Just outside Alsask (an apt name for a tiny community located directly on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border) a relic of the Cold War caught my attention as I drove past. The dome visible here is all that is left of a radar station that was built in 1961 and went into service between 1963-86 as part of an early warning system in case of an over the North Pole attack on the United States by Soviet long-range bombers. This first North American early warning system was known as the Pine Tree Line and consisted of 39 radar stations running just north of the Canada-USA border (between 50-53 degrees North latitude) all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts. When working as a summer student in northern New Brunswick on the Atlantic coast in the early 1970s, I remember seeing one of these structures there as well, still ready to do its job of vectoring fighter interceptors onto the path of any incoming bombers. The main photo was taken on a second trip to Alberta in mid-December, with slightly snow-covered fields of hay bales, while the second more distant view was taken in mid-November.
As both technology and the speed of Soviet bombers increased, two more defensive lines were built further north to provide more warning time of approaching aircraft: the Mid-Canada Line halfway to the Arctic Circle and then the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line halfway between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole. However, all of these defense establishments were closed in the 1980s as Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles made them obsolete.
After driving on relatively flat land for long stretches, it was always nice to dip into a river valley now and then for a change of persepective. This is the view that greeted me as I crossed the South Saskatchewan River near Outlook. The water flows were low but the river brought back great memories of my 2005 trip to Banff National Park in Alberta where I was near one of its tributaries - the Bow River. Starting from the headwaters of the Bow in the Rocky Mountains, the South Saskatchewan is part of a string of rivers that flow for 1,939 km (1205 mi) before it empties into Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. From there, its waters eventually reach Hudson Bay via the Nelson River.
Just a few miles downstream from here is Canada's longest pedestrian foot-bridge. It actually started as a steel railway bridge in Lachine, Quebec in 1885 but was subsequently taken apart and reassembled in Outlook by Canadian Pacific Railways in 1912. The 914-metre (3000 ft) long structure was finally retired in 1987 and was later converted to become part of the Trans-Canada Trail system. Update: On my February, 2008 trip to Alberta I made time to stop at the foot-bridge and take a few photos in freezing temperatures - as detailed in my 'Outlook' page!
Rural Saskatchewan has loads of interesting buildings - I just didn't have time to stop to admire any of them on this trip! From old homesteads to tall grain elevators, there were many derelicts inviting me to take a closer look at their weather-beaten features and the surrounding wrecks of cars and farm equipment. It gets quite breezy at times on these flat Prairies and I saw numerous tumble-weeds whipping across the highway in front of me, sometimes getting caught on barbed-wire fences beside the highway. One old building standing unprotected from the wind out where I saw the Pronghorns had only a few bits of paint left on its siding material - it looked as if it had been sandblasted! The day after I returned to Regina from this trip my office building was shuddering from steady winds of 75-kph with gusts reaching 105-kph!
I stopped in the small community of Broderick, Saskatchewan to get a snack at one point in my drive. When I came back out to get into the car I was really surprised to see a cowboy on his horse driving a herd of cattle down a secondary road and across the main highway that I had turned off! He didn't seem to be having any trouble keeping the string of cows headed where he wanted them to go, but cows seem to know where they are going anyway. In actual fact, the road traffic is so light out in some of these areas that the chances of a car hitting the animals in broad daylight is quite slim.
Later on, in Alberta, I saw the same thing on a major secondary highway. However, those guys had stopped their pickup truck to erect larges signs saying 'cattle-drive ahead' as they were preparing to drive their herd across the road.