On the 10th anniversary of my first arrival in Canada last year, I made it to the only Canadian province I had never been before: Saskatchewan. When I told people that I was going to Saskatchewan, they usually looked at me funny and then asked why. I simply said, because I've never been, which is pretty much the main reason for all my travels, really. I didn't expect to fall in love with the province, but fall in love with it I did.
Most fellow Canadians seem to think that Saskatchewan is flat and boring with nothing to see, but I've found it to be quite the opposite. Now, I've only been to a small corner of Saskatchewan, but if one small corner could have that much to see, imagine how much the whole province has to offer! In the four days I spent in Southwestern Saskatchewan, I saw so many amazing sceneries and so much wildlife unlike anything I had ever seen before.
We spent our first night in Saskatchewan in Swift Current, which is a pretty big town compared to others we'd passed along the way. We arrived early in the evening, but there was still a couple hours of daylight left and we were not about to waste it by just sitting around in our hotel room. There are places to go and things to see! So we decided to go on a mission to find Wally the Woolly Mammoth, or rather, the statue of Wally, in a small town called Kyle. Why? Because woolly mammoth is my favourite extinct animal! And yes, we did find Wally!
I learned from my first day there that Saskatchewan is nothing if not quirky. :-)
On our way back from seeing Wally, we made a quick stop at Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park to take a few pictures of the beautiful Lake Diefenbaker, named after John G. Diefenbaker, the 13th Prime Minister of Canada. From the look of the sky, we could see that a big storm was coming in.
That night, we witnessed one of the most spectacular storms we've ever seen. The lightning seemed to go on and on and on. The hotel lost power several times during the storm but we didn't really care. We were quite enjoying the light show. Later we learned that a tornado had actually touched down further south from where we were. I was really glad that we missed it.
The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and drove straight out to Val Marie, which is the gateway to Grasslands National Park. It was a very scenic drive from Swift Current, and being in Val Marie made me feel like I was in an old wild west movie. We had lunch at a local restaurant and picked up some fresh fruits and snacks from a local grocery store before heading out to the park.
We stopped by the Grasslands National Park visitor centre first to pick up a map of the eco-drive we were planning to take and the friendly park staff pointed out to us on the map some low-lying areas in the park that might be flooded after last night's storm. We made a note to avoid those. There was no entrance fee to the park. All we had to do was sign the guestbook and we were good to go!
Grasslands National Park deserves its own post, but let me tell you this: it is now one of my most favourite places in Canada, if not on Earth. I often think about it, longing to come back. Landscape photographers should really be all over this place. It's beautiful. It's nature, pure and simple. Imagine a wide open space with big skies and plains bison roaming free; with river valleys and hills dotted the park here and there; and the prairie grasses dancing and whispering softly in the wind. Amazing place. You should totally go there. I can't recommend it enough.
We started doing the Eagle Butte Loop hike but turned around shortly after realizing that I was just too tired and hungry (and therefore hangry) to do this hike in its entirety, even if it was only a 2 km., easy hike. Will have to do this next time for sure. It definitely looks like a beautiful hike with chances of interesting wildlife sightings.
The next day, after spending a night at a lovely B&B in the town of Frontier, we set out for the next part of our adventure and headed to Eastend, Saskatchewan's dinosaur country, to visit the T. Rex Discovery Centre. It wasn't half as big as the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta that we visited on the first day of our trip, but it was still quite interesting, informative, and educational. We really enjoyed the screening of the film about the local discovery of Scotty the T. Rex, Canada's largest and most complete T. Rex fossilized skeleton, in the early 90s.
Then we realized that we had completely missed The Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area, which we found out to be located just around the corner from Frontier where we had stayed the night before, so we had to backtrack our way towards it. I just needed to see more of the majestic plains bison! We did see a big herd of them, but they were standing far away from the road and we knew better than to approach them.
After checking in to a B&B in Maple Creek, we unloaded our bags to our small room in the attic, and then had dinner at a local Chinese restaurant before heading to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park to explore, and also to find the highest point in Saskatchewan somewhere in the park. We found one close to it.
I was really impressed with the beautiful panoramic view from the top of Conglomerate Cliffs inside the park. It was quite stunning. There were lovely wild spring flowers all over the place at the time, which made a great backdrop to the lovely sceneries.
We started driving towards the Alberta part of the interprovincial park but had to turn around due to a flooded area on the road that we didn't want to risk getting stuck in because it was almost dark, we didn't have a 4x4 vehicle, and there was no cellphone reception. It was also quite a remote area. You don't want to get stuck there! So we drove towards Fort Walsh instead even though we knew it wouldn't be open. We just like to check things out. :-) Didn't really explore the fortress but I could see that it had quite a beautiful backdrop of lush green treed hills.
The next day we drove around Maple Creek a little bit before leaving and I saw a cowboy crossing sign that made me smile; a friendly reminder that we were in the wild, wild west!
It was our last day in Saskatchewan and our final destination was the Great Sand Hills. On our way there, we stopped at an old, one-room school building that was operational in the years between 1924-1965. Everything seemed to be well-preserved. I felt like I had been transported to the olden days.
Next to the school building was a tiny old church with old photos hanging on its walls. Another trip back to the olden days.
When we arrived in the town of Leader, of course we had to check out all the giant animal sculptures the town is famous for, like this one of the kangaroo rats.
And this one of the burrowing owls.
I don't think it was open at the time but the local tourist information office in Leader is located inside a red caboose! How adorable is that?
Just outside the town of Leader, we saw this locomotive. It was in a pretty good shape and didn't look overly old so I'm not sure if it was abandoned. If anything, it made for an interesting photo op with the stormy skies and the prairies in the background.
In order to get to the Great Sand Hills, we needed to purchase a map to the location from the Great Sandhills Museum and Interpretive Centre in Sceptre, SK. While we were there, we thought we might as well pay the admission fee to the museum and check out its quirky collections of things from the olden days. I just had to have my husband pose as a kangaroo rat to remember the visit by.
After our little visit to the museum, we headed out to the Great Sand Hills with our copy of the map to the location in hand. After driving on a dirt road for a bit, not quite sure if we were even on the right track, we saw the giant piles of sands in the middle of a prairie land, and we knew we had been on the right track all along. It was just as beautiful, serene, and surreal as I'd imagined it to be.
We climbed up a hill to get a sweeping view of the dunes and on top of it, we found this structure with cowboy boots hanging all over it. Not quite sure what this is all about but it's interesting. As I mentioned before, Saskatchewan is nothing if not quirky. :-)
As we were heading out of Saskatchewan towards Alberta, we saw a herd of pronghorn antelopes. We had seen them before in other locations in Saskatchewan but they were either alone or in pairs, never in herds. It was as if they were giving us a big send-off. :-)
I love Saskatchewan. Will definitely make a trip back there again in the future to see more.