Reading about and traveling through the Canadian prairies one expects vast fields and ever-changing sky. I read about the Great Saskatchewan Sandhills for years. During the summer of 2011 I made the decision to seek and find this alluring place.
Approaching from Alberta we reached Leader during the extreme mid-day heat. The temperature was close to 40 C which is not unusual for mid-August. The over-sized statues of prairie animals lining the streets of Leader triggered a reality check and yielded a stop to buy water. A walk about to view various sculptures was cut short due to the heat.
With few gas stations along the way we made sure to top up the tank and continue in search of the Great Sandhills. Driving east toward the town of Sceptre we located the Great Sand Museum and Interpretive Center. Expecting to find a knowledgeable guide we stopped with the intent to purchase a map after visiting the museum site. A tired looking student was only too happy to send us on our way – it was almost closing time and she was not too eager to stay past her set hours. The large map in the parking lot had to suffice.
Following the intermittent signage south of Sceptre to the Great Sandhills was an adventure. Our determination would not let us give up – it was nearing 5 pm when we finally pulled up in a rugged parking lot. Children’s laughter and adult shouting greeted us when we opened the car doors. Immediately adjoining the parking lot a high sand dune was run over with people.
Disappointment began to stir within me. I had come to capture the landscape at its best… Sand dunes with thousands of foot prints and slide marks was not what I expected. Water bottles and cameras in hand we walked away from the populated area, climbed a steep hill when suddenly before us the vista changed, and in the distance the Great Sandhills presented themselves.
The Great Sandhills cover 1,900 square kilometers and rise 50 feet above the ground. The dunes are always moving, creating an ever-changing landscape. To reach them make sure to wear excellent footwear, my red satin covered flip-flops were not ideal. The path is covered with spear grass, wild rose bushes and brambles. The distance from the top of the hill where we laid eyes on the Great Sandhills for the first time to the spot where I took of my shoes to walk in the hot sand and make pictures took 45 minutes to reach. It was well worth the trek.
We drowned out the drifting noise from the over populated sandhill near the parking lot, turned our attention to the hot sand under our feet, the bright sun on our skin and the unobstructed view west. My camera was working overtime (see Flickr album). A calmness settled on us that made it difficult to return to reality. We turned the car south and navigated the eastern and southern edge of the Great Sandhills until we reached Hwy. 21 south toward Maple Creek. Returning to the Great Sandhills is high on my list of priorities!
If you come through Saskatchewan make sure to take the time to visit the Great Sandhills.