|Can't see the wood for the trees|
|Everything runs in long straight lines here|
|"All this used to be fields"|
As we expected it had snowed over night but there was really only a light dusting on the ground. It felt cold though and the temperature was just above zero by the time we left. Rather than heading straight for Yorkton we decided to take a detour through the Riding Mountain National Park and up around Duck Mountain Provincial Park so that we could get a taster for the interior of Manitoba. We both want to explore more around here but the weather and time of year are against us so we will just have to come back another time.
The park was covered in a crisp layer of snow and all the trees were white where the snow had frozen onto their branches. It was a beautiful sight and no doubt was the first of many snowy scenes to come. Before long though we were through the park and descending to lower altitudes and warmer temperatures and we soon left the snow behind us.
Just outside the park is the town of Dauphin, home to some of the Ukrainian settlers who moved into a belt of land from here to Edmonton. This is a fairly large town with pretty leafy lanes but again in common with most places we have seen it feels soul-less, lacking the central hub that we are so used to in Europe. The Ukrainian influence is evident in the street names and local architecture (mainly the churches) but we failed to find a little shop selling Ukrainian delicacies, much to Stef’s disappointment.
We followed the route 10 north, driving through more open farming land. This area will be busy in summer with people coming for walking and canoeing and backwater camping but now it is deserted. The volume of traffic dropped off until for the most part we were the only people on the road. While it was great to “have” these vast open expanses to ourselves, the further north we got the colder it became and snow returned and my mind switched to what would happen if we got a puncture or if something went wrong with the van. There was usually someone who came by every ten to fifteen minutes or so but nevertheless….
Along the way we passed old farm buildings that looked deserted. Sometimes there was a new(er) house a little further on but most looked like victims of farm amalgamations in years gone by. One field we passed looked like it was a museum to old, broken farm equipment and cars. It was an unusual mechanical blot on an otherwise neat and tidy landscape. By the time we had reached Cowan the snow had gone again and we stopped here so Stef could grab a coffee. He came back not just with a coffee but some new additional to his CD collection – local Ukrainian fiddle music and what he hoped was music from the First Nations people. The former sounded like Irish and Scottish country music, the latter was too dire to even talk about!
At Swan River we looped back round and headed south along the other side of the Duck Mountain Park, running into snow as soon as the altitude crept up slightly. Crossing over into Saskatchewan we headed to Veregin, a small village where the Doukhobours (according to Lonely Planet “an extraordinary religious sect from Russia”) settled, but moved on as there were no signs that their “model” village was open at this time of year. Instead, we drove on to Yorkton, our chosen stop for the night.
Yorkton was a typical town with a main strip of shops all a glaze in neon lighting. On the edge of town by the highway was a cluster of hotels and we opted for the Comfort Inn. Their pool was shut (shame) but we had a comfortable room with all important very effective heating. It had been close to zero all day and was very cold when we braved the elements to go out for a meal. We avoided the chains and went for a local diner, Tracey James, which was OK and then retreated back to the warmth of our hotel, both feeling that we should be giving it a go in Morty but both knowing it would be too cold to do so.