24 July 2011

Moose Jaw Minute #51: On the Road Again...

Hi, everyone!  Apologies for the lack of posts recently...I've been on the road to see family in Pennsylvania with Dave and then on to the Lone Star state of Texas to give a presentation for work.  I am noticing a change in travel for me.  When I first moved to Moose Jaw, travel felt more like home and being on the road was a comfort from the unfamiliar territory of my new surroundings.  I knew the drill at the airport, the comfort (yes, comfort!) of the airline seat, my tray table in its locked and stowed position, traversing the corridors of different terminals, and seeing everyone and everything in constant states of movement -- these things were familiar and recognizable to me as I attempted to navigate the new chapter of my life in the Jaw.

I travel quite a bit.  I often visit the place I lived the longest - Chicago - due to work.  I see family over holidays and family gatherings.  I  reconnect with the people and places that, for my first few months here, made me feel like I had a place to tuck into and find something to ground me.  In a lot of ways, Moose Jaw wasn't that for me in the beginning.  It was too new and my lifestyle too different for me to consider it comfortable and welcoming.

But, over the last few months, I've noticed a change.  Now, coming back to Canada feels more assured and familiar.  As I peer at the farmland from my tiny window on the plane, descending through the clouds over Saskatchewan, I know I am getting closer to my life in Moose Jaw -- a life which now feels much more familiar and comfortable than life in a multitude of different places.  As I criss-cross the borders between the United States and Canada, I also criss-cross different areas of my life, all contributing to the person I am becoming.  It's a good feeling.

I love to travel, but I also love coming home.

12 July 2011

Moose Jaw Minute #50: Top Five Things to See in Moose Jaw (supposedly)

Mac the Moose...standing guard over Moose Jaw
So, I spend some time marveling at the fact that I live in a place called Moose Jaw...in the province of Saskatchewan.  I mean, who knew that this U.S. Army brat would one day land a gig in the land of prairie dogs and living skies?  Not me...that's for sure.  I've traveled a lot in my 30-some years and while I may dish it out to the Jaw every now and then, I have to admit that there are some things around here that I would like to experience.

A colleague of mine at work recently sent me Fodor's five things listed about Moose Jaw.  Note:  only one of these is a "Fodor's Choice attraction" according to his guide.  Ironically, that one thing is really the only thing I don't have much interest in seeing, but I know I will eventually do that one day (most likely when I have company visiting from out of town).  What are these five magical experiences that Moose Jaw has to offer, you ask?  Well, here they are...in no particular order:

  1. Temple Gardens Mineral Spa Resort.  Yes, ladies and gentleman...this prairie town boasts a resort that is situated smack-dab in the middle of the city.  The resort invites you to indulge in their geo-thermal pools to relax and unwind after a day outside chasing the p-dogs around and hearing about Al Capone (see number 2).  Needless to say, I have yet to visit the resort, but I've heard it's quite the treat on those -50 winter days when you need to raise your body temperature back to normal and fight off the frostbite.  
  2. The Tunnels of Moose Jaw (the "choice attraction").  These tours are the big draw in town as Al Capone and his cronies are said to have done some bootlegging through these parts.  In addition to learning about the Chicago mobster's activities in Saskatchewan, you can also take a (what I think might be more interesting) tour about the Chinese Laundry operations that took place here.  The tour website does have some interesting historical facts on it, including how Moose Jaw got its name.
  3. Casino Moose Jaw.  Yup...situated cozily next to Temple Gardens, Moose Jaw has a casino.  I have no interest in gambling.  At all.  The end.
  4. The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.  This IS the one thing I would really like to see while here in the Jaw.  It's in a low, non-descript building on the edge of town, but it supposedly has some really interesting information and displays.  Dave and I are saving that one for a super-cold day.  Once we visit, I'll be sure to update!
  5. Moose Jaw Trolley Company.  I've seen one trolley rolling through town.  Mostly in the summer...well, cause who wants to ride a trolley in the winter?  Anyhow, on the weekends the company hosts a ghost tour through town.  I haven't seen any ghosts yet and I've been here almost a year.  Maybe they wait to come out for the trolley.  Hm.
So, needless to say, these are Fodor's choices of things to do in Moose Jaw.  Personally,  I have my own top five and I'll be sure to share those with you in my next post.

Until next time...

08 July 2011

Moose Jaw Minute #49: Our Holiday Weekend in the Canadian Rockies

Happy *erm...very belated* Canada Day and Independence Day! 

We...are...outta here!  That was our cry as we packed up the Cavalier with our camping gear and headed west to the splendor that is the Canadian Rockies.  We were on our way to Kananaskis County to a site just outside of Canmore, Alberta to tackle our very first scramble and indulge in some back country random camping.  There is nothing like driving from the f...l...a...t prairies and coming up on the Rockies...those gorgeous pieces of earth jutting into the sky! 

We arrived late, late, late on Thursday night and stayed at the fantastic Hostel Bear.  If you are ever in the area, this is your place.  The rooms are clean, the bathrooms cleaner, and the hostel itself a quiet respite.  There is a train that goes by the space every now and then, but that didn't stop Dave and I from getting at least a few hours of shut-eye.  We woke the next morning to a chill in the air, crisp azure skies with puffy clouds, and the most gorgeous view of the Three Sisters peaks from our hostel window.  We stepped out and made a beeline for what is probably one of the best local coffee shops I've ever stepped foot in, Beamers.  YUMMY was the soy latte I downed!  Dave had a hot chocolate and that set us up for our one hour drive to Grizzly Peak...the location of our first attempt at a scramble.

View from The Hostel Bear

Inside Beamers...YUMMY!

"What the heck is a scramble?  It sounds delicious but I am getting the sense it has nothing to do with eggs." you might be thinking.  Well,  a scramble is a climb that falls somewhere between a really steep hike and rock climbing.  They are graded on a scale from 1-5, with 1 being the easiest and 5 the hardest.  Grizzly Peak is classified as a category 1 scramble and winds it's way beside Rock River Creek for the first little bit before making its ascent to the peak.

Attempt number one was made on Friday, Canada Day, with our heavy packs that were stuffed for four days of being away with clothes, gear, and food.  I should say a special thanks here to our friends Blake and Jac for the loan of their hiking poles!  We started the ascent and marveled at the view as we were going up...stopping every now and then to catch our breath and set down the gear for a minute or two.  The trail was pretty rocky with a lot of loose gravel and getting a solid foothold was sometimes pretty challenging.  In some ways, Dave and I are matched really well for this kind of thing...I adore going up hills and loathe the coming down bit. He is just the opposite.  As we were ascending, all I could think about was how in the heck I was going to get back down again!  We continued upward, spotting rocky mountain sheep, squirrels, brilliantly coloured flowers, and pine forest along the way. 

The Grizz

Dave...looking good on the ascent!

Let's just say that with the packs, we were a little under prepared for what this would mean on the scramble.  We got about halfway up the route and to a place where there was some non-technical climbing.  Dave shed his pack and made the ascent first to check it out while I waited for him at the base of the rock.  A few minutes later, I saw his head pop over the edge and he started shaking his head...I knew what that meant...no way were we going to continue the climb with the heavy packs on.  We made the decision to head back down with Dave taking the lead and guiding me when things got really slick.  We hit the bottom in about half the time it took to get up and made our way across the highway to find a place to camp for the night.  After crossing into a valley and working through some forest, we found a gorgeous spot near a rapidly running stream and set up for the night.

View from the trail

Our campsite

Gorgeous views!

Dave -- tying up the food bag so the Yogi and Boo Boo don't snatch it.

So tired after the day...ready for sleep!

The next morning dawned bright and warm and we quickly ate a yummy tofu scramble (how appropriate!) for breakfast, packed up, and then headed back to try the summit again.  This time, we hid our packs under some trees across the road and only brought our food bag with us (to avoid having some bears and other wildlife eat our goodness!).  This time, we reached the rock in under half the time, made our way up, and continued on.  I think we got confused along the way and had to double-back at one point along a grassy route where the trail just, well...trailed off!  We made it three quarters of the way up the peak and while I was feeling pretty good and solid, Dave was a bit more concerned about his footing and how he was feeling.  Neither of us were comfortable continuing if one of us wasn't feeling it, so we made the tough decision to head back down without reaching the top.  On our way down, we crossed paths with a group of rocky mountain sheep who were making their way up the peak -- delicately, lightly, and without a care in the world -- as they stopped occasionally to munch on some greens along the way.  We marveled at the speed and ease they exhibited going up and guessed that we probably looked about as far from that as possible!

Ready for the second attempt
Crossing the meadow from our campsite to the peak

Along the path
Rock mountain sheep...makin' it look soooo easy!

Needless to say, I still very much consider this a success for our first attempt at a scramble and I personally cannot wait until we get to go back and try another one!  We made our way down and sat by the creek where Dave stuck his feet in and we chowed on a yummy lunch of cous cous salad.  I am super-proud of us for giving it a go and while we may not have reached the top, we gave it our all and got really far!

We wanted to camp at the same site that evening and were making our way back when we heard bear bangers going off.  And...well, they were close.  We had heard them going off up the valley while we were on the climb and it was sounding like they were chasing the bears up in our direction.  Rather than risk running into Yogi and Boo Boo, we made another tough decision to hike back to the car and find someplace a  little safer to bunk for the night.  We ended up car camping (ugh!) by the Lower Kananaskis lake and while the car camping wasn't great, the view across the lake was absolutely gorgeous.  We sat on the shore and enjoyed some hummus sandwiches as we watched the sun begin to set behind the mountains.  It was a peaceful way to end our trip...

Gorgeous Ending

Dave and I came up with a Top Eleven list for the experience:

  1. Goat!
  2. Kayaks are awesome!
  3. Never underestimate the power of the hiking pole!
  4. Heather is much stronger than Dave ever imagined and Dave is much smarter about safety than Heather.
  5. Listen to bear bangers...don't ignore them, even if your campsite is AWESOME!
  6. Category 1 does not mean the same thing to everyone.  
  7. Neither does "easy scramble."
  8. Kananaskis is beautiful.
  9. Being outside is better than being inside...any day of the week.
  10. If at first you don't succeed...try, try again...or stick with kayaking.
  11. Crawling into your sleeping bag at 8 pm (on the first night) means you still have four hours of sunlight to go.  Nothing like waking up at 11:30 and putting your sunglasses on!
It was a great Canada/Independence Day weekend...hope you had a good one too!