Durango’s Teleférico (Cable Car)

Saturday morning’s first stop was to be the teleférico (cable car), which, like all Durango attractions, only opened at 10:00 a.m. En route, I stopped in at a coffee roasting house and ordered their $10 Americano special, but was upsold to a $28 French pressed cup. MMM! They also gave me a small bag of their grounds, good enough to make at least four more coffees at home! What a deal! It was very, very, very loud in the store and I could barely hear anything, so when the guy pushed the bag of beans at me, I said, “No thank you,” and he laughed and replied, very loudly, “No, no, we are gifting it to you!” I’ve never had that happen before and I’m actually drinking a cup of their coffee as I’m writing this post! It is much better than the disappointing Chiapas I bought from Rico’s, but still not as good as Rico’s Veracruz!

It’s so hard to get decent coffee in Maz, enough so that I thought that Mexico doesn’t have a coffee culture. As it turns out, this is just another Maz thing. There is coffee everywhere in Durango, from espresso drinks to plain old drip coffee. I never saw any instant. If I ordered coffee with a meal, I got real coffee. In Maz, I get instant. *shudders* So I may have overdone it a bit with the caffeine over the weekend!

I took my coffee to the library and sipped it while enjoying the view, then I bought my ticket. $20 roundtrip. I knew that there wasn’t much at the other end, just a church and lookout point, but I wanted to see Durango from above. And, $20 roundtrip! Durango is so affordable!

Here I am at the waiting area on the low side. You can see that the cable cars don’t travel very far or very high.

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The cars were very clean and in new condition:

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Your return ticket is good all day, but I can’t imagine spending much time at the top.

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I love looking down at Mexican rooftops!

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It really didn’t feel that high up while I was riding the cable car:

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Everything about the installation was very shiny and obviously well maintained:

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Here’s the platform at the top:

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There was a youngish gal riding solo next to me and we started to talk when we landed. Her name is Julia (hoo-lee-ah) and she is a 27-year-old nurse from Guadalajara who was enjoying her three weeks of holiday traveling from home to Durango by way of Maz. She was on Isla last week! We hit it off right away, being so unaccustomed to running into other solo female travelers. She went along for the same reason I do so: we can’t find the right person to share the journey with!

She was traveling by bus because she wanted to see the scenery and not just her steering wheel. Got to agree with her on that one. I love to drive, but I sometimes miss out on what’s around me!

We ended up spending all of Saturday together! So this is how you get a picture of me at the Mirador de los remedios (viewpoint of the remedies):

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Durango is huge. You don’t really see urban sprawl like that in Canada:

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This tower amused me:

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The viewpoint was well done, with a lot of different levels:

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This is the oldest church in Durango, built in the early 1600s:

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So much urban sprawl:

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Julia and I had fun mapping out the parts of the city that we know. I could see the Soriana sign on 20 de noviembre, so it was very easy to spot my hotel!

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We had a conversation with the cable car operator on the way down. He was curious as to where I’m from and when I said Maz for the winter he shuddered and said pretty much the same thing the pharmacist had said the night before about Maz not being a place he particularly enjoys going! I then got a lecture on all that Durango has to offer tourists (museums, shows, architecture, and more) and its three big annual festivals. I promised him that I would tell all my friends to come to Durango. So go to Durango!

I was peckish as we landed and was going to ask Julia if she wanted to eat something when she preempted my question! She’d only had coffee since getting up, so she was ready for a big brunch. She wanted to try a place called Tostadas, right around the corner on Florida from Tía Chona. We had to wait to get a table, which was a sign that this was a good restaurant! We both had orange juice with complimentary toast and jam while we perused the menu. She ordered some sort of mini-burrito things. I went with a torta and it was really good, with thinly sliced roast pork, as well as guacamole, mustard, cheese, ham, and other goodies. Julia made me laugh when she said she doesn’t like hot things — both in terms of spiciness and temperature! I added some of the spicy salsa to my torta and asked if that was bad form since she wasn’t putting any on her rather plain looking meal. Not at all, it was just too spicy for her! Another Mexican stereotype debunked; they don’t all like burning their tongues!

When we were done eating, we had just enough time to hoof it to Plaza de armas to catch a bus!

Driving the Mazatlán-Durango Cuota

I left home around 9:30 on Thursday, with my ETA in Durango being about 2:30 with the one hour time change. The Road out of Isla took me 28 minutes, but that’s only because I was taking my time. It was in surprisingly good shape!

I stopped for fuel in Villa Union, where there was also, very conveniently, an Oxxo (coffee) and a Panamá (goodies for the road)! I started on Mex 40D (cuota) at about 10:30.

To my surprise, the brand new road was in terrible shape and huge sections were under construction. It was very slow and tedious going. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because there weren’t many places to stop, including on the Guinness Record-holding Baluarte Bridge, which wound up being very underwhelming from the point of view of driving over it. There are tons of spectacular photos of it on the web showing it off from better vantage points than I ever had!

The drive was very, very, very scenic:

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I had plenty of time to admire the scenery:

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I liked how this tunnel is open to the world:

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Sometimes, I felt like I was on top of the world:

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I did not like this super, super, super long tunnel with lots of glaring lights. I drove it almost blind:

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A miniature version of the Baluarte Bridge:

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Here, you can see the tunnel with windows in it:

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Coming to the Baluarte Bridge. Lots of signs saying no stopping, no parking!

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At the end of it, I crossed over into the state of Durango. Another state for my visited Mexican states map!

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Welcome to the state of Durango!

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Weather conditions were perfect, increasingly cool as well as overcast, so I wasn’t baking in my truck:

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Coming into the city of Durango, there was a long downhill stretch. You can see a red stripe in the picture above. It leads to a runaway lane:

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First glimpse of the city of Durango!

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Stopped at a rest area just before the final toll booth and was amused by the bathroom door signage:

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Made it to Durango!

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Considering what a disaster the road is, quality-wise, even all the feats of engineering in the form of tunnels and bridges did not make the $500 I spent in tolls seem reasonable for how tedious this road was to drive. I looked forward to possibly revising that opinion on the road back!

Unlike Mazatlán, Durango believes in street signage, so with the help of my GPS, I found my hotel without a single wrong turn. The parking beside it wasn’t attached to the hotel, though, so I took some street parking to go check in and find out where to stash my truck. When I came back, I had a warning on my windshield that I was in a pay parking zone (metres) and would get a ticket if I didn’t move ASAP. That’s when I knew for sure I was in a very different world from Mazatlán, but more on that later. First, let’s get settled in the hotel!

Great Plains Concert in Willow Bunch

Tonight, I had the great pleasure of attending a Great Plains concert for the second time. Great Plains are Saskia and Darrel, who happen to be good friends of C&C as well as lovely people and very talented folk singers. They play both their original songs and covers of famous songs, like Jolene and The Boxer. My favourite is My Father’s Land and I bought their Celtic CD, which has that song on it.

I left my hearth and home when I was barely grown
Set my eyes on foreign skies and distant roads
I wandered aimlessly without a care or plan
I always thought I’d once more walk my father’s land

….

I’ve been a sailing, I crossed the ocean blue
And I’ve seen old Mexico, I’ve walked those desert sands
There’s just one thing more in this life I have to do
That’s to walk those green hills of my father’s land

The event was a fundraiser for the Willow Bunch Museum. There were goodies at intermission where, after getting a brief glimpse of the eclipse and the blood moon (two shows in one night!), I enjoyed a glass of crisp white wine and some cheese, and perhaps a Nanaimo bar or two, before listening to the second half of the show.

Saskia and Darrel are wonderful performers, very lively and funny. Their music made me sob one second (Porchlight) and laugh the next (Cabin Fever, where the bit about the propane freezing during a practically brutal cold spell is when I started to cry mirthful tears at the memories of my one SK winter in my RV).

What an unusual treat for a Sunday night to go listen to some live music! I am so fortunate that arts and culture are valued in this area and that events like these just 10 minutes from Haven aren’t unusual. I really should take better advantage of them!

Tombstone, AZ

I am really into the history of the Wild West and the characters that inhabited it. So you would think that visiting Tombstone was a must for me. Not in the least. Afraid of a tourist trap, even copious numbers of people telling me to go there weren’t enough to make me believe that this iconic western town would be worth a detour. If it hadn’t been kinda sorta on the way to Nogales from Tucson, I would have definitely given it a pass.

I spent an enjoyable day there and do not regret going, but I feel that my initial misgivings stand. Lots of fun can be had in Tombstone and if you’re a history buff you’ll get your fill of artifacts, but if you want a more genuine-feeling Wild West town experience there are lots of better choices.

Before I get into my narrative about the day, I have to explain the lack of pictures. You can take as many pictures as you want in Tombstone of anything, but you cannot post anything about paid attractions online without express written permission, which is apparently difficult to get. So you’ll just have to take my word for a lot of this. 🙂

My first stop was the courthouse museum, admission $5. It was full of history about Tombstone and its colourful inhabitants.

Tombstone courthouse.

Tombstone courthouse.

I learned about the card game faro, the most popular game at the time, but which is now outlawed in the US because it gives the house a 67% chance of winning.

One of the more ghastly exhibits was a reconstruction of the gallows. I believe they are the second gallows I have ever seen (the first being in Ottawa!), and let’s just say they’re not nice to look at. 🙂

I learned about a Chinese man who was born in Virginia City, MT, where I was just recently, and the Chinese population of the town.

One exhibit that I found quite impressive was two large walls full of all sorts of different types of barbed wire. I didn’t realise that many exist!

The courthouse museum was a good start to my day. I then headed for Allen Street, the main kitschy touristy drag with a faux Western look (go to Dawson City for a more realistic one!) and lots of shops selling tchotkes.

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. :)

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. 🙂

I encountered a man who loves the outdoors and doesn’t let his physical disabilities stop him from going off the beaten path. Picture taken with permission!

Impressive wheelchair!

Impressive wheelchair!

My next stop was the Bird Cage Theatre, admission $10.

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This was a theatre/brothel/gambling hall/saloon that operated from 1881 to 1889 and has been preserved intact, one of the few original Tombstone buildings that survived the fires. Admission gives you all the time you want to wander the rooms. This was a wow experience for me. So much history, and preserved almost exactly as it was 125 years ago! I was able to use the incredible zoom feature in my camera to see details in the wallpaper of the viewing balconies and details of the ceiling.

The Bird Cage Theatre was totally worth the admission price also. Buoyed by my success thus far at avoiding tourist traps, I took the plunge and went to check out Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, named after Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. The saloon was once the Grand Hotel.

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The saloon was a little loud, but the music was good old classic country sung by a lively entertainer, so I decided to stay for a bit. I ordered a beer and perused the menu. The food was really inexpensive (!), so I decided to try their ‘Stampede’ burger, with cheese, bacon, and BBQ sauce. Surprise, the burger was excellent and they even made frozen fries taste good somehow! I tipped the server and singer generously, and still came out of there at less than $20 for a beer, lunch, and a show!

Before I left, I took the twisty stairs down to the basement into yet another shop so I could see the room of the man who did menial labour at the hotel and tunneled his way from his room into a silver mine in his downtime. Seriously!

Yup, my day was going well! So well, in fact, that I decided to jump into the tourist trap and buy a ticket to see a recreation of the OK Corral gunfight. I ponied up $10 and for that got to see the show, the OK Corral museum, the Tombstone history movie, and I got a free copy of a reproduction of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper with the article about the shootout and subsequent inquest!

The gunfight show was amusing. The acting wasn’t great and I thought that it was hilarious that they cast an old guy to play Billy Clanton, who was 19 when he died at the hands of the Earps. What I got from the show was a better sense of the unvarnished truth about the fight and where it happened exactly. One of the most memorable parts of this whole part of the day was seeing the map Wyatt Earp drew in the 1920s showing what he remembered about the placement of people during the fight. He had bad handwriting!

The movie dated back to the 1950s and was narrated by Vincent Price! It was a little bizarre in that most of the action was in a diorama and occasionally a screen would come down to show reenactments of certain things. I learned a lot about the history of the town. The founder was told when he went to the area that he would only find his tombstone, hence the name he picked for the settlement!

I have to say that I find it distasteful that there’s a sign on Allen Street at the back of the corral saying that the fight happened there when the true location is on now super busy Fremont Street, several doors down from the corral. There’s a sign there, too, but I think a lot of people would miss it. I only knew to look for the spot because of my own knowledge of the event.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight. There’s just a little sign next to Fly’s photography studio and boarding house.

I went to the actual fight site while munching on an ice cream, found for just $2 for a decent-sized cone. When I was done with that, I went to the Epitaph office to pick up my free paper. By the way, I love the name of that newspaper!

There is a free exhibit in the newspaper office about the man who founded it and quite a lot of history about his and Wyatt Earp’s connection to the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike gold fields!

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My free paper would have cost me $3 and I would have bought one, so I really got my money’s worth out of that OK Corral show ticket!

My final stop of the day was the Boothill Cemetery. Access is free through yet another gift shop. I paid the $3 to get the booklet that gives info about all the graves.

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Billy Clanton's grave.

Billy Clanton’s grave.

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I was surprised to find Tombstone to be relatively inexpensive and good value if you spend your money carefully. I never once felt that I was paying a ‘Tombstone tax’, a premium just because of the location.

I’m glad I went to Tombstone and found the experience worthwhile, but this wasn’t a wow day for me at all. What I enjoyed most were the artifacts. I’d say the two best parts of the day were my first steps into the Bird Cage Theatre and seeing Wyatt Earp’s gunfight map!

Two pictures from the trip to Nogales:

This pest control's car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

This pest control’s car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!

Wagon Train 2014

Like last year, I chose to join my friends Charles and Caroline on the Wood Mountain Wagon Train for my vacation. This time, I went with my friend L, who brought his trailer, so I had a kitchen and a cook! 😀

The setting this year was the East Block of Grasslands National Park. We set up a base camp at Rock Creek Campground and set out each day in a different direction.

Caroline was recovering from back surgery, so she stayed behind during the day, opting for walks in the hills with their dog, so there was extra space in the wagon.

L and I arrived on Sunday. It was very sunny and hot until we arrived, and then it got pretty wet and cold, a disappointing start to the week. We set up camp next to C&C. Like last year, I opted to sleep in my truck and use a tent as a change room and wash house.

Sunday supper was a communal potluck with roast beef and a bunch of sides. I brought coleslaw.

Monday dawned very wet, but the rain stopped in time to go down for the traditional first morning of the wagon train breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and coffee.

I knew that one family had brought an extra horse, so I went to ask if I could ride for a few hours at some point in the week. I was asked my skill level and if I had proper footwear. My skill level is good and I was wearing cowboy boots, so I was promised that something could be arranged.

Monday morning, I rode in the back of the wagon and it was pretty comfortable since we were going through a cleared path and Charles had put a bus seat in the wagon, an improvement over last year’s hay bale!

It rained at lunch and then the black clouds stayed behind, so we all got into our rain gear. A young girl (‘Daisy’) from last year’s wagon train, whom I’ve seen on and off in Assiniboia and who is the daughter of the lady I had asked about a horse, came by and offered me her mount, a grey named Wynter, for the afternoon. I was shocked because she doesn’t let anyone else ride her horse!

I asked if I had to stay with the wagon or if I could play in the hills and Daisy said she’d seen me ride last year and that I could do what I was comfortable doing. I immediately felt comfortable on Wynter and knew I would have a great afternoon, alternating between walking and trotting through the Prairie, a fair distance from the wagons.

I was a bit nervous about mounting Wynter since there was no mounting block, but I got right on her without any issue. I’m 30lbs down from this time last year at this time and can’t believe what a difference it makes! I was able to easily mount and dismount all week!

At one point, Daisy and her mount, Sadie, rode to the top of a tall butte and Wynter decided that she was going up there, too. I nudged her into a gentle lope and she decided to go into a full out gallop! I’m pretty sure I’ve never been that fast on a horse before. It felt like I was flying! Seasoned riders who saw me take off thought that that was pretty impressive riding for a greenhorn. I felt safe and in control, so I just enjoyed the ride. Wynter stopped at the top when I asked her to.

Rain started up again as we headed back to camp. Horses don’t like the wind because it messes up their senses and they turn their back to it. As soon as the wind picked up, Wynter would stop and turn her rump into the wind. She wouldn’t budge until the rain stopped and the wind died down. It was pretty uncomfortable because the rain was like little ice pellets needling my neck and the back of my ears, but it was better than dealing with a panicking horse!

When I got to camp on Monday afternoon, I helped groom Wynter and brought her to the watering trough. I was pretty beat and quite sore!

Tuesday was this year’s OMG THAT WAS SO AWESOME day. I woke up pretty stiff and my tailbone was hurting, but I was in much better shape than after riding the year before.

I started the morning by riding up front with Charles in the wagon and he gave me my first wagon driving lesson!

We stopped for a break before lunch and Daisy came up to me with a horse she was ponying (leading by the halter). She’d asked the owner if I could ride him and he said that based on what he’d seen on Monday, I sure could! So I switched to riding a beautiful chestnut named Dee for the rest of Tuesday morning.

After lunch, I saw that Dee’s owner was going to remain on someone else’s mount and that Daisy was going to pony him again. So I went to Dee’s owner and asked about riding him all afternoon. “Sure! Have fun!” Wow, some people are so nice!

I set off with the wagons and then heard Daisy call my name. She told me to join the seasoned riders who go over more difficult terrain on a different path than do the wagons. Holy moly! I felt very, very comfortable on Dee and decided to get out of my comfort zone a little and do this.

I learned to ride in a part of Quebec that is very, very, very flat, so I don’t have much experience with going up and down hills, especially ones in uneven terrain. Daisy gave me tips and my confidence grew with each descent.

At one point, Dee took off on me and I think it’s because he stepped on a cactus or something. I wasn’t in control the way I had been galloping with Wynter on Monday and somehow one of my fingernails got caught under the reins and bent backwards, so I was fighting pain and a pretty wild horse. It was rather exciting. 🙂 I got Dee calmed down, tended to my hilariously insignificant wound, and felt rather pleased with myself. I did not feel any less secure on Dee after this, I’m happy to say.

Tuesday afternoon was full of big open country and buttes that seemed to be made of elephant skin. It was the stuff of dreams.

I really liked how I felt safe in that there were seasoned riders all around me, but I wasn’t being babied and I had full control over the route I wanted to take. I got a few tips when I needed them, but I felt respected even though I was a greenhorn. More than one person said that I was invited to come along because I’m a good rider on the right horse and I know my limits. I go out of my comfort zone, but I’m not cocky.

One of the last obstacles of the day was a fairly deep water crossing. That went better than my water crossing in Scotland where the horse decided to leap over the creek! Dee just plowed right through and barely took time for a drink.

When we got back to camp, Dee’s owner had me dismount at his trailer, then changed his mind and suggested that I take his horse up to the watering trough, where someone else would take care of untacking him. For the first time ever on a horse I didn’t know super well, I dismounted without someone else holding my horse and remounted on my own! It felt really nice to ride up the hill to the watering trough all by myself.

L made the most perfect wagon train dinner Tuesday night, spaghetti with buffalo meat! I also got to snack later on Caroline’s venison salami.

I was really stiff by Tuesday night, so I had a dram of Scotch to loosen me up before bed. 🙂

Wednesday and Thursday weren’t particularly memorable except that we did the water crossing in the wagon on Wednesday and went through some really rough terrain on Thursday. I rode in the back of the wagon all day Wednesday and sat in the front on Thursday morning. Part of why the days began to run together is that the landscapes were all essentially the same this year. I do remember the butterscotch Schnapps from Thursday night very well. 🙂

Thursday was also games night, which was more fun than last year since there was room to do them on horseback. The kids did all sorts of stuff, like doing figure eights while holding a piece of toilet paper. The objective was to finish the pattern without ripping the toilet paper.

We had expected Friday to be a short day, but wound up going out all day (which means to about 2:30PM). I rode in the back of the wagon in the morning and then was offered a horse until lunch. This horse belongs to the daughter (JB) of a good friend of Laura’s.

The horse is young and very green and I didn’t feel very comfortable on her, so I declined to ride her in the afternoon. Instead, I rode up front with Charles and got a second driving lesson, this time going up and down hills and around curves!

When we got back to camp on Friday, it was time to pack up. Charles and Caroline had three vehicles between them and had planned to drive the bus, horse trailer, and car home, then come back for the truck and wagon trailer on Saturday. But JB’s dad showed up with her mom, so we had an extra driver.

She had never towed anything and didn’t want to drive C&C’s truck towing the wagon trailer. I’d never towed anything like that, but have towed behind the motorhome, so I felt comfortable suggesting that she drive my truck (after confirming that she can drive stick) and that I would drive C&C’s truck.

C&C were delighted with this arrangement since they would have to pick up their truck about twenty minutes away instead of nearly an hour and a half.

It was pretty harrowing driving that huge truck and trailer, but I took it slow and got it to JB’s dad’s without incident, then I switched to my truck for the rest of the drive. This was barely a detour and I quickly caught up with C&C and L on the last leg of the journey back to Haven.

I really enjoyed the wagon train this year and having L along. He made breakfast in the morning, I was on my own for lunch, and then he made dinner. JB joined us for most meals and we would do the washing up after. L really doesn’t mind doing the cooking and was thrilled to not have to clean up after!

After Monday, the weather was perfect, very hot with an unrelenting sun during the day and very cool at night. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so tan in my life and I was wearing long sleeves and pants, a wide brimmed outback hat, a kerchief around my neck, boots, and tons of sunscreen. Next time I do this, I’ll add thin cotton gloves because the back of my hands took a real beating.

The wagon train will likely be in the same location next year and if that’s the case, I probably won’t go. I just wasn’t as enchanted with this site as I was last year’s. Don’t get me wrong; the rolling hills of southern Saskatchewan never cease to wow me with their beauty, but I like to see different things.

I took hundreds of pictures, but, again, I know my readers don’t need to see that many iterations of green rolling hills, so here’s a sampler.