Junior Bear doesn’t necessarily believe the world will end on December 21st.
But he thinks it’s still a good idea to wear a foil hat for protection, just in case.
I’ve been all around this country but I’ve never spent much time in Manitoba.
I dont’ know if I’ve ever spent more than 36 consecutive hours in that province. I’ve always considered Manitoba as a place to drive through, to get to someplace else.
This summer, though, I finally had the chance to see some of it, when I was sent to Winnipeg for a few days.
From the air, the area around Winnipeg is as flat as a table-top.
This was in late June, when the fields were still fresh and green. Within a month, they would be golden brown.
Winnipeg itself is just west of where the forests of Ontario end. West of the city, it’s all prairie. North and east of Winnipeg, the lakes and trees start again.
South of Winnipeg, is North Dakota (which is as exciting as it sounds).
From the hotel, the city itself is surprisingly green with lots of trees.
But I wasn’t very interested in seeing just buildings and streets. Junior Bear and I wanted to go see the back roads and the farms and prairie grass.
We didnt’ have to drive very far to find some empty roads.
Where I’m from in Ontario, it’s all forests and lakes, so I found it a novelty to see the flat landscapes and endless open sky.
One thing to realize, though, is that while this part of the country is sparsely populated, this is NOT wilderness. Far from it.
Pretty much every square foot of land has been cultivated and plowed under to make room for wheat and canola oil.
This was a relatively recent phenomenon. The prairies only started to get settled in the 1870. Before this, this whole area was mostly virgn tall-grass prairie, which went on for hundreds of miles.
I would have loved to have seen that.
More empty roads.
Again, there is no real wilderness in Southern Manitoba. Everything is a grid-square of farm roads, all mapped out, and all easily accessible by car.
The best you can find with the more “remote” roads, is when the pavement turns to gravel.
Today, grain elevators have mostly been phased out. But I managed to find one of the few remaining ones just north of the city.
They’re interesting buildings, because you can see them from far, far away. They’re often the highest object within 20 miles.
Unless you count highway off-ramps, which are the biggest “mountains” between here and the Rockies.
I had to see the Red River Floodway. I flew over it many times, but I had to see it first hand.
This is a ditch that was constructed in the 60′s to divert the Red River around Winnipeg in case of flooding.
The Red River is unique because it starts in the south and flows toward the north. During the spring thaw, the snow-melt down south has nowhere to go, because the river up north is still frozen, creating ice-jams and hence the frequent flooding.
This happens so often, they built the flood way to prevent this. It was finished in 1968 and has been used 20 times and has saved Winnipeg billions in flood damage.
It’s quite an impressive engineering feat, especially when seen form the air. The ditch encircles the whole city.
Here is the town of Landmark, which claims to be “The Centre of Canada”.
So of course, I had to take a picture of Junior Bear.
Hooray! We are about as far away from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as we can get.
And that’s one more interesting location to add to his resume.
Speaking of bodies of water, the amount of significant lakes or swimming holes around Winnipeg is pretty much zero (unless you want to swim with the catfish in the silty brown Red River).
This is a damned huge lake (400 km long). Its on the same order of size as the Great Lakes, and Grand Beach is supposed to be one of the top-rated ones in the world.
Though I could tell by the huge parking lots and number of cottages here, that his place is an absolute ZOO in peak season. Highly-rated beach or not, this isn’t the type of place I would find relaxing.
But when I was there on a weeknight before peak season. So I Junior and I had the entire place pretty much to ourselves.
It was a kind of squally day. No rain, but it made for good photos.
On the way home we managed to see a REAL bear.
Then, we left the trees and water and headed south back to the prairies.
It was the longest day of the year. At sunset (around 10:00 PM), I managed to capture the skyline of Winnipeg against the fields.
Nice visit, but I was glad to get Ontario.
Here’s Junior Bear on top of Le Massif last Easter weekend.
It was an exceptionally warm day. Temperatures were over 20 °C, and people were skiing in shorts (myself included)
Le Massif has the highest vertical drop (2425 ft.) of any Canadian ski hill east of the Rocky Mountain. It’s located about 75 km east of Quebec City.
This is part of the Charlevoix region, an exceptionally beautiful area in Eastern Quebec, where rolling mountains meet the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River.
The scenery is quite stunning. From the top of the hill, you can look northeast and see Ile aux Coudres, about 20 km alway.
The island itself is about 5 x 11 km, to give you an idea of the scale. It can be accessed by ferry-boat, from St. Joseph de-la-Rive.
The ski hill is located right next to the navigation lanes of the St. Lawrence Seaway, so it’s not uncommon to see ships passing back and forth during the day. As far as I know, this is the only ski hill where you can look down on ocean-going vessels thousands of feet below you.
Who knows where these ships are going? As far west as Thunder Bay, Ontario? Or Duluth, Wisconsin?
Anyway, the ski hill ends quite abruptly at the river’s edge, right at the town of Petite Rivière St. Francois.
The river is on the verge of becoming the ocean, at this point. The water brackish…not quite salty, not quite fresh.
And yes, there definitely are tides.
One of the highlights was some guy who apparently had a pet fox who liked to hang out around his house.
The critter didn’t seem to be too concerned over “rush-hour” traffic.
While we were in the area, the Bear and I also did a side-trip to check out Baie St. Paul.
And also Ste. Irénée
PS: In case you haven’t noticed, pretty much every town east of Montreal has “saint” or “sainte” in its name. (Either that, or “Notre-Dame”)
I think it must be mandatory, or something.
It just goes to show how prominent the Catholic Church was, when Quebec was first settled in the 1600-1700′s.
Does a bear shit poop in the woods?
But I do know for sure that he does, in my back yard.
And given the size of the deuce that he left, this time, I can’t really blame it on Junior.
A while ago, I wrote about how Junior Bear has been from Coast to Coast to Coast.
He’s also been at the highest and lowest places in North America. (At least, the places you can get to by car).
Twice, actually. Here are photos from both trips.
The high point is Mount Evans, Colorado, at 14240 feet.
Normally, getting to 14,000 feet without an airplane involves investing a big chunk of time and physical exertion to hike there. While also making sure you have enough food, water, proper clothing and survival gear.
But on Mount Evans, you can leisurely drive to the top in your Honda Civic. Wearing shorts and flip-flops. For crying out loud.
Why on God’s Earth would they build a road there?
Probably because they could.
Only in America.
(But of course, I still had to drive it!)
The Low Point is Death Valley. At 240 feet below sea level.
Like Mt. Evans, there’s nary a tree to be seen. But for different reasons.
The temperature might have something to do with it…
You know when you’re cooking something in your kitchen, and you open the oven door, and there’s a sudden blast of hot dry air in your face?
Death Valley’s like that.
Except it’s not a one-time blast of hot air. It’s continuous.
Lucky, my Honda Civic sat this one out, this time.
My friend was nice enough to lend me his air-conditioned truck.
Otherwise, the Bear would have melted.
What I like about where I live, is that the wilderness is never that far away. Today, I thought I’d go for a ride with Junior Bear and try to spot some moose. You can usually find them in the Provincial Park this time of year, right by the highway. Apparently they like the road salt.
We weren’t disappointed. This evening we got a hat trick: Two bulls, just starting their antlers, and one cow.
These critters weren’t that afraid. They were obviously used to having people gawk at them. They tolerated our presence, provided we kept a respectful distance.
Of course, Junior insisted on having his taken photo with each one.
I’m sure I’m not the first person on the planet to take a photo of a moose with their Teddy Bear.
But I wonder how many people have photos of their Bear with THREE different moose….taken on the SAME evening?
(I think Junior must hold some kind of record, after today.)
The Bear’s been to all three coasts of North America.
First, there’s the Atlantic. (In this case, Ogunquit Beach, Maine). I like to drive there every couple of years or so.
There, there’s the Pacific (just outside San Francisco). This was from a bigger road trip I did in 2001.
Then, as part of the same road trip, I wanted to hit the Arctic Coast. That took a bit more more effort, because you can’t drive there.
Then it was a one hour plane ride to Tuktoyaktuk. But we reached the Arctic Ocean.
Of course, I had to take a dip (for some reason, I always do this in frigid water.)
But actually, it wasn’t as cold as some other swims I’ve taken.
This is a first for me.
I always take photos of the Bear during my travels, but I don’t believe he’s ever been in any photos around my house.
But it’s looking nice an Christmassy outside. (Yes! I said the dreaded C-Word…sue me!) And couldn’t resist taking a photo of Junior Bear Bear on top of my Christmas Polar Bear.
The Polar Bear was a house-warming gift from my siblings when I moved into this house. I had to wait 6 months to use him.
But once the Polar Bear is up, he stays up, all winter. (And, er…well into June, if last year was any indication.)
Though you can see, I’ve already have to dig around him, so he wont’ get buried. (Last year, he was, and he just looked like a glowing lump of snow.) This year, I vow to not let that happen.
The photo doesn’t show it, but it’s quite nippy outside. Going down to minus 25C overnight (that’s minus 13 F for my friends South of the Border). Not totally unheard of for this time of year, but still, that’s quite cold for Mid-December.
Hmmm. Might be a “green wax” ski day tomorrow.
Anyway, both bears seem to be enjoying it.
A few years ago, I was hiking in Arches National Park. After several hours of trudging through the desert, I had finally arrived at my destination, and I wanted to stop and admire the view.
Another middle-aged couple happened to be there: a woman posing, while her husband snapped photos. They appeared to be German. (Europeans really love the American Southwest, a big chunk of the tourists in Utah are either French or German).
As I walked to admire the view, I heard the man abruptly tell me in his thick accent:
“Pleez do not valk there, ve are taking peek-chahs.”
The dude was basically monopolizing the entire scenic lookout, and apparently no one was allowed to walk there until he was done taking photos.
Normally, I wouldn’t mind, and would gladly have walked around…IF someone would have asked me nicely. But Herr Gunther didn’t so much as ask me, but ORDERED ME.
What a dink, I thought. Oh well…
Then another couple came by, somewhat younger, in their 30′s.
“Pleez do not valk there….”, Gunther ordered, again.
At which, the younger gentleman (let’s call him Hans) answered back, in the same German accent:
“Vell, you sir, can GO TO HELL!”
I was shocked, but delighted to hear this. (I wish I had had the fortitude to tell Gunther off!)
“Vell, I am taking peek-chahs, you do not stand in front of my photos”, Gunther answered.
“You do not OWN zee National Park! Ziss is Public Land!”, Hans man replied. Then he pointed to me:
“…undt you do NOT tell ziss Gentleman vere he can valk and vere he can’t valk, he has as much right to be here as YOU DO!”.
“Yah, but you do not interput my photos!”
“Vell, then you WAIT, until other people have gone!”
This exchange went on for several minutes, and kept escalating. (I suspect NATO was soon going to declare DEF-CON IV. )
Finally, Gunther’s beady little eyes bulged with rage, and he started to yell “You….F*#$ OFF”
“No…YOU F@#% OFF!”
At this point, I think the two men were going to come to blows. The women stood by, alarmed.
I think young Hans would have easily taken down Gunther, and Gunther knew this.
Puffing his cheeks, he sarcastically yelled out “Yah…Yah…Ziss is very NICE. VERY GOOT! YAH!”, and stomped off with rage.
(Looking back, I wonder why they argued in English..was this for my benefit, perhaps?)
Anyway, after the dust settled, Hans apologized to me.
He said he was sorry I had to see that, but he was sick and tired of seeing his fellow countrymen boss around other tourists like they owned the place. People like Gunther helped perpetuate the bad German stereotype, he explained. We’re not all like that, most of us are nice.
And he was. We ended up chatting for a good 45 minutes, long after Gunther had stormed off. These were kind folks. I spoke mostly with Hans, as his girlfriend’s English wasn’t very good.
Then it was time for my mandatory Bear Photo. I took Junior out the knapsack, and posed him in front of the sandstone arch, and took a photo.
Of course, I had to explain my whole Bear-Photo ritual to these strangers. Hans thought this was awesome! He and his girlfriend laughed and smiled. (Junior Bear often has this affect on people).
Looking at me, she then shyly whispered something into Hans’ ear.
“My girlfriend vants to know if she can also have a peek-chah vit the BEAH!”
“Of course!” I agreed.
And she seemed genuinely delighted as she posed with Junior. I had made her day.
More shy whispering, and Hans informed me that now she ALSO wanted to get a Bear of her own.
(Yes! Looks like I’ve made another convert!)
Then it was time to part our ways, and we said goodbye.
All in all, it was a good afternoon. I made some temporary friends, had a great hike, and somewhere in a photo album thousand of miles across the Atlantic, Junior’s posing with a nice blonde woman.