Enough about Alberta and North Dakota, except for unsorted tidbits.
Some may prefer satellite radio, or their CD or MP3 collections for long drives, but I still like to reel in radio from distant stations as we pass by. You never know what weird things you’ll hear, for one thing, but it’s also a way of feeling like you’re elsewhere as you hear the first fuzzy signals from a city on your route, still miles ahead.
An inordinate number of US stations were having ’70s flashback weekends: “That ’70s Weekend,” that sort of thing. 107.9 in Madison, Wis., calls itself the Big Cheese. Which made me think of other agri-nicknames for radio stations, such as An Apple a Day (Michigan) or Spud of the Air (Idaho).
Driving between the North and South units of Theodore Roosevelt NP, we picked up an Indian broadcast. Chants. Didn’t listen long enough to hear any kind of station identification, though.
In Canada, there were commercial stations, and very serious CBC stations—One and Two, like the BBC only not as many. Inevitably, even in the broad expanses of Anglophone prairie Canada, there would be a French CBC broadcast too, but I could listen to some of those Quebecois radio-dames for quite a spell.
Roger Maris was from Fargo. He has a handsome monument at the entrance to Lindenwood Park that, among other things, details all the homers of his record 61* season in 1961. I’m glad to report that he hit one on the day I was born.
Bonanzaville, USA, a museum of old structures in West Fargo, has a fine collection of oddities from the past. My favorites were a round bank safe that looked like an enormous diving helmet, and the former Arthur, ND, town hall and cinema, which has secular-themed stained glass windows. One featured a presidential (bearded) Abraham Lincoln dozing in a chair in front of a potbellied stove in winter, complete with a hound dog sleeping at his feet.
The U.S. Interstate system is officially the Eisenhower Interstate System, which is fitting. But as I saw wildflowers in some of the medians, especially the lovely greens and yellows along I-29 in ND, it occurred to me that it ought to be the Ladybird Johnson Median System.
St. Jean Baptiste, a hamlet in southern Manitoba, has a billboard telling all that it’s the Soup Pea Capital of Canada.
Across the length of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the prairie parts of Alberta, the canola crop near the Trans-Canadian Highway was in bloom in early July. Carpets of gold.
Saskatchewan has a really cool flag. It looks more like the flag of a Caribbean nation. I hadn’t paid much attention to it before visiting, but I’ve long liked the BC flag too. Alberta’s looks better on the web site than it does on the flagpole.
“When I see a Tim Hortons, I’m stopping right away,” I told everyone just before we got to Canada. I’d first tried Tim Hortons in Montreal four years ago. It’s a behemoth Canadian coffee and doughnut chain, numbering 2,600 outlets in Canada and about 300 in the US, mostly in northeastern states. All of the Tim Hortons doughnuts I’ve had are good, but its maple varieties are primo. Yuriko says the coffee is too. The first one I saw was in Brandon, Saskatchewan, and we stopped there all right. Visited two others while in country.
It always takes some getting used to, driving in kilometers. But I like the fact that kilometers are shorter than miles, which makes (for example) 200km to the next place not so bad, since it’s really only 120 miles. The conversion to miles isn’t too hard, only half plus ten percent. For a while, I converted kilometers into miles in my head to figure out how long it would take to get to a certain place based on our speed in miles per hour, but then I realized that was an extra step: if you’re going 120 km/hour and its 240 km to go, there’s no need to involve miles to come up with two hours.
Gas averaged roughly C$1.10 per liter at the pump in Canada, except for the gouging at Saskatchewan Crossing, on the Saskatchewan River in Alberta: $1.35 per liter. The first time we bought gas I converted to more familiar terms. Roughly. C$1.10 = US$1. One gallon is just shy of four liters. So it was (gasp) nearly US$4 a gallon. So I quit doing conversions, and just paid.
Smitty’s is a chain of family restaurants north of the border. In our experience with only one of them, in Jasper, it’s a lot like Denny’s. My tolerance for mediocre food was sore tested at Smitty’s. Ugh.
The Bear Claw Bakery in Jasper, on the other hand, is the right choice for Sunday morning pastries when in that town. Mmm.
The Wapiti campground, which I’ve praised elsewhere, had a bonus feature. It was possible to take a walk within the campground near the Athabasca River and completely lose sight of the campsites, tents, RVs, everything manmade.
It’s also possible to find really good Vietnamese food near downtown Calgary, in a district called Chinatown on the maps. I had the quail with fried rice, Yuriko had pho.
Medicine Hat, Alberta, claims the world’s tallest teepee. Of course we had to see that, which was easy, since it’s right next to the Trans-Canadian Highway, and at 215 feet high, impossible to miss. The Eiffel Tower it ain’t, but it is a sizable metal construct shaped like a teepee without the buffalo robe covering: a big teepee skeleton. Each leg was affixed with a round mural depicting idealized First Nation themes, somewhat above eye level. But there was nothing in the way of signage to tell us why it’s in Medicine Hat or who made it.
In North Dakota, signs along US 85 tell you that you’re driving on the CANAM Highway, which I figured out fairly quickly meant the Canadian-American Highway. I was glad to know it—I like named roads, and the more obscure the better. Unlike the big-hairy-deal Route 66, there isn’t much on line about the CANAM Highway. But I did find a pic of the signs, and a brief description: “The CANAM (Canadian/American) highway begins in the deserts of Texas and makes it way north through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan before it ends at the edge of Reindeer Lake. It is a paved highway to La Ronge; gravel north of there.”
July 13 was the first day of the MacKenzie, ND, County Fair, and the citizens of Watford City put on a parade down the town’s main street at noon. Ranger Todd, who shared his knowledge of buffalo with us that morning, also tipped us off about that. We got there just in time for it, about ten minute’s worth of vehicles representing businesses and nonprofits (no marching bands). Riders in the vehicles threw candy as they went by, mostly lollipops and Tootsie roll variations. Lilly and Ann both collected hatfuls, and it made their day.