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  • Writer's pictureKarl Koerber

Saskatchewan Road Trip, Final Chapter: Pronghorn Galore and the Sweetgrass Hills.

Day 11: Time to head home. We wanted to drive some back roads on our way to Pincher Creek, and we stopped at the Eastend museum and information centre to ask about the route we'd picked out on our maps. Folks there advised us that there was “nothing” along that road, and that we should be sure to gas up in Consul, which we did. They weren’t lying. We traveled miles without seeing a building, and much of the land was not fenced and seemed unsuitable even for cattle range. Before long, the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana came into view.

The land may have been bleak and desolate, but there was life in abundance, especially pronghorn. I’ve always been fascinated by these guys, and only saw them for the first time a few years ago on another visit to this area. On this trip we saw them almost every day.

Pronghorn are not antelope, although they are colloquially known as such. Their closest relatives are the okapi and giraffe, and they are the only surviving members of the family Antilocapridae.

Only the cheetah runs faster than the pronghorn, at 98 kph to the pronghorn’s 96 kph, making the pronghorn the second-fastest land animal on earth.

Another pronghorn factoid: they won’t jump over fences, instead crawling under them, which makes them vulnerable to predators and causes lacerations to their skin. Conservationists have been working with ranchers to modify fences so that it's easier for the pronghorn to get past them.

We saw hawks of many kinds on our travels, including this prairie falcon that was perched on a fence post, taking flight when we stopped for a photo.

The populations of predators like coyotes and hawks seem a lot higher in the prairies than in our region, I suppose because of the abundance of rodents in the farmlands.

The Sweetgrass Hills stand out like sentinels in the flat plains, just south of the Alberta-Montana border. They were formed some 50 million years ago when molten rock pushed into an overlying layer of sedimentary material which, over the subsequent millennia, eroded more quickly than the igneous intrusion, leaving three “buttes” jutting out of the prairie.

We were driving parallel to the Milk River and we found a short detour that took us down to the water, where we spent a quiet moment contemplating the tranquil scene and watching a pair of greater yellowlegs foraging in the shallows.

Soon thereafter, we were back on the blacktop, heading north to Highway 3, watching our prairie experience fade away in the rear-view mirror. I hadn’t expected such a wealth and variety of landscapes and wildlife as we encountered on our travels, and any stereotypes I may still have held about the prairies were vanquished for good. A return trip is definitely on the agenda.

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