Just before dark and with a smoky campfire helping out, I looked up to see hundreds of mosquitoes circling at a point maybe a foot above my head. Thirty minutes later and they were gone. Canadian mosquitoes, I thought. So much more polite than their American cousins. They retire at night and leave happy campfires alone. The sun set, but never fully settled. It kind of sat just beyond my sight and lit the bottom of the night sky. This was true when we finally retired (Henna included) at 1 AM. A few miles east and it was 2 AM. We were tired from another epic drive through the former Canadian prairie, but stayed awake to count shooting stars (Henna and I each saw one, Corey two).
Where we were was Cyprus Hills Provincial Park, Alberta. It seems that Canada loves to name parks after 90s rappers. The night before we camped at Beastie Boys National Park. Just kidding. The Cyprus Hills were a culminating event established after 15 hours or so of driving on Transcontinental Highway 1 just west of Winnipeg to just east of Medicine Hat. The change in scenery was gradual, but I think it became more Western/ badlands scenic after Swift Current. The towns (Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Regina which is pronounced in a way that made us giggle, and Brandon) all come out of nowhere. It is grasses, occasional cows, and big sky then boom, a city of maybe 15 or 20,000 people. No suburbs or sprawl, just these cities out of nowhere. And Transcontinental Highway 1, the only major thoroughfare through this landscape, is intersected by roads, railroad crossings, and sometimes stopped by traffic light. Occasionally a sign stated “Important Intersection Ahead” and Corey and I would wonder what the big deal was as we passed an access point to a gravel road leading into a cow pasture.
At the visitor center just east of Medicine Hat the teenage boy working the place (Canada, by the way, is run by teenagers one time I passed the Canadian equivalent of CSPAN and was amazed to see grownups in suits discussing politics. Maybe all the teenagers running the national parks, visitor centers, hotels, and restaurants are eventually promoted into leadership positions) stated that there was one remaining campsite at Cyprus Hill Park. I had stared at the same map for days now and knew this park was maybe 30 miles south of Highway 1 and I was longing to get lost in the scenery. Corey, who was driving the last leg of the trip, did not think it was prudent to knowingly drive 30 extra miles only to have to drive those same miles back to the highway the next day. But I won the argument and off we went, south on a narrow road into a ranchers’ paradise. A few miles into the road there was a sign stating that we were also headed to the Wild Horse border crossing near Havre, MT. A strong sense of déjà vu hit and I remembered being on this road ten years past with Corey. I remembered asking the custom agent if it was a good idea to take route 2 (the Hi Line) home and he said everyone should do it at least once. It was my first experience with a route and I have been in love with the idea of routes ever since. I also remembered spying antelope playing in the tall grasses at the side of the road and I was suddenly in a state of euphoria. Corey was still annoyed and I tried to lighten the mood by asking deep questions (“Do you think Rock and Bullwinkle were both Canadian or just the moose?”).
When we finally got to the park I knew something was not right. It was massive. There were very expensive homes surrounding a lake and a restaurant, gas station, store, and a boathouse. A movie was being shown at the pier. People were everywhere and I realized that Cyprus Hill was more like Disneyland than the ranch over the hill I imagined. And the mosquitoes were bad. Really bad. Until that almost total dark and they went to bed. And Corey, Henna, and I stayed up telling stories past our bedtime.