An Autumn Trip Through The Prairies

An Autumn Trip Through The Prairies
For most people, the prairies inspire feelings of boredom. The vast landscape of nothing, the images of flat land, and endless poker-straight roads are not appealing. Most people crave the scenic beauty of mountains, the sun glaring off the sand at some ocean resort in the tropics, or the hubbub of metropolitan flair.

But the Canadian Prairies are so much more than that, and seeing this landscape amidst the fall harvest puts it in a new light. Leaving Calgary on the new ring road takes us quickly away from the city, and we enter the countryside. Our destination is Mantario, Saskatchewan. A bleep on the radar, population (2011) is 5, yet it has its own Wikipedia page. We immediately taste the prairie landscape as we travel the lesser highways and appreciate the blue sky, populated with sheep-clouds as a reference point. Soon, we encounter massive farms, Hutterite operations with silver silos that twinkle in the sunshine. Before we reach our first stop, Drumheller, we pull over. With the window rolled down, I ask two farmers who are chatting, undoubtedly, about the best harvest in the history of mankind, in the middle of nowhere, leaning against their big trucks. “Is there a McDonald’s around here?” They laugh, and appreciate the joke and point us toward Drumheller, the last chance for gas, and the burly man jokes, “there’s a McDonald’s, a Tim Horton’s.”

Drumheller is an unexpected interruption in the prairie landscape and infamously known as the badlands, a 68-mile road trip from Calgary. Stunning vistas of wind-carved scenery shaped the land and left behind the (protected) Hoodoos, sandstone pillars resting on a shale base, capped by a stone. This image is right out of a Panavision western, and it took millions of years for these iconic pillars to form. In Drumheller, the popular, world-famous, and largest dinosaur (86ft tall) rests on its haunches and greets the 375,000 visitors with his toothy smile. The Royal Tyrell Museum houses Canada’s most extensive collection of dinosaur fossils and is a place for the whole family to enjoy. We’ve visited the museum before. Even today, we still marvel at the collection and interactive stations which explain so much about T-Rex and his cousins, their formation, and demise.

But our mission is to head to Mantario, so we fill up with gas and coffee, we packed a picnic lunch, and continue. As we head deeper into the prairies, we see massive harvested fields of gold, straw bales on every horizon, and feel the wind skim over our car as we slice through the tarmac heading east. In the middle of nowhere, we encounter a sight that will always stay with me—a herd of beautiful horses roaming in a field, neighing when we pull over. I recognized the branding CS, Calgary Stampede. There must have been several hundred of them and each as beautiful as the next.

We cross into Saskatchewan, the big sky and the sheep-clouds are identical; only a sign on the road differentiates one from the other. By now, I’ve taken what seems like a million snapshots of this serene landscape, and not once did I think it was boring or ugly. If anything, I fell a little bit in love with the land, the patches of gold against the green and muted shades of autumn. Although there were a few stretches of scrub grass, of flat and uneventful scenery, I appreciated the contrast from mountains to the west and farmland to the east. In Saskatchewan, tumbleweeds chased us, and the wind howled louder. We stopped in Mantario for a photo-op with the town sign, laughed into the wind, and found the gravel road leading to our destination.

Our friend isn’t lying when he says he lives in the middle of nowhere. Out his living room window, facing south, is an empire of wheat and above him an endless sky, broken from time to time when a massive gaggle of geese, ducks, or swans flies overhead and lands in the small lake behind his house. It’s beautiful. One can’t argue that.

One small fact that many, even Canadians, don’t know. Saskatchewan is home to a staggering 100,000 lakes, which cover roughly 10% of the province. And Northern Saskatchewan is blanketed by the Boreal Forest, a woodland as necessary as the Amazon.

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