The Prairies and a taste of ranch life...

Uncle Tim and Aunt Rosie's ranch, Milk River Alberta

Uncle Tim and Aunt Rosie's ranch, Milk River Alberta

  So, packed up and rolling again, and on the way to Regina!!!  Even though anyone that we had spoken to along the way regarding our travel plans had urged us to either put the truck on cruise control and nap through Saskatchewan, or drive through it at night, we were looking forward to the flatness that everyone talks about.  And flat it certainly is!  Beyond flat, there are no trees to obstruct your view and especially in the big, blue, crisp Saskatchewan sky, places that seem within walkable distance, are in reality 100 miles away.  Ontario is so densely treed and the elevation changes are so dramatic, that there is likely no place in the province that could offer a vantage point like the prairies.  I did, however, expect it to be less densely populated.  Certainly the prairies are not heavily populated, but in comparison to being in the vastness of the southern Alberta ranch lands, farms were visible everywhere, and the only stands of trees that could be seen have been planted there to protect the homestead and the farm buildings.

     The easy drive from Neepawa to Regina found us setting up camp again in the early afternoon at King’s Acres Campground just on the outskirts of Regina along the Trans-Canada.  We had booked here for three nights, with the intention of having a bit of a down day one of those days, to catch up on laundry, budget paperwork, blogs and the like.  One of our only three rainy days (the other two had been days on the road driving), was while we were at this campground, so that made for a perfect day to catch up on the domestic side of life…….it would have been a total bummer to do it on a lovely day, so the drizzly day was actually appreciated.  

     We made plans to meet with a friend of ours that Paul used to work with that was originally from Regina and had since moved back to this area.  We drove into Regina that evening and met with Randy and his lovely girlfriend Corrina and had a nice chicken alfredo dinner with a side of fresh cucumbers straight from the garden……Delicious!!  While Corrina had to head to her evening gig, Randy took Paul and I on a driving tour of the Regina area and showed us all kinds of historical sites and points of interest.  I have to say that one of my favourite things so far about meeting up with friends on the road, has been being able to see the cities as something other than just tourists, and getting the tour from people native to the area!!  Of course, the crowning glory of the Regina tour was……wait for it……The Milky Way!!…….an ice cream parlour that has become an institution in Regina, and has been there since 1954!!…and so far the best parlour on the trip!!  There were 50 flavours of ice cream and slushies and all sorts of other frosty, sweet treats.  I had a vanilla/chocolate swirl ice cream in a waffle cone, then dipped in warm chocolate like at DQ…….OMG it was ice cream heaven!!  Then we headed back to Randy’s place to watch the Blue Jays continue their dominating winning streak!!  

    After having seen a little bit of Regina with Randy the day before, we headed in Regina, on yet, another beautiful day to see a little more of the city.  We parked and walked to Victoria Park which is right in the centre of the city, and incidentally there was a jazz festival that weekend that they were setting up for, so we wandered through the park listening to bands do warm up sets and sound checks.  This was only Thursday and the festival started the next day, so mostly it was just the setting up and the preparations, but still neat to wander through.  We headed to the Regina Costco, just to see if it was any better/different/unique to the Costco’s at home………A few of you will understand what I mean when I say that the Regina Costco experience is very much like a Brampton Costco experience, just without the racial diversity!!!  In other words………not going back to Regina Costco!!  

    That evening, we hosted Randy for dinner and were later joined by Corrina at our trailer after she finished work, and we sat and chatted and had cocktails until late into the night, when once again, we bid our friends adieu, hit the sack and prepared to cruise onward out of the Regina area in the morning with our sights set on the ranch in Milk River!!

    Onward to Milk River we headed, and the pancake flat landscape slowly became gentle rolling terrain among carved out coulees. Coming into this area of the country, the view is even more vast than that of the prairies……sure, you can see a far way over the flat prairies, but with little appreciation for the depth of what you’re looking at. Once you start into the rolling precursor to the foothills of the mountains, the little bit of elevation differences makes the ranch lands seem imperceptibly huge.  Distances lose meaning out here and you simply cannot comprehend the amount of space between you and the next thing……which incidentally is super, super far away!!      

    We arrived to the ranch just outside of Milk River, Alberta, in a swirl of dust kicked up by the gravel range roads separating the huge plots of grazing land.  The landscape approaching the ranch is dotted with big, healthy cattle grazing through what is left of the grasslands in the midst of a terrible drought in the area.  Ranchers in the southeast part of Alberta are scrambling to find enough green feed for their animals before winter falls, as most fields are dry, brown and brittle.  Where years before on my uncle’s ranch, the fields and areas surrounding their home were green and lush, and now it looks like a desert, in fact, there are cactuses growing all over the fields, to give an idea of just how dry it is out there.  

    The weather was absolutely beautiful by our standards… was hot and sunny, with not a single cloud in the sky, and over 30 degrees everyday we were there…….which we dared not talk about too much, because at the same time, ranchers all over the area, including my aunt and uncle, were praying for rain everyday.  As ranchers watched what they thought were rain clouds rolling in, turned out to be thick, heavy, yellowed smoke blowing in from the rampant wildfires in the American pacific northwest and neighbouring British Columbia.  The smoke in the sky is really eerie actually, it reminds you of tornado warnings in the summer in Ontario…..still, still air, heavy, yellow sky, oppressive heat……but on the plus side, it was beautiful weather to be in the Milk River outdoor pool!!  

    We were welcomed to the ranch by my Aunt Rosie and Uncle Tim, who are WAY up there on my list of favourite people!!  Paul and I had both been there before, so we knew to expect the warm, hospitable, loving care that we were to receive from my wonderful family while we were there!! We enjoyed a few beers with my Uncle Tim before getting right to work on ranch tasks…..pest control ‘Wild West’ style!  (well, it’s playtime for Paul and I, but helpful to the ranchers!!)  Out we headed with our loaded .22 rifles and a few beers into the old Pathfinder to round up some gophers.  The gophers are literally everywhere, and make huge underground networks of caves under the fields, that eventually cave in, causing big holes throughout the field and causing great injury to cattle that absently step in them and break a limb.

Super hard!

Super hard!

    My cousins Ben and Josh (Tim and Rosie’s sons) were able to make it home to the ranch for a few days while we were there, and we were lucky enough to have a BBQ and campfire with my cousin Justin and his wife Steph and their little brood Grady, Tyler Rose and Rayleigh!!  What an awesome crew!!  Grady was excited to have Paul to play baseball with, and when Paul produced his own ball bat from the camper, he was “In like Flynt” with Grady!! We played our guitars around the fire, at the kids request, and everyone sang Old Crow’s “Wagon Wheel”……apparently the kids had been talking about it since last May when Paul and I were last on the ranch!

    Paul and Tim rode horses and did manly tasks around the farm and Rosie and I and Josh’s girlfriend Corrine went into Cardston to the theatre to watch Mary Poppins be performed, and it was spectacular……I cried….but I have a tendency to do that at live theatre!! It was excellent!!

    We took a trip to a nearby town called Warner to check out a small museum dedicated to the finding of North America’s first discovered dinosaur egg nest site.  Nearby Warner, is Devil’s Coulee, where the fossilized remains of this nest, with eight volleyball sized eggs were found.  If you don’t know, I’m a HUGE geek for dinosaurs, and this little museum was just a little taste of what we would get to see in our upcoming trip to Drumheller, Alberta.

    In all, we spent six days on the ranch and it was fantastic, as always!!  We met up with my cousin Sarah and her husband Ryan and their little ones Davey and Rhett and played a round of golf at the local golf course.  What an awesome little family!  It was fantastic to see them again and catch up! (and meet Davey’s “horse” named ‘Pink Icing’ which is actually a tiny pink tricycle!!)

    On our final night on the ranch, there was a great big meteor shower that we watched shoot hundreds of blazing bits of rock through the atmosphere.  It wastruly nature’s fireworks show, played on the biggest night sky that your eyes can see…..and we watched it all from the outdoor hot tub on the ranch……what a life indeed guys, what a life indeed!!  With the heavens exploding above us, we settled in for our final night with an easy drive to the Calgary area in store for the next day..