Sunday, October 25, 2009
As I was heading home on Friday evening (October 23), I ran into 2 grad students in the department, and asked them about places I might enjoyably visit in nearby parts of Saskatchewan. Following a bit of discussion, they agreed that Gardiner dam, at the north end of Lake Diefenbaker, would be worth the hour or so drive each way. Apparently, it’s the largest earth-filled dam in Canada, and is the reason the lake exists. Sounds good.
At home on Saturday I perused some maps and websites, and discovered something I find a bit exciting: Saskatchewan operates a dozen free ferries. Why would there be ferries on the prairies? River crossings, of course. This website lists 13 ferries, 1 of which is not free – one must pay and book in advance to cross Wollaston Lake. Of the remaining 12, only 1 is not a river crossing: Riverhurst ferry crosses Lake Diefenbaker near its middle. There’s a bit of a grey zone here in the definitions, since Lake Diefenbaker is really only a particularly slow patch in the South Saskatchewan River, and was formed by Gardiner dam. Previous to the dam, the town of Riverhurst was quite a bit further from the waterline, and the river there was probably not very different from the river 100 km in either direction. Still, I like ferries, and that website looks remarkably like a checklist, to me.
Google maps, while usually accurate in its directions, seems to lie rather pessimistically when it comes to estimating travel times. Planning a route that would take me across Gardiner dam from east to west, south down the west side of the lake, across at Riverhurst, then back north up the east side of the lake Google maps informed me I should plan for about 7 hours of driving. Taking this advice to heart, I arose rather early on Sunday, and was heading out of the city, Starbuck’s grande latte in hand (literally: I still have no cupholders) by 9:30am. For me on a Sunday, that’s horribly early. But I had early dinner plans to meet that evening, so needs must and so forth.
The landscape due south of Saskatoon is what my colleagues in the Soil Science department refer to as “prairie potholes”, with hummocks. The hills are not tall nor steep-sided, but they are numerous.
I exited the city by highway 219, described on my PDF map downloaded from the provincial government as “thin membrane surface (no shoulder)”, which rapidly deteriorated in quality from aging municipal blacktop to roughened rural asphalt to gravel-strewn construction site.
Astonishingly, the highway crews were hard at work on a Sunday morning. I had been blasting down the highway, cheerfully ignoring the orange reduced-speed-limit-construction-zone signs because I’d assumed nobody would be working that day. Wrong! I carefully drove through the many-kilometres long construction zone at a sedate 60km/h, mindful of the enormous dump trucks pacing me on both sides of the driveable road.
Saskatchewan is supposedly the land of the living skies. I experienced a wide range of weather on my drive.
Secondary highways in central Saskatchewan are pretty empty, at least on Sundays. I travelled for dozens of kilometres at a time without seeing any other vehicles.
I reached the dam by about 10:30, and proceeded happily across it. Highway 44 crosses the South Saskatchewan on the dam, the road was simply built right across the top.
Approaching Gardiner dam from the east.
Lake Diefenbaker on my left….
… and the South Saskatchewan on my right.
As requested, I took a video as well as still photos.
These big towers apparently are involved in controlling the flow of water through the hydroelectric turbines buried within the dam.
I stopped at the small provincial park office / recreation area just on the west side of the dam, but of course there was nobody else around. This is a significant tourist area in the summer, but in the cool and windy days of late October, everybody else stays home or something.
There’s a sandy beach area along with a restaurant and some other facilities. Nobody else was around save a few pelicans.
I was well ahead of Google’s pessimistic schedule, so I took the time to drive down the gravel access road behind the dam, to take a few more pictures.
Coteau Creek Hydroelectric station generates a modest amount of power for the province.
I’m not sure why this little gravel road was built, but I found it useful for getting down to a decent position for photography. Maybe that’s exactly what it was for.
On my way back up to highway 44, I noticed the wind was blowing steadily from the north, forming a strong updraft where air rushed up the north slope of the dam. This small hawk was taking advantage of the conditions to hover, apparently effortlessly, and search for prey. I sat and watched for a few minutes, and it barely moved at all.
The weather cleared up as I continued west and south, and the landscape became stunningly-flat as expected in this province.
A ferry terminal sign in the middle of the prairies! Though, to be fair, I certainly wasn’t expecting Tsawwassen.
One kilometre to go!
There was an enormous flock of white birds on the middle of the lake. I never got close enough to see what they were, but I did see a few pelicans closer.
The ferry itself was pretty small, though I think this is the largest in this province. It crawls across the lake, about 3 kilometres, on a cable. I followed a truck/trailer combination up the loading ramp, straddling the cable where it lays on the ground. Apparently, this was a mistake, and I was instructed to back up, and try again on the right side of the truck. The ferry is long enough for one full-size semi trailer + truck combination, with room for 3 lanes. Fortunately, the minivans behind me in line probably knew what to expect, and made room for my ignorance. Then we cruised across, at a couple of km/h.
At the other side, I was off first, and I pulled into a small driveway just above the ferry terminal to take in the view.
The truck I’d tried to follow onto the ferry, accelerating with his load up the hillside away from the lake.
The bridge of the ferry is about 3 decks tall, and is just visible here above the line of cars waiting to cross in the opposite direction.
Beyond the Riverhurst ferry lies the village of Riverhurst. I stopped, but there’s almost nothing there, except apparently “smorg” on Sundays, where I think the majority of the local residents were. Other than my fellow ferry-passengers, whom I let get well ahead of me, there was pretty much nobody around at all. The road, once you climb beyond the hills coming up from the lakeshore, is epically flat, straight, and empty.
Flat. It’s flat in the southern part of Saskatchewan. Very flat. Flat flat flat.
I stopped along that flat road for a break, and I still like the way my car looks.
Continuing along, I passed under a large collection of flocks of geese, flying in broad V’s across the prairie, towards the lake. They are distinctly dark-bodied, and there were far fewer than the vast flocks of white birds I saw earlier.
Taken straight up through the sunroof as I was driving along highway 19.
I drove up the east side of Lake Diefenbaker, where the highway runs a few kilometres distant from the lakeshore. I came across a smaller dam, which the highway runs under rather than across – there’s a rail line across the top of the dam.
Approaching the Qu’appelle dam, which is apparently co-responsible for the creation of Lake Diefenbaker.
Under the Qu’appelle dam.
Highway 19 curves up around Qu’appelle dam, and there’s a scenic viewpoint / rest stop overlooking the dam. I stopped there for lunch, and admired the scenery for a few minutes.
Qu’appelle dam viewed from the east.
Highway 19 crosses a rail line just after my lunch spot. When I saw this bridge, I immediately thought of the idealized terrain that model railroaders construct in fine detail.
Continuing north I passed a very long train stationary on what I think is that same rail line. I didn’t count the cars, but there must have been at least 100.
Highway 19 meets highway 15, which then intersects the main route between the 2 biggest cities of Saskatchewan, highway 11. It was here that I really missed having cruise control. My foot started to cramp from holding the gas pedal in one position (flat flat flat means very little throttle variation) and my leg was sore from constantly leaning against the center console. So, I stopped for fuel and had a bit of a stretch after being on highway 11 for only a few kilometres.
Highway 11. Ho-hum.
I got home much sooner than Google maps had led me to believe. I guess Google is very pessimistic about driving times, though I think the distances at least were accurate. I’ve now driven south from Saskatoon 3 weekends in a row; next week I should pick a different direction.