QC2BC11: 2020/08/01: Qu’Appelle Valley to Medicine Hat
The Qu’Appelle Valley is amazing because it contrasts so much with the prairie region which it traverses. After eroding a beautiful valley, the river now meanders lazily through it–creating the occasional oxbow lake and spreading out into a number of larger lakes along the way. The hills reminded us of the brown, baked hills of the Okanagan country with the occasional hayfield where the terrain allowed grass and tractors. It’s obviously a very popular vacation spot–well-populated with cabins, trailer parks, and campers along each lake.
We followed the valley westward on highway 247, crossed it at highway 47 heading south, then climbed the bank to the flat prairie above to connect once again with highway #1 after making a post office stop at Grenfell.
Just a little west of Indian Head we caught up with one of the more spectacularly long trains heading across the prairies with about five engines plus an engine in the middle. The view of the train, a long string of telephone poles, a distant microwave tower, and the straight long road provided a dramatic image of the traditional transportation and communication infrastructure of the prairies before the development of satellites. The only missing elements were many ships waiting at the ends of this ribbon of steel.
Closely integrated into this network were the monster elevators that have replaced the many smaller ones that identified each of the small villages along the railroad. The new elevators are concrete monsters that dominate the skyline–much larger than the traditional ones. They make sense from the perspective of the corporations that constructed them, but they require farmers to travel longer distances and are often constructed outside municipal boundaries to avoid the higher taxes. For many municipalities and counties it also meant additional road costs to deal with the extra trucking and greater loads.
We travelled beside the march of telephone poles and power lines, the railway, and occasional microwave towers under a sky full of white fluffy clouds with a blue background. The farms are huge, identified by the brown and gold of maturing grains or the green of pulses and grasses. Occasionally, we could see the low buildings and trees of a small town and perhaps what looks like a skyscraper in the distance, but is merely the profile of the massive grain elevators that have replaced the more modest ones associated with most towns.
By the time we reached Regina we were back into the pancake-flat style prairie where you can see the horizon. The few small copses of trees that identify the location of houses, barns, or some other human construction on the otherwise flat terrain.
We did not stop in Moose Jaw to check out the tunnels on this trip, but we recalled our wonderful visit with Samantha when we discovered their existence and value.
Sloughs and salt
We soon noticed the emergence of many small sloughs along the road, white rings of salt. We were not surprised to see the vegetation change from grains to more hardy grasses that could withstand the salty soil. By the time we stopped for lunch in Chaplin, we could see the piles of sodium sulfate being harvested by the local industry.
We stopped in to Herbert to see how things had changed from our last trip. Herbert is a small town close to where my father was born. We were greeted by a train coming through just as I was busy trying to take a photograph of the old grain elevators. The train was full of empty cars–probably heading to Saskatchewan potash country as suggested by the insignias on the cars (Canpotex). The region east of Regina has become one of the world’s largest sources of potash.
Herbert seemed to be doing reasonably well for a relatively remote prairie town. The local library was still operating, the MCC thrift store was open, the co-op was still selling gas, and there were signs of projects and activities in various parts of the village. The one downside we noticed was that the family restaurant was for sale.
One of the nice things about this section of the prairies is that every so often we got some beautiful vistas because of the occasional hill because of the rolling nature of the countryside.It was just outside of Swift current that we saw the first nodding heads of the oil pumps dotting the farmers fields. It was also soon after that when we saw first signs of irrigation equipment on the hillside.
The Cypress Hills
As we approached the Alberta border, we could see the rolling hills of the Cypress Hills in the south-west. This is an important and storied region of Canada. It was a meeting, hunting, and wintering place for Indigenous peoples. It also became the location of several key events in Canadian history.
One was the Cypress Hills massacre in 1873 in which Assiniboine People were killed by American whisky traders, and bison hunters. It led to the creation of the North-west Mounted Police and eventually the RCMP. The location has become a National Historical Site.
It was also the site to which Sitting Bull and about 3,000 Dakota fled after the battle of Big Horn and Big Bear, Piapot, and Little Pine gathered to try and force the Canadian government to honour its treaty promises. Unfortunately, each of the Indigenous attempts to rectify their situation resulted in failure.
Coming into Alberta we were greeted by beautiful landscapes of rolling hills, gentle cliffs in the distance, and fields full of sagebrush. Every so often a little copse of trees, close to small rivers promised a delightful location for our nighttime camp near Medicine Hat. Unfortunately, the only available site was in an open field near the railway. The lovely food–expertly prepared by Fran–and the comfortable bed of our RV made the poor location a minor irritant.