Thursday, August 10, 2023. Being biologists, Mark and I are always curious about the wildlife where we travel. Art told us there are no turtles, snakes, or frogs this far north. The wife of one of the owners said that there are bats in the roofs of some of the cabins. We’d seen a porcupine, a grouse and a few birds, but we wondered if there were any mice or voles. So–as we have done on many other trips–Mark and I set out a live trap, put a peanut inside, and left it overnight behind the cabin next to ours.
This a meadow vole that we caught in our live trap. Mark lowered the trap to the ground, opened the door, and the little fella sat there for a second to get its bearings, before scampering off, as shown in this video.
We have meadow voles in Michigan and have caught and released many over the years. Every one of them oozes cuteness.
This is a photo from the video. Note that the meadow vole really wasn’t into the peanut.
We weren’t told much about how the morning was supposed to work, just that at some point a plane would arrive to pick us up and take us back to Fort McMurray. Because we didn’t know much, Arthur lugged all of our luggage to a staging area just outside the lodge. About an hour later, the young man who’d watched me lug my own luggage previously offered to put our luggage on a gator. I told him our luggage was already where it needed to be.
At the cabin, we reviewed the instructions on tipping, put money in envelopes for some and hand delivered tips for others. Then I took a walk, shooting photos, such as this Bebb’s willow plant.
I picked some wild blueberries growing right next to our cabin, and gave them to the guys to feed to one of the camp dogs. I photographed my favorite building, the one above, next to the laundry because it slopes so much to the left.
My walk took me to the other side of the guest cabins and lodge where the guides tie up the boats for the night.
Up a small hill about a football field away, were the platform cabins we had considered using instead of cabins, because the price of platform tents was about half the cost of cabins. Not only was the walk a bit of a hike after a long day’s fishing, though, we would have had to bring in and cook our own food. As I walked by, I was soooo glad we didn’t do that.
The path recommended by Brandon, the co-owner, took me to the top of a hill overlooking the lake. Here, the remains of the original owner and founder of Cree Lake Lodge is buried.
This shows an area with a couple of blueberries and a lot of reindeer moss, which exists in large masses. To the right, a path that seemed rather well worn, though at a top of a hill that seemed seldom traveled.
The float plane flew over, I jogged down the hill to the lodge and used the bathroom one more time. Before we jumped into the float plane, the little boy who’d shown me the porcupine said to me, “Do you remember when we saw the porcupine together?” I told him it was one of the highlights of my trip. And I thanked him.
We left the lodge around 9:30 and flew back over a lot of water and a lot of open land. This scene intrigued me because there were no homes or buildings anywhere, so I guessed it to be a caribou path, which took travelers from one watering hole to the next.
Once we landed, we paid our ~$70 parking fee, loaded up all our stuff, had a quick lunch, dropped Arthur off at the Radisson (as he was to fly home to LA the next day), and hit the road. We took highway 63 to highway 2 to highway 1.
The weather was partly cloudy and blustery all day. We did a selfie at a rest area in Wandering River, Alberta, and took a photo of a Ukranian church, in Lamont, Alberta. It was 3:46 p.m.
By 6:18 the sky had turned to one that made me think about tornados, Dorothy and Toto. When I looked around us, there was no place to hide, so it was a bit unnerving. Luckily, we ended up driving around it somehow, and by the time we got to the Ramada Wyndam in Brooks, Alberta for the night, the sky was clear again. We ate at a nearby bar-b-que joint and went to bed.
Friday, August 11, 2023. We took off at 7 a.m. and by 9:30 were in Coutts, Alberta at the crossing into Sweet Grass, Montana. There were two lanes. I had a fifty-fifty chance of picking the right lane. I did pick the right lane (over the left), but it was the wrong lane. Apparently there was a sign that said the right lane was for Nexus holders only, but none of us saw it. When the border guard asked us for proof that we were Nexus carriers we all shrugged and said we had no idea what he was talking about. He said Nexus is like pre-check with TSA, and you get a card and can get across the US-Canada borders quickly. He also said that in the future if we went into the Nexus line without a Nexus card, we’d be invited to go inside to answer a series of questions and be delayed for a long time. I frowned, nodded, looked perplexed, kept myself from getting peeved, wondered why it was so hard to get back into my own country, and why he couldn’t be friendly to old people like me. He waved us in and said simply, “go on.”
This is what most of the day looked like.
We drove on, happy to be in the US. We passed a lot of open land and saw only a couple of antelope, which I pulled off to photograph from far, far away. I snapped the above photo of the long train, above, in honor of my mom who with my dad, took me, my brother and sister out west in the 1970s and 1980s on long trips. She always loved the long, long trains.
We ate at a restaurant we could walk to–JR Beers–which was a bit loud but had tasty food and cold beer. As we walked back through the lobby, Sandra reminded us that we still had time to go skinny dipping in the pool, sending us off to bed with a good laugh.
Throughout the entire day, I had seen one hawk I couldn’t stop to photograph, a young, smushed prairie dog at a rest area, and a flock of birds I couldn’t identify as I w)as driving by (and they were flying in the opposite direction. In Culbertson, MT we stopped for a break and I came out to find this blue mud dauber on one of the truck tires. I was thrilled to interact with wildlife.
We stopped for the night in Minot, ND at the Country Inn & Suites. As with our adventure on the way out, Mark (or Arthur on the way out) made reservations from the road. We were super happy to be in Minot, and super happy to meet Sandra Gilbert, who had a great sense of humor and an attitude that made her worth her weight in gold. Jack wanted a single room with a king-sized bed; all they had was a single room with a queen-sized bed and it was a handicap room. Mark told Sandra Jack clearly needed a handicap room. She agreed. The idea of skinny dipping in the pool came up, and soon we had several people in the lobby–waiting in line for rooms–all laughing.
Saturday, August 12, 2023. Sandra was at her desk again and helping with breakfast in the morning. We thanked her for taking great care of us. We headed south on 83 towards I94. At our first rest area, I took a photo of a bird from afar…which turned out just to be a young robin, which was a reminder of home. At a busier rest area in Silver Creek near the Twin Cities, I photographed this toad, which was hunkered down next to a trash can that dozens of people walked by.
We got snaggled up a little bit in Minnesota, enough to make it seem impossible to make it home that day. I gave in by Tomah, Wisconsin. We found a motel and had dinner outside at the Taphouse Twenty, a brewery and restaurant. We wrapped it up by 7 p.m.
Sunday, August 13, 2023. Interstate 94 was the highway Mark wanted us to avoid on the way out, opting instead to go south more onto 80/90. Mapquest, though, said I94 was the fastest route home. Turns out I’m with Mark in saying that it was not an enjoyable drive–there were lots more cars than any other road we’d been on, too many old fashioned opportunities to hand someone a few dollars or get in a lane that took only Visa or debit cards. One guy in the right lane, above, backed up traffic for over five minutes because he couldn’t get his card to work, and the person in the booth in our lane wouldn’t get out and help him.
Several long hours later, we dropped Jack off with a hug, drove to the spa to pick up Winston and Snickers, and slept the rest of the afternoon.
It would be weeks before I could sort through photos, make a photo book for Mark’s birthday the next month, make a collage for Jack’s birthday the next month, and post this online. By then I’d had time to reflect on the trip and the great memories we’d had together. And I felt blessed for sure.
But would I drive to Fort McMurray again? No. But there are parts of Montana I’d definitely like to see again. And many more fish yet to catch in northern Canada.