Welcome!

We are Nico and Marlies Wobben and in February 2008 we moved from the Netherlands to Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada! Nico is an RN at the General Hospital and I (Marlies) work from home, as an administrator at Canada Life and for my own web design business Feel The Fire. And we have 6 cats!

Wij zijn Nico en Marlies Wobben en in februari 2008 zijn we verhuisd van Nederland naar Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada! Nico is verpleegkundige in het General Hospital en ik (Marlies) werk thuis als administrator bij Canada Life en voor mijn eigen web design bedrijf Feel The Fire. En we hebben 6 katten!
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Grasslands National Park, August 19-21

We are deeply in love with the prairie and love cruising through endless fields as far as the eye can see or rolling hills with cows grazing, camping in coulees or forests and watching infinite vistas or living skies. Esp. in South West Saskatchewan, we’ve driven through immense stretches of practically empty and desolate prairie, so each time someone suggested we should visit the Grasslands National Park, we were reluctant… had we not seen all that yet? Well, after nine years in Saskatchewan, we finally planned our first visit!

We booked two nights in Grasslands as part of a small vacation, on our way to Cypress Hills. In a nutshell, the West Block is where the bison and prairie dogs are, the East Block is where the badlands are. We picked the West Block, or to be more specific, the north part of the Ecotour Road and the area around the campground, as the bison were #1 on our wish list. On Saturday morning we made our way to the Grasslands Visitor Centre in Val Marie, with a break in Gravelbourg to visit Toos and Darcy (thanks for lunch!). After registration, we drove back to the Ecotour Road and the entrance of the park. There are a few pullouts with interpretive signs shortly after you enter and we found number two to be the most interesting: a big prairie dog colony and several bison bulls close by! Check! This was still on top of the prairie, but soon the road dove into the vast and rugged Frenchman Valley. As it was late in the afternoon, we continued to the campground on the other side of the valley to set up for the night. We had seen a bunch of dark dots in the distance (bison) and one bigger dot fairly close to the campground, we could see that bull clearly through the telescope. Like most of this prairie, the campground has no trees and is open to the elements. We didn’t set up much, just took our chairs, BBQ and telescope out and braved the wind to make a meal. The night sky in this dark sky preserve was phenomenal! But the temperatures dipped down quite a bit and we had no fire to warm us, because of a fire ban. I woke up around 4am and looked outside to see a white arc of northern lights in the north.

During the day it warmed up quick again, but there was a slight cloud cover. We started the day with a “cowboy coffee”, courtesy of Parks Canada. Coffee was made over the fire in a big pot – water with coffee grounds brought to a boil for a bit, then some cold water was added to make the grounds sink to the bottom. It wasn’t bad either! The girls also told stories about the park and we all chatted for a while. After that we walked up the hill to the Belza rest area, where Parks Canada put two of those red chairs at a viewpoint overlooking the Frenchman Valley. Impressive! We followed a bison bull cross the valley for a bit. We chilled at the campground, but the wind was draining us, so we had a nap and later I walked to the end of the campground with our video camera, where you can also look out over the valley. I saw a bull on the other side and I bet it was the same one we saw earlier. At the end of the afternoon we needed some exercise and walked further down the Ecotour Road to the remains of the Lawson homestead. Walt Lawson started a ranch that became quite successful. We walked to the river there and it looks like it’s a popular spot for the bison to cross (lots of dung)! Upon return to the campground we realized there was a geocache near the entrance and we found it. The night was uneventful… unfortunately cloudy, so no stargazing!

The next morning it was time to leave this park, but not before we spotted more than 100 bison! Wait, what?! Yes, before we crossed the valley, we saw a huge herd on the other side. While filming I roughly counted 120 bison cows and calves! It gave me goosebumps as I could suddenly picture the whole valley full of bison as it used to be before the European settlers came over! When we got back to the prairie dog colony on top of the prairie, we saw a few bison bulls laying in the grass and then one big bull standing right by the road! After checking out the prairie dogs for a bit, we very slowly drove by the bull and luckily he didn’t show any sign of agitation or even interest in us. It’s rutting season, but I guess we didn’t look like a bison girl to him 😉 We had the chance to film and make pictures – what an amazing end to our visit to the park! Although the camping part was very different from what we usually do, Grasslands National Park totally delivered with amazing vistas of undisturbed prairie grasslands and unique wildlife!

Grasslands National Park – West Block
The Frenchman Valley campground is small and offers no shelter for the elements, but is situated on the edge of the valley with stunning views at the end of the campground or on the hill next to it. A trip here is not so much about camping, but about the park and its unique wildlife, nature and vistas. There are pit toilets in clean little buildings, but no showers and there is a cook shelter with WiFi to escape the elements and talk to staff. There are some activities like guided walks or cowboy coffee.

Moose Mountain Provincial Park, Home

Wednesday we made it back to Saskatchewan for the last (warmer) days in Moose Mountain Provincial Park, just to relax before heading home. I got a bit homesick and kind of wanted to go home, but I also knew we’d still have a few nice sunny days at Kenosee Lake and we did. Nico fished a lot and came home with 9 perch one day! Best fish fry ever! Today we finally drove home. We look back at a fantastic vacation – not the wildlife we had hoped to see, but amazing rugged scenery and friendly people!

Birds Hill Provincial Park, MB

With a heavy heart we left the rugged scenery of Ontario behind. We are in Manitoba now, in Birds Hill Provincial Park, north of Winnipeg, for one night. Tomorrow we’ll get back to Saskatchewan to relax some more at Moose Mountain Provincial Park (Kenosee Lake) before we head home.

Birch Dale Lodge

When we left yesterday morning, the wind was gone, but we decided to go anyway. Again we had some hopes to see wildlife, being on this remote highway, but no such luck. Back on the Trans Canada Highway, we stopped for another fishing break at a rest area, then took a break in Dryden for lunch and to pick our next spot. We wanted to try another lodge in the area and went to the Birch Dale Lodge on Eagle Lake. We love the camp and the people we met here! Again no boating as it was raining part of the day, but we had some great food in their steakhouse and a lot of fun chatting with other guests and staff!

Atikokan Area, Clearwater West Lake

So we went west again, towards Atikokan this time, and again we were in awe of the rugged landscapes and endless lakes! Where else can you cast a line at a highway rest area?! From Atikokan we took highway 622 to Browns’ Clearwater West Lodge, which was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. A gorgeous beach site for two nights in “the Caribbean of the North”! Unfortunately it was too windy today to rent a boat, but we explored the grounds, Nico followed a nature trail to a secluded beach for fishing and we are going to have a fire on the beach this the evening. There are hardly any guests and we’re starting to crave some more company. Not sure yet where we’ll go tomorrow, but it’ll probably be in the Dryden-Kenora area.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

We just had a few fantastic days in a gorgeous spot! We left the peninsula this morning and are having breakfast in a diner by the highway, so we are “connected” again 🙂

The Sleeping Giant campground is on the shore of Marie Louise Lake and has an impressive view of the Sleeping Giant. We first picked a more remote waterfront site in the 200’s row past the rest of the campground. Luckily no bear visits, only a skunk! The next morning we switched to a pretty and less remote waterfront site for another two nights with even better views of the Sleeping Giant and steps down to the water! It wasn’t busy after Labour Day, but not lonely either. Just nice! A beautiful, tranquil spot to spend a few days relaxing, walking, fishing and visiting the Visitor Centre. As we had to drive to another site anyway, we took the opportunity to briefly visit Silver Islet just south of the park, an abandoned mining village (now cottages) on the shore of Lake Superior.

We left early this morning, hoping to see wildlife. No big game, but we did see turkey vultures up close. The weather forecast for the north shore of Lake Superior is bad, so instead of exploring that more, we are going west again in a bit, to the Atikokan area!

Thunder Bay

We stayed an extra day at the Kakabeka Falls as it rained on Monday and it didn’t make sense to drive anywhere in that. Good day to walk around on the campground a bit and do laundry! Today we left fairly early to go check out Thunder Bay a bit. We first drove to the Marina Park and it was quite cloudy and foggy. We also went into town a bit, but didn’t really find the right shopping streets. When we returned to the Marina Park, it was sunny and the Sleeping Giant across the bay was finally completely visible! We started to make our way around the bay to get to the Sibley peninsula and the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and we’re now taking a break at the Terry Fox Memorial. There is a visitor centre and of course the impressive statue of Terry Fox, who started to run (with a prosthetic leg) across Canada to raise money for cancer research until his own cancer forced him to stop close to where this memorial is. As a bonus, there are even better views over the bay and the Sleeping Giant! As soon as we get to the peninsula, we’ll get out of cell range, so see you in a few days!

Kakabeka Falls

Yesterday the 3rd we drove from Aaron further east to the Kakabeka Falls, close to Thunder Bay, in about 4 hours. Not a lot of towns along the way, but we were in awe of the scenery! So rugged and way more mountainous than expected. We stopped for lunch near Uppsala. The Kakabeka Falls are 40 m high and quite impressive, unfortunately the campground is quite far away from them. On the other hand, the campground itself is also very pretty (but busy as it’s the September long weekend). We did bike to the falls and into town today, it was just hard to come back as you had to concur a steep hill! Nico did some fishing past the falls and came back with some pike 🙂

Aaron Provincial Park

We didn’t really like the site that we had booked, so in the morning we switched to a nicer one for another two nights. It’s a beautiful park with friendly people! We walked around, did some trails, Nico did some fishing and I even swam for a bit as it was hot!

Kenora

Soon we reached the Canadian shield and the scenery changed to trees, lakes and rocks. We had lunch in Falcon Lake (Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba) and reached Ontario shortly after. We visited beautiful Kenora on the Lake Of The Woods – we wanted to spend more time there, but after a few hours we had to leave to make it to Aaron Provincial Park before dark!