Wendy and I plan to spend much of the day here inside the park. There is a herd of bison we plan to observe, the aforementioned prairie grassland, Grey Owl's cabin (Archibald Belaney or Grey Owl, one of Canada's original conservationists, spent six months in this park working to re-establish beaver colonies) and of course Wasagaming. We pack up early and say goodbye to our little cabin.
We drive back to the park entrance and pay our entrance fee. Once we get hold of a park map, we decide to opt out of hiking to Grey Owl's cabin (18km return) in favour of seeing the bison and prairie grassland.
It says that the drive to the Lake Audy Bison Enclosure is 39km, beginning with a trek North on Hwy 10 which goes right through the park. Immediately we see a black bear (who looks to be the size of a yearling) snuffling around off the side of the road. We drive approximately 15km before seeing signs for the Lake Audy road.
The next 23 km are on a slender dirt road with a posted speed of 60km/h. Ha…there is no way the Civic will survive driving sixty on this rutted old road. Forty is the fastest we are ever able to go and even then, the Honda groans and rattles it's displeasure. Luckily the trip is through the bush and we are delighted to see a mixture of bears, deer, vultures and even a pocket gopher (who has to be coaxed off the road)
The Bison enclosure covers a lot of acreage and driving slowly around it we really don't expect to see much as bison (like me) strongly dislike the midday sun and are probably holed up under some shady bush. After driving for a bit, we stumble upon the Bison Exhibit which consists of a stand (from which to view the herd) and a washroom.
The entrance to the exhibit has a heavy barred gate in front of it and this leads us to believe that the bison themselves enjoy using the viewing stand. In fact the entire area around the building is covered in telltale signs of bison activity…hoofprints, wallows and meadow muffins.
Entering, we meet a family visiting from Toronto. They are a little disappointed that the bison are hidden but take some joy in hearing Wendy and I describe how the bison live and some of the reasons for their near extinction. We tell them that a really good place to see bison (live and up close) is at Mountsberg Conservation (Campbellville, ON) in the Fall and we tell them to ask for a Bison Ride with Bob or Bill (because Bill and Bob really do know bison).
The Exhibit overlooks the rough fescue grassland and looking out, it is really easy to imagine a time in our prehistory when millions of bison roamed the plains, in perfect harmony with their environment. Wendy and I agree that Brian (our brother from a Scottish mother) would have loved to have seen this (and we would have have loved to share it with him)
Leaving the exhibit, we drive slowly around the enclosure, enjoying the colourful wildflowers that also make their home on the grassland. As we swing leisurely around the southern portion we spot first one, then another very large male bison lying amidst the grass. These guys are really big and their huge shaggy heads remind us very much of 'Steve' (Mountsberg's dominant bull)…and of course an RCMP Regimental Badge. The second one is lying in a wallow (probably of his own making) and although he is quite aware of us, he is much too comfortable to care.
All too soon, we run out of enclosure, bid goodbye to the bison and are immediately directed back onto the 23km dirt road from hell.
Back in Wasagaming, we do a bit of window shopping at the various stores, grab a leisurely bite at an outdoor restaurant and try to decide where to go next.
We're close enough to the Saskatchewan border and we aren't sure whether to head Northwest towards Saskatoon, Edmonton, Elk Island National Park and Grand Prairie Alberta (to see an old friend…Kevin 'K9' Orlowski) or head Southwest towards Regina, Calgary, Drumheller and 'Head Smashed In' Alberta to see the badlands, dinosaur bones and a 6,000 year old buffalo jump. Finally we decide that we should just hit the road and see where it takes us.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Riding Mountain and would recommend it wholeheartedly to any families who might wish to spend a week hiking, swimming, boating, bison watching or taking in a movie at the Park Theatre. Go to http://discoverclearlake.com/ for every possible detail.
Wendy drives the next leg of our journey, which takes us into Russell MB. Just 15km from the Saskatchewan border, Russell is a sweet little town. We stop at the local co-op to gas up and receive the most outstanding service since the Texaco man turned in his star (You know…'You can trust your car to the man who wears the star…' Ah forget it, you're probably too young to get the reference). The attendant (besides getting every bug off of our winshield) alerts us to the fact that the storm chasers are out near Yorkton SK hunting down a tornado that might be heading our way. It's decided…we're holing up in Russell to ride it out.
We find a fantastic hotel just outside of town (The Russell Inn Hotel and Conference Centre, at the junction of Hwy. 16 & Hwy. 83) and our beautifully appointed room is a mere $88.00. Perfect.
We've been without cell service for the better part of two days but as we enter our room it comes back on just long enough to call 'K9' in grand Prairie. He will be in Vancouver in August and, since we should be in BC by then (LOL), we decide that we will meet him there for a visit.
No sooner are we off the line with Kevin, then we receive a notification that we were getting a Skype call from another brother (Caleb Musgrave from Canadian Bushcraft) so we drop our bags and spend the next twenty minutes speaking with Caleb and two other bushcraft instructors about our trip. Mostly we listened as these three guys were so funny and interesting. Then, as quickly as our service had returned, it (and Caleb) were gone…replaced with the roaring winds and hard rain of a prairie storm.
Once again we have ended up where the winds have lifted us…and it's good. Just going with the flow. No home, no destination and no stress. We'll see you all tomorrow when we decide what in the world we are going to do next. Goodnight John Boy
Moose and Wendle