Whenever I say I am on a road trip to Manitoba, people say “Why do you want to ride the prairies?! It’s so boring!” Even prairie folk say that. Well, if you think the prairies are boring, you’re not trying hard enough.
Maybe I’m jaded because I grew up there, but I challenge you to look with the eyes to see and embrace with an open heart, and you will find the prairies have much to offer.
Saskatchewan’s motto is “Land of Living Skies”, which can be said of all the prairie provinces. The endless sky with all its moods is what strikes one immediately. It can be dramatic with dark, ominous clouds driven at tremendous speed by a relentless prairie wind. It can mesmerize with a sunset that blazes out in a glory of colour like no other place in Canada. It can be a blue that goes on forever, with a sun that drives you to the beach in the summer or sparkles so brightly off the snow in the winter you have to shield your eyes. It can hang a huge, orange harvest moon on the horizon in the fall.
Manitoba is “The Land of 100,000 Lakes”, a legacy of Lake Agassiz which covered most of the province after the glaciers of the Ice Age receded. Get up to Manitoba’s north – the beauty around Flin Flon is Manitoba’s best kept secret. Then travel down to the Spirit Sands and experience its desert. Manitoba’s deceptively delicate-looking crocus is the first flower to stubbornly push through the ground and bloom after the harsh, cold winter.
Alberta’s landscape goes from flat, dry prairie, to the alien-looking badlands, to the soaring rocky mountains. Red Rock Coulee in the south of the province makes you feel like you dropped into an episode of Star Trek and if you continue along that road for awhile, you may even end up in Vulcan where there’s a spaceship statue. Don’t miss out on the Tyrell museum in Drumheller or the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump interpretive centre.
“The prairies are boring”. Say those who have never been tearing across it on a motorcycle, chased by a thunderstorm with lighting crackling across the sky. Knowing you are the highest point on the landscape and hoping to reach shelter before the storm reaches you. There is nothing like a prairie thunderstorm when one is holed up somewhere safe to watch it. Sheet lighting can light up the darkest sky and throw the shadows of structures and trees into sharp relief. Crackling branches of lightning appear out of nowhere, streaking towards the ground in an awe-inspiring lightshow that puts fireworks to shame. Thunder booms so loudly it can shake the house and make you jump, even if you heard it rolling louder and louder towards the boom. It’s bloody fascinating!
“The prairies are boring”. Say those who have never seen a canola or flax crop in full bloom, or a field of seemingly never-ending sunflowers tracking the sun. The air is fragrant with crops in bloom, wildflowers lining the ditches, the hot dusty air of the late afternoon and the fresh, dewy air of the morning.
I challenge you next to see beyond the visual. That field of huge round bales in tidy rows as far as you can see mean long days of toil by farmers cutting, baling and collecting. The cattle grazing in the pasture represent a commitment of time to ROI that no one but a farmer would accept. That thunderstorm that chased you under cover could destroy it all in a few short minutes, bringing hail with it or a vicious prairie wind to flatten the crop or evolve into a tornado. These events are not occasional things – they are an annual occurrence, and it is not a matter of “if” - it’s a matter of “when” and “where”. Roll the dice.
“The prairies are boring”. I dare you to seek out all the town statues. They are amazing and often hilarious. Some are in the pictures below. You can find a pretty good list of them here: http://www.bigthings.ca/. Make an adventure of it.
Save the best for last. Talk to the people. Step into the “office” (the local coffee shop) with a smile and engage the table of regulars having their daily visit. If you’re stuck on the side of the road, wave someone down – odds are they’ll stop. When you’re outrunning that thunderstorm, look for the clump of trees with a driveway – there’s a farmhouse there that will shelter you and feed you while they do it. Marvel at the ingenuity of the farmers who learned to fix things because buying new equipment wasn’t an option – hard enough just to eke out a living. Stop into the police station that your high school buddy and his wife bought because she wanted something “unique to live in”. Get the tour and hear how hard it is to reno through concrete and rebar! But they’ll figure it out. 'Cause that's what prairie folk do.
When all is said and done, the prairies are not boring. Different, but not boring. So sally forth, my friends, and embrace the prairie experience!