Friday, August 12, 2011

Elk Island National Park

Thursday, we moved 55 miles from the West side of Edmonton to the tiny community of Lamont on the East side of the city.  As I’ve mentioned before, Edmonton is a big city with lots of traffic.  It also has lots of road construction.  There are no interstates as we know them in the US.  The closest resemblance to an interstate are the TransCanada highways, of which the Yellowhead Highway (16) is one.  We got on 16 and almost immediately got into the construction zone.  Past the construction, as we made our way across town, we had traffic lights and turning traffic to contend with.  We survived it all, however, and came out unscathed on the other side.

We chose Lamont RV Park because of its location near Elk Island National Park.  Elk Island has a campground, but, like most national parks, without hookups.  Temperatures are warmer this week and we wanted electricity in case we needed air conditioning for The Peanut.  It’s just as well we decided to stay at Lamont RV.  We drove through the campground at Elk Island and would have been hard pressed to find a site long enough for us.

Elk Island National Park has been a disappointment.  It is a long, skinny park with one road running north/south through the middle.  Although the name is elk “ISLAND”, it’s not an island.  There are some islands scattered about within some of the many lakes and there are a lot of ponds, but the park is not surrounded by a body of water.

Although the name is “ELK” Island, it is probably more known for its bison herd than for elk.  In fact, I’m not sure there are any elk here.  We’ve made 4 trips through the park and haven’t seen one.  We were beginning to think there weren’t any bison either, but they finally appeared this morning.

The park has a population of both species of North American bison--the Plains bison which we are most familiar with especially at Yellowstone, and the Wood Bison.  It had been assumed the wood bison were extinct until a small herd was discovered in the late 1950s near the border of Alberta and Northwest Territories in what is now Wood Buffalo National Park.  In the 1960s a small number of those animals were moved to Elk Island.   Those few animals have grown into a substantial herd and are now the source herd for other parks in North America and Russia.

Astotin Lake

We found the herd this morning as we were driving to a trailhead for a hike.  They were several yards away, maybe a hundred, so I couldn’t get a very close photo.  The most disappointing thing, however, was the fence between us and them.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fence in a National Park.  It did keep them off Highway 16.  I guess that’s a good thing.

We started our hike, but I quickly lost interest.  Maybe I didn’t have much interest to start with.  Just kinda wanted to stay home today.  It was easy for me to turn around when we came to a wet spot over the trail that I absolutely wasn’t going to wade through.  We turned around and returned to the car.  I came home and Gene went back to hike one of the other trails near Astotin Lake.

On our drive out this morning, we again took the Bison Loop looking for plains bison.  We got very excited when we saw one around the bend, but when we got there we discovered he was behind a fence.  Gene did see one grazing along the road as he drove back for his hike.

I think the main attraction for the locals to this park is Astotin Lake with its grassy picnic area, sand beach, kayaking and canoeing.  Also at Astotin is a golf course and small cafe.

We stopped at the Visitor Center at the South entrance of the park, but there was nothing there except a very small gift shop and a stuffed baby bison.  The interpretative center and theater were up at Astotin.  Access to the interpretive center was not up to the standards of our Americans with Disabilities Act.  We parked in the lot near the beach and had to walk along a paved path about a quarter mile before reaching the building.

We got there only to learn that they don’t show the movie on sunny days.  Oh well, no rain in the forecast for our stay here.  The interpretive center consists of a few more stuff animals; although, I must admit the mountain lion was great.

As we were driving through the park yesterday, we stopped for a short hike to Beaver Pond.  Not only did we not see any beaver, we didn’t see the pond either.  It has dried up long enough ago to be completely grown over.

Also in the Astotin area is the Ukrainian Pioneer Home.  This replica was built in the early 1950s as a museum to honor the Ukrainian pioneers of this area, but it is closed now because it fails to meet modern codes.

We’re moving farther East tomorrow.  I’m not sure of our destination for tomorrow night, but it will probably be a Wal-Mart.  You know what that means--no WiFi.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

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