Westward Ho(ly cow)! Episode 7: Eastward Home!

On September 18, 2022, we left Florida for a 5 1/2 -month road trip, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, New Mexico, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. It was an ambitious itinerary and we were excited about checking many “must-sees” off our bucket list.

And … we’re off! (September 18, 2022)

Sometime in December, we decided that spending two more months in the cold, northern winter would be too much.  So, we cut our month in the Sax-Zim Bog down to just a week and pointed ourselves towards home at the end of January.

by mid-December we were done with the cold and snow!

By the time we pulled into our driveway in Okeechobee, we had traveled 22,614.6 miles for 130 days, visited 19 states and two Canadian provinces. 

22,614.6 miles later we were back home (trip odometer rolled over three times) January 25, 2023

In all those miles, we sat in traffic due to an accident just once:  ironically, it was outside of Orlando on our way home, less than 100 miles from Okeechobee.

Oscar and Maddie were amazingly good road trip pups!

We stayed at seven different Airbnbs and spent 15 nights in hotels while moving from one place to the next. TG fully packed and unpacked the car sixteen times, and partially unpacked/repacked it 30 times.  

TG had the packing & unpacking puzzle down to a science!

After we returned home, someone asked, “what was your favorite sighting?”  In 4 1/2 months of favorites, that’s an impossible question. 

Instead, we’ve compiled a list of the “Best/Worst” along with a few photos.  We’ve also put together a highlights video you will find at the end of this blog.

Best Drive: The roads from Canora, Saskatchewan to Fargo, North Dakota for the beautiful landscapes and all the wildlife we saw along the way.

What is left of Arena, ND, a ghost town between Minot and Fargo, January 6, 2023

Worst Drive: Teton Pass had TG white-knuckling it while I breathed into a paper bag. (Seriously!)

Teton Pass

Best AirBnB: Our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan. It had everything we needed and was laid out perfectly, with a fenced-in yard for Oscar and Maddie.

our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan

Worst AirBnB: None! They were all great!

Best Hotel: Hyatt House, Minot, North Dakota. Full size kitchens and complimentary washers & dryers!

Worst Hotel: Days Inn, Topeka, KS. Don’t even ask.

Best Meal: Huevos rancheros at the El Corral Café in Corona, New Mexico

Huevos Rancheros at the El Corral Cafe in Corona, New Mexico

Worst Meal: Thanksgiving, 2022. We wanted fancy cheeses but all we could find in Socorro were Kaukauna cheese balls.

Thanksgiving dinner, 2022

Funniest Moment: See Worst Meal. I asked the salesperson if they had any brie and she replied, “is that a type of alcohol?”

Scariest Moment: Driving the Norris-Canyon Road in Yellowstone National Park on a sheet of solid ice.

the icy, snowy roads through Yellowstone National Park

Favorite Sighting: Huck, the huge grizzly bear we spotted crossing the Snake River while driving the Rockefeller Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. “It’s a bear!!!! In the water!!!”

Huck, named by the locals for the nearby Huckleberry Mountain

Favorite Landscape: Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Favorite Night Sky: The Northern Lights in the wee hours of January 4, 2023

Around 2:00 am, January 4, 2023

Most Memorable: Our week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton

a view of the Grand Tetons from our shower!

Our Bucket List:

Grizzly and black bears √

black bear, Grand Teton National Park

Moose √

moose bull and cow, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features √

Old Faithful timelapse, Yellowstone National Park

Bear and bison jams in Yellowstone √

bison jam, Yellowstone National Park

You can read all about our visit to Yellowstone in Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side


Mormon Row √

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn at Mormon Row √

the Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton landscapes √

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park

You can read all about our visit to Grand Teton in Episode 2: The Grand Splurge


Bighorn sheep √

bighorn rams, Badlands National Park

You can read all about our visit to the Badlands in Episode 3.5: The Big Surprise


Northern lights √

Canora, Saskatchewan January 4, 2023

You can read all about our trip to Saskatchewan in Episode 4: Christmas Lights, Northern Style


Saw-whet owls √

Northern saw-whet owl, Fargo, North Dakota

You can read all about our trip to Fargo in Episode 5: Saw-Whet, Say What?!?


Great gray owls √

great gray owl, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

You can read all about our trip to the Sax-Zim Bog in Episode 6: Sax-Zim Bog-Golly, We’re Back!


We also had some delightfully unexpected surprises. The first was when I had taken a turn driving and said, “I’ll just go to the next rest area.” Little did we know that rest area was home to the beautiful sculpture, “Dignity.”

the 50ft high Dignity (a.k.a. Dignity of Earth & Sky) sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota

Both TG and I had the opportunity to meet up with several schoolmates along the way.

Welcome sign for TG at his grade school friend’s pub in Lawrence, KA

And many surprises in New Mexico where we spent a lot of time driving around the state during our month-long stay:

Gallup and the El Rancho Hotel

El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, New Mexico

Valley of Fires

Valley of Fires, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, New Mexico

The Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque

Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

You can read all about our trip to New Mexico in Episode 3: Back to the Bosque


We were also smitten with the rolling hills in both South and North Dakota and the beauty of Saskatchewan including the hoarfrost, all of the wildlife we saw while driving around, the “prairie sentinels” that dot the landscape, and the delicious Ukrainian food!

Ukrainian skuffles (a type of tiny cinnamon roll) O.M.G.

And a few final stats:

Windshields replaced: 1

nice chip in the windshield driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico

Times stuck in snow: 0

waiting for the roads to open after someone else went off the road, Yellowstone National Park

Times car would not start: 0

Oil Changes and tire rotations: 2 (Bozeman, MT & Albuquerque, NM)

Stickers on car from places visited: several dozen

we were planning to take them off when we got home but have grown to like them!

Refrigerator magnets: several dozen

quite the collection!

New T-shirts: a dozen or so

Westward Ho(lights)! video from our trip (click to open a new tab in Vimeo):


When we left Okeechobee back in September, we said to each other “at the end of this trip, we’re either going to arrive back home saying NEVER again or let’s GO again!”

Stayed tuned … we’re already planning our next trip!

22,000-mile punchiness: “Take a little trip, take a little trip with me-ee”

Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 4: “Christmas Lights, Northern Style”

After a successful detour to South Dakota’s Badlands for bighorn sheep, we continued with our original itinerary north to Canora, Saskatchewan in search of the Aurora Borealis.

Saskatchewan: Land of Living Skies

The drive through the Dakotas is beautiful – reminiscent of the Palouse Region in the Pacific Northwest with miles of gentle, rolling hills.

South Dakota
North Dakota

And – an abundance of wildlife! On our drives both north and back south, we spied multiple deer, including a large buck that crossed the road directly in front of our car, an elk, a bighorn ram, two foxes, a herd of pronghorns, bald eagles, a golden eagle in aerial combat with a peregrine falcon, and dozens of ruffed grouse and pheasants running alongside the road.

white-tailed deer (buck)

The further north we drove, the more wintery it became but the roads were clear with no traffic.

Heart Butte Dam at Lake Tschida, North Dakota

We crossed the border at Northgate,

the US-Canadian border at Northgate

Entered Canada with no delay and were comfortably settled into our cozy Airbnb in Canora by late afternoon.

our home for the next month
“Mission Control”

Faustino’s home was perfect: warm and cozy with everything we needed for our stay. We could not have found a better, more convenient place for us and Oscar and Maddie! You can find his listing here (click on link to open a new tab): https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/48015023?adults=2&check_in=2023-08-01&check_out=2023-09-30&source_impression_id=p3_1672925397_HSQFHY5gOVgdcBS3

Welcome to Canada, O & M!

We took our time getting to know the charming little town. We went to the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s bake sale for cabbage rolls and to chat with the local ladies – who were amazed that we had driven all the way from Florida with our two pups!

Welcome to Canora sign, church bake sale, Ukrainian Catholic Church

We scouted out various dark sky locations for Northern Lights — should Lady Aurora decide to dance,

the perfect place to catch Lady Aurora dancing and a cool old truck to mark the spot!

And photographed the beautiful Christmas lights on Main Street.

downtown Main Street
King George Park

One morning we drove to the Whistle Stop, a small diner in Norquay. Over breakfast, we struck up a conversation with a local couple, Livia and Rick.

the Whistle Stop in Norquay and egg & cheese breakfast skillet

Livia insisted on hurrying home for some of her freshly baked skuffles – a type of Ukrainian cinnamon roll. “I’ll be right back,” she promised.

Livia with her home-made skuffles, Rick, & TG

Sure enough, ten minutes later she was back with a package of tiny, cinnamon-sugar deliciousness. OMG!

Livia’s skuffles

Another evening we enjoyed the annual Christmas Lights Festival in Sturgis, a small town to the north. Horse-drawn carriage rides …

carriage rides through the snow and twinkling lights

Hot cocoa …

free hot cocoa

A warm fire …


And beautiful lights …

twinkling lights

It was ♪♪ beginning to look a lot like Christmas! ♪♪

selfie at the Sturgis Christmas Lights Festival

Clouds continued to blanket all of Canada, and thus far our Northern Lights quest was unsuccessful. Who could have predicted so many nights of overcast skies?!? 

100% overcast every night

But we are not ones to sit around and mope. We quickly shifted gears and focused our attention on the 90ft grain elevators that stand guard over every town. 


Historically, Saskatchewan’s economy was based on agriculture, producing a significant percentage of Canada’s wheat and other grains.  Grain elevators were iconic symbols of Saskatchewan and synonymous with the province’s agricultural roots. By 1960, the number of these “prairie sentinels” had peaked at close to 3000.


But as farmers moved to steel silos, the wooden elevators became obsolete and expensive to maintain. They are now a dying breed; it is estimated that 10-20 are lost every year to demolition, fires, or natural disasters, and only about 300 remain standing. 


We wanted to capture a little of this history before it is gone forever. TG plotted multiple routes and we spent days driving from town to town, photographing the vintage towers,

TG at Pelly

Along with cool old barns, beautiful churches,

St Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Kuroki

And interesting buildings.

“Welcome to the …” (Springside)

One day we drove east into Manitoba to photograph the Inglis National Historic Site, the last complete row of vintage grain elevators in Canada, and a rare survivor of the long rows that once dominated the prairie towns.

the Inglis row

The Inglis row was built between 1922 and 1941, Manitoba’s golden age of elevators. The buildings have been preserved in their original positions and restored to original condition.


On another snowy day, TG plotted a route that ended up with too many roads that had not been plowed. I had more luck shooting wildlife photos than he did with the grain elevators!

red fox dashing through the snow

After back-tracking twice we finally arrived at the grain elevator in Waldron.


As we snapped away a man asked what we were doing and then invited us into his home for a cup of coffee. Our hearts — and our toes — were warmed by an hour of delightful conversation in Don and Virginia’s kitchen!

TG, Virginia, and Don

You can view all of our “prairie sentinel” photos here:

preeceville elevator -2755
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

While we waited for conditions to improve, we found other interesting things to photograph. Light pillars happen on cold winter nights when there are ice crystals in the air. Lights that point straight down reflect off the snow on the ground, and the reflected light lights up the crystals.

Light pillars from the corner of Charter and George Street, Canora

Sun dogs, or parhelions, are formed by ice crystals suspended in clouds that drift in the air at lower levels. These ice crystals act as a prism, bending the light rays that pass through them.

a sun dog in Nut Mountain (around 9:30am)

And we were pleasantly surprised by all the wildlife we saw while out and about!

coyote in a field

Although I would not recommend traveling to Canada in the dead of winter just for the wildlife, we regularly spied moose, foxes, coyote, deer, and many species of birds while out on our photo safaris.

You can view all of our wildlife photos here:

Saskatchewan Wildlife
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

And we celebrated Christmas dinner at Lynn’s, a little Chinese restaurant in Sturgis … because nothing says “Christmas” like veggie chow mein! We actually made Lynn’s a regular stop for reasonable and good food!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

But this trip was all about capturing the Northern Lights. Our friend Janet lived in Alaska for 28 years and she had warned us that there were many winters when they never saw any lights. So, we came to Canora with high – but realistic – hopes and agreed that even one good night would make the drive worth it.  The night of Dec 22 looked promising.  The skies were finally clear, the solar wind speeds had picked up, and the BZ numbers were dropping – all indications of increased aurora activity.

the night of Dec 22 was looking good!

Sure enough, our “Aurora Alert” app chimed around midnight.  We bundled up and headed out to our dark-sky spot. We could see the shimmering lights before we even got out of the car, and they grew more brilliant as we watched.

Dec 22, 2022

Despite the -15° temps and 20mph wind, it was everything we could have hoped for.  We both stood in awe, hearts caught in our throats as we watched Lady Aurora’s beautiful dance for the first time.

Dec 22, 2022

The next night she danced again, and we were there to capture her.

Dec 23, 2022
Dec 23, 2022

She appeared for a third night on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Lights (northern style) we had hoped to see!

December 24, 2022 (20-image pano)
“Stars don’t beg the world for attention: their beauty forces us to look up.” (Matshona Dhliwayo)

December 29 gave us a relatively weak night, but if it had been our only sighting, we would have been thrilled.

December 29, 2022

The Space Weather Prediction Center issued a G1 geomagnetic storm watch for the night of January 3, 2023. Without getting too technical this meant that, if the skies were clear, we were sure to see a show. Although we were heading back to North Dakota the following morning, we drove out to our dark sky spot at midnight.

January 4, 2023 (1:30am)

Lady Aurora’s dance was the best thus far, and two hours in the cold passed quickly.

30-second timelapse of 199 images shot over approximately one hour

She was still dancing when we returned home, and we captured a few more images above the house.

Aurora over Faustino’s Airbnb
33-image pano looking north from the corner of Charter and George Street

Capturing the Aurora is not easy. It is a ballet between the cold, the clouds, and the light. But nothing in the sky can compare to the beauty of what we saw on those five magical nights in Canora. As we watched the Lady dance, it felt at times like my very soul was being drawn out of my chest and into the stars.

“It is a ballet between the cold, the clouds, and the light” … And your camera settings!

You can view all of our “CanorAurora” photos here:

January 4, 2023
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

We traveled to Canada for the “Christmas Lights, Northern Style” but experienced so much more: historical grain elevators, wonderful wildlife, and beautiful, pristine landscapes. As we say au revoir, we cannot help but be enchanted by this Land of Living Skies.

Not every paradise is tropical

Coming soon: Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 5: “Saw-Whet, Say What?!?”

TG & me with a little painted rock owl