Thursday, July 15, 2010

Alaska Trip Day 4: Regina, SK to Grande Prairie, AB

The first set of Amber's vacation photos - Day 1 through Day 4.2 - are now online! Go see them here. If you've been reading my recaps, some of the photos will look very familiar. (Note - even though they're on Facebook, I've been told that anyone can view them, even the non-Facebook types.)

Alaska Trip Day 4: 769 miles / 1,238 km, 12 hr 2 min

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Day 4 of the drive to Alaska featured - you guessed it - more farmland and prairies. This is why I recommend flying to Edmonton and skipping all of the prairies if you don't enjoy driving as much as we do.

This is the last day before we begin the Alaska Highway and get to all of the pretty stuff, and there will be plenty of pleasant scenery (and pictures to go along with it) then. As for today, the focus will be not on scenery, but on man-made stuff and other Canadian topics. For example: gas stations!

Gas stations are few and far between on the Alaska Highway, so I did a lot of research prior to the trip to determine the best places to refuel along the way. But what about the rest of Canada? Surely, there will be plenty of gas stations along the highway between Saskatchewan's two largest cities, right? ... Nope! We found one, but it took a little effort. Somehow I forgot that Saskatchewan has roughly the same population as Rhode Island, spread out over an area 200 times larger. There's a whole lot of nothing here.

Speaking of much money did we spend on gas throughout the trip? $801.76. And that's with a car that achieved over 40 MPG during the trip. I can only imagine how much it would cost to drive an RV to Alaska and back. Safe to say that would not have been within our budget. Maybe in 40 years. ... Actually, by then, gas will probably cost $20/gal or something ridiculous like that, and we'll look back on the early part of the 21st century and think: "Geez, if we had made this trip in an RV back in 2010, we would have only had to spend $4,000 on gas, not $20,000! Those were the days..."

Yes, Saskatchewan is full of nothing (and that's quite alright with us), but almost all of the roads we took through Saskatchewan and Alberta were improved divided highways with speed limits of 110 km/h (68 mph). Wee!

We had a little bit of time to kill, so we went to downtown Saskatoon. The parts of the town that we saw - both ways - were actually very nice! Based on what I've seen, I'd rather live in Saskatoon than anywhere else in Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

Here's a roadside painting we found in downtown Saskatoon. Have I mentioned I love Canada?

Canada is a bilingual country, and that means wordless road signs. Here's a fun game: what do all of those icons mean?

Near another town, we saw a similar sign with an icon that was literally a curling stone under a roof. I wish we could have gotten a picture of it.

So, here we are in Alberta...or are we? The Alberta visitor centre is actually in Saskatchewan. Huh?

In the United States, I'm used to being able to stop at a state welcome center and get a free state map. (I've collected quite a few over the years.) But what about in Canada? Are provincial maps free? Well, it depends on the prestige level of your province. In lowly, less-visited provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, provincial maps are free. In a more prestigious province such as Alberta? $2 each. That's still pretty cheap, and in hindsight I should have just given her a toonie and gotten the map. But it caught me off guard a little bit, and I overreacted by not getting a map.

I'll talk a little bit about the town of Lloydminster, which straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, on Day 16. Just like the Quad Cities are neither Illinois nor Iowa, Lloydminster is neither Alberta nor Saskatchewan.

Okay, stop: the town of Vegreville, Alberta. What's there? Well, according to the sign leading into town, Vegreville is home to the "World's Largest Pysanka". What the hell is a "pysanka"?

That, my friends, is a pysanka - also known as a Ukrainian Easter Egg. I have to admit, this was way more impressive than the buffalo statue. But I'm still a little confused as to why the world's largest Ukrainian Easter Egg is in Alberta, as opposed to...oh, I don't know, the Ukraine.

That's Edmonton in the distance. If we had more time, we would have gone to the West Edmonton Mall (one of the largest malls in the world, larger than even the Mall of America), but it would have been too far out of the way.

We made two more stops along the way to Grande Prairie: one at a fast food joint called "Burger Baron"...

...and one at a rest area outside Valleyview, where we signed the guest book. The people staffing the rest area gift shop were very adamant that we sign the guest book. Apparently, they're trying to get visitors from all 50 states, and the only states they have left are Connecticut and Rhode Island. I completely understand their obsession. Heck, if I worked there, I might even be tracking counties, not just states.

Here's one thing I noticed in the guest book. Under the "destination" column, for just about EVERYONE who signed the guestbook, the destination was Alaska. And there weren't just two or three people for the day; there were pages of people who signed the guest book that day with an ultimate destination of Alaska. Uh seems this is a more popular drive than I thought. Prior to the trip, the general reaction we got when we told people of our plans was something to the effect of: "Who the hell would want to drive all the way to Alaska?" But according to the guestbook, freaking EVERYBODY is driving to Alaska. On top of that, the road to Grande Prairie (a surprisingly large town for an area this remote; population 50,000) had quite a bit of traffic. Hmm...are we going to be stuck behind a bunch of RVs and large trucks all the way to Alaska? Stay tuned...

Actually, I'll be nice and not leave you hanging. Yes, there are quite a few RVs on the Alaska Highway, and we are hardly alone in our quest to drive to Alaska. But the Alaska Highway is still one of the most deserted, beautiful, and awesome roads I've ever driven. Now that's a good place to end today's post.

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