon millions of herds stampeding across the country. A significant animal in first nations history, it was one of the first to be effected by European Settlement. By the 1880′s, most of the Bison were gone, due to over hunting, and due to their natural habitat being transformed into agricultural land. What was once 71 re-introduced bison, have now become over 300 bison and 40 calves. Without a doubt, one of the most majestic creatures you can find in Saskatchewan. For more information on the Plains Bison, check out Parks Canada’s Bison Updates.

Camping Grasslands National Park - Tent Sunset

Camping in Grasslands National Park

We setup camp just before sunset in a small campground with a handful of lots. Located a kilometer or so from the Frenchman River, we opted to save the hiking for the next day. We were the only ones camping that weekend, and an eerie soundscape of prairie noises calmly sang to us. Waving grass, crickets, gentle blowing wind, soothed the often stressful time known as tent setup. Looking out from our campsite, a 360 degree view of grasslands and rolling hills surrounded us. Parks Canada had setup an in-ground binocular set to allow the viewing of animals slightly further than the eye could make out. In one spin of the metallic eyepiece, I spotted bison, antelope, and a group of kayakers who recently packed up from the Frenchman River.

Antelope Grasslands

Pro Tip: Ask Park Staff About Fire Regulations

Due to the dry nature of the grasslands, there is typically a fire ban in the area. Propane camping stoves are allowed, but open fire’s are not. Park’s Canada will advise you to be as careful as humanly possible. A handful of years back a large part of the park burned away due to fire, and they’d really like to prevent that from happening again.

Sunset Grasslands

Sun Setting Over Grasslands

As the sun dropped below the horizon, it’s remaining light shone through purple, pink, and orange clouds, covering the park in a warm orange glow. Our mosquito net was propped up, keeping the blood suckers out while we waited for stars to come out. Within an hour, the twilight exploded in a vivid starscape. The milky way spread across the sky. The grasslands began to erupt in activity. Panning my head, I noticed how completely alone we were in the park. There wasn’t a single light to be found. A band of coyotes began howling from the north east, not more than a handful of kilometers away. Their dog like calls echoed through the valley. Then like clockwork, another band of coyotes from the north west, joined in, howling for comfort, for territory, or just because it was a nice night out.

Prairie Dogs

Saskatchewan Prairie Dogs

Day finally broke, and we drove to the Prairie Dog sanctuary. These cute little critters are often seen as enemies by farmers, due to their innate ability to turn a perfectly healthy field into a labyrinth of holes. With agriculture dominating Saskatchewan, there aren’t many places they can safely call home; however, in Grasslands National Park, they seem to have found a corner (or two) to call their own. As we pulled the car over and stepped out of the vehicle, we began to walk along the road. Prairie Dog’s barked, alerting their family & friends of our presence. We gave them their space, feeding into their apparent confidence. This was their land, and no camera touting tourist was going to take it from them. We smiled, snapped a few pictures, and left.

Bison Grazing

Plains Bison Grazing

As we packed up for the day, we went on one final hike, one of the quick 2 kilometer loops. We stepped off the trail in hopes of finding more bison, rather than a snake. As we hiked over a hill, making careful progress, a plains bison was grazing within thumb-covering distance (the scientific measurement of safety with wildlife). It’s surprising how easy they are to spot. We stopped, ensuring we wouldn’t spook him. The last thing we’d want is a charging buffalo coming out way. We snapped our pictures, stared on the open landscape, and began our travels back home. A superb weekend trip that will surely be done again.

Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Rail http://ibackpackcanada.com/13-reasons-to-ditch-airlines-for-via-rail/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/13-reasons-to-ditch-airlines-for-via-rail/#comments Mon, 27 Aug 2012 17:26:53 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5089 13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Rail is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Henry Miller, the famous writer & painter once wrote – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” In the last 60 years, travel has evolved for the impatient. We board a plane, melt into our in-flight entertainment consoles, look out the window a couple of times, and arrive at our final destination. Journeys that once would have taken days, weeks, or even months can be completed in a matter of hours. While I’m not one to complain about the advances of technology, I can’t help but feel that flights have removed some of the romanticism of travel. To experience the “real” Canada, the vast distances, the picturesque landscapes, the topography changes from one corner of this country to the next, nothing can beat travel by train. Having spent over 200 hours on VIA Rail in the last 60 days crossing eight provinces, I have found a new way of seeing things. I have discovered 13 reasons to stop flying and travel Canada by VIA Rail.

Via Rail Lower Berths - Sleepers

Lower Berths

Traveling for days on end can lead to exhaustion. While the economy seats on VIA Rail are massive, with enough leg room that would make a 6’8 basketball player smile, spending a little extra money on a 40+ hour train ride can make all the difference. Stretching out in a freshly made bed, and sprawling in your newfound privacy is something everyone can appreciate. Having your own bench seat during the day (or bed should you choose to leave it down), where you can properly lay back, read, and relax not only helps pass the time, but better lets you enjoy the sights from your window. Sleeping through the night in a comfy bed and waking up well rested and that much closer to your destination is easily worth the price bump.

Via Rail Train - The Showers

The showers

Showering while traveling is important. No more so than when you’re in a train with 28 cars traveling for 2 days straight. While Economy tickets don’t have access to shower, all Sleeping Cars come with them. To wake up refreshed from a full nights sleep and to have access to a clean and hot shower is one of the best ways to start a morning.

Pro Tip

Keep in mind, showers are reserved for anyone in the sleeper cars, so those of you taking economy I would recommend bringing along some soap or some resealable wet naps.

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Time to Work

While Wifi is typically limited to the Corridor (between Windsor & Montreal), if you are able to continue to work disconnected from the rest of the world, you’ll have plenty of time to do so. During my countless hours on the train I was able to organize and edit all of my photos, consistently write new blog posts, and edited three videos.

Pro Tip

If you have to stay connected for business, or just for updating your Facebook status to “I’m on a train!“, a decent cell phone data plan along with the ability to tether can keep you online whenever you’re in 3G coverage.

Via Rail Dining Car Food - Breakfast

The Dining Car Food

VIA Rail’s incredible selection of fully cooked and prepared meals makes the thought of airline food sound like the gruesome meals that were likely prepared in the middle ages. You won’t hear a single moan coming from the dining car as VIA Rail’s helpful staff serve everything from smoked salmon to veal, with your choice of beer, wine, juice, or coffee.

VIA Rail Manitoba Winnipeg

The Lack of Anxiety

While I wouldn’t consider myself a very nervous flyer, there have been times where I couldn’t help but start thinking about the fact that 36,000 feet is a long way down. The closest thing to uncomfortable turbulence you’ll find on VIA Rail is the occasional bumpy line of track, which means nothing more than a gentle rock left to right. No sudden drops, no feeling your stomach in your throat, just a smooth & gentle ride.

The Canadian Train - Via Rail - Observation Car

The Space & Comfort

While I can’t stress how awesome an upgrade on VIA Rail is, even in Economy seats, the amount of room given is on average MUCH more than you’ll find on most airlines. Combined with the ease of getting out of your seat to wander to the Snack Car, the Lounge Car, the Obvservation Car, or just walking to get your blood circulating, having that ease of moving around simply can’t be beat.

VIA Rail Gate Montreal

Less Hassle

My biggest pet peeve with flying is being stuck behind a giant line at airport security, anxiously waiting to get through in fear that I might not make it to my gate on time. Security on airlines isn’t just strict, it’s border-line de-humanizing. While VIA Rail has it in their right to check your luggage, their security is far more realistic for the average traveler. You show up, check your luggage, grab your ticket, board, and go. Removing the scans, the pat downs, the 20 questions of “Where are you going?“, “What do you do?“, really speeds things up and makes for a much more enjoyable experience boarding the train. I traveled between Montreal & Toronto with Riley of Riles For Miles, and she couldn’t stop saying “That was so easy!” after boarding the train.

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The Sights

VIA Rail trains will never win a race with airlines, but that’s not what train travel is all about. The slower pace of train travel on VIA Rail allows you to truly take in the size and scenery of Canada. You’ll be hard pressed to see moose, bear, deer, and a variety of Canadian birds from 36,000 feet up. Traveling  by train, this becomes a daily occurrence! A seat atop the Observation car during the day (or night – with the lights off) offers an astounding view of the scenic landscapes Canada is so famous for.

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The Sounds

Many people don’t know this, but VIA Rail offers free train rides to musicians for performing two 45 minute sets per day on the train for passengers. While this is a great way for musicians to get around the country and tour for cheap, it also gives passengers a unique experience. There’s nothing like watching as the rugged Canadian landscape goes by outside the Lounge Car and some of Canada’s most talented artists serenade guests from all over the world.

I was fortunate enough to catch The Bombadils performing on VIA Rails “The Ocean”, between Halifax & Montreal. I also caught Morgan MacDonald perform on “The Canadian”, between Toronto & Winnipeg. Discovering new artists performing on VIA Rail might have been one of my favourite parts of the entire journey.

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The Social Side of Travel

When I fly I am a grumpy human being. I don’t want to talk to the person next to me. I typically want to scold parents for bringing children on the flight, and I am generally just not somebody anyone would ever want to talk to. Perhaps it’s the discomfort, the nerves, the terrible food, the state of fear the media has us all worked up in. But the last thing I want to do is talk to anybody I don’t know while I travel on a plane.

The opposite couldn’t be more true on train travel. There is nothing more common on trains than seeing people who didn’t know each other as they boarded the train disembark as newfound friends. Partaking in conversation with both young and old, about their jobs, their past travels, their future aspirations, and their general interest in how you ended up on this same train. During my journeys on board VIA Rail, I became a conversationalist. A suave, interesting guy who wanted to speak to anyone who would listen. I couldn’t have been more of the opposite to that grumpy human being I am when flying.

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The Staff

Airline staff can often times feel a bit robotic. Any conversing with staff can lead you with somebody (passenger or staff) glaring at you as if you’re putting the entire world in jeopardy. Staff on VIA Rail behave differently. They are relaxed, happy, comfortable, rested, and it all shows. From the way they’re happy to assist you, to the fact that they’ll spare an extra five minutes from their busy schedule to converse with a passenger about anything from beer preferences, to destination tips. Did I mention they’re hilarious as well?

VIA Rail - Wildlife - Mountain Goat

The Wildlife

The beauty of traveling slow is that you have time to look. Time to take in what you’re seeing, where you are, and who you’re with. In my opinion, one of the best parts of traveling with VIA Rail is the amount of wildlife you’re sure to see. Between bears, moose, elk, and even mountain goats, it’s hard to spend a day on the train and not see something out of the window. What I love is that the staff aboard VIA Rail take time out of their day to announce if there’s wildlife coming up. I scored this great photo of a mother and young mountain goat, a couple dozen kilometers outside of Jasper.

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The Cost

Trains are usually on par with your average budget flight, and at times even less expensive. Train travel isn’t as pricey as many people make it out to be. One has to remember that most legs of train travel are over an entire day and night, saving you a night of accommodation and giving you a comfy ride and a whole new experience.

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Don’t believe me? I took a look at a one way Economy Fair on VIA Rail for September 8th from Toronto to Saskatoon. The adult pass came up at $273.46 ($242 fare + $41.46 tax). I took a same look at Air Canada for a flight on September 8th from Toronto to Saskatoon. The adult pass came up at $420 ($278 fare + $148 in tax). Making VIA Rail the cheaper choice by $146.54! Add on top of that the fact that you’re saving 2 nights of accommodation by sleeping on VIA Rail and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Via rail map of Canada stations

Photo Courtesy of VIARail.com

As you have probably figured out, I am a convert! Train travel is the bee’s knees, wearing cat’s pyjamas. It’s for those people who aren’t in a rush, who have learned that in life, it’s not only good, but essential to stop and smell the flowers. Canada was built by the railroads, and I think one of the greatest ways to honour this fact is for every Canadian, and every visitor, to see this magnificent country from coast to coast with VIA Rail.

Special thanks to the folks at VIA Rail for having me aboard their train and giving me access to shoot photos & video. 

13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Rail is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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My Very Canadian Entry For Capture The Colour Contest http://ibackpackcanada.com/my-very-canadian-entry-for-capture-the-colour-contest/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/my-very-canadian-entry-for-capture-the-colour-contest/#comments Tue, 31 Jul 2012 00:04:16 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5121 My Very Canadian Entry For Capture The Colour Contest is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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There’s this neat little contest going around that’s hosted by TravelSupermarket.com, it’s aimed at bloggers who take photos. Seeing as I fit the bill I figured I’d give it a go. Basically you need to submit a photo that is red, a photo that is green, a photo that is blue, a photo that is white and lastly another that is yellow. Winner takes home $2000! As you may know us bloggers don’t make a bunch of money, so I figured it was worth a shot. Could always use some extra quiche to put towards my debt (or pay for more travels).

Red

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Quebec City, home to some of Canada’s best food, most beautiful arts, and quirky things found throughout the city. This photo features these giant red flower pots which reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. The two people walking past are an Australian lady and a local Quebecois woman who was touring the Aussie and I around Old Quebec. Having them in the photo really helped provide a sense of scale for these massive red pots. It was taken on the fly so it’s definitely not the BEST photo, but I thought it was unique and needed to be shot.

Green

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This photo was taken on a small hiking trail on Grand Manan Island, a little island off the coast of New Brunswick. Walking through these trails on this beautiful maritimes island, you are completely enveloped in shades of green. This one particular spot I thought the sun was shining through perfectly, and the moss combined with the decaying trees made for a great subject.

Blue

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Taken last week in Toronto, the sharp lines and curves in this photo give it a strange perspective, and really showcase the beauty of the architecture in Toronto. I suspect people living in Toronto sometimes forget to look up, but anytime I’m in the city I’m always blown away by the beauty in these man made mountains.

Yellow

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The Sour Toe Cocktail of Dawson City Yukon; while hardly yellow, is traditionally kept in a jar of preservatives. However, when somebody signs up to join the Sour Toe CockTail club, the toe along with its salt are piled on top of a yellow certificate which does very little to make you want to put this severed human toe into your glass of whiskey. I joined the Sour Toe Cocktail Club a couple months back, surprisingly not as gross as you’d think. The trick is to not think about it. Ever.

White

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During my recent trip to Churchill, Manitoba, I managed to score a seat on the infamous Tundra Buggy’s. These Tundra Buggy’s are really more like a bear proof rovers that keep visitors high off the ground in these monster bus’s, away from the hungry mouths of polar bears. I was given the opportunity to walk around the tundra and explore, unfortunately I got a bit too close to some baby Herring Gull’s, and Mom decided to get in defence mode. She chased me around for a while, and while I thought it was funny, she was clearly angry. I managed to snap a photo of her just as she swooped over me. It’s rare to see something so white so angry, which is why I chose this photo!

Now that my submissions are out in the wild I’m meant to nominate some other bloggers. Unfortunately all of the bloggers I know / read have been nominated already, so rather than wasting nominations I’m just hoping some other bloggers want to join. If so just leave a comment and I’ll make it official by updating this post with a link to your blog!

 

My Very Canadian Entry For Capture The Colour Contest is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Ottawa Celebrates Canada’s 145th Birthday [Photo Essay] http://ibackpackcanada.com/ottawa-celebrates-canadas-145th-birthday-photo-essay/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/ottawa-celebrates-canadas-145th-birthday-photo-essay/#comments Thu, 05 Jul 2012 16:05:32 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4927 Ottawa Celebrates Canada’s 145th Birthday [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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On Parliament Hill, thousands gathered to celebrate the birth of Canada. Flags were raised high, red & white was plastered on everything and everyone, and rowdy screams declaring their love for this country filled the streets. Musicians performed on every other corner, patios herded thirsty customers in and the free events at Confederation Park, Major’s Hill Park, Parliament Hill, and across the river in Quebec at Jacques-Cartier Park had everyone on their feet. Ottawa Ontario, the capitol of Canada, truly knows how to throw a party fit for a country this big.

While walking through the streets to Parliament Hill wasn’t exactly what I’d call fast, it was always fun. Whether it was the young adult shot gunning a beer in front of a family with 3 kids, only to have the Dad high five the young fellow for his expert drinking speed, or watching people who aren’t so good in crowds panic and find the nearest corner to breathe. Seeing these little moments pushing through crowd made the journey much more enjoyable.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Eager people visited many of Ottawa’s beautiful sights, including the popular National War Memorial, located near the corner of Elgin and Sparks. It’s hard not to stop and watch as eager Canadians & visitors stand with the guards for photographs. As the day progressed, miniature Canadian flags (which are handed out for free throughout the city) begin to be piled all over “The tomb of the Unknown Soldier“. I learn that this is a tradition in Ottawa, that’s done each year during Canada Day and Remembrance Day.

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Party on Parliament Hill

Arriving at Parliament Hill, the stage is lit, children sit on the shoulders of their fathers, and people young and old climb, stretch, and squirm their way into the best view they can possibly get for the show that’s about to start. The excitement in the crowd rises with each minute. “God Save The Queen” follows into “Oh, Canada”, and as the Snowbirds fly over the top of Parliament Hill a loud roar explodes throughout downtown Ottawa.

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A Giant Parks Canada Beaver

After watching some award winning performances, including that of one of my favourite female artists “Feist”, along with a quick speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the noon hour shenanigans on Parliament Hill dissipated, and the party spread to the streets and several of Ottawas finest parks. I made a quick walk to the Rideau Canal, and watched as boaters climbed the historic Ottawa locks. Parks Canada was out in full force educating children and adults about the incredible parks in their own backyard. There was also a giant blow-up Beaver, which could make even the most grumpy of Gus’s smile.

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A Wall of Red & White

As my mid-day hunger kicked in, it became clear to me that food was the only thing that would keep me going. I set my sights on Major’s Hill Park, where the Chicken Farmers of Canada were serving what they did best. Chicken! As I slithered my way through the crowds, I hit a human road block. It would appear the entire city of Ottawa was playing a giant game of “Red Rover” with me, preventing me from eating. Hungry Corbin is not a pleasant person to be around; so I Hulked out, and in my most Canadian way, “Sorry’d” my way past roughly a thousand people.

 

Chicken, Chalk, and VIA Rail

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I arrived at Major’s Hill Park and watched as the worlds happiest children climbed aboard a miniature VIA Rail train that was cruising around the park. Chalk artists and chalk amateurs coloured the pavement with flags, words, animals, and whatever else their imaginations could come up with. I promptly found myself a $4.00 chicken sandwich and sat back people watching and resting my legs for what was sure to be a busy evening.

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Ottawa Jazz’s Up Canada Day

After resting up, I made my way to Confederation Park, where the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival was taking place. July 1st was their free day, and the park was a superb reprieve from the business of Canada Day. A beer gardens in one corner, wide open spaces perfect to lounge on the grass, and some incredible musicians from around the world performed to a happy crowd. I sat back in a chair in the beer gardens, consuming my first beer of the day. Beau’s Lug-Tread Lager, a beautiful local Ottawa beer that couldn’t have tasted better on what might have been one of the hottest Canada Day’s I’d ever experienced.

It was approaching 7:00pm and my energy was fading fast. Between the heat, the long walks, the heavy backpack filled with camera gear, and the heavy crowds, I made a decision. Cold shower! I wandered back to the historic Lord Elgin Hotel where I was staying for the night, and jumped into my incredibly awesome shower. I was in and out, feeling like $100, and ready get back at it. I worked my way back to Parliament Hill and just caught the start of the 7:30pm show.

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Live Music & High Fives

After watching Simple Plan do their thing on stage, and watching as the talented Roch Voisine woo’d crowds, the sun was setting fast. The fireworks were going to go off in just over an hour, and judging by the speed I moved through the crowds earlier in the day, I suspected I should leave early. After a 45 minute walk, high fiving the worlds happiest Canadians, I made it back to Major’s Hill Park to watch the fireworks.

Fireworks over the Ottawa River

I set up my tripod, my camera, my remote switch, I had the view framed perfectly for an interesting photo with the parliament with fireworks in the background. I waited patiently, excited for the results. The perfomers in Major’s Hill Park stopped playing. The lights went out. People spread out on the grass, tilting their heads skywards. Then suddenly, an explosion of light and sound. I watched the first one go off, and realized then that I am a big dummy. Turns out I was way off, and I had somehow boxed myself behind a wall. There was going to be no photos of this spectactle.

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I quickly grabbed my camera from the tripod, switched into video mode and hit the record button – I figured worst case scenario, I could grab a frame from the movie. The young couple standing next to me laughed, as did I. We were all shaking our head in disapointment, as we had all arrived early to score the best spot, only to be stuck behind a wall. “Nothing a little laughter and beer can’t fix” – said someone standing behind me. “So true“, I replied. I followed the fireworks for the next fifteen minutes with my camera, grabbing each moment of excitement, laughing at myself the whole time.

As the final explosion went off, a thunderous roar could be heard from Parliament Hill and across the river. The sound of thousands of people screaming for a short 30 seconds was almost deafening. As the bands started up again they played as the massive crowd that had gathered in the park slowly drifted downtown to partake in as much drinking as humanly possible. My beard must be turning grey, because I was beat and didn’t have the energy to party for another 3 hours. A couple patio pints of Beau’s and Kichesippi beer and I was beat. Is this what being an adult feels like? As I finished my beer and wandered back to my room at the Lord Elgin Hotel I couldn’t help but think “I honestly am happier with a few patio beers & an easy wake-up than ridiculously loud club music & all night whiskey & tequila shots. Hello adulthood! You’re pretty okay. And Canada, you’re beyond awesome!

Looking for a place to stay while in Ottawa?

For budget travellers, be sure to check out the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel. The history behind this unique Canadian building will amaze you. If you’re looking for a beautiful historical hotel in the downtown core, be sure to check out the Lord Elgin Hotel. Don’t forget to have lunch at the Lord Elgins Grill 41 & order the Seafood Chowder. You’ll thank me later!

Ottawa Celebrates Canada’s 145th Birthday [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Horseback Riding in Prince Albert National Park with Sturgeon River Ranch [Photo Essay] http://ibackpackcanada.com/horseback-riding-prince-albert-national-park-sturgeon-river-ranch-photo-essay/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/horseback-riding-prince-albert-national-park-sturgeon-river-ranch-photo-essay/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2011 14:50:41 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3748 Horseback Riding in Prince Albert National Park with Sturgeon River Ranch [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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If you’re from Saskatchewan, chances are there’s a little cowboy running through your blood. Be it the whimsical nature that we seem to have when it comes to long road trips (ie “It’s only an 8 hour drive, easy as pie!), or the general love affair most prairie folk seem to have with country music. Everyone from this little prairie province loves to claim they’re a little more cowboy than the next guy or gal. You wouldn’t believe how many arguments I’ve heard where people are arguing who’s hometown is smaller. No matter how cowboy you might think you are, chances are you’re not even playing in the same league as Gord Vaadeland, owner and operator of Sturgeon River Ranch.

This past Thanksgiving was hands down one of the most memorable I’ve ever had. I convinced my old man to take some time off work and join me up north for some fall horseback riding in the boreal forest. The goal was to catch sight of the 400+ free range plains bison that roam Prince Albert National Park. Little did we know how close we’d end up getting.

These brick-walls of beasts have had a tough go, yet despite their near extinction, they seem to be thriving in Prince Albert National Park since their re-introduction in 1969. They’ve come a long way since the first 50 were brought back. That’s partly due to the preservation efforts of Gord Vaadeland, Founder and Executive Director of the Sturgeon River Plains Bison Stewards. That’s only one of his gigs, he’s also the ED of CPAWS-SK and Watershed Awareness Coordinator for Provincial Council of Agriculture Development and Diversification. Say that 3 times fast… (Can’t be done!)

I got in contact with Gord while I was still in Halifax and asked if he’d be keen on showing me around his parts. He gladly obliged, and within weeks we had a unique tour of the area setup, which included Horseback Riding the western part of Prince Albert National Park in search of the bison, and sleeping in a traditionally built tipi at Ness Creek.

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A short 6 hour drive from Regina got us near Big River Saskatchewan. We pulled into Sturgeon River Ranch and were finally introduced to Gord. I soon learned that his skills extended beyond being an outfitter, a cowboy, and a bison steward. Turns out he’s also a bluegrass musician, and a bit of a TV Celebrity (What’s up Mantracker!?). We all hit it off and it wasn’t long before we had the horses in the trailer and ready to roll.

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Welcome to Prince Albert National Park

We pulled up to the edge of Prince Albert National Park and saddled up. It’d been a couple years since I’d ridden horse, but I managed to shake the cobwebs after the first mile or so. Gord led us through trails that wove through birch and spruce, our horses powered through the thick. Watching Gord lead us slowpokes, I couldn’t help but think “Shoulda found a cowboy hat!”. That thought was interupted as I was forced to dodge a low hanging branch. I chuckled to myself, “Keep cool Corbin, pay attention…”

Horses-Spot-Bison-Prince-Albert-National-Park

Our horses began to slow down, and suddenly became a bit nervous. You could feel the tension in the air. These horses knew something was up a ways. We all stopped in our tracks. A gentle breeze blew through the trees, the sound of rubbing leather mixed with the loud breathe of the horses made that moment feel like it lasted a lifetime. Gord whispered “They’re up there. You hear that?”. Large crunching snaps echo’d back our way.

Gord Vaadeland - Sturgeon River Ranch

We slowly pressed on, nobody said a word. We didn’t know if we’d get a second chance to spot the bison up ahead. As we continued through the trail, the bush got thicker. Gord lead us in the direction of the breaking trees. We slowed down again, and Gord explained “We usually recommend people keep a safe distance from the bison. If you can cover them with your thumb, you’re close enough. But since you’re with me, we’ll be using our elbows and putting that thumb a little closer to your face, which means we’ll be getting a bit closer. Hope that’s okay!” I nodded my head with a huge smile “Of course!”.

Wild Free Range Bison Saskatchewan Prince Albert

Spotting the Wild Plains Bison

The sound of snapping trees got louder, but the bush was so thick you could hardly tell how close you were. Gord offered to hang onto our horses to see if we can get a clear photo. I climbed off Applejack (a trustworthy steed if I may say so) and nervously moved toward the sound of wild bison. My old man was right behind. Creeping towards the bison soon became a game of “Oh yea? I dare you to keep going!” I’d take one step, my Dad would take two. Soon we were lookin in the eyes of at least eight free ranging plains bison (there may have been dozens more behind them). We couldn’t have been more than 30 feet away from the small herd.

Blue-skies-Birch-Trees-Saskatchewan

A final tree snap stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked at my old man and made eye contact, implying “If they move, I’m so out!” Several grunts and loud thumps on the ground forced me to take a step back. Then two. I looked up and blue skies and birch trees surrounded us, making a fast escape nearly impossible. Their noises progressively got louder, and I decided I had enough of playing chicken with thousand pound bisons. Another grunt & crack, and I was out! “Only gotta be faster than the guy behind you” I remember hearing. We laughed as we got back to our horses, blown away with what we’d just done. Needless to say my Dad gave me a hard time for backing out before him.

I was completely speechless as I tried to thank Gord. “Awesome. Wow!”. He laughed and said “I didn’t realize how close you guys were!”. He laughed as he handed us back our reins. Had that been anyone else I’m sure he would have Clint Eastwood stared us so bad for getting that close. But Gord seemed to trust us. Nothing like having a cowboy on your side!

Long meadow prince albert national park sk

Long Meadow – Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan

We pushed forward, following a few rough trails. Gord warmly told us about the history of the bison and shared some of the incredible preservation work being done with bison. This man is clearly passionate about his work. Who else but a Saskatchewan Patriot would come out on Thanksgiving Day to show a couple outta-towners around. As the conversation died down, the scenery opened up. A natural clearing called “Long Meadow” greeted us.

Horseback riding prince albert national park moose antlers

It was a breathe of fresh air to see the flatlands again and to set my eyes on the big blue sky. As we entered the meadow a White-tail deer skipped back into the cover of the trees. We followed Gord and picked up our pace. Just a few prairie boys wandering the land by horse. We stopped a mile or two up the meadow as Gord pointed out some moose antlers. A mile up and he stops to point out another sign of wildlife. The remains of a bison.

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Bison Remains

He explained what makes Prince Albert National Park so different from all the rest with one word. “Predation.” There’s a couple wolf packs in the area that hunt the weak, injured, and the old. It’s a common sight in the park. It’s pretty wild to think that something could actually take a bison out.

Horses-grazing-Saskatchewa-Prince-Albert-National-Park

We stopped for lunch in the middle of Long Meadow and Gord continued to share stories. The mans got a bunch, but you’ll have to book him yourself to hear them all. The horses fueled up on wild grass while we gorged on sandwiches and some of the best home made cookies I’ve ever had. Then it was back in the saddle.

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Another herd of Bison

A few miles up we had our second encounter with another small herd of bison. Once again they were hidden in the trees. If my camera had a fist, it would have been shaking it vigorously at them. I wanted to see them in the wide open, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be! More the reason to come back again!

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It was coming on the 5th hour of riding, and the sun was just beginning to set. We had one last leg of trails to hit before calling it a day. We found our way onto a rough dirt road. Gord explained that a lot of these roads were actually started by the Bison. When people started showing up in the area, they picked up where the bison left off and turned the rough trails into drive-able roads.

Stoney Plain Meadow Prince Albert National Park

Stoney Plain Meadow – Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan

Our fearless leader wandered into rougher terrain. Steep hills and fast slopes was the name of the game. Rocks, trees, and the odd patch of mud reminded our horses not to stumble. The horses pulled through with ease, and we soon found ourselves on top of a hill, overlooking Stoney Plain Meadow. Gord pointed out where his family’s land was and we enjoyed the start of sunset. Good company, great ride, and one helluva view. The definition of a great way to end the day!

Sturgeon River Ranch, Saskatchewan

Back at Sturgeon River Ranch

We loaded up the horses and dropped them off at Sturgeon River Ranch. I bid farewell to my new four legged friend Applejack and thanked Gord for sharing his wealth of expertise. He gave us directions to Ness Creek and said he’d meet up with us shortly. We drove 20 minutes on gravel roads and eventually found the right road.

Ness Creek Awaits

As we pulled into the Ness Creek grounds, you could see that it was a place for artists, free thinkers, and eco-friendly community leaders. The craftsmanship in everything from the signs, to the cabins, to the pieces of outdoor art located throughout the grounds make you stop and think “I wish I did more stuff like this!”

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We turned the bend and saw our accommodations for the night. Standing in the middle of a field was a traditionally built dakota tipi. The wooden poles pierced the orange sky, a light breeze blew the doorway gently. I stopped in my tracks to stand and take it all in before snapping a photo. Wild bison, a full day of riding in the boreal forest, and now a night under the stars. I thought to myself “I have this moment to be thankful for.”

Big thanks goes out to Gord & the Gang at Ness Creek for showing me around their little slice of heaven. If you want to see more wildlife photos be sure to check out the Bison Stewards Facebook Page. Same goes with the Sturgeon River Ranch Facebook page! Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Ness Creek, in the mean time, check out Gord Vaadeland’s appearance in Mantracker.

Horseback Riding in Prince Albert National Park with Sturgeon River Ranch [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers across the flatlands of Saskatchewan [Photo Essay] http://ibackpackcanada.com/chasing-prairie-skyscrapers-across-the-flatlands-of-saskatchewan-photo-essay/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/chasing-prairie-skyscrapers-across-the-flatlands-of-saskatchewan-photo-essay/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 04:24:45 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3604 Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers across the flatlands of Saskatchewan [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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The dry, arid winds of Saskatchewan hammer against my left arm. My hand is curved into a wing-like shape as I hang my forearm out the driver’s side window. I entertain myself with the magic of lift. It’s late September and I’m watching the yellow dashed lines extend into the horizon. The highway is empty and the land is flat. I stare at the small formation of clouds in what has to be one of the worlds biggest skies and breathe in the smell of gravel roads and fresh cut fields.

Flatlands of the Saskatchewan Prairies

Driving through the Saskatchewan prairies can at times feel like you’re completely alone in the world. You begin to notice things. Things you might have overlooked, things you might take for granted. You notice your head swivelling slowly, scanning the horizon and looking for something, but you’re not sure what. When your eyes spot it, you pull over. Jutting out of the miles of flatlands is a wooden skyscraper.

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The Saskatchewan Grain Elevators

While they may not break any world records for building height, and they sure aren’t the most sophisticated pieces of architecture. They’re different. And they’re disappearing one at a time. The Grain Elevators of Saskatchewan are an endangered species. What was once a common sight across Saskatchewan has now become an opportunity to see an era fade into the history books. Something people may someday see in pictures but never get the opportunity to see with their own eyes.

Kinistino-Saskatchewan-Elevator

Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers

During my recent travels throughout Saskatchewan I made an effort to find as  many of these dying creatures as I could. The Grain Elevators of Saskatchewan offer a unique look at an important time in human civilization. These wooden castles helped feed the world. Before elevators, grain was hauled in bags and towed by horse and carriage. The idea of modern farming we see today didn’t begin until the late 1800′s with the invention of the Grain Elevator.

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Wood Mountain Elevator

The Elevators are in my blood

My Grandpa was one of the thousands of labourers who helped construct the Grain Elevators in Saskatchewan throughout the mid 1900′s. He died at a fairly young age due to lung complications caused by breathing in mass amounts of grain dust throughout his life. This was a danger that was unknown back in those times. While I never really got to know him, I do know that some of the elevators built with his hands still stand today. Others he worked on have met their fate on the ground which they proudly stood over for decades.

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The Grain Elevators Are Vanishing

In the 1930′s there was said to be over 3,300 grain elevators in Saskatchewan. That number has plummeted to roughly 450 in recent years. It’s my hopes that more will be done to protect and preserve these unique pieces of Saskatchewan history. Unfortunately they’re being demolished at an alarming rate due to concerns for safety and cost of maintenance. Some call them Tinder Boxes, others call them an Eye Sore; however, there is growing support to save them. Many communities are coming together to protect them.

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Protecting the Prairie Elevators

It’s an uphill battle, but the local Saskatchewan community is coming together to try their best to protect the grain elevators. The Western Development Museum in North Battleford currently has a working 1920′s elevator on display. Several small communities have also converted their elevators into museums and restaurantes. Rural communities with a strong enough voice continue to partner with the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation to save their local elevator. This problem of the disappearing elevators isn’t unique to Saskatchewan. Alberta & Manitoba face the exact same problems.

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Morse Elevators

The Prairie Skyline is Changing

Time is running short for the prairie skyline. Most of the wooden-cribbed grain elevators are showing wear and tear. The province of Saskatchewan is changing fast. Rural areas are growing smaller and smaller while the 5 urban city centres of Saskatchewan continue to grow each year. In response to this exodus, ghost town’s continue to be born.

Prairie-Grain-Elevator-Saskatchewan

I fully understand that there is no way for all of the elevators to be saved. Times will always be changing, and newer elevators are needed in order to meet the demand of a growing population. However, these elevators are a piece of the past, and a past that in my eyes is worth preserving. There is really no time like the present to see and photograph what’s left of the Prairie Skyscrapers. Chasing them can become an addiction and can easily be the basis to one of the greatest Saskatchewan road trips you’ll ever take.

 

For more about the problems facing the Grain Elevators check out the National Film Board’s documentary “Death of A Skyline“. I managed to find it online on Vimeo, and while it’s a little dated, you do learn a lot more about the locals plight. Be sure to check out some of the demolition videos, its oddly depressing to see them fall.

 

Chasing Prairie Skyscrapers across the flatlands of Saskatchewan [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Exploring The Big Muddy Badlands & Castle Butte [Photo Essay] http://ibackpackcanada.com/exploring-the-big-muddy-badlands-castle-butte/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/exploring-the-big-muddy-badlands-castle-butte/#comments Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:57:40 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3559 Exploring The Big Muddy Badlands & Castle Butte [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Over the years I’ve become quite good at explaining to others what Saskatchewan looks like. It’s more than just 7 hours across and a whole bunch of farmland. If you take the time to get off Highway 1 you’ll find yourself in one of the most unique and beautiful provinces in Canada. Case and point, drive south to the Big Muddy Badlands and see what I mean.

Prairies-in-Saskatchewan

Country Roads, Take Me Home

On my recent trip back to my home province of Saskatchewan I decided it was time I get photographic proof of my explantations. My solo mission through Saskatchewan was to be a rediscovery of my home province. I made sure to take in parts of Saskatchewan I hadn’t seen in years, and some I’d never seen at all.

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Drive South on HWY 6

Driving south from Regina will gradually take you through a sequence of topographies. Now you might be laughing at the use of the word “topographies” while describing Saskatchewan. “Isn’t it pretty flat there?” is the typical response from someone who’s never seen much of the prairies. Sure, we’ve got a few hundred thousand square kilometers of flatlands, but there’s more to it than that.

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Rolling Prairie Hills

After roughly 2 hours of driving south, you’ll come across the rolling prairie hills. They’re still farmed like the flatlands, and still feel like “Saskatchewan”, but these hills have an uncanny ability of stealing your attention. As you continue driving, these rolling hills turn into something totally different. The fields of wheat, canola, and barley begin to disappear as you arrive in one of my favourite regions of Saskatchewan. The Big Muddy Badlands! Even saying it aloud makes you feel like a cowboy.

The Big Muddy Badlands

The Big Muddy Badlands are located along the Big Muddy Creek and extend all the way to Montana. They’re located inside the Big Muddy Valley. This unique valley is 55 kilometres [34 mile] long, 3.2 kilometres [2mile] wide & 160 metres [520 feet] deep. It’s one of the driest and most rugged regions of Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan-Badlands

What Goes on in the Big Muddy?

Bandits! Well, there used to be bandits. Back in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s the Big Muddy Badlands formed the northern tip of the Bandit Trail. This trail was used by world renown horse bandits Sundance Kid, Dutch Henry, Pigeon Toed Kid, Coyote Pete, and my personal favourite, Sam Kelly (more on him in a later post).

Nowadays the Big Muddy is known for its Horseback riding, cattle ranching, farming, and some of Saskatchewans most exciting highway drives. The rocky cliffs and carved out valleys are so foreign after hours of flatland, that its hard to believe you’re actually still in Saskatchewan.

It’s easy to get distracted in the Big Muddy. I had to remind myself that I was here for a reason. I was trying to find Castle Butte, a 70 meter relic from the ice age; similar to Uluru (In Australia), only on a smaller scale. I had stumbled upon it years ago online and decided I had to check it out.

Big-Muddy-Badlands

Finding Castle Butte

One would assume that it’d be easy to spot, but it’s actually surprisingly tricky to find. Highways in this part of Saskatchewan can be tough to navigate, signs tend to be few and far between. While some may find this to be a minor inconvenience, I quite enjoy getting lost and finding my way back onto the correct path. It typically leads to a few self deprecating laughs.

Turning onto Highway 34, south of Bengough, I finally see a sign indicating I’m on the right track. I drive through a texas gate, and begin to wonder if I’m trespassing on someones property. I ignore that thought and continue on. Signs don’t lie, do they?

Castle-Butte-highway-34

Thar she be!

As the gravel road curves, I spot it. Looming over the dry pasture land is Castle Butte. I snap a few pictures from afar and continue on. As I drive up the winding road a welcome sign greets me. I park my car at the base of the ancient monument and look up.

Castle-Butte-Sign

Welcome to Castle Butte

Gazing up at this massive prairie goliath I laugh in excitement. I start by doing a full lap around the perimeter of Castle Butte, deciding whats the best route to begin the climb. As I complete the full 360 degree circle I realize that the first walkway up was the best. Before setting out to climb, I decide to check out some of the small caverns that have been erroded into the sandstone & clay.

Castle-Butte-Big-Muddy-Badlands

A Small Saskatchewan Cave

I climb into the darkness, using the flash of my camera to see how far this Saskatchewan cave goes. It appears to narrow out at about 12 feet at which point it stops. The cave juts in and out at all angles, making for an awkward crawl. I bump my head twice and rub the location of impact. I’m clearly not cut out for spelunking.

Castle-Butte-Cave

Ryan Was Here

I feel my way out and spot several carved names inside the cave. Looks like “Ryan” beat me here. I exit the tiny cave and breathe a sigh of relief for not being crushed to death by Castle Butte. The sun is still shining and this giant piece of rock is calling my name.

Castle-Butte

Commencing the Climb

I began climbing, carefully stepping between crevices, hoping with each step that I don’t lose my grip and roll to the bottom. The first half of the climb is mostly just a steep walk. As I get about halfway up it picks up in difficulty. While it’s by all means not the toughest climb, there are a several spots that require all four limbs and a decent balance.

Castle-Butte-SK-From-Top

Pause & Picture

I paused to catch my breathe and snap a couple photos as I approached the top of Castle Butte. Looking back down below provided an incredible view of the Big Muddy Badlands. I smiled and pushed on. “Only 15 feet or so before I’m able to comfortably stand and relax.” I thought to myself.

Corbin Fraser Hiking Castle Butte

King of the Castle

I reached the top of Castle Butte and pulled myself up. As I regained my posture I commenced the first among many 360s. The vista that was before me was a mix of prairie flatlands, harsh rocky cliffs and badlands. The blue sky above shined down on what had to be one of the warmest fall days in Saskatchewan history.

I snapped a few photos and found a spot to place my backpack. Just as I was about to relax my phone began kicking off in my pocket. I laughed to myself “Looks like I’m back in cell phone reception“. I opened a newly received email from my Grandma. “Hows the trip going?” she asks. I decided to take advantage of the reception and send her a few photos and explain exactly where I am, knowing she’ll get a kick out of it. Bernice is awesome that way!

Castle-Butte-Drive

I must have spent nearly an hour on the top of Castle Butte. During that hour I didn’t see a single human soul. Not even one car drove by. The closest thing to company was a small herd of black angus cattle a couple miles away who would occasionally hollar out “hello” to me. Sitting on the top of Castle Butte I said a quick thank you to the last ice age for being so awesome and carving this giant monster out of the prairies. This relic of a landmark is hands down one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to in Saskatchewan.

Note: Castle Butte isn’t pinned on Google Maps yet  so I managed to use my phones GPS to grab the coordinates and mapped them below. This might be the only modern map to Castle Butte so use it wisely. If you get lost there are a few service stations in the area that might be able to offer directions. The town of Coronach is the tourism hub for this region so they should be helpful as well.

 

 

Exploring The Big Muddy Badlands & Castle Butte [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Experience Algonquin Park At The Wolf Den Hostel & Bunkhouse [Photo Essay] http://ibackpackcanada.com/experience-algonquin-park-at-the-wolf-den-hostel-bunkhouse-photo-essay/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/experience-algonquin-park-at-the-wolf-den-hostel-bunkhouse-photo-essay/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2011 14:25:00 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=3462 Experience Algonquin Park At The Wolf Den Hostel & Bunkhouse [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Algonquin Park is an Ontario mecca for outdoor adventure and activities. Whether you’re a plaid wearing canoe carrying portage master, or a first timer dipping your feet into the world of interior camping. Algonquin Park has a lake, a trail, and a campsite for everyones needs. The question is where do you start? Who do you talk to about renting a canoe? And what will you need to know in order to make you camping experience in Algonquin a fun and memorable one. If you’re smart you’ll talk to the locals or someone who’s been around the park a while, and what better place to find some knowledgable travellers than at the Wolf Den Bunkhouse. The closest hostel to Algonquin Park. (We’re talking a stones throw by the way!) Wolf-Den-Bunkhouse-Hostel-Algonquin-Park I honestly lucked out with this whole Wolf Den Hostel encounter. My travel companion and I had spoken about it, but knew we were short on nights in Algonquin Park, so we weren’t able to book an evening there. Bummer! Fortunately, after an amazing 5 hour guided canoe tour with Jamie Honderich, care of Algonquin Outfitters, we had the chance to explore this unique & inviting Ontario marvel. It wasn’t planned by all means. As luck would have it our canoe guide, who’s also a teacher, just so happened to be the original owner. This man literally built the Wolf Den from the ground up! Timbre by timbre. Wolf-Den-Bunkhouse-Hostel-Algonquin-Park Jamie wanted us to meet the new owner Ben Teskey, unfortunately he was out running errands that particular day. We came across one of the staff members, who after hearing our little story was happy to let us tour the grounds snapping photos. Jamie was pulling double duty, not only had he shared his knowledge of the history and culture behind Canoe Lake & Algonquin Park, he was also telling us about how the Wolf Den came to be. Wolf-Den-Bunkhouse-Hostel-Algonquin-Park As with most savvy business owners, Jamie saw a niche that nobody else had filled. The closest hostel to Algonquin Park at the time was the HI Maynooth. It wasn’t long before work got started on building a bunkhouse where international & domestic travellers could meet and congregate, winter or summer, and experience as much of Algonquin park as possible. Wolf-Den-Bunkhouse-Hostel-Algonquin-Park-4 Jamie took us through step by step what was built first, even going so far as to include where some of the wood came from. Turns out a lot of the wood came from his family farm, while some of the guard rails inside were just lucky finds during long hikes. Wolf-Den-Bunkhouse-Hostel-Algonquin-Park-6 We wandered around each building. Stepping on freshly fallen leaves, the smell of autumn surrounded this place. I watched as Jamie touched each building. He happily explained details about the building process of each log cabin. It was easy to see that he’d put a lot of heart and soul into this project. Jack Layton quote - Algonquin Park When I asked “Why did you sell it?“, he warmly replied “Running this place was a full time job, and ultimately family always comes first for me. It was time, and I still feel it was the right decision.Wolf-Den-Bunkhouse-Hostel-Algonquin-Park-15 As we entered the Bunkhouse, Jamie told stories of parties & musical gatherings that he used to throw on the upper level of the Wolf Den Bunkhouse. The walls of this bunkhouse oozed Ontario. Snowshoes & cross country skis hung from the walls, and an old wooden canoe was propped above the rafters. A pile of instruments were setup in the corner of the room. Cozy doesn’t begin to describe this room. Wolf-Den-Bunkhouse-Hostel-Algonquin-Park-14 We climbed down the sturdy wooden stairs, through the large open kitchen, and found our shoes at the door. Jamie Honderich told us that if we ever make it back to Algonquin Park to be sure to stay a night at the Wolf Den. “You’ll have to meet Ben! Out of all the people that were interested in buying Wolf Den, he was the only one I could let myself sell to. He had a similar vision of what the Wolf Den is and what it can become; a safe, home away from home in one of nature’s most beautiful playgrounds.

The Wolf Den Bunkhouse & Hostel is open year round for people of all age. Jamie Honderich now operates his own B&B with his partner Pam, check them out at Morgan House, just outside of Algonquin Park. Huge thanks goes out to Jamie for being the friendliest and most knowledgable guide I’ve ever had!

Experience Algonquin Park At The Wolf Den Hostel & Bunkhouse [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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