|Aerial view of Gaetz Lakes (an oxbow of the Red Deer River)|
Illustration of how an oxbow is formed (from Red Deer's Kerry Wood Nature Centre)
Gradually the surrounding landscape began to look more pastoral. The rumble of background noise began to get louder as I approached the next bridge. This was the Highway 2 Bridge and the gateway to the City of Red Deer. As usual, the traffic was busy. I drive across this bridge daily while I go about my busy working life. Approaching Red Deer in this way gave me a new perspective on the city and indeed my life. I felt like an outsider looking in.
Even after I had crossed under the bridge and into the city, the immediate surroundings didn’t look too urban. The only way you would know you were in a city was by the constant drone of the traffic in the background. There were poplar trees on one side of the river and white spruce hemmed in by high north facing banks on the other. I passed a fox with some prize in his mouth, running through the willows while being pursued by several crows. A fly fisherman was in the river catching some goldeye and no doubt hoping for a nice brown trout. I paddled under the Taylor Street Bridge and beached my canoe at a boat launch near the center of Red Deer. It was five o’clock and quitting time - another hard day at the office! I wish that all of my work days could be like this one.
My brief stay in Red Deer gave me a chance to get cleaned up, do my laundry and have a nice meal with friends. I also had a chance to nurse my ant bites from the previous day. They had become swollen and red. I must have been quite a sight. I looked in the mirror to see my sun reddened face with the white outline of my sunglasses around my eyes. My nose was burned and blistered. I also had dropped a few pounds which really wasn’t such a bad thing. It was a nice change to worry that I wasn’t eating enough food.
An old schoolmate of mine had come from Calgary to join me for a day’s paddling and we met for breakfast the next morning. He was now a school teacher and had brought along one of his colleagues to accompany us. They were in their seventeen foot “Coleman” and I was once again alone in the “Prospector” as we departed from the boat launch and quickly paddled beneath the Gaetz Avenue Bridge. We carried on past the 67th Street Bridge, beyond the Riverside Industrial Park and Three Mile Bend. This was the first stretch of the river that one looking from their canoe could really see that they were in an urban area. We canoed out of Red Deer, past the mouth of the Blindman River and into the Canyon area.
The Canyon was formed quite recently on the geological scale of events. Thousands of years ago the Red Deer River flowed north from this spot and followed the present course of the Battle River to link up with the North Saskatchewan River. At the end of the last great ice age (twelve thousand years ago) the retreating ice sheet blocked the northerly flow of the river and formed an expansive lake, which covered the entire Red Deer area. This large body of water stretched as far south as present day Innisfail. The river found a way eastward, carving through the “Divide Hill”, changing directions to its present course and forming the majestic Canyon area.
The stretch through the Canyon is pretty and it is easy to forget that you are within close vicinity of an urban area. There are a series of bends and mild rapids that help to make it interesting. We spotted a cow moose and two calves, lots of deer, many pelicans, ospreys and a huge eagle's nest. Near the end of the day, a heavy rain storm soaked me before I had the sense to throw on my rain gear. Just as suddenly as it had arrived, it was over and the sun peered out through the thunderheads once more.
The canyon was an interesting area and a nice outing for my friends, but a bit frustrating for me. There are so many bends in this stretch of the river that it took all day to arrive at the Joffre Bridge on Highway 11, which by car was only a few minutes and kilometres from where we began our day. It is one of those stretches of the river that makes you shake your head, as you look at it on the map, after a long day’s paddling.
My day-long traveling companions said their good-byes at the Joffre Bridge and I paddled for another hour downstream to a spot where I made camp on the river bank.