We hit the road Friday when Eric finished work. Our first stop was a UNESCO world heritage site; Dinosaur Park, AB. We went for an evening hike thought the fossil laden hoodoos and canyons.
The landscape is like that of another planet. Unusual plants and animals including rattlesnake, bull snake and a variety of flowering cacti.
We hiked up and down the hills through the crevices as the bright red sun began to set on the cottonwood forest in the distance.
After that, the kids fell asleep in the back and we drove on. The next day was the city of Regina. We headed to the Royal Saskatchewan museum where we learned about the natural history and culture of the province.We then headed to Grasslands national park for a hike and a picnic. In Saskatchewan there is more than meets the eye. It isn’t merely a flat prairie land but a place that is rich in bio-diversity and gentle beauty. I can also say now after being here several times that the people are so kind. We are always pleasantly surprised at how people go out of their way to help others and show kindness, everywhere we go in Saskatchewan.
A lot of people are hesitant to travel with children especially those who are very young. We find that road tripping is a great solution to all of the common concerns that most parents have. It is cost effective, and you can stop whenever necessary for washroom breaks, breastfeeding, diapers, picnics etc.
It also provides a sense of freedom. If you see a great lake the kids want to dive into, or a hiking trail, you don’t need to rearrange a firm itinerary, you just pull over. We have four soon to be five children, and they all travel comfortably in the van.
Another benefit is that seeing a destination point emerge puts it into context. When the kids watch the landscape change, learn about the history and culture of the communities along the way, it’s easier for them to understand how it developed and exists as it does today. The waves of immigrants from different parts of the world at different times, the development of the railroad, industry booms and busts – these things are all discussed on the road. They see the remnants of times that came and went. It’s a much richer experience than simply reading about it in a textbook.
As wonderful as Saskatchewan was, it was time to move on. We were Manitoba bound!
Courtenay – Chemainus – Sooke – Botanical Beach – Vancouver
We left Ucluelet and headed for Courtenay on the east coast of Vancouver Island. We stopped along the way for a walk through Cathedral park and then in Qualicum beach for fresh clams and oysters.
We stayed in Sooke which is a new favourite place on earth for me personally, and headed to Botanical beach to do some exploring and try to spot the Orcas. It was a misty grey day and we lucked out in finding heaps of colourful sea glass and sea creatures.
Our time in Courtenay was spent with family, sharing meals and spending days on Miracle beach and Saretoga beach. We visited Eric’s uncle’s horses which was a great treat for the kids.
Hana also attended a showing of Les Miserables at the Chemainus theatre which was a huge highlight for her.
Once back on the mainland we spent some time in Vancouver, going to Granville island and the Vancouver aquarium. It was hard to leave the close proximity to the ocean behind, but we knew that the time had come to begin our journey east.
West coast Vancouver Island B.C. is paradise. Mountains, ocean beaches and lush old growth rain forests.
If you are a homeschooler, then you appreciate the level of biodiversity and the outdoor classroom potential right off the bat. Armoured with field guides of all kinds, we were set for the west coast.
Time seems to slow right down from the moment you step off of the ferry. People move at what I later learned was ‘island time’, and it suits me very well. I love the ocean, the mountains and the forests, and if I were to create a perfect place on earth, it would be Vancouver Island.
We hit all of the major beaches – Long beach, China Beach, Chesterman and Wickanninnish. We hiked the major trails and stood in awe at the feet of the towering giants that rule the forest there. We saw whales and sea lions.
The kids loved the feeling of the icy salty sea, and tried to catch the biggest wave to ride back into the shore on. We went whale watching with a captain who told us historical tales of ship wrecks and the previous island inhabitants, and where their villages once could be found. We explored Tofino, and some of us took a surfing lesson.
When we left Kleanza Creek Provincial Park, we headed to Prince George and booked into the Treasure Cove casino hotel. We had a nice dinner, cleaned up and enjoyed the pool and soft beds. It was nice after all of the tenting.
After Prince George we headed to Lillooet and almost had dinner but bailed. We had gone into a restaurant where we received no service, and then after leaving were told outside by a previous customer that we were lucky to have not eaten there. We stopped at Joffre Lake to get refreshed, and then got back on the road and headed to Whistler, and bailed again. It was too “Banff-y”, and we couldn’t find something casual and authentic. So we took the sea to sky highway through Pemberton and bailed again. The only places we could find were closed or full. Driving through Pemberton was mostly spent searching for and then finally spotting the wild horses, drinking out of the creek. Finally, we arrived in Squamish and found the Watershed. Well worth the wait.
It is a bar and grill tucked away on the water, where you can enjoy a loud happy atmosphere and excellent pub food. More than all of that – the waterfront, the music and yummy food – was the amazing service. Cheerful laid back and intuitive to kids and their sometimes irrational needs. It was exactly what we needed for a vehicle full of very hungry children.
After dinner we headed to Porteau Cove. We arrived in the dark, and had to park and walk in with the tent, to a combination of people trying to sleep, and people trying to share the communal fire pits beside them. We carefully set up the tent while trying to keep the kids from disturbing the neighbours, got in and passed out. The next morning we caught the ferry at Tsawwassen, and had fresh local fruit for breakfast. The ferry was great. We explored the boat and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
When we arrived in Victoria, we headed over to American Apparrel to get some clean clothes for the kiddos. We had hardly packed at all with this plan in mind; to buy their summer clothes at American Apparel. Victoria is absolutely gorgeous; it is bright and colourful and it feels fresh. We drove through Nanaimo and headed to “Goats on the Roof” Market to meet Eric’s parents who had flown in from Ottawa to Nanaimo, and stock up on food for the summer house. We got local fruit and vegetables, eggs, breads, cheese and meat.
From there we headed straight to Ucluelet.
Because the sun never went down, The fourth day of our trip went on forever. The earliest morning hours were spent driving the Dempster highway (last post), and then we headed into Dawson city to pan for gold. We drove up a treaturous, one way logging road on a cliff in the city of Whitehorse. There was a white tent pitched with rubber boots inside, and a log cabin with a weighing scale and some historical artifacts on display.The staff was amazing. They ran demonstrations and were very hands on and helpful with the children. They all found gold, and it was put into separate viles for them to bring home.
From here we headed back towards Whitehorse and stopped in the Takhini hot springs one last time. Then on to to Kluane national park.
When we got there the dim midnight light of summer turned everything a brilliant green. It had become early morning and the kids were all comfortably asleep in the van, so we decided to shut our own eyes for a few hours. We woke and started a fire for breakfast. The kids headed into the woods to build a fort, and Eric and I re-organized our stuff – a tote of clothes, a tote of food, a jug of water, a tent and our sleeping bags.The park was nearly empty but there were a couple of men on motorcycles up from the U.S., who came to inform us that they feared their gas had been syphoned in the middle of the night. It turned out one of their gas gages was broken.We went for a nice hike down to the lake and spent the morning there playing and exploring. The kids were enthralled in a game of make believe that they had to build a raft out of drift wood and sail across the lake to safety. River and I were mesmerized by the brilliant emerald colour of the water.
Soon it was time to head back to Whitehorse. We ate at the Klondike Rib & Salmon Barbecue. It was one of the best dining experiences of our lives. The atmosphere was warm and comforting. customers came up to the table to say hello or comment on the good behaviour of the kids. The service was wonderful. Hana was chilly so the waitress brought over a blanket and cozied her up. To top it off, the food was out of this world. We decided to order all of the recommendations and share – Elk Stroganoff, Reindeer stew, Ribs & Salmon, Arctic Char & chips, Bison w Wildberry reduction.
After dinner it was time to head south. First we stopped at the river and let the kids play at the playground. We had a surprise for Hana’s upcoming birthday – she had wanted hazel wood necklaces from Taiga naturals (in Whitehorse) for her and her brothers for months, so we had them custom made under the guise of auto repair. We then wrapped them in a newspaper, and asked her to read us an article while we had cupcakes for dessert. Somehow we pulled it off – she had no idea, and was very happy.
It was raining while we headed towards the Stewart Cassier. We drove down it until we could drive no more. We pulled over beside a nice little lake, and fell asleep to the sound of the rain outside.
On the fourth day of our Road trip we woke at 4am in a tent in Tombstone territorial park Yukon to the blazing sun. Although it was bright and sunny it was very cold. Eric started a fire as I began to transport the children back into the warmth of van. They ate hot beans while we took down the tent and packed it in. Moments later they were all fast asleep again.
It was Just the two of us on the tundra, with a pack of sleeping little ones in the back. The sun danced all over the landscape, and it was so beautiful that I was eventually overcome with emotion. Being that alone does something to you, it’s sort of like taking a giant breath out after holding it in for a long time. There was no one anywhere forever, and it was exhilarating and comforting at the same time. We drove through the mountains, watching for wild horses as the signs cautioned us to do. Sometimes we were silent, other times we talked about our hopes and dreams, our plans and our fears. It was one of those moments where we looked and really saw each other, like the focusing of a camera lens.
I had decided that I wanted the children to get out onto the tundra, and feel the treeless ground under their feet. There was a colourful mosaic of moss flowers and lichen, and it seemed to me that a picnic on the tundra would be great for lunch. We pulled over, put on sweaters and got out. Everyone went to run – but then a strange thing happened. We sunk.
The tundra is not hard like it seems, it is very lumpy and in the warmer weather it is soft and squidgey. The other reason we could not picnic here was that there were birds in the ground. Birds, living under our feet were flying out as we tried to walk. Everyone was falling over, getting their feet stuck and dodging underground bird (caves?), so we just stood still for awhile, enjoying the ultimate peacefulness. The kids observed the different flowers and mosses, and crept up on some curious ground birds. Soon enough we had to continue our journey because of the wind and cold. We drove on towards the northern most part of the accessible world, and then we got nervous.
What if it rained again? Too much rain and the road would be washed out and we would be stranded. We decided that we would only drive so far and then turn around and head to Dawson city. Tuktoyuktuk was inaccessible to us anyway, so we would have to come back. As responsible decision as it was, it left us with a pang of regret. It quickly dissipated when we returned to the land of humans, and discovered the giant nail that was in our tire, slowly leaking air.