For most Canadians, Thanksgiving is a time we draw closer to the home fires. It's a time to reunite with friends and family over a nice turkey dinner. For me, it's one last chance to get out to the vast land near the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. I always joke that my favorite Thanksgiving dinner consists of wieners and beans. This year was no different. Friday after work, I packed up the trailer and dragged it out to Sandy Point, a rustic campground (near Empress, Alberta) on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.
The country near the border has a number of attractions. One of them is "The Forks", where the Red Deer River flows into the South Saskatchewan River. In the fall, the poplars that line the riverbanks are bright yellow and the fescue of the surrounding hills is a light golden color. The scene at The Forks is one of the greatest panoramas one is likely to see on the Canadian prairies and it always fills me with excitement. I have a personal connection to this place. I stare across the South Saskatchewan River from my perch atop the "Bulls Forehead" and recall how it felt on July 2, 2004 after completing a solo journey down the entire length of the Red Deer River. This locale also has much historic significance. John Palliser admired the view from the tongue of high land between the two rivers in 1860 during his explorations of western Canada. Peter Fidler built his short lived and ill-fated Chesterfield House in the valley in the 1700's. This Hudson Bay Company trading post was abandoned after attacks by Blackfoot and Gros Ventre warriors resulted in the fatalities of a number of men. The raiding party paraded around their outpost and the competing Northwest Company fort with the scalps of the dead, mounted on a long pole. The surviving traders managed to escape by stealing away in the dark of night.
The other major attraction in the area is the Great Sand Hills. Most people think of this region as being only sand dunes. There are dunes, but they are just a part of this unique ecosystem. There is a cover of fescue, cactus, sage and junipers overlying most of the sand. Herds of pronghorn and deer and even the odd moose roam the area. In the autumn one is likely to see large flocks of sandhill cranes. Thousands of white fronted, Canada and snow geese can be seen right along the border in the evening as I head back toward camp. In the golden light of the setting sun, it is a spectacle that has made an indelible mark on my psyche.
There is so much to see and do in this huge area, but one must be ready to travel many miles to take it all in. Most of the local services are intermittent at best, so be prepared to be self sufficient if you plan on visiting there, especially in the autumn. Good weather and blue skies are the rule in this semi arid area at the heart of the "Palliser Triangle". I find it worth cooking my Thanksgiving dinner on a stick, just so I can get in one more camping trip before the winter months.