We headed west of Brandon with grey skies and a chilly wind. The forecast was for rain showers mixed with wet snow.
The terrain was a continuation of the moraine with a mix of low-rolling hills, clumps of trees, and scrub brush until around Alexander – where the land dropped slightly then flattened out in another section of rich flat soil. It is the bottom of the ancient Lake Souris – another glacial lake we will cross on our way across the prairies.
Scattered along our route were more signs of the agricultural basis of the region. This time in the form of the modern grain storage and elevators with their truck and rail accompaniment.
Around Virden we saw the large bobbing bird-like pumps scattered across the prairie – an indication of the oil found beneath the plains. Apparently the oil in many of these wells is mixed with salt-water: a legacy of the fact that about 136 million years ago this was an ocean (according to the ecotours).
From Virden we began climbing again (by prairie standards) – marking the shoreline of the ancient lake Souris and the poor soils of the moraine. White aspen groves replaced the grasslands and the farms became smaller and, in some cases, showed the signs of stress – like abandoned buildings. This was the region in which my mother grew up – on a farm near Rocanville, just a short distance from the highway. We were in a rush, so didn’t take the side trip to visit her house this time – like we did when travelling from Victoria with our granddaughter (http://montreal-or-bust.blogspot.ca/2012/07/carberry.html).
The groves of aspen continued until around Grenfell – the bank of the third glacial lake bottom we will cross: Lake Indian Head.
Once again the land flattened out, the farms grew larger, and the soils became rich and dark – all the way to Indian Head where the western shore of the ancient lake formed another moraine. Aspen and scrub brush reappeared and many of the farms looked hard pressed to survive. The appearance of a large wind farm in the region hinted at one way in which new technology is being used to overcome the limitations of the soil. It was soon after we passed this farm that we pulled in to one of the small towns: McLean SK.
McLean is a very small settlement that has lost most of its services (including a gas station). There is still a café and bar in the town so we stopped in just as the snow began to accumulate on our windshield.
The café is a study of prairie town transformations. We walked in to the bar to the sounds of a TV tuned to an East Indian movie. A woman was watching the show while a man was busy with a customer at the bar. Once we placed our order, the TV channel was switched to a sports channel (presumably in deference to what they assumed were our interests).
During our lunch several men came in to the bar – some of them stopping in behind the plywood barricade to play a few rounds on the gambling machines and some of them sitting at the bar for a quick beer. They were welcomed like old friends.