Category Archives: travel

Christmas & Holiday Gift Guide for Teens | 2015 Edition

What do you get for the teenaged boy on your Christmas list.  The easy way out is cash and gift cards.  We aren’t going to take the easy route out.  We are doing this the hard way and come up with a list that any teenager would love.

Asus Zenpad 7” 16GB Tablet

Asus Zenpad 7” 16GB Android Tablet

  • 7″ IPS Display (1024 x 600) with ASUS TruVivid technology for better visual experience
  • Intel Atom x3-C3200 Quad-Core, 64bit, 1.2GHz
  • 1G RAM, 16G Onboard Storage, Bluetooth 4.0
  • 2M/0.3M Dual Camera; 1 x microSD Card slot, support up to 64GB SDHC
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop

$100 for a cutting edge tablet?  I’m okay with that.  The Asus Zenpad tablet runs a 1.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Atom processor, Android 5.0, more than enough RAM to run the latest applications and 16 gb of storage for videos, music, and homework.  It also has a .3 megapixel front facing camera and a 2 megapixel rear facing camera

While you are at it, pick up a case, Bluetooth keyboard, Micro SD card and a Bluetooth speaker.

Amazon Fire Tablet with a 7” Display

Amazon Fire Tabet with a 7" Display

For less then $50, you can get your teen a modern and functional tablet from Amazon.  If you get the $49.99 version, it comes with advertising on the lock screen but for only $15 more, it has no advertising, just a fully functional tablet.  It’s a great deal.

Pentax K-50 DSLR

We gave Mark my Pentax K-30 to him after I upgraded this summer.  The advantage of Pentax over other DSLR’s is build quality.  The K-50 has over 80 water seals in it.  This means that the teen you are shopping for can take it far more places and adventures than other DSLRs.  The other advantage is the amazing price.  At under $500 (with a 18-55mm lens) it is one of the least expensive DSLR’s out there right now.

Pentax K-50 Digital SLR from Don's Photo

The PENTAX K-50 is a mid-level DSLR with fast, advanced functionality, all wrapped up in bold colors. Featuring specifications of a top level DSLR, enjoy a 16 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, fast continuous shooting at six frames per second, high sensitivity shooting up to ISO 51200, 100% field of view, innovative in-body shake reduction, and an advanced auto focus module with four optional focusing screens, not to mention the PENTAX-original weather-sealing. Also enjoy full 1018p HD video capture, and eye-fi card compatibility for fast and easy image sharing.

At the end of the day, you aren’t buying your teen a DSLR for them, you are buying it for the family time you will spend together shooting it.  This summer Mark, Oliver, Wendy, and I went for countless walks, hikes, and adventures together for no other reason than to shoot from photos and see what we could see together.

If you are wondering about available lens for Pentax, check out my guide to Pentax DSLR lens that I wrote this summer.

Ricoh WG-4

Ricoh WG-4 Ruggedized Camera

If you have a smaller budget, this Ricoh WG-4 is a great adventure proof camera.  It’s waterproof, crushproof, and has a built in GPS to record where you are when you take the photo.  It has a quick f2 lens, 16 megapixel CMOS sensor.  It is the perfect option to take into the backwoods, on a long road trip, or just attaching to your pack for a day out.  Like all WG series cameras, it comes with a wide series of mounts so it can attached to your bike, car, or helmet.  Not only are you getting a great camera but with the mounts you are getting many of the capabilities that a GoPro offers.

If you are looking seriously at a camera for your teen and aspiring photographer this Christmas, check out this post I wrote over at the Don’s Photo blog, it gives many more options than I listed here.

Sennheiser HD 202 II Headphones

Sennheisser HD 202 II Headphones

There is a good choice that your teen has an iPod or phone that plays music already.  The music is great but one overlooked thing is what do you play it on.  Sennheisser headphones are a great bet.  The Sennheiser HD202 Stereo Headphones prove to be a low priced alternative to high-end studio headphones.  Sure they may be asking for Dre Beats but Sennheisser headphones offer superior sound at a far better price.  No wonder they are the number one best selling headphones this year on Amazon.

Brainwavz Delta In Ear HeadphonesBrainwavz Delta IEM Earphones

 

If you are on a budget (and who isn’t) this Christmas, here are some fabulous looking and sounding headphones by Brainwavz at an affordable price.   Already named the best sounding headphones under $40 by the audiofiles at The Wirecutter, they offer one of the best values of this Christmas season.  And who doesn’t like a great pair of headphones for a really good price.

OontZ Angle 3 Ultra Portable Bluetooh Speaker

OontZ Angle 3 Ultra Portable Bluetooh Waterproof Speaker

One of the most popular and wished for items on Amazon.com.  Brought to you by Cambridge Soundworks, this Angle is the latest in a line of amazing and affordable speaker systems.   It comes in comes in many color options and is 5.3 inches wide, 2.7 inches high, and 3 inches deep. It weighs 9 ounces, which makes it a lightweight unit.  Not only that but it is waterproof meaning that it can go where your teen goes.

Turcom Graphic Drawing Tablet 8 X 6 Inches

Turcom Graphic Drawing Tablet 8 X 6 Inches

Tucom is making tablets affordable for use by anyone, not just artists. This high-quality Tursion drawing tablet is priced just right, so everyone can enjoy the benefits of a graphic tablet. It includes several software utilities, such as PenSigner and PenMail, which allows you to use handwritten signatures, adding a personal touch to what is usually thought of as an impersonal medium. Easy to install and to use,

We gave one to Mark last year for his birthday and he has loved it.  It works with almost any kind of Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10 software has allowed him expand is skills and talents as an artist.

The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens by Sean Covey

The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens by Sean Covey

From Sean Covey, the author of the international bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, this bestselling follow-up book builds upon the legacy of the 7 Habits and shows teens how to make smart choices about the six most crucial choices they’ll face during these turbulent years.

The challenges teens face today are tougher than at any time in history: academic stress, parent communication, media bombardment, dating drama, abuse, bullying, addictions, depression, and peer pressure, just to name a few. And, like it or not, the choices teens make while navigating these challenges can make or break their futures.

Celestron PowerSeeker Telescope

Celestron PowerSeeker Telescope

You aren’t just giving a gift when you give a telescope as a gift.  You are opening up the wonders of the universe.   All of Celestron’s PowerSeekers include a full range of eyepieces plus a 3x Barlow lens that provides an increase in viewing power hundreds of times greater than that of the unaided eye!

Quest Super Cruiser Artisan Bamboo Longboard Skateboard

Quest Super Cruiser Artisan Bamboo Longboard Skateboard

Squier by Fender “Stop Dreaming, Start Playing” Set

Squier by Fender "Stop Dreaming, Start Playing" Set

If he wants to be a rock star, what better way to get him started than with a Squire guitar and amp by Fender?  It comes with an electric guitar, amp, bag, strap, cables, and picks.  Basically everything he will need to rock out in 2015.

ALPS Mountaineering Chaos 2 Person Tent

ALPS Mountaineering Chaos 2 Person Tent

So many parents we talk to tell me that all their kid is sit inside and game all summer.  In part because that is where all of the money is spent.  Instead of a new Playstation 4 or a XBox One, why not get them some quality gear for the great outdoors?  This 2 person tent invites them to get outside, explore the world, and see what else is out there.  Whether it is a weekend at a nearby regional park or an overnight hike on a historic trail, give them the gear to go exploring in 2016.

It is a roomy 2 person backpacking tent. It has a Hubbed Shockcorded Aluminum Frame that is strong and durable. The Full Coverage Fly will protect the tent from the worst weather and has 2 Doors and 2 Vestibules for stowing excess gear out side the tent. Each Vestibule has an Adjustable Vent to help with ventilation. And the no-see-um mesh panels on the roof and walls will help keep the tent comfortable. So much mesh that you could leave the fly off for stargazing should the sky be clear. Other features include fully taped Fly and Floor seams, aluminum stakes, sturdy #8 zippers,

ALPS Mountaineering Lightweight Series Self-Inflating Air Pad

ALPS Mountaineering Lightweight Series Self-Inflating Air Pad

When you’re away from home and want to add extra comfort to your cot or sleeping bag, try this ALPS Mountaineering self-inflating air pad. Par of the lightweight series, this pad inflates and deflates quickly with the jet stream foam and rolls up compactly to fit into the stuff sack. The top fabric is tough, lightweight ripstop and the bottom is made of durable polyester taffeta. Another benefit of adding an air pad is that it will help keep you warmer, which is essential to a well-rested night at the campsite. A stuff sack, compression straps, and repair kit are included with every pad.

Energizer 90 Lumen Headlamp

Energizer 90 Lumen Headlamp

If they are going to explore, they are going to need to know where they are going at night.  For this, they will need a headlamp.

  • Four LED headlamp with three white LEDs and one red LED
  • Three modes: White (high & low), red for night vision
  • Pivots to direct light where you need it
  • 80 lumens of light output
  • 8.5 hour run time
  • Packed with three Energizer MAX AAA batteries
  • Water & impact resistant to stand up to harsh conditions.

 

Etekcity Ultralight Portable Outdoor Camping Stoves with Piezo Ignition

Etekcity Ultralight Portable Outdoor Camping Stoves with Piezo Ignition

Everyone has to start somewhere, and for beginning backpackers and campers there’s no better place to start than the Etekcity mini camping stove. There’s virtually zero setup and it’s extremely easy to use with no risk of fuel spills and no priming required.  We have one of these and it is the easiest stove I have ever used.  You just screw it into the fuel canister, turn it on, use the Piezo ignition system and away you go.

Bushnell BackTrack D-Tour Personal GPS Tracking Device

Bushnell BackTrack D-Tour Personal GPS Tracking Device

Even if your teen does get lost, he or she can always find their way back home with the D Tour Personal GPS Tracking Device from Bushnell

High-functioning GPS capabilities and a precision digital compass with latitude and longitude allow you to track any course by automatically keeping track of time, temperature, and altitude, along with route, length and speed. Once you mark one of five waypoints, it will also help you find your back to that place, whether it is a camp, a parking lot, or home.

Garmin eTrex 20x GPS

Garmin eTrex 20x GPS

The best selling sports GPS unit on Amazon is the new eTrex 20x is our upgraded version of the popular eTrex 20, with enhanced screen resolution and expanded internal memory so you can download a greater variety of maps than ever. This rugged, dependable GPS retains the ease of-use and affordability that eTrex is legendary for, with an array of compatible mounts for use on ATVs, bicycles, boats and cars. The new eTrex 20x also has the ability to track both GPS and GLONASS satellites simultaneously. It supports geocaching GPX files for downloading geocaches and details straight to your unit.

Other Christmas Gift Guides

Christmas & Holiday Gift Guides

Southern Prairie Railway in Ogema, Saskatchewan

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We took a weekend to go to Ogema, Saskatchewan and experience the Southern Prairie Railway.  The railway is a tourist one and offers different kinds of rides every weekend.  It is the only tourist railway of it’s kind of the prairies. After getting to Ogema a little early and taking a look around a truly charming town, we headed to the train station and looked around.  After boarding, we were off to the ghost town of Horizon, Saskatchewan. 

Along the way, we were treated to entertaining local history and stories by the host of the trip who both shared a prepared presentation and interacted extensively with the audience.  Once to Horizon we were able to go inside a historic Federal Grain elevator while the train turned around and we headed back.  The entire tour takes about two hours in a restored Pullman carriage (the restoration of the carriage makes for a great story in itself).

Starting with lunch in the community, the entire afternoon was worth the time and the money.  The boys, Wendy, and myself loved the trip and want to do it again in the future.

We did learn one thing on the train and that is the back of the railcar swings quite a bit.  The difference in going to Horizon and then back was extremely noticeable.  Not a distraction but another neat part of the trip.

You can find out more about the railway at www.southernprairierailway.com.

Claybank Brick Plant

Wendy, Mark, Oliver and I visited and explored the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site.   The Claybank Brick Plant remains frozen in time, virtually unchanged from the day it opened in 1914.

Brick manufactured at the plant graces the facades of many prestigious buildings across Saskatchewan as well as many other provinces. Face brick was produced until 1960’s, and adorns such prominent buildings as the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon. Among many others, the beautiful Gravelbourg Cathedral is faced entirely of Claybank brick as are a number of court houses and other public buildings.

The rare fire brick produced here lined the fire boxes of the CN and CP Rail line locomotives, and of warships in World War II. The fire brick was also used in the construction of the rocket launch pads at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Not only does the brick plant constitute one of the best preserved examples of early 20th century industrial activity in Canada, but is one of a small number of heritage attractions in Saskatchewan to have achieved formal National Historic Site designation status.

The self guided tour cost us $25 and about an hour to complete.  There are also trails into the hills south of the site and I wish we had time to explore.

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This was a lot of fun for both me but the entire family.  We explored for a while together and alone and found all sorts of fascinating sites and facts while on the site.   I think it is also a testament to the vision of the community which has worked very hard to raise the money and put in the elbow grease to slowly bring this site back and make it into a National Historic Site.  They say they are $2 million into a $6 million project so make sure you visit and then donate.  It’s a site that is worth preserving.

Just a quick note for when this post is buried in the archives.  The weekend trip was made possible by Ford Canada who gave us a 2015 Ford Focus to use and review.  They also paid for a big part of the weekend.

Focus on Saskatchewan

Ford Focus on Saskatoon

Day 2 with the 2015 Ford Focus saw us say goodbye to Moose Jaw and head south towards Ogema, Saskatchewan.  First we had to get a photo with Mac the Moose.

2015 Ford Focus and Mac the Moose in Moose JawMac the Moose in Moose Jaw

Of course in the most Saskatchewan of things, the photo was photobombed by a CT-114 Tutor, otherwise known as the plane flown by the Snowbirds.

As we made our way south, we stopped in Rouleau, the home of Corner Gas and also known as Dog River.

The set of Corner Gas is a lot smaller than you would think.  It’s also falling apart.  There were reports that someone was going to turn it into a gift shop or a museum but nothing has been done with it.

We saw the home of the Dog River Howler, the Dog River Hotel, Oscar and Emma Leroy’s house and of course the surveillance bush.

The Dog River Howler in Rouleau, SaskatchewanThe Dog River Hotel in Rouleau, SaskatchewanDog River The set of Corner Gas in Dog River, SaskatchewanThe set of Corner Gas in Dog River, Saskatchewan

Then it was to Ogema where we grabbed lunch at the Rolling Hills Restaurant, checked out the old Fire Hall and the British American Gas Station.  By the time we did that, it was off to the Southern Prairie Railway, a tourist railway that took us from Ogema to what is left of Horizon, Saskatchewan. 14 miles away.

Southern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanIMGP1415Southern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, Saskatchewan

This is what is left of Horizon, Saskatchewan.

Federal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, Saskatchewan

A quick summary of what we learned on the trip

  • Steam locomotives were slow.  Only about 15 miles per hour.  No wonder thieves targeted trains.  They were loud, slow moving, and predictable.
  • Small Saskatchewan towns were placed 7 miles apart because that is how far a farmer could deliver grain in a day back then.  Some say it was to refuel and water the steam engines but nope, it’s about grain delivery.
  • Driving south of Moose Jaw on Highway 6 was the most isolated I have ever felt.  No houses for as far as the eye can see.  Considering at one time every section would have had a home on it, it’s incredible to think I was seeing hundreds of sections from on our drive with almost no signs of life.
  • You can still get parts for Pullman cars.
  • Each top window in the Pullman car we road in was a different size.
  • Never underestimate the spirit of rural Saskatchewan to take on impossible projects.
  • Horizon, Saskatchewan went from a vibrant rural community to only having two buildings left because of property taxes.  The government offered them a hospital but the town turned it down because they were afraid property taxes would rise in town.  This lead to the hospital going to Bengough (which is booming by the way) and eventually Highway 13 being moved.  This killed the town and today there is only a decommissioned Federal Grain elevator there.
  • I was shocked at how well built grain elevators are.  They were built out of 2x4s or 2x6s laying flat and nailed together with one foot spikes holding them together.  Each board would have 50 to 60 spikes driven into it making them built to last.
  • Locomotive collectors are a unique breed who care more about finding a good home for their locomotives then selling them.  The on that Southern Prairie Railway bought had to keep the livery colors or the original owner.  Coincidently the livery colors matched the owners of the short line railroad that own the tracks.

After we were done, it was back into the Ford Focus and then home.  It was shorter to come home via Regina so we did that.   This is what I learned about the Ford Focus

  • All of the highways we went on were in good condition but some were smoother than others.  The Focus gave a nice ride on all of them.
  • As I wrote yesterday, the car is quiet on the highway.
  • I managed to figure out who was at fault over the Google Maps weirdness, I am pretty sure the bug is with Google Maps.
  • Drink holders.  It has 8 of them.  This is great for travelling with kids.  The boys had their Nalgene water bottles with them as did Wendy and I.  Yet if you grab a coffee or a drink with a meal, you still need another one.  The Ford Focus has them.  It’s almost as if Ford engineers travel with children.
  • According to Mark and Oliver, the stereo sounds great in the back seat.  Ford’s stereo does compensate for road noise and can focus on the driver or the entire car.  It was a big hit.
  • I looked everywhere for it.  The stereo offers me an option to plug my iPod into a line in port but I couldn’t find one.  I may have missed it but I think it is a mistake in the stereo menus.
  • Handling is fine.  I wasn’t rally racing but around Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, and then Ogema, the car handled wonderfully.

Would I buy one?  Well Wendy and I talked at length about getting one (probably the hatchback) when we got back to Saskatoon.  That should tell you our feelings about the car.  It’s a car that is really worth buying.

Ford Focus Road Trip: Moose Jaw and Claybank Brick Plant

Ford Focus on Saskatchewan Road TripThis morning, Wendy, Mark, Oliver and I piled into the 2015 Ford Focus.  We tossed my L.L. Bean canvas duffle bag, go bags, and some camera gear in the back and headed south towards Moose Jaw.  The drive was pretty normal until we came to Chamberlain.

For those of you not from Saskatchewan, let me explain Chamberlain to you.  The highway from Prince Albert to Saskatoon is four lanes.  The highway from Saskatoon to Regina is four lanes, except when you go through Chamberlain and then it goes down to two lanes for about three kilometers.  There is absolutely no reason it has to do this but it does and it drops to 60/kph as it goes through town.

Today the speed was 0 kph.  It was at an absolute standstill.  My first thought was that there was an accident on the highway but no, there was a really long convey of about 20 Jays Moving trucks all pulling out of the roadside turnout and they were blocking traffic.  First of all I have no idea why they were blocking traffic and secondly, why was there a need for 20 Jay’s Moving semis to be travelling together in a convey?  It was weird.

We turned east at that point until we got to Keeler, Saskatchewan.  Keeler is home of the Cooper’s and is a town of about 15 people.  My grandparents house (and the post office) had been torn down but the bar I used to hang out when I was six was still there.

The Keeler Hotel in Keeler, Saskatchewan

I am also pretty sure that this was the garage that my grandfather used to run.  It has been moved but it’s still there.    The ball diamonds I used to catch gophers in are still there.  My grandpa’s dog Tip used to hide in the long grass beyond the outfield until a ball came near.  My memories were of a lot of ground rule doubles as Tip took off with the ball.

The Keeler Garage in Keeler, Saskatchewan

From there we drove to Moose Jaw and checked into the Temple Gardens Hotel and Mineral Spa.  Our room is small, not that well maintained and some disturbing looking stains on the carpeting.  We didn’t stay long because we wanted to check out the Claybank Brink Plant.

The Claybank Brick Plant is a National Historic Site about 30 minutes out of Moose Jaw.  I don’t know how to describe it.  The organizing committee says they are $2 million into a $6 million project and I kind of think the $6 million is low.  It’s really dilapidated yet really awesome at the same time.  I totally you recommend you go. 

The website mentioned that Google Maps has the wrong location and it does.  If you can get to Claybank, you can see the plant but getting to Claybank was hard enough with Google Maps.

Google Maps says it’s turn by turn directions are in beta but when my iPhone is plugged into the car and connected to Sync via Bluetooth, it muted the turn by turn directions entirely which is kind of annoying when you are driving.  To make a long story short, I missed my turn and had to go back… where I missed the turn again…  There was good signage and I am old school, I always have a map but I was thinking the bug has to be with the iPhone and Google Maps working together and then being connected to the Ford via Bluetooth.  Hopefully Google fixes it.

When we got to Claybank, I couldn’t help but notice this church steeple off in a distance.

St. Joesph's Parish in Claybank, Saskatchewan

No signs outside but a quick Google search told me it was St. Joesph’s Catholic Church.  It’s obviously been made by bricks from the plant.

So as I am taking this photo, my Google Maps finally starts to talking to and I think was telling me to go in two different directions at once.  Of course it is supposed to learn from correct routes but since we detoured into Claybank to take this photo, I didn’t exactly really help the situation.  Sorry about that.

We finally drove into the plant.  Part of it goes through a farm yard.  I wasn’t totally sure if I was at the right place but I realized, “It’s Canada, if I took the wrong turn, three farmers will politely correct my and then offer to have us over for lunch.”

So the plant is a step back into time.  They say it is essentially unchanged from the way it was in 1914 to 1937 and I believe them.

There are tours that you can take earlier in the summer.  Today we were given a map and sent on our way.  We explored all of it in about an hour and it was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Here is the Focus with the plant in the background.  It’s a little dusty (both the plant and the car).

2015 Ford Focus at the Claybank Brink Plant

This is the restored bunkhouse.  It is now a gift shop, coffee shop, and where you pay to start the tours.  It was one of the first things to be restored.

The old bunkhouse at Claybank Brick PlantThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

This is where the magic started.  The clay was brought here and stored.  It’s the start of the assembly line.The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

While today was hot even for the tour, I can’t imagine what it would be like to work in here.

The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

This is one of the furnaces.The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

These furnaces were all hand laid.  Inside there was no mortar because the bricks would expand so much during heating and contract during cooling.  They would put 70,000 bricks in there and heat them for a week.  Then it would take about another week to cool.  Then a week to unload them.The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe 2015 Ford Focus at the Claybank Brink Plant National Historic Site

They still are aggressively fundraising.  While our entry ticket helps out, I also plan to make a donation.  It’s a great site and I hope they are successful.

We then headed back to Moose Jaw and parked the car for the night.  We made sure we left it a nice view overlooking downtown Moose Jaw.

IMGP1385

Then we took the boys to the mineral spa. The pool is quite nice and we spent some time up there on the roof top spa today.  Supposedly the waters have the same minerals as the one in Bath, England does.   That being said, I have read that about almost every mineral spa that I have ever looked up online.

For dinner, the plan was to go to Smoke’s Poutinerie but it looks like they were shut down last night.  So that didn’t work out as we had planned.

Instead Wendy and the boys went to Deja Vu, a place that specializes in chicken and milkshakes.  If it sounds familiar, it has been on The Prairie Diner and You Gotta Eat Here! before.  We walk in and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are losing 14-7 when Smith throws a pick that makes it 21-7 for the Blue Bombers.  The place is full of people wearing Rider gear and no a single person reacts.   Not even a single grimace.  We are still fans but we are at the same where we aren’t going to let what happens on the field affect us.  I think this is what Chicago Cubs fans go through.

My thoughts on the 2015 Ford Focus.  They are mostly positive.

  • I love Ford’s 6 speed transmission.  I can’t say enough positive things about it.  It makes the car a joy to drive.
  • It is more than big enough for us for a weekend road trip.  The sedan has more space then the hatchback but even the hatchback would be adequate.
  • There are a lot of drink holders which is nice as you start with a travel mug and then stop for a bottled water or a soda later in the day. .
  • The car is quiet on the highway.  You hear very little road noise.
  • All of the Ford vehicles that I have reviewed have all had the Sony stereo upgrades.  After tweaking the standard Ford stereo for my tastes, the factory Ford stereo is excellent.  The one thing that is frustrating with it is that the user interface is brutal.  For some tasks you have to use the upper buttons while other similar tasks you need the lower ones.  It’s not a deal breaker and you definitely get used to it but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t need to be annoying.  
  • From the first time I reviewed a Ford car to this time, Sync continues to be tweaked an improved every year.  It’s not a big thing but it is nice to see that Ford’s commitment to quality goes to everything.  The nerd in me would love to see the upgrades in software and processing power that has made this possible.
  • I’d seriously think about buying this car.  It’s not perfect but I like it a lot.  So do a lot of you since it is the best selling car of all time (passing the Toyota Corolla).   The only non-factory upgrades I would get would be the bars on the roof so one could add a rooftop storage container.

Tomorrow we continue south to Ogema where the boys and Wendy will take the Southern Prairie Railway for a ride and then it is back home.  You’ll see more photos and some final thoughts on the Ford Focus tomorrow. 

Ford Focus Road Trip Starts Now

Focus on my City with the 2015 Ford Focus

Good morning.  Wendy, Mark, Oliver, and I are about to hop into a 2015 Ford Focus and take it for a weekend long road trip across Southern Saskatchewan.

The first leg of the trip today is taking us from here to Moose Jaw where we will be checking into the Temple Garden’s Hotel and Spa in Moose Jaw.  After dropping off our bags, we are heading to the Claybank Brick Plant, a National Historic Site which was instrumental to the railway; from the building of brick facades for railway hotels (like the Delta Bessborough) to firebricks for trains and even World War II fireboxes.  After exploring that, we are heading back into Moose Jaw where we will explore some more of the city, hit up Smoke’s Poutinerie for supper, and then relax in the spa tonight.

Sunday morning will see us getting up early, grabbing breakfast and the heading south to Rouleau, Saskatchewan.  You may know it as Dog River.   After a stop there, we are heading to Ogema, Saskatchewan where we will take a trip on the Southern Prairie Railway.

As always, Ford Canada is lending me the car for review.  This time they are also covering our expenses for the trip but haven’t placed any restrictions on what I can write.  I did however sign an agreement that says that no one can smoke in the car.  It is unsaid  but I am pretty sure that I am prohibited from doing any Evil Knievel type stunts or jumps with the car as well.  This is in part because I don’t look good in leather jumpsuits. 

Mark, Wendy and I will be tweeting the trip, posting stuff to Instagram, and writing about the day in long form on our blogs.   Hope your weekend will be as much fun as ours.

Mud Creek Trail

Despite my ankle and foot getting way worse, I decided to take the family on one last hike of the year.  So I hopped up on pain killers, put on an ankle brace, grabbed a trekking pole and hoped for the best.

Mud Creek Trail is about a 10 minute drive outside of Waskesiu along the Narrows Road.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

Here is Mark and Oliver getting ready with Marley in the parking lot.  Oliver has already found a walking stick.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

And we are on the trail with Oliver and Mark taking the lead.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

I gave Wendy the camera because I was about to throw Marley in the lake. Safety first.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

The smoke never seems to go away for Prince Albert National Park.  First it was forest fires from the north and now this is from Washington State.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

This is Marley after discovering a rather angry squirrel.  The squirrel is barking at Marley from the trees while throwing down nuts at her and Mark.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

This is a view of Mud Creek.  During the spring it is visited by black bears who feed on the spawning trout.  Other than three angry squirrels, we didn’t see any wildlife on our hike, in part because Mark and Oliver are only slightly quieter than a marching band on a hike and also because the wind was blowing off the lake and carrying our scent up the trail.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

So despite being sick with a badly infected ankle all of 2015, we managed to hike The Narrows Trail, The Waskesiu River Trail, Mud Creek Trail, the Gift of Green Nature Trail, and the Johnston Canyon trail as a family.  Mark and I also managed to tackle some trails at Wanuskewin in June.    The Mud Creek Trail may have been my favorite.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada in Banff National Park

We used to come to Cave & Basin National Historic site quite a bit when I was a kid.  It wasn’t as big of deal back then and it was much more poorly lit as you entered the Cave part (which I loved).  So having not been there since 1983, it was nice to head back and see what has changed.  Of course taking the boys back here was great and they enjoyed it quite a bit. 

After the crowds of Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon, a quieter venue was a great way to kill an hour or so while the boys learned about the history of the place and it’s roll in the founding of our National Parks.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada

So this is the cave part of Cave and Basin.The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of CanadaThe Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada

It used to be a hot springs where people would come from all over to bathe in.  Those days are long gone but Parks Canada has recreated the bath area of the hot springs.The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of CanadaThe Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada

Two of Parks Canada famed red chairs were waiting for me to sit down and relax in.The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada

This is the basin part of the Cave and Basin.  There are endangered Banff snails in there and the smell is quite sulfur-ish.The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of CanadaThe Cave and Basin National Historic Site of CanadaThe Cave and Basin National Historic Site of CanadaIMGP0463The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada

It’s Batman and Wendy exploring the lower levels.  Mark and I were enjoying a cool breeze on the upper deck.The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of CanadaThe Cave and Basin National Historic Site of CanadaThe Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada

The green roof of the Parks Canada gift shop which has an assortment of Parks Canada and Banff gear that you won’t see anywhere else in the town of Banff.  It alone is worth checking out.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada

If for some reason you want to see some more photos of Cave and Basins National Historic site, check out my album on Flickr.

Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

While in Banff National Park, Wendy and I took the boys up to Johnston Canyon which was insanely busy.  The parking lot was packed and by the time we left, people were parking over a kilometre in both ways down the Bow Valley Parkway.   We had plans to take the boys to the upper waterfalls.

So as the sign says, it is a 1 km hike to the first falls.  Yet when I started the Map My Hike app on my iPhone, it said that it was 4k with a return hike. 

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

I think I have met these three people before.

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

They enjoyed the walk.  They weren’t tired but the progress was at a standstill because there was a group taking selfie’s up ahead.

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

This is my favorite shot from the hike.

The hike along Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

A Parks Canada employee has what looks to be a long and wet day ahead of him.

Parks Canada employee preparing for what looks to be a long days work at Johnston Canyon in Prince Albert National Park

IMGP0396Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

This is the legendary lower falls of Johnston Canyon.  We had planned to go to the upper falls but as the photos show, the crowds were brutal and the antibiotics I had to deal with the infection in my ankle hadn’t beaten the infection back very far.  Combined it meant that it would be a long hike and since we are coming back next summer to hike to the inkpots, it wasn’t a big deal to call it a day and dodge the selfie sticks back to the car.

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

I think we can all agree that I nailed this picture of a chipmunk.

 Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

Did I mention that the trail was packed.  This is the main reason why we didn’t go to the second falls.  So many people (and my ankle was really hurting me).  Also, most of the people we passed on the trail were looking at their phones.  Apparently world class scenery and nature doesn’t compete well with Angry Birds.

 Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

If you want to see more photos from Johnston Canyon, check out the full set on Flickr.

Sawback Picnic Area in Banff National Park

Sawback is a small picnic area on the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Johnston Canyon.  It used to be small and has gotten smaller since Parks Canada has moved the tables near to the roadside turn off and allowed the vegetation to take over old picnic areas.

Growing up, it was my favorite place in the world.  We used to take a yearly trip from Calgary (and later Saskatoon) to Johnston Canyon and then picnic at Sawback.  I was looking forward to taking the boys there and was quite disappointed when all there was left was some picnic tables near the parking lot.

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It wasn’t the picnic areas that make it so great, it was the babbling brook of glacier runoff that make it so much fun to explore as a kid.  I knew that didn’t go anywhere so I followed an overgrown trail into the bush and 50 feet into it I found the brook.

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Mark and Oliver did exactly what I did year ago and this jump across it and get all wet.

Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkMark and Oliver at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkMark and Oliver at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

This shot was right after I had scolded the boys about making faces every time I tried to take their photo.

Mark and Oliver at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

So while the picnic tables placement kind of sucks, we will return in 2016 with a proper picnic blanket and food.

Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkWendy at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkA forced family photo at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

I told Mark that there is a sacred Cooper tradition of dunking one’s head into the glacier water that ran out of the Sawback mountain range.  He put his hands in, screamed from the cold…

Mark dunking his head into freezing glacier water at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkMark dunking his head into freezing glacier water at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

 

And dunked his head into it.

Mark dunking his head into freezing glacier water at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

After he got out and was struggling with hypothermia did I tell him that he was the first of the Cooper’s to do such a thing.  Yes, I am a horrible father.

All of the snapshots I took at Sawback can be found in their album on Flickr.

Downtown Calgary

I realized that while Wendy had posted some great photos of Alberta, I hadn’t gotten around to them yet.  Here are some photos of downtown Calgary that I grabbed after we arrived in Calgary and took the LRT downtown.

Nexen Building, Calgary

The back of the Nexen Energy Building.

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You just about hear someone say, “I want no one to have any fun in this park, ever.”

Oliver breaking the rules in Century GardensIMGP0237

Century Gardens is an urban park located in Calgary’s downtown core that was originally developed in 1975 to celebrate Calgary’s Centennial. The Devonian Group donated the park land for the creation of a place of respite within the hustle and bustle of a busy downtown. Designed and built as an artistic expression of a landscape referred to as Brutalist; the fountains and water are symbolic of the area’s mountains and rivers. The City recognizes this park and its unique features listing it in Calgary’s inventory of evaluated historic resources.

What’s interesting is that Calgary points out that the park is pretty much worn out and is at the end of it’s lifecycle so they are planning to redevelop it.  Something that Saskatoon should start to do with Meewasin which is showing it’s age.

Westview Heights

Westview Heights.  A highrise building built in 1972 consisting of a parkade, commercial offices, and apartments. The apartments dominate the building, consisting of the 14th to 39th floors.

The parkade makes up the second to seventh stories of the building, while the commercial section of the building consists of floors 8 through 10 and the 40th and 41st floors. Floors 11 and 12 are mechanical floors while floor 13 (identified as "R" for "recreation") consists of recreational facilities for tenants (a swimming pool, exercise facilities, a lounge, etc.)
The building was renamed from Century Garden to Westview Heights shortly after a 2002 electrical fire.

Century Park in Downtown CalgaryThe University of Calgary’s downtown campus

The University of Calgary’s downtown campus.

Parkade in downtown Calgary

This parkade reminded me that parking garages don’t have to be ugly.  On the outside of it are reflective pieces of lightweight metal.  They provide a bit of protection for the cars inside but they also move and ripple in the wind so they do a good job of providing some visual interest to the street where there is none.

It is details that make a downtown great and all over Calgary you see that.

Western Canadian Place

Western Canadian Place consists of two buildings, the taller North Tower and the shorter South Tower.  It was designed by the architectural firm, Cohos Evamy (the same firm who designed Bankers Hall – East and Bankers Hall – West in Calgary) in late modernist style and was built in 1983.  It is the headquarters of Husky Energy and Apache Canada.

Around this time, I got a DM from Dave King who wanted to see if we wanted to grab a bite to eat in downtown Calgary.  We ended up at The King and I, an amazing Thai food place that if I say anymore about, Wendy will get upset because she is doing a review of it for Zomato.  So I’ll add a link to it when she posts it.

Calgary TowerCalgary TowerLewis Stationary Ltd.

Built in 1910 for the J.H. Ashdown Hardware Co. in 1910, this warehouse space remained a store for Ashdown’s overstock until the Lewis Stationery company purchased the building in 1972. In 1995 it became another addition to Calgary’s loft developments.

Home of Saneal Cameras, the Lancaster Building in downtown Calgary

Home of Saneal Cameras, the Lancaster Building in downtown Calgary.  The Lancaster Building was constructed between 1912 and 1918.  Designed by architect James Teague of Victoria, British Columbia, the building incorporates the Edwardian style of architecture. Calgary’s first 10-storey structure downtown, this building was named after the House of Lancaster, one of the sides in the British War of the Roses as the subject of history was an interest to the building’s original owner, J.S. Mackie.

National Beer Hall

Calgary seems to understand the importance of all sides of a building better than Saskatoon does.   This is at the back of the legendary beer hall in downtown Calgary.

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Banker’s Hall in downtown Calgary.

IMGP0272The Calgary Tower from a different perspective

So many good memories of the Calgary Tower.  It is now Oliver’s favorite spot in Calgary.  Especially the glass floor.  After we went to the top of the Tower and Oliver looked out every single observation binoculars, we headed towards The Bow.

The Hyatt in Calgary

Suncor Energy Centre

Wanderland in front of The Bow

View of The Bow