Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sunday Drive 7: Southwestern Square

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Start: 306922
End: 307160
Driven: 238 km

My route: west, south, east, and returning to Saskatoon north, shown in red.

Biggar is a town that is mentioned in conversations I hear on a semi-regular basis. I don’t know anyone who has claimed to be from Biggar, but I know a few people who have spent a fair amount of time there or nearby, or who have some other reason to consider this town important. It’s the biggest settlement to the west of Saskatoon on highway 14 until you reach Unity, which according to Wikipedia may be slightly larger; beyond that, you’re in Alberta on your way to Red Deer. The town is spelled with an “a”, but is pronounced like a synonym for “larger than”.

Simply driving to and returning from Biggar seemed fairly boring, and of insufficient length and complexity as a journey to fully occupy a Sunday for me. Pondering a map of Saskatchewan that includes the weird little Star-Trek-Convention-like symbol for regional parks, I decided to drive a large square, to the southwest of Saskatoon, and visit a few other places.

The way to the west out of Saskatoon includes a split just inside city limits where most traffic turns southwest on highway 7. I remember this view, with that pedestrian overpass, from last year when I drove from Guelph to Calgary in a moving truck, stopping in Saskatoon to unload my possessions. Which reminds me, I need to write up that trip and put up the pictures.

Some fields near the highway just west of town were bright pink. I don’t know what was growing here.

A little further on, the usual mix of shades of brown, and a very long view. From my odometer, the horizon here is about 10 km away.

“Prairie Potholes” terrain. Note the small ephemeral wetland in the low position of the landscape.

It is very flat in central Saskatchewan, which just means the views from the rare hilltop can be surprisingly vast.

Biggar & District regional park is right next to the town, on the north side of the highway where most of the town is on the south side. I pulled into the park and cruised around; nobody else was there, though I suspect in the summer there would be many people around, especially on weekend afternoons.

I took a quick video from the middle of the small park. The clicking sounds are the autofocus mechanism in the camera; it was actually very quiet there.

I climbed the slope to the north, and had a look around. This is looking to the south and east.

Boba Fett also surveyed the park for signs of rebel scum….

… but none were visible, this time.

The weather was nice, a bit above freezing without much wind, but I was expecting it to get colder and I wanted to visit other places well before sunset. Biggar sits on the intersection of highway 14 and highway 4. Heading south on highway 4, the weather started to get a bit more ominous, and there were patches of snow next the highway in many places. The snow Saskatoon received in early October melted within about a week, but I guess this area did not get as warm.

More Prairie Pothole terrain, with a frozen wetland. Note also the dark band of clouds to the east.

Lightly snowy flatness.

I had to stop and circle around for another chance at this sign, I was so surprised to see it. I stopped and took some pictures to document this amazing thing. A SKI HILL, IN SASKATCHEWAN. Compare with the previous picture (FLAT) and the next one.

Looking west from next to the sign in the previous picture. Words fail me.

Another look, for no good reason. I was laughing so much I had difficulty holding the camera.

I drove through Rosetown without stopping (except at the stop sign, naturally), then turned west on highway 15. This part of the province is remarkably empty, though the towns here have names reminiscent of Canada’s imperial past – I drove past Sovereign, and a side road that leads to Conquest. Outlook sits on a high patch of land above the western shore of the South Saskatchewan River, and is the site of the longest pedestrian bridge in Canada, the Skytrail bridge that is part of the trans-Canada trail. So of course I had to stop and check it out.

The regional park at Outlook was closed, with a locked barrier preventing access to the steep descent to the shoreline. I needed gas anyways, so I asked the full-service attendant, who I assumed was a local, how to get to the bridge. He told me the bridge isn’t part of the regional park, and could be reached by travelling a few blocks beyond the street leading to the park.

The little hut that covers the western end of the Skytrail bridge. Note the roiling clouds above. The weather was less than superb, but I enjoyed it anyways.

Venturing onto the bridge, I noticed clear footprints and other tracks in the park below, despite the fact that it was closed. I guess people go jogging or walk their dogs or whatnot, even though the barrier covered the usual pedestrian access as well as vehicular.

The bridge, looking west from near the eastern end.

Looking north.

Looking south.

A pair of ravens (Corvus corax) was frolicking about the bridge, playing in the turbulence from the wind blowing around the pylons and over the deck. Like most birds, these ravens apparently know what a camera is and why I had one, and were practiced in the art of spoiling my shots.

The local pigeons (Columba livia) aren’t that bright.


Outlook and its bridge are downstream of Lake Diefenbaker, and the islands seen here are probably the result of the flood control afforded by Gardner dam.

It was very windy, causing considerable noise in this video. Taken from near the middle of the bridge.

This gate marks the western end of the bridge. I saw no indication that it is ever locked.

Looking back to the east through the gate.

I re-crossed the bridge (did I mention the wind? It was cold and windy) and returned to my car. A little ways east of Outlook is a grid of tertiary provincial highways with forgettable numbers that I enjoyed; highway driving is boring, these roads at least have a few curves on them.

Even my little car kicks up a fair dust cloud on these quiet grid roads.

I noticed the sun setting in my back-left quarter, so I stopped and snapped a couple of quick shots.

The sunset was pretty spectacular, so I was looking for a safe place to stop and get some pictures when I remembered I was approaching a park I’d been to once before I bought this car. Back in April, I’d rented a car because a very good friend was visiting, and we went exploring. We found this little protected area, at Beaver creek. It was closed when I got there on this trip, but not for the season; the signs indicated some serious renovations and construction. In any case, it provided a quiet turnoff to watch the sun go down.

Waiting for the sun to really light up the sky, I noticed it was turning the fields pink.

The sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon, turning the sky a brilliant range of pinks, oranges, and reds. Most of those colours didn’t come through here, but I still like this shot. My camera has a “sunset” mode, but it doesn’t seem to do much.

After taking a couple of dozen pictures of the sunset, I returned to my car and returned to Saskatoon.


Carlo said...

Wow... that's a lot of open land and sky. Seems, ummm, peaceful? Well at least you have Tim Horton's, while I'm stuck with Dunkin' Donuts and that Starbucks stuff. Actually, coffee shops are hard to come by here, strangely. Where was I going with this? Never mind. Glad you're putting kms on your car. Soon you're gonna run out of places to drive!

TheBrummell said...

I've been told that Saskatchewan has the lowest population density per linear unit of roads in the world - something like 2.1 km of road per person living in the province.

That's one reason why there's so much just...empty... out here. Off the main routes, which means on any highway except 16 (transCanada northern route), 11 (Saskatoon-Regina corridor), or 7 (Saskatoon-central Alberta route), I'm almost always the only car from (distant) horizon to (distant) horizon.

Soon you're gonna run out of places to drive!
Unlikely. There are more than 2 million kms of road in this province alone, and in theory I can drive to pretty much anywhere on this continent, including your place.

TheBrummell said...

It's funny you mention coffee shops on one of my Sunday Drive posts.

I drink Tim's almost every day at school/work, a clear symptom of my deepening addiction to caffeine.

But on Sundays, my drives start with a trip to the local Starbucks. Because I lived in LotusLand (Vancouver) for 4 years, I also have an addiction to froofy, overpriced, Italian-derived coffee drinks, so I go get my latte fix on Sundays.

My car has no cupholders (yet), so I bought a travel mug with a handle that attaches to the cup only at the top; the open hook-shape allows me to hang it off the door handle while I shift gears.