I'm sitting in an RV in Medicine Hat, Alberta as I write this post. The air is swooshing through the poplars, making the wind sound much more dramatic than it is. I'm reflecting on just how much I love this section of my Canadian prairies road trip.
Why not start with sound? The sound of the poplar trees in the prairie wind was so striking to me, different than that of a wind in maples at home, that I had to look it up. Sure enough, there are those who study the unique sounds of trees. The conclusion on poplars: they shake their leaves in the slightest breeze and are often described as ‘shivering'. I'll have to add the poplars of the prairies to this post on the sound of travel.
Beyond the sound and the unique culture that each prairie town offers, my great appreciation for the prairies is primarily visual. This portion of my RV road trip runs from Winnipeg, Manitoba through Saskatchewan and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, to Drumheller, Alberta. If you haven't already, you may want to read Road Trip from Toronto to Winnipeg via Northern Ontario.
Please note: this trip is not solo. About once a year I travel with Simon, my husband and partner in Solo Traveler. This is that trip.
The Prairie Provinces: Both Dramatic and Subtle
The prairies, known for being flat, are flat enough for the horizon to be very long and the sky very big. The sky is proportionally larger than the earth when looking at the landscape, but it is not so flat that the scenery is boring. There are many hilly areas in all three provinces, sometimes gently rolling and other times dramatically popping out of nowhere. And then there are the coulees. Read the section about Medicine Hat to Drumheller below for more on them.
The blue skies we've had for just about the entire trip so far are not so much blue but variations of blue and mauve, grey and green. Memories of my mother have visited me often as it was she who taught me to see the many colors in the land and sky that could easily be missed. There is not one blue but many. Not one grey but many that contain hues from purple to peach.
The land and sky of the prairie provinces are constantly changing. The juxtaposition of dramatic and subtle make each all the more beautiful.
Road Trip through the Canadian Prairies: Winnipeg to Moose Jaw
This section of the Canadian prairies road trip starts in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. The last time I was here it was winter when I attended the Festival du Voyageur and visited The Canadian Human Rights Museum and went to an outdoor spa in winter. This time, as you can see above, I went to the new Qaumajuq museum. That, and I visited family.
In Manitoba, we stayed at Birds Hill Provincial Park, a massive park for hiking, cycling, and beaches. It is also where the famous Winnipeg Folk Festival is held. It seems that most prairie parks are centered on hilly areas. There is also Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, which I visited a number of years ago.
Leaving Winnipeg, we drove west on Highway 1, the TransCanada, to Moose Jaw, constantly inspired by the changing skies. We stayed at the city campground in Wakamow Valley. We spent the next day in town having coffee and catching up on work at Evolve, a local coffee shop; doing some shopping and laundry, and enjoying a meal at Browns Socialhouse. We ended the day with a drive through the surrounding countryside.
Canadian Prairies Road Trip: Moose Jaw to Medicine Hat
From Moose Jaw to Medicine Hat, the landscape gets even more interesting.
What's that around the pond? And that pond? It can't be snow.
It was salt. Saline lakes are common in southern Saskatchewan. In Chaplin, sodium sulphate is mined for use in laundry and dishwater detergents, pulp and paper, glass, textiles, starch, dyes, carpet and room deodorizers, and livestock mineral feed. You can learn simply by driving.
We were aiming for the Centre Block of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, which straddles Saskatchewan and Alberta. It's a very large park formed when it was bypassed by retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age which, essentially, scraped most of the prairies flat. It is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador.
Cypress Hills has a resort, camping, day activities, and a dark sky preserve. We arrived early and stayed a day to relax and hike for a view of the prairies from above. The park is about an hour and a half east of Medicine Hat, to which we drove the following morning.
Medicine Hat to Drumheller in the Canadian Badlands
Arriving in Medicine Hat, I was flummoxed when trying to find a word to describe the strange gullies and ravines that popped up everywhere in the city. They defied my eastern Canadian understanding of topography.
Coulees, the proper word for these formations, are shallow ravines carved out of the land. They are not particularly suitable for farming or building houses but they are amazing for parks. In Medicine Hat there is Kin Coulee Park and East Glen Coulee Park and so many small ones causing cul-de-sacs in the city.
Medicine Hat is nicknamed Gas City. The town was created when engineers for the railway found its location to be the best for crossing the Saskatchewan River. Later, natural gas was found beneath the city and was used to attract industry to the area. Again, we spent a day in the town for coffee and work and then the next day we carried on to Drumheller and the Alberta Badlands.
Drumheller and Dinosaur Provincial Park are your destinations for the Canadian Badlands in Alberta. Drumheller is the location of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, named for the famed paleontologist. According to National Geographic, “Nowhere on Earth is as rich in quantity and quality of the prehistoric creatures' remains as the Badlands' arid Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site where digs are still under way.”
The badlands are not to be missed. Descend into Drumheller and surrounding area for a maze of buttes and coulees and hoodoos. Rise out of it to the flat plains for the prairies. In the town, it's not possible to miss the town's reliance on its fame for dinosaurs and tourism. It also has the biggest dinosaur in the world.
The Rocky Mountains get the attention of the world for their beauty but my awe is equal for the prairies.
That's it for our Canadian prairies road trip. From Drumheller we set off for Vancouver. That will be the next instalment.