Friday, July 26, 2013

Kenora 2013: Shortest Day, Biggest Pay-Off

Kakabeka Falls
After a very restful night in Thunder Bay (followed by a delicious continental breakfast) we started out on the final leg of our journey west. It had rained overnight but had stopped long enough for us to load the car, although the air was cold and crisp and the sky dim. Almost as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, however, the rain started up again and it was our nearly constant companion from there until about half an hour out of Kenora. As a result, our nearly compulsory stop at Kakabeka Falls was cut quite short: just long enough for us to take a few pictures from the viewing platform nearest to the parking lot and run for cover as the skies began to open up. In years past we have spent quite a bit of time at this gorgeous natural wonder, but this time we didn't even cross the bridge that you can see in the above picture. If I wasn't 100% certain we'd be back in the future this might have bothered me more; however, the single-digit temperature reading and the piercing rain washed any regrets right out of our heads.

Young moose along Highway 17
We started seeing signs warning us to watch out for moose from about the time we reached Parry Sound on Wednesday but, despite my constant calls out to them ("moo-OOOO-sies!"), they remained as elusive as ever. Sarah thought she had spotted one Thursday, but a return to the scene of the alleged sighting turned up no trace of moose and we just figure something else had masqueraded in its stead. So when, not long before we reached Upsala and just after another of the myriad one-laned bridge traffic stops, Sarah yelled out, "Moose! For real!!", I excitedly pulled over on the shoulder to allow the last two vehicles through the light to pass me, pulled a u-turn and drove back down the highway a few hundred metres where we both spotted the young moose in this picture. I didn't dare turn back across the highway and risk him running off into the bush before I could get my camera out so I stayed on the far side of the highway, zoomed in as far as my lens would allow and grabbed a series of pictures of the stationary beauty. If you look closely at this one you can see the raindrops streaking across the frame; I took four pictures in total and the moose never once changed his stance nor gaze. The moment I put the camera down, though, he lowered his head and disappeared from the scene, leaving me to believe in my heart that he was patiently waiting for me to get just the right photo before he went on with his business. Not as thrilling as our encounter with a mom and calf six years earlier, but still pretty special to us.

Maximillian Moose, pride of Dryden
When we did reach Upsala the temperature seemed to have actually gone down a couple of degrees so we did not linger there at all. We grabbed gas and hot drinks, completely missing the giant sculpture of a mosquito carrying away a hapless camper (we missed it on the way back, too: perhaps it's not there any more?) as we sprinted back to the car through the rain and steamed ahead for Dryden. When we arrived there around lunch time we realized that we were far ahead of our expected pace for the day and would reach Kenora several hours before we were expected. As the rain had let up for the time being and it felt quite a bit warmer, we decided to do a little exploring of the town, as on our past trips Dryden had only served as a fuelling stop for our bellies and car. We chatted for quite a while with the two people running the information office (where Max the Moose is found) and they gave us a couple of ideas to explore. Once we left there, we headed downtown to check out a couple of shops (an area which had been renovated very nicely for their Centennial in 2010) and then grabbed a quick lunch at the DQ (which had only just opened for the day; a sign on their door said they would be closed for the morning due to a "scheduled power blackout").

Sarah indicating her favourite season
After lunch we realized we still had some time to explore Dryden so, on the recommendation of the tourism people, we headed to Johnston Park to see the mosaics and the suspension bridge. It was quite a lovely park, well looked after and nicely set up, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet it offered so close to the highway. There were four benches like the one pictured here, one for each season. There was a small roundhouse in the middle, completely covered in pretty mosaics. From there it was a short walk down a staircase built into the hillside to a pathway along the Wabigoon river and the Roy Wilson suspension bridge, a 34-metre-long structure that, somewhat hilariously, had a prominent sign at the near end stating that its maximum capacity was "two persons". That seems to be cutting it a bit close, don't you think? How big can those two people be before it's a real safety issue? In any event, we braved it and headed out onto the bridge to gaze at the small cascade of water a few hundred metres away. And while we watched the water flow, this big fellow came swooping down from somewhere behind us and landed in the river:

Great blue heron in the Wabigoon river, Dryden

We waited there a while to see if he would take off again so I could capture it for posterity, but he was stubborn—even more stubborn than me and that's saying something. Eventually we realized it was time to move on and complete our journey to Kenora, so we made our way off the bridge...

Sarah heading back off the bridge

...and back up the hill, where we encountered this little guy and hung out with him for a few minutes:

Red-headed woodpecker in Dryden

Beautiful fawn in Kenora
It had once again started to rain by the time we climbed into our car and it continued to do so until we were within moments of reaching Kenora's city limits. Once it finally stopped for good, though, the temperature rose quite a bit and the skies were a glorious light-blue. The last hour or so of our 24-hour-trek is always the hardest, not only because we've been driving for so long at that point but also—and mostly—because our destination is so very close at hand. We followed our GPS in through the back streets and down to Sarah's father's house, where we would be staying, but I made one quick deviation into a dead-end street when I spotted a doe and fawn on a lawn about 150 metres away from us. I took a few pictures (this is my favourite) before they trotted off away from us and was pretty proud of myself; had I know just how ubiquitous deer have become in the city of Kenora, I think it might have taken some of the shine off of the moment. Still, one more species to tack onto the list of wildlife we had spotted on our trip—more, it seemed, this time around than ever before.

Then, just like that, we arrived. After unloading the car and spreading the tent out to dry, we kicked back in the kitchen with Sarah's dad, beers in hand, and waited for Lana to return from work so we could really start the vacation.

Tomorrow: what else? We really start the vacation—out on the lake.

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