Monday, August 20, 2012

Saskatchewan River Crossing near continental roof

 A bridge crosses the North Saskatchewan River at this highway junction; hence its name. East along Highway 11, Rocky Mountain House,  once a Hudson's Bay Fort, is now a small town.

The Columbia Icefields are situated about 50 kilometers north along the Icefields Parkway, the scenic mountain route from Banff to Jasper. The toe of the Athabasca Glacier lies so close to the road that geology buffs can park and walk up to it, then reach out and place their hand in its ancient, grubby snow.

This is the  continental divide: from here great river systems flow east, west and north. The wide and mighty Fraser that flows into the Pacific at Vancouver is a small stream crossed a couple of times along the Icefields Parkway. After arising in the Rockies, the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers eventually join and flow into Lake Winnipeg, which drains into Hudson's Bay.

The Athabasca, the longest undammed river of the Canadian prairies, is now being depleted and polluted by oilsands development. It arises at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and flows through the varied geographic regions of Alberta and to the Peace-Athabasca delta. The Peace River system, in turn, drains into the long and wide Mackenzie, which flows through the Northwest Territories to empty into the Arctic Ocean through a vast delta, passing Aklavik and Inuvik on its way to Tuktoyaktuk. The Mackenzie River delta is an important bird area.

To see the lower hip or porch of the continental "roof," it is necessary to travel south into the Milk River system, which straddles the borders of Alberta and Montana. From that system, the rivers flow away south toward the Gulf of Mexico.

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