Go West, Day 23 – Grasslands National Park, SK

Author: Larry St Aubin

We leave the urban vibes behind and head to one of my favourite spots in Canada – Grasslands National Park near Val Marie, Saskatchewan. Eve, Raisin and myself stopped here in 2019. It is listed as one of the premiere Dark Sky Preserves. These preserves have very little light pollution so are great for star gazing.

I remember setting the alarm and waking up at 3 am. As I emerged from the tent and looked up, I gasped at the incredible night sky. And with the grasslands, no trees or hills to block the horizon. Looking forward to that experience again.

I figured I would have a late night with the Jazz Fest so did not plan an early start. The Econo Lodge Inn had complimentary breakfast at 7.

As I write this, I’m staying at the Travelodge in Moose Jaw and it’s like I’m back in the 50s. The WiFi is terrible. It takes so long to load I’m getting errors from WordPress. Easily this is the worst hotel of the trip. More about that in tomorrow’s blog.

Medalta Historic Site, Medicine Hat. I was going to stay in town a little longer but Medalta had stopped giving tours so decided to leave early.

Because of the extra time, I decide to head to Swift Current, SK for the SaskTel Kite Festival. The prairies are an ideal place to have a kite festival. We got there at 9:30, just after it opened. It takes place in a big, open field. Volunteers directed us across the field and where to park. It was very well organized. Eve found her first gopher hole.

The have a general area where celebrity kite flyers launch their creations that stay up the whole day. I had no idea that there were celebrity kite flyers. The Octopus was made by two guys from Germany.

In the middle is the area where the celebrities strut their stuff. We stopped there to give me time to read the passport. It lists who is flying when. There is also a PA announcer. I had been videoing this for a minute when I realized I should be speaking.

This next guy was trying to fly to Yellow Submarine but the music kept cutting out. Unfortunately Youtube won’t publish it because of the copyright on Yellow Submarine.

Next up were 3 people doing a kite dance.

A kid with a big smile comes running out of the kite making workshop tent with his creation.

We head over to the food trucks. Now, let’s see, what should I get? Any suggestions Greta?

When you only have 4 teeth, cheese curds go down really easily.

And behind us is a kids tractor ride. This kid wanted to go but mommy had other plans.

Eve is getting hot. We leave to cool down in the car’s A/C. On the way out we stop at the Wind Dogs – they were created by the gentleman to tell wind direction.

It is a long drive to Grasslands National Park. We stop on the middle of nowhere to get that prairie vibe. Greta decides to eat the prairie grass.

I stop in Shaunavon, SK at the Pioneer Co-op Food Store to pick up supplies for dinner and breakfast. Submarine sandwich (now where did I get the idea for that? Must be the ear worm), Veggies and dip and blueberry muffins for brekky.

Grasslands National Park. After the Battle of Little Big Horn against the American Cavalry, Sitting Bull and 4000 Lakota Sioux sought sanctuary here. Following the Buffalo in the summer and setting up winter camps in the wooded coulees and ravines, the Lakota migrated seasonally from area to area.

Indigenous habitation dates back to 10,000 years ago. By the 1600’s, the Gros Ventre followed the bison herds in this area. More recently, the Assiniboine, Cree, Sioux, and Blackfoot also inhabited this grassland area on a seasonal basis. Campsites, tipi rings, vision quest sites, medicine wheels, and bison drive lanes are some of the cultural heritage.

There are over 12,000 tipi rings found in the park. The park has thousands of archaeological areas and is one of the largest concentrations of undisturbed pre-contact cultural resources in Canada.

Tipi Ring at Grasslands National Park

The Métis hunted Bison in the region for decades. Evidence of their presence is in the Pinto Horse Buttes. With the disappearance of the Bison, the Métis dispersed. A few families settled near the Wood Mountain Uplands and few others settled near Lac Pelletier.

Top Dogtown Trail. “Listen to the rare Black-tailed Prairie Dogs bark at your approach as you stroll across the Top Dogtown on this hard surfaced, level trail.” Well it sounds exciting except regular dogs can’t go on the trail, I’m told. Possible turf war.

The park information person had a map of a 22Km Backcountry loop. It hadn’t rained so she said the roads should be good. As I got on the trail a big sign said no cell, no services, be prepared for emergencies. I had two pugs, a bottle of water and a bag of chips. We are ready.

An abandoned farmstead

An information board noting the wildlife you can encounter.

There is a sign telling people to slow down to 30 because there is known wildlife in the area. Int this case it was the Prairie Dog colony.

Another few kilometres down the gravel road and there is another one.

The map she gave me showed the Borderlands Lookout to be part of the 22 km loop. However, after having followed the sign and turned left, I drove for another 5 km before I got to it. And this is doing 50 kmh. I wasn’t that impressed after all the driving.

I did go over to the promontory that I saws. Sure enough it was a much better view. I suppose the Lookout is meant to be walked around. However, did I mention one of the wildlife encounters are rattlesnakes? So I’m not doing that many walkabouts.

The signage was not very good. I didn’t know whether to take the Lookout road back to the left turn, or to continue with the promontory road. There was the National Parks logo so I knew it was going into the park. I took that one and ended up going back in the same direction – not in a loop.

Dark Sky Preserve. One of many Dark Sky Preserves in Canada, the Grasslands National Park Dark Sky Preserve is one of the largest and darkest in the world covering 527 sq km. During the International Year of Astronomy, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada declared Grasslands National Park a Dark Sky Preserve (2009).

The darkness allows for natural green sky-glow to almost always be seen on the horizon, and it is not unusual for observers to notice they have several shadows on the ground cast by the bright stars and planets.

Tim Yaworski @livingskyguy

As I was setting up the tent I heard the most god-awful scream. I thought it was a coyote. No, Greta had fallen into a gopher hole and couldn’t get out.

There isn’t a fire ban in the park. I got a fire permit, collected the wood and started a campfire. This is only the second one of the trip but it was nice. I had picked up a couple of cans of Paddock Wood Brewing – Red Hammer Amber Ale and Sun Seeker Hazy IPA. They had been on ice so went to get them. The whole car was pretty much covered in red dust. Should I wash it or let Hertz handle it. They are going to add a cleaning charge to my bill anyway.

Eve was already in the tent sleeping. I picked up Greta and held her in my lap. The fire didn’t bother her. I alternated my gaze between Greta and the distant hills.

I put her in the tent to sleep and went back to the fire. However, I looked over and could see her little head peaking out, eyes staring at me. “When are you coming to bed?” she is saying.