Abandoned in Saskatchewan for over a year, it was necessary and time to retrieve Tulák. Departing “The Hazy” we were thankful for family and grateful to be back on the road.
To return home, we would travel just over 1,900 kilometers. Our solitary route would be off the beaten path but we would not be alone. Each day brought wildlife sightings – pronghorn, deer (both Mule and White-tailed), coyote, fox, badger, hawk, eagle and dare-devil gophers. We would travel through waterfowl habitat where ducks and geese cruise the sloughs while a heron stands sentry. The silence would only be disturbed by crickets and songbirds.
Unimpeded we explored the Poplar River Mine just outside of Coronach, Saskatchewan. The dragline is used to remove the overburden and expose the coal seam. This was heavy duty machinery.
Over the crest of a hill just beyond Coronach, for as far as the eye can see, a ribbon of shiny new, black railcars comes into view. The dramatic drop in global oil demand has the industry scrambling to find ways to store product until demand returns. As the western provinces have little in the way of excess storage capacity they’ve resorted to using oil railcars. At a dollar a day per car in storage fees, how can this be economically viable?
As we zigzagged our way across Southern Saskatchewan and Alberta we were to follow routes used by First Nations, the North West Mounted Police (NWMP), outlaws and settlers. These secondary roads that hug the 49th parallel are lined with abandoned rails beds and reclaimed ghost towns the sight of which triggers thoughts on pioneers and dashed dreams.
History lessons are to be experienced. Del Bonita “of the pretty”is situated in an area once claimed as Spanish territory. It was considered a most desirable area for homesteading. Indeed, it was here in 1912 that the last great land rush in Alberta took place.
Thousands of years ago as the glaciers that once covered Canada retreated, a ridge was formed. A gap in the Milk River Ridge was to become a notorious smuggler’s rendezvous point.
Straddling the Milk River, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park contains the greatest concentration of rock art on the North American Great Plains. Battle Scene , a significant petroglyph site is the gem. The park also showcases a NWMP outpost reconstructed on its original site.
Until you have travelled the Prairies in June, you don’t know the color of life. Fields have a green hue, at times leaning toward blue dependent on their crop – wheat, pulses (lentils, dry peas, beans and chickpeas), barley or oats.
A canola field startles the eye as does a yellow-ringed slough.
Caragana bushes are profuse on the prairie landscape. After the Great Depression, these bushes were introduced to the west to be used as windbreaks. Although new soil management techniques like no-till farming have made shelterbelts seem obsolete there are still many to be seen.
Nature is the artist and her palette runs the gamut. Sage and Prairie Rose set the scene.
Swaths of color bathe the rangeland. Sometimes fragile and diminutive, these blooms often require you to sprawl on the ground.
At times the land is blanketed in color.
But it is Cacti that takes the prize this trip. Both the Plains Prickly Pear and Pincushion were in bloom.
When driving the Trans Canada across the Prairies you could be convinced to join the Flat Earth Society. But traverse the road less travelled and a host of landscapes will dispel the myth that the Prairies are boring. Just past The Dirt Hills and over a rise you enter the Big Muddy Valley. Castle Butte looms ahead.
Haunted by our 2019 memories of the West Block – Grasslands National Park we were lured to visit the East Block, a Badlands landscape.
We were in rattlesnake territory when we spent the night at the 70 Mile and Eagle Butte trailhead in the West Block.
Captivated by the wide-open plain we explored Old Man on His Back . Alone on this vast property the opportunity to commune with Nature was ours. An encounter with Plains Bison was our reward.
From Old Man on His Back in the Milk River Basin we drove west in search of the river. Sweeping views of the Sweet Grass Hills to the south are seen for miles.
At a Milk River canoe access point we made camp.
Further west, abruptly the Great Plains meet the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Majestic Chief Mountain is most prominent. Although our sojourn on the Prairies was over its images are imprinted forever. The Prairies, where morning and evening sun bathes the horizon in vivid flaming color. The Prairies, where a rippling sea of grasses is mesmerizing. The Prairies, where in its good moments one is tempted to return.
“With open eyes, beauty resides in the scrubbiest of places, in the thickest of overgrown weeds, in the way the warm embrace of glowing sunlight softens long-gone blooms and coddles the ones arising new.” Miriam Halliday