At this location, the highway crosses the Red Deer River on an old single-lane steel truss bridge, likely built in the 1920s when most of the bridges of this type came into being in Alberta. I stopped in mid-span to take a photo (2nd) looking north up the river, now solidly frozen in the depth of a Canadian winter.
According to Wikipedia, the Red Deer River is 450-miles (720-km) in length and originates on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park. From there, it flows east, north, south and east again before it eventually empties into the South Saskatchewan River, with its waters reaching Hudson Bay far to the east in Canada. All along its course through this part of Alberta it produces some spectacular valleys as it has cut deeply into the surrounding countryside. As a result, there are a number of Provincial Parks located along its length, with Dry Island Buffalo Jump PP being located only a few miles south of here. It was there that the native tribes stampeded a few of the tens of millions of Bison roaming the Prairies at that time over small cliffs so they could harvest meat, skins and bones for their essential living items in the days before guns and horses (for the full details on what was involved with this activity, see my 'Fort MacLeod' page on a similar UNESCO World Heritage historic site further south in Alberta).
I finally looked ahead to see a huge cement mixer truck barrelling down the far valley wall, so I quickly got into gear and cleared off the bridge before it rolled over me!
As I drove along Highway 590 and then south on main Highway 56 toward Drumheller, I could not help but be impressed by the continuously rolling landscape of the this part of Alberta! This present-day terrain arises from the last Ice Age that swept across this part of the continent, finally starting to release its 1-mile (1.6-km) thick grip about 12,000 years ago. After pulverizing the mountains and hills for many thousands of years, the melting retreat of this huge ice cap slowly deposited billions of tons of glacial till reaching 300-ft (100-m) thick across the surface of Alberta, resulting in the undulating land surface of 'moraines' you see in this photo. I was thinking that this must have been a very difficult place for the first explorers to stumble upon - as they slogged up and down small hills in a never-ending sequence as far as the eye could see!
Another effect of the melting glaciers was due to the large volumes of water they released - so much water that it soon eroded its way through the mass of glacial till to result in deep valleys such as the Red Deer River.
The only community I passed through on this portion of my 8-hour drive back to Regina was Big Valley, located not far east of my crossing of the Red Deer River valley. Despite that, I think Big Valley is actually named for the much shallower Big Valley Creek in which this community of 390 souls lives. It still boggles my mind at how recently many areas of the Prairies of Canada were developed, with Big Valley really only having been established around 1910!
I didn't have enough time on my tight driving schedule to explore this little village, but I have condensed the following from what Wikipedia has to say about it:
The Canadian Northern Railway laid a track through Big Valley by 1912, resulting in a thriving terminal with a big "roundhouse," stockyards, rail yards, water tower, coal-dock, general railway maintenance and repair facilities. As a result of both mergers and time, the railway here was eventually abandoned, but enough of it remains today to allow operation of a tourist steam-train run by the East Central Alberta Hertitage Society between Stettler and Big Valley. Check out the Big Valley page by 'Darby2' for an amazing video of the train in action with the soul-wrenching sounds of its old whistle blowing!
Once established by the coming of the railway, Big Valley prospered for the next 50-years from the mining of nearby deposits of coal (uncovered by the Red Deer River's gash in the earth as it formed its valley) until the use of coal was undermined (pardon the pun) by the discovery of oil/gas deposits. Production of these fuels remained the main industry in Big Valley from 1950 until recent years, but now many of the wells have seen the last of their useful lives and are shut-down. For the most part, Big Valley now is a small town cashing in on its heritage and unique location as a tourist draw, along with cattle ranching in the surrounding hills.