The drive out of town was pleasant enough although not totally out of the prairies the landscape was changing and there were nice aspen trees and it was a relief to see something changing as I continued east. I set out around 11am hoping to make it to the Ontario border before mid afternoon, giving myself some time if I felt the need to stop off in Winnipeg and take a look around, however as I got closer the time seemed to get away from me and I was only half way to my destination. Yet I felt the need to at least stop stretch and relax for a bit, so looking at the Canadian tour book I mentioned Fortwhyte Alive, an environmental education centre featuring bison, prairie dogs, deer and other unique animals (at $6 I thought it wasn't bad value either)
. It was also on the outskirts of the city making it easy to get to and back onto the highway, fearing it would nearly be peak hour traffic too. The tour book said allow at least 1hr minimum so I thought I would have plenty of time (already it was 2pm, but I still had another 3hrs or so of driving left). I found the park ok just following the directions on how to get there using marked signs and once I reached the parking area that's when the directions stopped. I managed to walk in through an open staff entry gate (although a little unsure as to where I was) but seeing a prairie dog enclosure with descriptions made me think I had just gotten away with the entrance fee.
I continued down the path past a house made entirely out of earth (the "sod house" and down to where I could see the bison exhibit. The whole set up was nice enough with a clear but unmarked trail through the forest and sign post scattered sporadically throughout the area. After looking at the bison I continued down a path with man-made birds nests throughout the forest not exactly sure where I was going, just following the path through the forest until it ended. Then I made a bad choice, the end of the path was marked by a large log on its side, thinking I would take a short cut I ploughed off this and through the forest. I went through marshes, aspen forest and apparently a construction zone which read "danger blasting zone don't enter" (I gave that a miss and continued in the opposite direction), all of this was quite fun
. I did see some deer with rather strange fluffy tails though, but because of the bloody rain I got quite drenched. After running around for quite some time I eventually came out on the highway near a shopping centre and a refuse tip (now I'm pretty sure the tour book didn't say anything about this!), however I had no idea where I was only the road I had entered on. After walking at least 2 or 3 km I found the entrance (although not the same one I came in on) to the park again and kept looking around (still no entrance fee either), this time near the lakes area. As soon as I worked out where I was and to get back to my vehicle I left, after the recommended 1hr minimum from the tour book I did well to spend two hours in there, although much luckier not to spend longer after reading that it is a park with an estimated 640 acres. Lesson to be learnt if it's free it's bound to catch up with you and also stick to the trail!
It was still raining when I awoke this morning, making it difficult to get up out of bed. With the prospects of leaving the prairies for a glimpse at something different and eager to travel further east I made the start. I needed to do a few things in town and lucky for me they were in the vicinity where I was so there was little effort navigating and chance of me getting lost.