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Central Alberta, the Prairies in Western Canada

Central Alberta was an interesting change from our month in the Montana mountains. For two weeks near Lacombe, Alberta, Canada, we have watched Canada's agriculture and energy operating right in front of us.
Lacombe, on the Central Albertan prairie, is a town of 11,000 people, half way between Calgary and Edmonton, above the 52nd parallel, about 2800 feet above sea level, and just east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The surrounding flat land is interrupted by rolling hills of sand dunes left after the latest glaciers.

Central Alberta is a major breadbasket in the world. Cereal crops are big business here. Barley, canola, and wheat share the limelight, but triticale, oats, and beef production are significant, too. Less than thirty per cent of the land is covered with transition forests (northern deciduous and conifer trees). Rich colors add to the interest: canola's bright yellow flowers have faded and the fields are green; barley and Spring Wheat are turning golden, even brighter in the sunlight; green hay fields are being cut and baled for winter feed; and black soil confirms the prosperity of an area starting the fall harvest.

Energy drives the rest of the economy. Oil and gas production means oil field service activities buzz. Pipelines galore carry natural gas, gas, sweet gas, oil, crude oil, sour crude, water, CO2, ethylene, ethylene glycol, and probably other liquids and gases across the continent, country and road. A natural gas pipeline is being built nearby. What I haven't seen are any windmills, in spite of what seems like frequent high winds.

Highways and railroads make all this activity possible. Canadian Pacific Rail tracks parallel Highway 2, a Queen Elizabeth II Highway. They bisect the province north to south. Lots of short haul trains, along with pipelines, ferry chemicals locally among the several chemical plants. Mixed manifest longer haul trains carry manufactured goods north to Edmonton for the oil shale and tar sands fields in northeast Alberta, the diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, and intermediate points. Raw materials are carried south for processing throughout Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.

Much of this activity could be wrapped up in one frame: a canola field with a sour crude oil pipeline sign at its edge, a pumper in its midst, electric power lines above it, and a railroad track hemming one side. It's a sight to ponder: production of a feed crop and crude oil, transmission of electricity, and enabling transportation sharing the same field. Seeing it shows a simple picture of how one part of the real world works: where our food comes from and how it gets to us.

On the more personal side, we went to Edmonton for some city life. It's only an hour plus away. It is North America's most northerly city (over one million), Alberta's provincial capital, home of the University of Alberta, and the staging location for mining operations farther north. The North Saskatchewan River, which comes from the Columbia Glacier that we saw on the Icefields Parkway, cuts the city in half from southwest to northeast. The river's deep channel is lined with parks and pathways across the city. The pretty city is a nice mix of old and new, ethnic communities, museums and theaters, and lots of green. A longer visit is on my list.

The people in Central Alberta are friendly. Several stopped us to find out where we're from, what we're doing, and wish us a good stay. An Edmonton bus driver saw my left turn signal before I saw the No Left Turn sign, and very nicely tooted to tell me I couldn't make that turn. As a barista in Edmonton said, "People here chill." That was understandable when it felt like November on August 27!

Most of the Lacombe neighbors have farmettes and raise a variety of animals: race horses, show horses, cattle, llamas, pigs, goats, sheep, ostrich, buffalo, and Elk (wapiti). No one has chickens; I wonder why.

Attention is given to the natural habitat, particularly birds. Bird houses on fence posts are abundant. The Ellis Blue Bird Sanctuary was donated and developed by local citizens and corporations. Attractive plantings are maintained for a variety of birds. J.J. Collett Natural Area, a 635 acre natural area, was donated and is maintained by local citizens for the enjoyment of birds and their habitats. These activities all added to the ambiance of the local area.

The weather has been changeable. It's been from the 80's to the 30's F (30C to 2C). August 26th was the hottest day of the year with the temperature over 85F (30C). On August 27th we had November clothes on. Our last day started at 30F and rose to 70F with intermittent winds that briefly cooled the air. The days have been mostly sunny with bright blue skies. Winds alternate between flags flat out and limp. As days start to wane, scattered clouds form to add beauty and intrigue to the sunsets. So, if you don't like the weather now, just wait a few hours and it will probably change.

Our last wake-up was beckoned by a wedge of Canada Geese flying south honking good-bye. Now it's on to Calgary and Kalispell.
ms 2010-08-29


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