Scenes from Manitoba

My wife shows Arabian horses as her main hobby, and sometimes her hobby allows us to have some pretty cool travel adventures. In August we were able to attend the Canadian National Arabian Horse Championship Show in Brandon, Manitoba. It is 1200 miles from our place in Utah to Brandon, Manitoba, so that’s quite a road trip. This was our fourth time attending that show, and I thought I would document our adventures from the trip.

There are several potential routes to take from the Salt Lake City area to Brandon, but the fastest is north up through Idaho where we turn generally east at Idaho Falls. From Idaho Falls we travel east on US 20 until we hit West Yellowstone, Montana. In West Yellowstone we turned north again and follow the highway until we get to Bozeman, Montana. We overnighted there on the first leg of our trip.

As many of you may know the Western United States has had a horrible fire season this past summer. It was so dark when we got to West Yellowstone around 4 PM that it looked like sundown. You can see from the photo that the sky is just orange with smoke.

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West Yellowstone, MT looking westward at about 4 pm.  The odd color is from the massive forest fires.  The black Ram 2500 truck is our vehicle.

When we arrived in Bozeman for dinner that evening, the smoke was just as bad. However, it made some awesome sunset pictures. There’s a little country café just west of Bozeman known as the Kountry Korner Café. This is a family owned restaurant, and it appears to be a favorite of the locals. We have eaten one meal here every time we have gone to the Canadian horse show. The food is excellent and the service is very friendly. The evening that we arrived the restaurant was having a special on local trout. My wife and I both ordered two different versions of the trout, and I have to say it was probably the best trout I’ve ever had in my life. Honestly, I have been to some really high-priced seafood restaurants where the food has been much less good at four times the price. So if you ever pass through this area and you want some good home cooking, don’t miss a stop at the Kountry Korner Café.

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This café just west of Bozeman, MT has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere.  Again, you can see the smoke from the fires.

From Bozeman we catch Interstate 90 heading east, and then we transition to Interstate 94 just east of Billings, Montana. I-94 takes a generally northeastern route, and we stay on that road until Glendive, Montana. In Glendive we get off the interstate and head north along the Yellowstone River. We eventually cross the river and head eastward into North Dakota. Our second stop on the journey was in Williston, North Dakota which is now the heart of northern oil country. This is farm country too, and for the first time we were now in the Midwest — the breadbasket of North America. These days the farm country is also dotted with oil wells.

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Hill country in eastern Montana
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We are finally out of the smoke.
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Sidney, MT – the last town before crossing into North Dakota

In Williston we catch US 2 which heads east into the heart of North Dakota. This is the northernmost US Highway in the states. There are several routes to take to get into Canada from here, and this year we decided to get off the highway west of Minot, North Dakota and from there headed north up into the Western edge of Manitoba. We stopped for lunch in a little farming community known as Mohall, North Dakota, and here we stepped back in time about 50 years. It was Sunday, so we couldn’t be too picky on finding a place to eat and pulled into the first restaurant that we saw open. It was a little family diner that had probably been there for 70 years or so. The people who ran the place were wonderful and just told us to sit down wherever we liked. We had a nice sandwich and a couple of glasses of iced tea, and the price was unbelievably low. The whole town seems like it was stuck in the 1960s or early 1970s, but in a good way. Life is quite a bit slower here, and everyone seems like they have time to sit around and chat with their friends and neighbors. What a contrast from the hustle and bustle of the big metropolitan area in which we live.

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Looking westward on US 2 in western North Dakota
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Downtown Mohall, ND.  This is small town USA.

Manitoba looks a lot like North Dakota except that as we get a little farther north we begin to see more wooded areas where the land had not been cleared for farming. And there are lakes everywhere. I don’t think you can drive a mile or two without seeing a small lake. Rural Canada in the midwest is about as laid-back a place as anyone can find. The people are genuine, and everyone seems pretty friendly and eager to chat. There is a politeness in this part of the world which is completely gone from our world. I think the reason we’re having so many problems in our country today is because we have lost the basic politeness and courtesy which is still prevalent in Canada. There is a kindness and gentleness to the people here, and everyone seems happy. If you’re looking for big, wide open spaces with never-ending skies and the cleanest air one can imagine, the northern midwest part of North America is the place to be.

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This is a lake in northern North Dakota.  We saw these pelicans and other waterfowl while we were crossing a bridge over the lake.

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The pelicans were really quite beautiful.
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I don’t know what this is, but perhaps a type of goose?
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The birds didn’t seem to mind us at all.
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Melita, Manitoba – the first Canadian town we hit north of the border.

Sheri, my wife, has been showing horses for many years, and I get a little antsy if I sit around the horse shows too long. I’ve always wanted to do some exploring as of course we don’t get to this part of the country very frequently. Manitoba is enormous; the province is only slightly smaller than Texas, the second biggest state in the United States. It spans way over 1000 miles to the north ending in Hudson Bay. In fact, the first time we came here in 2011 I was asking a waitress at a restaurant we in how long it might take to drive up to see the polar bears in Churchill. She just about fell over she was laughing so hard. In her politest Canadian she gently told me that Churchill was well over 1000 miles, and one cannot drive there as there are no roads that go all the way. Well, that blew those plans, and so I didn’t ask about Churchill this trip.

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This is an old exhibition hall on the fairgrounds where the horse show in Brandon, Manitoba.
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This building was built in 1913, and first used that year in a provincial fair.

I’ve always figured locals are a great source of information when you’re looking for a little bit of adventure, so I chatted quite a bit with the waitresses as they know the area and talk to so many people. They know what’s going on and what’s good and what’s bad. My first intent was to head over to Lake Manitoba which is the second-largest lake in the province and is nearly the size of some of our smaller Great Lakes. I had also inquired about a national park that was north of Brandon known as Riding Mountain National Park. (There’s a great little pub on the grounds of the horse show, and this is my source for my travel information. The pub is called Tavern United, and they have really great beer, wonderful food and lots of friendly waitresses.) After some discussion back and forth, the recommendation was that Riding Mountain Park would be the better place to go as it had everything from bison to lakes and marshes to hills and lots of wonderful hiking trails.

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Looking west on Manitoba 10 heading north out of Brandon.
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Rolling hills along Manitoba 10 well north of Brandon.

I thought the drive north from Brandon towards Riding Mountain National Park would be an easy and fast joint. The road was excellent, but the drive was anything but fast as there was so much scenery. I ended up making several stops along the way to take photos. The terrain around Brandon is very flat, and the only real hills are railroad overpasses and the dip where the Assiniboine River goes through town. Other than that it’s pretty much flat as a pancake. But about 15 miles north of town the terrain changes and all of a sudden I am surrounded by rolling hills with large patches of woods. The countryside here is absolutely gorgeous.

Finally arriving at the park, I talked to the ranger at the south gate about what I could do with my day. Riding Mountain national Park is huge, and to see the park correctly would probably take several days. The Ranger suggested two potential courses of action — check out Clear Lake and the marshes around it, or head over to the bison range which is quite a bit farther. As it was getting to be lunch time, I decided to check out the ranger station in the small town of Wasagaming and have lunch there while I pondered my predicament.

Riding Mountain Ranger Station
Riding Mountain National Park Ranger Station in Wasagaming, Manitoba

I found a great place to park, and most of the town was in walking distance. I had a wonderful bison burger at a little restaurant in town, and learned about a new beer as well. The waitress at the restaurant suggested the marsh hike as she said it would probably allow me to make the most of my time, and I could get to it from the other end of the parking lot. So things were settled from there.

For a lot of folks hiking around the marsh would seem like a pretty mundane activity. However, I grew up in the desert of West Texas, and I hate to admit this. Other than passing through the swamps of East Texas, I have never hiked around in a marsh. Hell I’ve never been in a marsh. There were swamps and bogs in East Texas where I lived part of my high school years, but you could not hike around in those areas. If the brush wasn’t too thick to get through, then you are wading through alligator infested creeks. So I figured this would be a pretty cool experience.

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A few scenes from the marsh trail near Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park
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The cattails were really healthy and prolific.

The marsh was pretty fascinating, and it took me a while to figure out what I should really be seeing in how to photograph what I was seeing.

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The marsh is an incredibly diverse ecosystem.
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I was trying to figure out all of the wildlife and plants survive the incredibly cold winters here.  Temperatures can dip to -50 celsius at times.
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The views here were breathtaking.

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This little guy was really striking.

Well, my explorations had finally come to an end, and it was time to head back to town. The last few photographs are from the equestrian Park area in Brandon. After all, this is the reason we were here in the first place.

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Sunflower fields in Manitoba
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Rolling hills north on Brandon.
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Boat dock on the way back to town.

All in all our trip to Brandon, Manitoba was fun as usual. I am always amazed at how much I enjoy the northern Midwest. The air is indescribably clean. The sky is so blue it is almost unreal. And of course the Midwest can have some really interesting thunderstorms. The nights are chilly, and I am sure the -40°C winter temperatures are not too fun for too long. But this is a beautiful part of North America, and as usual a Canadian hosts were wonderful. By the way, my wife had an excellent horse show as well.

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Sunrise over the horse barns in Brandon
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Genuine Shoc (Ginny) – the reason we were in Canada
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Ginny at a full trot
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Heading the other direction after a reverse with our trainer – Kim Hansen
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I wanted to show how far Ginny extends her front legs at the full trot.
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Here she is one more time in a canter.
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Sheri (with the Canadian jacket) chatting with Kim about the ride before the scores are posted.

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