Monday, 29 September 2014

Moose Jaw -- Part 2 of 2
September 2014

Another outing on the prairie was to Gravelbourg, a small town that promotes itself (or at least did for a while) as the "Paris of the Prairies", or as having "a touch of Europe". That, and a large Catholic church was enough to draw us there for a look-see.

Turned out to be a bit of a stretch, but they tried. The Paris connection is the Café Paris and a pastry/bakery shop that calls itself a 'boulangerie'. 

Gravelbourg did make it into Hank Snow's song, "I've Been Everywhere" though. And Moose Jaw didn't... go figure.

The menu. We were curious as to what 'Prairie Fog' was -- under hot drinks. I forget what they told us. We enjoyed a very Canadian BLT.

Jane signed the guest book.

We had to check out the boulangerie. Had a coffee & picked up some sweets.

Post offices still survive in small towns.

Quite elaborate light standards for a small town.

Each one depicted a different scene.

Another attempt to draw a few tourists I suspect.

Gravelbourg carries the name of its founder Abbé Louis-Pierre Gravel. “Between 1906 and 1926 more than ten thousand Canadian citizens, many of whom were then living in the United States, answered the call of Reverend Louis-Pierre Gravel to make their homes on the broad plains of Saskatchewan, where they built towns and established French-speaking cultural institutions.” 
(Reference: Wikipedia)

A small parkette by the post office.

...with an unusual religious statue.

The cathedral was closed. Apparently, with a phone call or two, we could have had a personal tour of it. We decided not to bother anyone.

We walked around the grounds of the cathedral. This 'fairy ring' or 'pixie ring' of mushrooms was under one of the evergreens. I'd heard of them but this is the first one I've seen.

Our third outing on the prairie was for a 2-hour ride on a tourist train. We arranged it online, before we left, since reservations were required. It was about a 2-hour drive from Moose Jaw.

The drive down was quiet. Very little traffic. We stopped to soak up some prairie air. There aren't many places where you can stand on a highway for a picture. It was a secondary highway so you could hear & see traffic coming, when it did. There was probably a 3 or 4 minute gap between vehicles. It was a Sunday so things were quieter than they would have been on a weekday.
When we got there, we found that the train had been cancelled for that day. They called us to tell us, at our Oshawa number, since that's all they had. They emailed us too but we didn't check our email. C'est la vie. 

It was a bit like the movie "High Noon". We were the only ones there, other than the woman that called us re the cancellation. She apologized, but she had done her part. She offered us a discount for next year, gave us tickets to a local museum, and offered to pay for our breakfast. No complaints. We decided that we'd probably pass on the train ride next time we're in Moose Jaw though. We saw enough from the car.

So, this turned out to be our train ride.

Ogema is another small town, with a very wide main street.

A heritage site in Ogema.

As chance would have it, the highway followed the railway tracks, so we did see pretty much what we would have from the train. We just missed the 'train experience'. As it turned out though, we had a great day anyway. The drive back to Moose Jaw was through the Cactus Hills, some rolling hills with some great prairie views.

Our rental for the week--a Ford Fusion. I enjoyed driving it. My loyalty is still with GM though.

Where there are few trees or bushes, birds take advantage of any perch they can find. This combine & truck were parked, waiting for the land to dry out.

This slough was at the same stop. The water had killed off the small trees but what was left made for some convenient perches at least, and kind of a cool shot.

A little further down the road Jane spotted these Sandhill Cranes. We're not usually in Moose Jaw in the fall to catch any of the migrations. Seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbirds and the Snow Geese earlier, and now the Sandhills, made me think how much more you could see if you lived on the prairie.

Mind you, being raised there, I don't remember seeing any of the migrations that we saw on this trip. So much of what we see in nature is purely by chance. We didn't go looking for any of them, we just happened upon them. Go looking for them, and likely as not, you wouldn't see anything.

This patch of red weeds stood out. The white on the edges of the water is alkali. The cranes dotted the hills beyond.

There were a couple hundred cranes on the hills, over a range of a mile or so. These ones, along a creek bed,  were much closer.

They're a beautiful bird.

How much of a push would these bales need to roll them down the slope?

These two derelicts were on either side of the highway.  A bit unusual in that they were so close to the highway. Most surviving, deserted homes are on back roads, further from civilization.

Further along, we happened to meet a couple combines on the highway that were going into this field to harvest the crop. Some drier land at last. It's obviously a large operation. Most farmers have one combine. These must be leased, or maybe the farmer hired a custom-combiner.

Over the horizon they can look like tanks... with bent barrels.

While in Moose Jaw, we visited an art gallery at the public library. One small room was dedicated to an air crash from 1954. I was in public school at the time and part of one of the planes destroyed a home a few hundred yards from the school. 

I was 12 at the time. I remember the teacher marching us a block away from the school, and telling us to "go straight home". The display brought the memory back.

My school is in the background of this shot (top-left corner). We were too young to appreciate how lucky we were.

To end on a cheerier note, this is a shot of Crescent Park in the heart of the city. There are lots of Mallards along the creek, as well as the odd muskrat.

- fini -

Monday, 22 September 2014

Moose Jaw -- Part 1 of 2
September 2014

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything  better."
                                                     ~ Albert Einstein

Woke up to a rainy Sunday... a good day to finish sorting my Moose Jaw pictures. I didn't take many of Moose Jaw itself this time. I have lots already. If you're curious about the city itself, I put some links at the bottom of this post from a visit a couple years back. 

We had a wonderful visit with family. Great home cooked food, good conversation and lots of laughs. The weather was cool & and we had rain off & on but on our three excursions out on the prairie, luck was with us. We had comfortable temperatures and mostly broken cloud & sunshine.

Our outings on the prairie are mostly on the secondary highways and back roads. Less traffic so it's easy to pull over to soak in some prairie air and take a few shots.

Our first day out on the prairie was to Buffalo Lake, north of town. On the way we spotted some combines so we went for a closer look.

This is a huge operation. These 11 combines would cost well over $5 million. My nephew thinks he leases them... would make sense. My nephew also says he probably has 10 sections or more of land. A section is a square mile or 640 acres. So 10 sections is the equivalent of a strip of land a mile wide and 10 miles long (1.6 km x 16 km). It would be scattered though, rather than all connected.

Shots of the prairie look much better if they're large--remember to click on any image to enlarge it.

The new look in tractors. The treads give more traction and exert less pressure on the land than wheels. They must let them get back on the land quicker after rain as well. Big bucks here too. He has 3 of these tractor-trailer combos.

Everything was parked, waiting for the land to dry out. Saskatchewan has had a lot of rain the last few years.

A field of golden wheat. It's next to the combines. We're in the breadbasket of the world here--one of them anyway. I did a quick calculation. Assuming he planted only wheat, and all 10 sections were planted (both assumptions very unlikely), at current prices and with a good yield per acre, he might get around $1.5 to $2 million for his wheat.

I have no idea how the profit column works out for him, but I don't think he's hurting.

It's a good crop. I checked the kernels.

Jane likes to crouch in wheat fields. It was pretty windy. It commonly is on the prairie. Sometimes a strong wind, sometimes a gentle one. Sometimes no wind... but only sometimes.

As we looked across the fields we saw what is a familiar sight on the prairies--a truck on the highway, outlined against the sky.
Back roads are gravel. They're firm and you can easily drive 80km/hr or more (down the centre) but everyone slows down when you meet another vehicle... as much to prevent cracked windshields from flying gravel, as for safety.

Leaving the combines behind, we headed for Buffalo Pound Lake. A few miles down the road we spotted several hundred snow geese in a slough. A slough (pronounced "slew") is prairie talk for a semi-permanent patch of water that isn't a pond or lake. Often as not they're in the low spots of fields where there should be a crop of some sort.

I learned that snow geese (sometimes called blue geese) have a white or blue plumage morph. The darker ones here are the blue morph--more charcoal or grey than blue to my eyes. Bluish-grey maybe.

They're on their way to the southern U.S. and Mexico after spending the summer in the Canadian arctic. They were constantly lifting and shifting positions, accompanied with lots of loud honking. A beautiful sight! A beautiful sound too.

Buffalo Pound Lake, the source of Moose Jaw's drinking water and a popular picnic, camping, boating & fishing area. It's less than an hour's drive north of Moose Jaw. Some Moose Javians have cottages on the lake. 

This was news to me when I googled it, out of curiosity. Fish in the lake include...
Walleye, sauger, yellow perch, northern pike, cisco, mooneye, lake whitefish, white sucker, channel catfish, burbot, bigmouth buffalo, and common carp. I've never heard of half of them. 

Something different.

We spotted these Mule Deer in the lake valley. They were browsing on the tall weeds.

We didn't get out of the car--didn't want to disturb them. But a little whistle and they perked up their ears--and Mule Deer have big ones. We've seen White-tails here in other years, but not this time.

On the way back from Buffalo Lake, we went to Marquis on a whim. It's a small village NW of Moose Jaw. Typical of villages, it had one simple store, but it included a liquor/beer outlet too, so it had the bases covered.

Villages and small towns in Saskatchewan have extra wide main streets. Even with angle-parking, there's lots of room for traffic.

We were about to exit the town to get on the highway when we saw, and heard, this huge flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, lifting & shifting from one set of cattails to another. What a racket!

As nature lovers, this was another unexpected treat for us--more migrants. Beautiful ones at that, and only a few feet away. They're heading south in this flock of 100s, if not a 1000 or two.

The yellow on their breasts is especially brilliant when the sun hits it.

It was quiet enough that you could hear the whoosh of their wings when they rose and flew.

They seemed restless. I think some of them (probably the younger ones) were trying to urge the others to get off their butts and continue the journey south.

"Is it time to leave yet, Mom?"

A few Red-wings joined the fray.

Back on the highway. It's not water on the road. Mirages are common on the longer stretches of road, even in cooler weather.

Sloughs are 'everywhere', with ducks and/or coots in most of them. Grain elevators are becoming an endangered species but there are still a few around.

One of the few combines we saw in operation this trip. The land is just too wet.

When the prairie is flat, it's flat. But there are many areas that aren't... if you get off the Trans-Canada.

I'll post one more set from the trip.

Here are the links I mentioned earlier (from a 2012 visit)... if you're interested. Shots of town, etc. 

 - fini for now -

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