All right folks. Back to serious business here! I’ve been lazy on my rest/visiting days. How are you supposed to learn anything if I’m slacking off?! Having said that – remember to read the Trivia Bits by clicking the button at the top of the screen for your Alberta history lesson. 😊
Fort McMurray is one of many “Fort thises and Fort thats” in northern Alberta. As with so many other communities in the northern reaches of Canada, Fort McMurray got on the map as a trading post in the late 18th century. What later became known as the Athabasca oil sands were known by the local Cree long before the Europeans arrived, as they used the surface deposits to seal their canoes. In the 1790s, the first recorded description of the oil sands was made by…….wait for it…….Alexander McKenzie!! That boy got around!
Oil, however, didn’t become a big deal until the early 20th century, and even then, Fort McMurray remained a small centre as it was a few decades before anyone figured out how to successfully extract it. Between 1967 and 1979, several oil sands plants had opened up and Fort McMurray boomed. The rest, of course, is history. It has been boom and bust ever since, but is still in operation and sustaining a sizeable population.
I left Fort McMurray and the Morgan home this morning in decent time and headed south, taking Hwy 881 for a change from Hwy 63 I had taken on the way up. Not too long after the turn-off, I saw signs for Gregoire Lake Provincial Park and determined to stop there. Despite having seen the sign, I rode by the turnoff and thought “oh well, there will be other places”. But those pesky voices in my head were telling me to turn around and go back. So I did. In spite of the fire that has marred its edges, Gregoire Lake is a large, beautiful lake. It was peaceful and serene in the morning light and I thought that Tracey ought to share that with me. So I got off the bike and listened to the birds and enjoyed the beauty of it and left some ashes there to float away on the water. Again, the feeling of lightness of spirit found and stayed with me.
As it turned out, it was a good thing I did stop there. There were many pretty little scenes along the road, but the side roads were dirt – soft and muddy from the past few days’ rain. Rest stops were not placed at points of prettiness and shoulders were narrow and crowned, so there was little opportunity to pull over and take photos or enjoy scenes other than to take them in as I rode by. The landscape was marshy and boggy, with a proliferation of varied trees and shrubs. It smelled spicy and pungent and lush – like earth that is alive with life. And so it was.
The day was perfect for riding. Sun and cloud with temperatures in the low-20s. The sky tried to convince us that we were headed for a thunderstorm, but Fury and I scoffed, knowing that it was only gathering and would not get us. Since there were fewer photo indulgences, we made good time to Lac La Biche. Lac La Biche Mission is a National Historic Site. It is another mission that was started by the Oblate Missionaries, who have also been showing up all over the north since my journey began. You read about them in a previous story – the French missionaries that took a vow of poverty and then came to North America to spread their religion. We stopped for gas and had a chicken wrap at Joe’s Grill, which was very good!
With about 3 hours to go to Meadow Lake, SK, I jumped back on the bike and off we went. Travelling west towards Cold Lake, we rode through some low rolling hills and the landscape gave way to crops and cattle. The crops are well up and the scenery was beautiful. This area of Alberta is littered with lakes – there were signs pointing this way and that, stating distances to lakes all over the place. Sometimes 3 or 4 per sign! I think a person could spend a whole summer dragging a camper around to all of them if one was so inclined. Arriving in Cold Lake about 3:30 p.m., I was surprised to see it was much bigger than I expected, with a population of almost 15,000 at the 2016 Census. I wondered what went on there until I saw the military planes. There is a significant military base at Cold Lake. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true), "Every year Cold Lake hosts military forces from around the world for Exercise Maple Flag, a training exercise where pilots and support staff of NATO allies can take advantage of the Air Weapons Range and relatively open rural air space."
Cold Lake also supports the oil and gas projects in the oil sands and may even see production of it in their own region. As for me, I topped Fury up with gas and had an iced lemonade at the Tim’s before heading back out. The temperature had risen several degrees so it was also a chance to shed my jacket liner.
My impeccable sense of direction took me left instead of right upon leaving the gas station and I discovered the road ended at a provincial park. The park was lovely, so we cruised around it pretending we were there on purpose, before heading back out and getting back on the right road. Sheesh! Did I roll my eyes out loud?
I was disappointed to cross the Saskatchewan border and not get a “Welcome to Saskatchewan” sign to take a picture with. Just a small “Saskatchewan, Naturally” road sign greeted me – if I’d have blinked, I would never have known I crossed the border. I guess I wasn’t on a major enough highway for the big one.
The last couple of hours to Meadow Lake were very pretty, traffic was light and we just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Knowing the rain we skirted today is coming, I topped up with gas again so there’s a full tank and checked into a hotel. Unloaded Fury and walked to the nearby Superstore for some nibbles for supper so I don’t have to go out again. Veggies and dip, yogurt and a mango for supper this evening, followed by a hot bath! Time to get myself to bed and see what mother nature brings us tomorrow!
While my time in Alberta has been focussed on the unsung north (I've been across the central and southern regions a hundred times), there is so much to see and do in Alberta. Dinosaurs and hoodoos, stampedes, the natural wonders of the Rocky Mountains, Waterton Lakes National Park, Red Rock Coulee, and on and on. Check out Alberta Tourism if you are planning a visit.