Casually putting down his tea and adjusting his red Co-Op cap, the old man told me that people forgot to call it Saskatchewan in the 1930's. They called it the
Dust Bowl. No rain, and dust blew day and night.
No dust in the air today in tiny
Sceptre; in fact, not a cloud as far as one can see. Behind the Golden West Hotel, just past the grain elevator with the faded 'ghost sign' that barely shows that the elevator once belonged to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, an enormous field of bright yellow granola waves gently with the wind. Here, the sky merges with the land. Sceptre might become a ghost town like so many others here. The train hasn't stopped for years.
A land of dramatic contrasts, one could easily be deceived by ghost towns, abandoned farms and rusty rail sidings. But Saskatchewan is also a land beautiful in its natural landscape, much of the province a transition zone from the few remaining native grasslands of the southwest, interrupted only by gently rolling farms toward the centre and then on to the rugged wilderness in the north with many lakes and rivers.
In southern Saskatchewan, the wind whispers through the lonely aspen trees and blows continuously down the long and straight roads that cut through the large oceans of green. We travel amidst Canada's bread basket where farms are not measured by acres or hectares but by the quarter (160 acres) or section (640 acres) and most farms consist of many sections. Here, the first European settlers worked under harsh conditions to produce enough food to feed not only a young Canada, but much of North America.
One of the last remaining prairie lands in its original state, the
Grasslands National Park offers a window to our past. One conjures images of immense herds of bison, natives attempting to hold on to their traditional grounds, and bandits fleeing from the law in nearby Montana. Badgers, rabbits, antelope, deer and coyotes are a common site as are a few large colonies of prairie dogs. A unique experience is to witness a few remaining bison, foraging along the banks of the winding Frenchman River.
At the South Saskatchewan River, without warning, the road ended. There was no bridge, just a few trees, bushes and fortunately a ferry on the other side. The lone captain noted our cameras and suggested a halt midstream to take pictures of the white pelicans that would soon fly over us, as they did daily.
Cree First Nation's language, Saskatchewan means fast flowing river. Maybe when Sitting Bull hung out here avoiding the US Cavalry, but when we turned off the road to head for the Leaning Tree Ranch and Guest House, the Saskatchewan was meandering peacefully through a countryside straight out of a western movie.
Great Sandhills appeared, a natural oddity as there's no reason for dunes without water, but here was 1900 square kilometres of immense pure sand hills, forever on the move in the blowing wind, creating an amazing diverse landscape. Trees become more plentiful, first along rivers, then in valleys and finally as we crested a hill, a forest of tall lodge pole pines, the
Cypress Hills Provincial Park.
Saskatchewan's wide-open and flat country, with its never-ending blue sky, its vast canola and grain fields that gently wave and its endless straight roads is part of what we experienced. We also experienced a land that beckons to be discovered, surprises over every hill and around every bend in the road. And the passing drivers wave at you! What more incentive is needed to visit this remarkable province!
Alex Eberspaecher is an award-winning author and journalist with a number of Canadian and international lifestyle magazines and trade publications, and a contributor to the Toronto Star. His main focus is travel, wine and food and nature. He is a member of SATW, NATJA, TMAC and WWCC. Contact Alex at
www.winecop.com Judy Eberspaecher enjoys travel, wine and nature photography. She has been published in Centre of the City, West of the City and Good Life amongst other credits. Contact her at Judy@eberimage.ca