Andrew Burke

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Road Trip 2012: Prairies
Posted on: 2012-06-17

In May 2012, my mother-in-law gave us her old car - but we live in Halifax and the car was in Edmonton. So we flew there and drove it all the way back to Halifax. We had great weather and I had a new camera. This is part 5 of a series of blog posts about the trip.

(All of the photos are hosted on Flickr - click on any to see bigger versions and browse the full set.)

We left Writing on Stone park and continued east across the vast Canadian prairie. We still had fantastic weather for early May - sunny and warm and dry.

I took a lot of pictures from the car (although of course for the best things I didn't happen to have my camera ready, or a sign came out of nowhere and blocked the shot). There are many abandoned old farmhouses and barns around, and a great deal of old rusted-out machinery too. While I'm sure they reflect times of deep financial and sociographic change, they were also really photogenic:

Abandoned Prairie House

After stocking up on groceries and getting the car tuned up in Medicine Hat, we settled for the evening in Cypress Hills (which has no cypress, it turns out). It was obvious that in the high summer this is a very popular tourist spot, but just like the day before, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

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Due to a topographic and climate quirk, the Cypress Hills are heavily forested. In fact, they look a lot like Nova Scotia. As we hiked along a scenic overlook path, I could easily imagine myself on the Cabot Trail - except that instead of ocean, there was rolling prairie to the horizon.

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Part of the fun of camping is preparing meals just with small heat sources and two pots and some water. We went a bit crazy in Medicine Hat and bought a whole lot of add-water-and-stir food, including some surprisingly authentic tasting mashed potatoes and some ridiculous Nescafe 3-in-1 instant coffee with powdered milk and sugar already included (which is actually more pleasant to drink than you'd expect).

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The next day we drove out to the Trans-Canada highway and then back south again into eastern side of Cypress Hills to see Fort Walsh. On the way down, we passed a ranch with a genuine 100% cowboy herding the cattle, complete with the hat, the leather chaps, the horse, and everything. Unfortunately, I didn't get my camera out in time to get a picture, and he was gone by the time we came back.

We also saw signs along the way for the Cypress Hills Winery - we had never heard of vineyards in Saskatchewan, but the sunny dry weather certainly seemed appropriate, so we just had to check it out. The tourist part of the winery wasn't open when we drove by, but it had some lovely old ranch houses:

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(This is one of my favourite shots from the trip - the sky is so big!)

We really liked how they mixed traditional ranch decor and grape motifs:

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On the way back to the Trans-Canada Highway, I got a panic phone call from one of my clients who needed something fixed on a server ASAP. So we pulled over in Maple Creek and I managed to SSH into the server and make the necessary adjustments - from my phone. Every so often I'm reminded that I'm actually living in The Future.

We continued eastward, leaving the rolling prairie and entering a part of the country that is so flat it's almost scary. I kept feeling like we'd just fall into the sky.

We were running a bit low on gas and getting hungry, so we started looking out for a gas station and/or cafe along the way. We finally saw one, but as we pulled in, we noticed that a) it didn't seem to be pumping gas, and b) it seemed really familiar for some reason.

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Turns out it was the set for Corner Gas!

So no it's not really a gas station, and it isn't a diner either - but there is a gift shop and some friendly chatty folks. You can even walk through the restaurant part on the other side of the building.

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I always assumed the interiors were shot in a studio somewhere, but it looks like as much was done on site as possible.

The town of 'Dog River' is actually called 'Rouleau' and it's very small but quite charming, especially in a sunny summer evening.

We continued on towards Estevan. The sun was starting to go down and everything starting shining gold. We put on some Neko Case, which seemed appropriate.

We had been seeing tall white windmills all across Saskatchewan, but in this part of the province we started seeing Oil 'Donkeys' in the fields as well. It turns out Estevan is at the heart of a booming oil and coal mining district.

So if you've been wondering where all the decent-paying blue collar jobs had gone - a lot of them are in Estevan.

Here's a slideshow of some more of the pics from the Canadian Prairies:

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