Polar Bear Migration RV Tour – Part 1 Getting to Churchill

Our large, premium site at Pheasant Ridge in Wilsonville, Oregon was a nice change from our prior stays where the sites were uncomfortably close together. It provides options for staying near family next time we are in the Portland area.

With the annual service on the RV complete, we shifted focus to our next adventure in Manitoba, Canada for the Polar Bear Migration trip with Fantasy RV Tours at the beginning of October.

Bucket List

For years, Mom has been wanting to see wild Polar Bears. She described a journey to Churchill, Manitoba where the bears gather at the end of their fasting season. Being an animal lover myself, I was hooked and signed up with Fantasy RV Tours for our 2nd trip with them.

It wasn’t too hard to talk Mom and Dad into traveling with us and staying in our RV, Especially since family friends, Bill and Barb Patrick also joined the tour.

Preparing to Travel

Mom and I planned the meals and cooked up some dishes to freeze ahead knowing they would be welcome after busy travel days.

Bruce and Dad installed new sturdier “J” style kayak racks on the car to replace the “V” style racks. The Jeep is our traveling garage with the folding bikes and air compressor in the back cargo area and the kayaks riding on top. So far, the new racks are a big improvement.

On the Road

The Tour officially starts in Dunseith, North Dakota, and we planned to get there quickly, traveling most every day for six days from Oregon. Those make-ahead meals helped ease us into relaxing after days filled with constant movement.

On the way, we (mostly) beat a winter storm that blew into our path from Canada. There was only one day of icy roads in Montana, a few days of high wind and one day of snow. For us fair-weather travelers it was a little dicey, especially going into a slide on the road into Havre, Montana. Bruce kept the RV on the road and really earned his  happy-hour that evening.

With two extra people and their huge suitcases on board, we figured out the ‘Rubix Cube’ moves to convert the RV spaces from traveling to lounging and finally to sleeping modes

The Leak

Mom and Dad started out sleeping on the air bed in the living room before the bed began a slow leak!

The bed had deflated enough by morning that Mom looked like she was sitting in a taco shell. Some hilarity ensued as I sat on the couch-height mattress which popped her up. However, it wasn’t enough of a pop for her to stand up. We managed to work together with a combination of popping her out of the bed and Dad finally pulling her to standing. Laughter only makes the process harder, by the way.

It was quite a trick to spray soapy water on the mattress to find the leak. In the middle of the living room keeping the bedding and all the people dry was quite a trick. No leaks were found. So, we switched sleeping quarters, hoping that Bruce and I could find the leak and keep the bed inflated while my parents got some sleep. Mom and Dad moved into the master and Bruce and I took the leaking couch air bed.

We just kept filling the bed up during the night until it got worse a couple of nights later and needed pumping about every half hour! An new air mattress and pump from a quick stop at Walmart provided a temporary solution and a full night’s rest. Bruce and I slept on the new mattress on the floor the rest of the trip while Mom and Dad stayed put in the master. They were thankful that they didn’t have to crawl on all fours to get in and out of the new bed.

The Tour Begins at the International Peace Garden

The International Peace Garden sits between the USA and Canadian borders in Dunseith, North Dakota. A beautiful, woodsy campground in the park was the site where another Fantasy tour had left earlier in the day. Rain made some sites so muddy that a few of their RVs had to be towed out by tractor. Not a good way to start their trip!

We lucked out with no rain and only one night of snow which melted off by midday. However, a heavy mud persisted.

Already closed for the season, Fantasy RV Tours had made arrangements with the park to open some things up for us. A virtual presentation of the gardens was followed by a visit to the 9/11 Memorial, Game Warden Museum,  Peace Chapel and Cactus Conservatory. They topped that off by serving us a catered dinner in the visitor’s center.

9/11 Memorial

With snow still on most of the paths and covering the few remaining flowers, we didn’t see much of the gardens on our walk to the 9/11 Memorial. Earlier in the season, the flowers in the gardens would be beautiful with a stream running through the main garden straddling the border between Canada and the USA.

Iron girders from the debris of the World Trade Center attack site were on display at the 9/11 Memorial as a somber tribute to those that perished and the rescue crews.

Cactus Conservatory

Housed in a conservatory, a cactus collection of over 5,000 species was curated by a man that had collected them at his home for many years. He donated them to the peace gardens when he moved from Canada to Arizona where many cactus and succulents grow naturally. It was amazing to see so many unusual varieties this far North. Many were in bloom. I was taking note of my favorites that would be  nice additions to our garden in Tempe Arizona.

Game Warden Museum

Many taxidermy animals and pelts were on display along with other confiscated artifacts like gorgeous elephant ivory carvings and an alligator skull. It is unbelievable how little the penalty is for illegal hunting and poaching. A polar bear and grizzly bear that had been illegally hunted by people connected to organized crime were particularly sad. They had no qualms about paying the fines to capture their prize just for the excitement of the hunt.

Peace Chapel

Lined with quotes engraved in limestone, a lovely chapel provides meditative space for gatherings and services.

Exiting the gardens and crossing the Canadian border was a source of concern by many on the trip. I don’t know why it makes people so nervous. Our preparations ensured a smooth crossing, just follow the guidelines: no fresh veggies, no firearms, limits on alcohol, etc.

Vermillion Park at Dauphin, MB

Less mud was a big bonus in our nice wooded site at Vermillion Park. Ukranian immigrants settled the area and the cultural influence is evident here.

Fort Dauphin

A fun visit to Fort Dauphin provided a view into early life as demonstrated by the volunteer docents adorned in period costumes. They baked bread for us in a traditional wood-fired bread oven and we enjoyed high tea and scones in the museum building.

The Churches

The historic Ukranian Old Church with spectacular icon paintings decorating the walls and domed ceilings was one of the more unusual and beautiful churches I’ve ever seen, and I have seen a lot of churches!

When the community was thriving, the old church had become too small and was replaced by a new church that was built across the street. No longer used for services and weddings, the old church was decommissioned and now relies on donations for upkeep and restoration. Unfortunately, the community has dwindled in recent years and now the modern new church has become a bit too big for comfort. The pattern in many small towns everywhere is similar, boom and bust cycles when the resources dry up or younger folks seek work or school in larger towns. It is rare that children of the elders return to make the small towns their adult home.

Cheerful church volunteer elders put on a traditional Ukranian Dinner after singing the lords prayer in Ukranian and English. The meal was fit for the upcoming Canadian Thanksgiving Day feast October 14th.

The Pas Casino

Rally-style dry-camp parking on gravel at the Aseneskak Casino in The Pas came with a buffet prime rib dinner and a $15 player’s card. Not being casino connoisseurs, we didn’t know how to use the card but we had fun trying. We have never been big gamblers so when our house money was used up, we called it a night.

Thompson at McCreedy Campground

The road into Thompson was long with a beautiful lunch stop at Pisew Falls (Pisew: Cree word for lynx). Here the Grass River plunges over a 13 metre drop, the second highest waterfall in Manitoba. I was drawn toward the roar of the falls with the promise of a great view to photograph and a much needed stretch of the legs. Afterward, going back up those 8 sets of 11 steps on the boardwalk trail gave these legs a little more than just a stretch!

We were greeted by Colleen, the McCreedy campground owner and MAYOR of Thompson.  The RVs were dumped, watered and we were shown to the camping sites which had only just been vacated by the prior tour. That evening, we celebrated Bill Patrick’s 75th birthday and he got a serenade from the restaurant staff at Boston Pizza.

Early the next morning, the slides were brought in for heat conservation and the suitcases were packed for a flight to Churchill. While we were away for 4 nights, Colleen the campground owner took care our rigs and the pets.

See the next post for Part 2 of The Polar Bear Migration Tour when we arrived in Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world!

 

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