Prairie Road Trip circa Early 21st C
How a person chooses to travel is not free from considerations about environmental impact. The effects of global warming caused by human actions cannot be ignored. I am far from leading a low-impact life in terms of my carbon footprint. Very few of us are in car culture North America. It is difficult to reconcile…. Most of us live within a cushion of rationalized dissonance in order to have the things we desire.
Have I offset my levels of pollutive actions by composting organic waste products? If I never buy bottled water and hand-make cards and use recycled paper shopping bags to wrap gifts am I balancing my carbon debt to future generations?
I own a car. Some of my friends have stopped owning cars and cycle, are members of car-sharing co-ops, and take public transit. I think about doing the same, but have not committed to this yet. To live a more environmentally responsible life I think the time is nearing when I make this transition.
Perhaps this summer’s road trip is the last time I will be driving my own car. (Does this apologia allow me to recount my road trip without imploding within the storm of rationalization, guilt and dissonance?)
(My hands are slick with oil….)
My girlfriend and I had been wanting to go on a road trip for a long time. It was on our bucket list of things to do together. There is a sense of freedom as you drive away from daily routine and cares. The heart expands and the eyes sweep the horizon. The air is sweet in the mountains. The rivers run icy with the kind of blue that catches the breath in the throat.
We had packed the vehicle full with Useful Items including a small portable stove, a rice cooker, an electric kettle, bedding, a large cooler, Healthy Vegetable Snacks With Miso Dip, Emergency Instant Ramen, and other sundries. We are both mothers and with the kind of pragmatism that many mothers develop we’d organized our trip to be both economical and comfortable with an eye toward avoiding dreaded Toad Belly (caused by high-fat roadside fast food and long periods of time sitting in a single position >__<).
We’d decided to not to burn headlong to our destination (Saskatoon), but to stop along the way. To duck into locations that tickled the fancy, bemused, or aroused curiousity. I’d always whipped through the Rockies between Calgary and Vancouver on my annual family visits. One of the strange locations I’d never explored was 3 Valley Gap. I’d always had the oddest feelings when passing this area. The misplaced faux Swiss rendering of the resort located so near the highway looking all REDRUM resplendent…. Daughter never allowed me to stop there because she deemed it excessively creepy.
It was late afternoon, curving toward dusk when we pulled up in the parking lot. The man selling tickets to the ghost town was closing shop, but he kindly shared with us a chit that we could use to get through the gates.
The “ghost town” was a reconstruction: the houses were trucked in from various other locations and rebuilt at 3 Valley Gap as a recreation of a “pioneer town”. Shops, houses, church, school and hotel, all the buildings that could be found in a community were collected and displayed. The mannequins were made by a homey hand… the results rather monstrous.
The ghosts of children felt as heavy as the dust that covered the floors. We were voyeurs of a simulated past and the photographs we took were the tokens that bound us to our perceived timeline.
We stopped in Lake Louise and Banff and stood appallingly close to elk eating saplings by the side of the road. Clearly I have not learned my lesson from my sea lion days…. Stopover in Revelstoke.
One of my favourite moments is when the mountains transition to foothills and the prairie spread. We drove through the dusk as the skies began dotting with stars. Stopover in Calgary.
From Calgary we journeyed to Drumheller. I thought it important that D saw the Tyrrell Museum. The fossils of a greater past and an uncertain future. All that has ever lived and all that lives share the same water and air, our cells made of the same matter.
The long line of highway 9 heading ever east the fields of wheat and smack of insects against the windshield. Listening to Be Good Tanyas and k.d. lang. We stopped to watch the sunset over vast spaces clicking with the wings of grasshoppers.
The agricultural vista is beautiful but the appearance of things are not the complete story. Is this a field of genetically modified wheat patented by Monsanto? Was this farmland once owned by a family that could no longer compete with big business and sold below value to a corporation? When was the last time a herd of wild bison migrated across this land? Which Indigenous Nation called this area home before they were forcibly removed? There are layers and layers histories all enfolded with the present.
A stop for fuel and sustenance converged with a sign, perhaps a portent, of the ills that plague this land.
We arrived, late, in Rosetown and stayed in a motel that resembled hastily constructed barracks for itinerant workers. Not the most comfortable night we eagerly hit the road to Saskatoon where D wanted to search for info at the Saskatoon archives at the university. The afternoon had us stopping in several small towns and then heading south west toward Medicine Hat then Brooks.
If you ever need a stopover in Brooks the Plains Motel is lovely. Clean, affordable and extremely comfortable I’ve never had a bad stay. I also had the best baked potato, ever, at Gus’ Steak & Pizza House.
Brooks is an interesting and troubling city– in the past 15 years there’s been a significant change in demographics because of hiring and employment practices of the XL Lakeside Packers meat processing plant. On the surface what can be viewed as snapshot of “multicultural” Canada hides a far more complicated reality. The machinations of corporations are global and the victims are always the disenfranchised.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is a wonder. I never tire of visiting (although the mosquitos this year were especially bad). The endless stretch of prairies suddenly drop into a canyon river valley, the subterranean a weird garden of hoodoos, gullies, sand and stone. Lichen. Not only the fossils, old spirits linger. The rock formations dream long throughout the scorch of day.
The marvel of plant life growing under such extreme conditions.
A few snapshots of a summer journey…. Two middle-aged women travelling to the Canadian Prairies (un)easily by automobile in the early 21st C. Appreciating the present, making connections to the past, and moving toward an ever-expanding future.