We decide to take what looks like a shortcut along a gravel road from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park to Coutts, Alberta, a town that borders the US State of Montana. Bombing along, we suddenly pass a sign, “Stop! United States Border” WTF! I turn to my navigator for an explanation. “On the bloody Alberta map this road is all in Canada” he says. “Check for yourself. Let’s just go.” “No way” I insist, and as I turn the car around, he hops out to snap a pic of the sign. That’s when I spy a camera mounted on a fence post at a V between our road and another in the middle of nowhere, or so we think. As I pull the car ahead so whoever’s watching us can clearly see we’re pointed back towards Canada, a Chevy Tahoe with blacked-out windows pulls up. Lights blazing. Oh, oh!
Glenn quips, “Let’s ask this guy, he’ll know.” A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent gets out of his SUV in full regalia. The guy’s wearing a bullet-proof vest, sidearm, equipment of all types dangling from an obviously well-maintained physique. The service here is excellent. We ask “Where did you come from, there’s nothing for miles around?” “From a different vantage point”, the guy states flatly. Behind him rise Montana’s beautiful Sweetgrass Hills.
He realizes that we’re harmless and rather than send us backtracking, we are informed that he will be escorting us to Coutts along what he says is “Border Road”. Canada and US farmers used it for years, then 911 happened and everything changed. He tells us that at one point the US Government considered putting in a parallel road with a massive fence but decided it was too expensive.
“Stay well behind my vehicle” he advises, “I don’t want to break your windshield with flying gravel”. And he’s off at a high rate of speed with us struggling to keep up at a safe distance behind.
Welcome to Coutts, Alberta, the only 24-hour port of entry in the province, with over 750,000 travelers passing through every year. When we arrive, our escort flashes us a friendly “Goodby” and disappears into the wind. The first thing we notice is a flatbed semi-trailer hauling two HUMVEEs into Canada, perhaps to CFB Suffield north of Medicine Hat. Coutts is a border town. Security is tight. It’s all business.