Friday September 1, 2017 (Canada)
We had a lot of driving ahead of us on this particular day. Grasslands National Park is midway across Saskatchewan, but Waterton Lakes is on the far west side of Alberta. At best, we were looking at about six and a half hours of driving, which would qualify as one of our heaviest driving days yet!
A Parks Canada employee had given us good recommendations on hikes to try within Grasslands. In particular, one hike would give us the chance of spotting an endangered Greater short-horned lizard native to the area. We timed it out, though, and decided that we just didn't have enough hours in the day to complete the hike in the morning and still make it to Waterton at a reasonable time. Instead, we just hung out with the bison on the way out of the park and proceeded onward!
In one of the bigger regrets of the trip, we drove north from Val Marie, SK instead of west. This meant that we were unable to pass through Climax, SK. Yep. That's the name. I still shake my head in disgust that we missed it. Sandra and I never reached Climax. Alas, it's always good to leave something for the next trip, right? While I'm on the subject, I also want to mention another great name we saw in Saskatchewan. It's a First Nations reserve by the name of Peepeekisis. I decided to pronounce this as "pee pee kisses", and at that point I was off to the races. "Sandra, there's only one thing that can make me happy tonight. And that's Peepeekisis."
As has been our custom, we stopped at the border for a picture with the border crossing sign. My favourite part was that the tiny public toilet shack at the border crossing was prominently displaying a sign informing users that this hut was not, in fact, the provincial info centre. I love that the mere existence of the sign implies some person (likely many, actually) thought that a pair of toilets on a road median was the entirety of the Alberta Visitor Information Centre. "I guess that's it, honey. We've definitely found it. This place sure is… shitty."
The rest of the day was mostly driving. I didn't realize how much of Alberta was actually plains! I had assumed the province would range only from hilly to mountainous, but I discovered that Alberta is incredibly flat until reaching its western edge. As we passed Cardston, a hazy outline of darkened mountaintops appeared in the distance. It felt very strange to be driving along in endless wheat fields with views of massive peaks on the horizon. The Rockies just kind of pop out of nowhere!
It was a treat to be engulfed in mountain peaks at Waterton Lakes. This is the first time on the trip that we're encountering real elevation change, and it's a great feeling. On the way into the park we stopped at a roadside lookout to capture the view. We were arriving in Waterton at a reasonably late hour, so I was getting worried we would run out of time to catch the light. There was nothing to fear, though. As we finished setting up our campsite we were treated to the most colourful sunset display we've seen thus far on the trip. A beautiful cloud formation appeared above the mountains just a few hundred metres from our site. It was a great welcome to the park! We headed off to bed prepared to get up bright and early for the first big hike of the trip!