Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

Moose Jaw SK…home of Mac, the World’s Largest Moose

You don’t really get a name like “Big Ball of String Girl” if  you aren’t interested in roadside attractions. Also, HAVING the label actually  makes me feel entitled to stop and see every little thing. Like, it’s my  responsibility to stop and see if it’s worth a picture. 

Which is why  between Outlook and Fargo ND we saw the World’s Tallest Wheat, the World’s Largest Moose and the World’s Largest Buffalo.

 In fact, we had to reroute  just to go to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to see the World’s Largest Moose – “Mac”. Mac is 32 feet tall, and is still (at the moment) the Tallest/Largest. (There seems to be something in the works in Sweden, but nothing completed as far as I could confirm…) (Google maps).

I assumed that that was about all Moose Jaw had to offer.

HOWEVER, it turns out that it has a fascinating history  which we didn’t get to explore, so NEXT time (might as well accept the  fact that we will be coming back to Saskatchewan) we come visit our friends in  Outlook, we plan to take a field trip to Moose Jaw. 

The kids in Outlook were very excited to tell us that: There are  underground tunnels in Moose Jaw which you can tour. I don’t know much about it  yet – but if you Google it, one of the tours is called, “Passage to Fortune” which  is about the Chinese immigration, when the Chinese people were forced to live,  work and sleep in the tunnels, 100 or so years ago..and how they made that  lifestyle work for them, and prospered.

The other tour is “The Chicago  Connection” which is all about smuggling during the Prohibition, bootlegging and  gangsters – and specifically their lives in the “underground”…literally…At a  time when Al Capone was running the show in Chicago, it seems that he was  frequenting Moose Jaw SK… It seems that the train ran directly from Moose Jaw,  to Minneapolis, to Chicago. I don’t know anything – that’s just what I’ve  heard…

The quote on Moose Jaw’s tourist website says

“A wise man once said, “Everything a man could possibly want,
he will find it  in Moose Jaw” (Anonymous)”

…. I’m not completely convinced of that, BUT it is far more  interesting than I originally imagined, and I am curious enough to come  back…

Cliffhanger: I think I’ll wait till Wednesday to talk about the Biggest  Stalks of Wheat and the World’s Largest Buffalo…
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Outlook, SK (or as Peter calls it “Look Out!”)

I don’t know how many of you have ever been to Saskatchewan  (again – Sas-KATCH-ewan, not Saska-CHEW-an), but Peter told me years ago that we  would never, ever go. Not even to cross it off “the list”.

This is  because his grandparents were from there, and they had had to drive that long, straight, road, back and forth, back and forth, year after year, to visit. And, while I’m  completely entertained by long straight stretches with nothing in them but grass and the occasional cloud, it’s probably much more boring to 3 little boys, trapped in the car.

But then! Friends moved there – and not to the thriving metropolis of Saskatoon, but to a little town an hour or so south, called Outlook (Google map). So, despite the “never, ever going”, we’ve been there now – let  me see – this time was our third time! (once to Saskatoon, and twice, so far, to  Outlook.)

Outlook is a comfortable, friendly little town, where  they keep a list beside the till at the local grocery store so you can sign up  to attend the latest wedding shower, of the latest someone that everyone knows!

Instead of car dealerships, mainstreet is packed with farm  equipment dealerships, and it’s not unusual to share the road with (or more  accurately – to be run off the road by) massive combiner or the machines that  haul the irrigation sprinklers…

It’s ok, though, to be run off the road in Saskatchewan.  Except for the rolling hills, here and there, it’s completely and totally flat.  (Apparently, the highest point in Saskatchewan is 1467 feet and the lowest is  699 feet…)

THIS is a picture of (or was it from?) one of the highest points in  Saskatchewan.

Really! I’m not kidding!

 

There’s lots to see and do in Outlook and we actually ran  out of time, but one of the things is walking the Skytrail Bridge. It’s an old  railway bridge, converted to a pedestrian bridge, that goes over the South Saskatchewan River, and is over ½ mile long.

The River is a beautiful, lazy (at least at this point)  river, and the weirdest thing about it is that it’s running North – my brain  really wanted it to be running South and had a hard time wrapping itself around the northern flow.

It turns out that “Saskatchewan” is  taken from a Cree word for “Swift Flowing River”… I don’t get it – I guess  there’s probably rapids somewhere…? (Probably someone who’s been there more  than 3 times, or someone who lives there, could answer that…?)

Below the bridge is a nice, full  hook-up campground with a public pool, at the Outlook & District Regional  Park (just in case you decide to visit and don’t know anyone).

And, if all of that doesn’t entice  you, THERE ARE FIREFLIES!!!

(See you Sunday – we’ll be enroute to North Dakota.)  

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Drumheller (Alberta), “The Dinosaur Capital of the World”

    The first time I went to Drumheller (Google map) , I was accompanied by some  friends of friends from Australia.


We visited the Hoo Doos (which, by the way, are  very close to the road – we somehow drove by them and out into the wilderness  for about a ½ hour before we gave up and turned around…well, actually, the  road completely ran out…when we got back to the main road, we realized the Hoo  Doos were right there AND there’s a parking lot… )

The funniest thing about that trip,  though, was that the Australians had never seen gophers before and were much  more intrigued by them! And chased them around, calling “Come hee-ah little  goofah”.

I actually wondered about this “goofah” issue, so I Googled, and it turns out that they are, indeed, actually endemic to North America! Who knew! (For those of you who don’t like them, I said “endemic” not “pandemic”.)

Stop for a little walk across the 117 meter (384 feet) long Rosedale  Suspension Bridge, on the way to the Hoo Doos (or on the way back..)

It was originally built in 1931 to give miners access to the mines on the otherside (before 1931, they were going across the river in slings!) The bridge was apparently rebuilt it 1958 and the side fences were added on, for tourists….

Plan to spend some time in Drumheller  town – you can make a scavenger hunt out of dinosaur  sightings and cute little boutiques and galleries, restaurants and sidewalk cafes are scattered here and there.

Visiting the Royal  Tyrrell Museum is a must – good for kids and adults! And, depending on the time of year  and the age of your child, they can go on dinosaur hikes and look for bones, like a real excavation! 

Many would claim I’ve saved the best for last by now bring up the apparently amazing (and  crazy) golf course – The Dinosaur Trail Golf & Country Club. It’s one of  Peter’s favorites, for scenery and difficulty. You golf up and down the plateaus – and if your ball goes over the edge, it’s lost. (I haven’t golfed it because,  well, I’m terrible. Actually, that’s not true – I’m good for a beginner, who has  a short attention span…)

It’s totally worth the trip. I’ve never had  anyone ever say, “I wish we hadn’t spent a day in Drumheller”. See you Wednesday – on to  Saskatchewan! (By the way – I’ve heard this name butchered on TV a bzillion  times – it isn’t “Saska-CHEW-an” – it’s “Sas-KATCH-ewan”.)

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On the Road, The ACTUAL Big Ball of String Tour

I canNOT BELIEVE I finally am starting the “Big Ball of String” tour!! Back on schedule! (The imaginary schedule I never really established…)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed how  hard it is to find someone with whom you can travel well.. You know, you are  sitting around talking to friends and you all have this big idea “we should do a  road trip together”.  You might start off as friends, and you might even come  home as friends, but maybe you decide to never do anything together again…as  long as you live..like – EVER!!!! And, its not just because something may or may  not have gone wrong. It could be just too much time together, too crowded,  whatever.

We have some of those friends. I  can’t give any examples, because at some point, I’ll be talking about them, and  I don’t want anyone to know…

However, THIS isn’t about those  friends. This is about the friends with whom we DO travel well, and so they will  be in many of my stories!

Shannan and I have been friends  since high school and (except a brief time when we lost each other -mostly due  to the fact that there was no Google search and no e-mail) we’ve been in close  contact and close friends the entire time.

 It works out perfectly that she  married someone who gets along with Peter famously AND sometimes the husbands  get along better than the wives do… Or the wives with the husbands.. In fact,  I think we’ve actually traveled more with Shannan’s husband, Richard, more than  we’ve traveled with Shannan. It’s funny how that all works out.

The first trip we all took together, I announced to Rich that he was the only person in the car with whom I’d never fought… That’s still the case, but that’s almost entirely because of his calm personality…it’s certainly not because of mine!!

The reason I bring Shannan and  Richard up at this time, is because THIS particular trip – the Big Ball of  String Tour – was instituted because we wanted a fun trip for children (they  have two little boys). Also, you may not be surprised to learn that really, I  was just looking for an excuse to do “kid-friendly” things…like visiting the  previously mentioned Toy Train Barn.

Our first leg of the journey took  us from Calgary, through Drumheller AB, and into Saskatchewan. Anyone who’s ever  done this trip knows that most of the pictures look like this:

and  like this

                        

The first time we took that road, I  took about 400 pictures on the way of broken grain silos and another 400 on the  way home of broken fences and leaning electrical poles.

Technically, it takes about 2 hours  to get from Calgary to Drumheller… but look out that you don’t get lost in the wide open spaces – It took my brother all day to get there and back. (He took Range  Road 242 instead of 241… or something…and didn’t see another vehicle or town  for another 2 and a half hours.)

Drumheller is fascinating and  should be it’s own trip.

In fact, I think we’ll talk about that on Sunday.

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What? too late in the season to go camping!?

I really meant to start “The Big Ball of String” tour today, but we decided (semi-spontaneously) to try one more camping weekend before it got too cold…someplace local – within an hour’s drive or so.

Our first pick was Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park.

It’s a pretty little park, right on the Bow River, and beside Carseland Dam and pelican nesting grounds.   It’s packed every long weekend and you have to get there Wednesday or Thursday to get a site. But, since this isn’t a long weekend, we thought it’d probably be easier.


All packed and ready to go, at the very last minute, we checked for campfire bans.  Not only was there a campfire ban for Wyndham-Carseland, but they also had a ban on portable propane firepits (even though these portable campfires are called “Ban Busters”.

Well, it’s the middle of September in Alberta, and, despite the fact that the forecast called for clear and sunny skies, that means that nights will be cold and we wanted a campfire, so at the last second, we were scrambling for a new location.

According to the website www.albertafirebans.com, the entire eastern side of Alberta was under fire ban, so the only option (for places to go within a 1 hour drive) was West, into the mountains…which means higher altitude, colder evenings.

On a random Google search (I love Google), I found six in the general area we wanted to go (now that there was a change of plans) – in the Bragg Creek area, and so contacted the Provincial Park service to confirm 1) if the campground was still open and 2) if there were fire bans.We found 3 that were open still, no fire bans (extreme high alert, but no ban) and narrowed it down by which had playgrounds. (Once again, our travel plans included children – we love it when this happens because it gives us a chance to do things like…bug collecting… and fort designing…)

We chose one by the river so Peter could go fishing and we were set to go!

Well – I have to tell you – I’ve lived in this area now for…well, a LONG time! and have never once been to Elbow Falls (which was just maybe 4 kms from our campsite). It’s ridiculous that I’ve never been there – I’ve even been to the parking lot before, and the little park nearby, for a picnic, and never “hiked” to the Falls.

“Hiked”.  It’s a paved walk (a very picturesque walk, but not at all complicated) with a series of stairs. Daisy & Coco (our mini dachshunds) have 3″ legs, and they managed it. (Well, we had to carry them and lift them from time to time, but rarely.)If you are in the area – GO!

In our campground, we put the trailers end to end on one site (so we would have the kids nearby when it was bedtime – the kids miraculously made their own bedtime around 8:30pm) and used the other site for parking and bocce ball.

Yummy food (Peter’s extra delicious baby back ribs), especially wonderful friends, brilliant late night visits (just like when we were teenagers)… almost no injuries or accidents… and, hopefully, another brand new tradition!!

One funny story I debated whether or not I should include, and I hope I can tell it well…One night, late (the other girls had recently gone to sleep and the boys were all sitting around the campfire), I decided to do a last minute check around the campsite – making sure there was nothing yummy laying around (bear country, high alert).

The site was pretty clear, but there were a few glasses on the table, and one had some liquid in it. I thought it was maybe juice and had a split second moment of wondering if I could just throw the juice on the fire (didn’t want to put the fire out or cause excess smoke) and then decided it’d be ok, since there was only a little bit in the cup….(When I was telling this story to a friend, she already knew how this story went, by this point).

One of the guys was standing over the fire, looking down at it. Fortunately, he’s about 6 feet tall, because when I tossed in the “juice”, a pillar of white yellow flame (the exact diameter of the fire pit) shot straight out of the pit, about 5 feet into the air, with a “HHHWHOOOOOSH”!

It narrowly missed singing his eyebrows! He was a good sport (fortunately, because I don’t know if my apology through my doubled-over-hysterical-laughter-causing-tears sounded sincere – I mean, I really was sincere! I was! but I was so shocked!!) (Also, it helped that there were no injuries… injury would’ve take out the humor aspect, for sure).

He said that 1) it was really interesting to see a fire ball from that angle, and 2) it smelled really good! (and that, it turns out, was because the “juice”, was cherry bourbon…)

(DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME)…(or anywhere, for that matter…)

OK. Wednesday. The actual Big Ball of String Tour. Probably.
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“Three Little Birds, Pitch by my Doorstep”

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, “This is my message to you-ou-ou:”
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing, worry about a thing,
oh! Every little thing gonna be all right. Don’t worry!”
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing” – I won’t worry!
“‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

(~ Bob Marley, Three Little Birds)

I was going to kick off my Biggest Ball of String blog with our road trip, which I called “the Biggest Ball of String roadtrip”, since it’s entire purpose was stopping at quirky roadside attractions.

But first! I have to tell you about our weekend camping trip – September Long Weekend – the last big camping trip of the year.

I should probably clarify who “we”, “us” and “our” is. Usually, it’s my husband, Peter, and me, and, if it’s ground travel, it’ll generally also include our two little mini dachshunds, Daisy and Coco.

We have a tradition – This is our 3rd Annual Last Hurrah with another family, Jessica & Kyle, and their two children and their two dogs, Police Outpost Provincial Park. (Apparently, the original Outpost was set up by the RCMP in 1891 to prevent smuggling, which makes sense, since it’s right on the US/Canada border – walking distance, actually.)

Just on the other side of the border (which is identified by a marker and a warning) is a very picturesque lake/pond called Pike Lake, on the Blackfoot Indian Reserve with Chief Mountain as a backdrop.  (I haven’t been to the Lake, just to be clear!!)

The Campground is a great location! No utilities at the campsites, but there’s water available, and bathrooms (like, upgraded outhouses – no showers).

It’s also walking distance to the Outpost Lake, which is supposed to be good for fishing – Peter complains because it’s now a..I forget what it’s called – but a sort of trophy/competition lake, so you can only keep fish if they are 25″ and you can’t use bait, and I forget all of the restrictions.  We’ve been camping there for years, but these restrictions are new(ish).

Usually, a few more people come along, but there’s not alot of volunteers – we are near Waterton Park, at about 1,390 meters (4,560 ft). It’s CHILLY – at least at night !! (This is the first year it didn’t snow, even though we did have frost a few nights.) 

Anyway, who cares about “the chill” when you have Wonderful Friends, Beautiful Scenery, and DeLISH food!

However, the REAL reason I’ve interrupted my not-yet-established-blogging schedule is because

1) This happened to be a Blue Moon weekend!

and 2) WE FOUND A NEST OF BABY BIRDS IN OUR CAMPSITE!!!!

The first morning, we thought there were two babies, but NO! there were THREE!! “Three little birds…by my doorstep!!”

767 pictures later (and, by the way, I was a good, safe distance away – they just happened to be eye level and nothing blocking me from this one angle!), I had some GREAT PICTURES!!

 I should probably mention: they are Cedar Waxwings – so pretty! That’s how we discovered the nest – staring at the beautiful parents flying around! (We would’ve noticed sooner or later, anyway, with all the peeping and fluttering!)We were there for 5 1/2 days, and we watched them go from eyes closed and just about see-through faces, to flexing their wings and trying to fly! I wished we could’ve stayed a day or two longer…

We had other experiences that made a memorable weekend! 
  • Creeping Coyotes
  • Stampeding Cattle
  • a giant Woody Woodpecker (well, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker, which looks JUST like Woody Woodpecker, BUT apparently Woody was actually an Acorn Woodpecker…which he doesn’t look just like…weird)
  • a tiny chipmunk parade
  • All we could possible eat crab (was so good, I have to mention it twice)
  • Campfire margaritas
  • Fishing
  • Sauerkraut Perogies (my favorite are cheddar cheese and potato) with Peter’s Amazing Perogy Gravy, and last, but not least:
  • a GREAT visit with WONDERFUL FRIENDS !

OK! Back on my not-yet-established-track on Sunday (but later in the day :D) !

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Welcome to the Biggest Ball of String Tour

I’m calling this “the Big Ball of  String Tour” because – well, I like roadside attractions and other gimmicks. My  sister once sent me a postcard from The Big Rock Candy Mountains, and wrote on  the back: “Because you are the Big Ball of String Girl.”

It’s true. I am. Ironically, I  haven’t seen the Biggest Ball of String, or Twine, or Rope – whatever it is that  they claim, BUT I do try to find the quirkiest things to see along the route on  which I’m already travelling. I will detour off the beaten path, if the  attraction can draw me.

Like, for example: We went almost  an hour out of the way, over bumpy roads, following a horse drawn carriage and a  truck carrying hay (mostly because we were lost), just to see the Toy Train Barn  in Argyle, Wisconsin. It was totally worth it.

In fact… I think, depending on  the time you’ve allowed yourself, what actually interests you personally, and  how open you are to seeing quirky sights which may or may not interest you once  you arrive, it’s always worth it. I mean, the worst thing that’ll happen is that  you aren’t completely fascinated by the sight! But, even then, you probably took  an interesting road and maybe had an interesting conversation along the  way.

On our way to the Toy Train Barn,  we passed a little Swiss Miss, out in the field, in her big “Little House on the  Prairie” blue dress, and wearing her milk maid bonnet. We couldn’t have planned  that! (I wasn’t prepared and didn’t take a picture.)

Our personal goal is to go  someplace new every year. I mean, we do have our favorites that we revisit on a  regular basis (Hawaii), but rather than repeating the same destinations over and  over, we decided to make it a goal to go to every State in the U.S. and every  Province & Territory in Canada (except Nunavut, because 1) it wasn’t a  territory when we started this venture and 2) I can’t figure out how to get  there…)

And, if we are repeating a  destination (Hawaii), we add a new sight we haven’t seen or  experienced.

We also end up in the same places  repeatedly (Montana), because, well – most importantly, we have family there,  and also, Montana is pretty much enroute to any new location.

Obviously, I haven’t been to every  single roadside attraction – either because of lack of time, lack of knowledge  or lack of interest. However, if you notice that I’ve missed something, you can  either contact me and let me know – I will put it on the itinerary for next  time, or… write your own book/blog (send me a link, if you do write your own!  I’d love to read it!)

Here’s what I think is going to  happen: As we travel, I hope to post photos (with the mini story, if there is  one) every day, or there might be gaps, depending upon wi-fi access, how tired I  am, or if anything happens that interest me (which is likely – there are a lot  of things I find interesting…) When we’re NOT travelling, I plan to post on  Sundays and Wednesdays, and share previous trip experiences.

I love feedback – even if it’s:

“you  take too many pictures, and nobody cares where John Hancock lived”,

or “seriously!? you drove that far just to see a giant eyeball?”

(…which, I  don’t know how anyone could think that, but there might be some, and I’m willing  to hear it.)

See you  Wednesday

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