Look at that! This post is going to be about the remainder of my great Prairie camp/drive, and it's going to stay that way. I'd better jump write back into traveloguing so there's no risk of going off on tangents.
Look at that! A nice sunset as viewed from the guest house south of Val Marie SK, on the edge of Grasslands National Park. As it turns out, the weather wasn't so delightful the next morning at all. I got up quite early to meet a park guide at 7:00am - we were going to drive the 1.25 hours or so over to the East Block of the park to go on a guided hike through the badlands there to look at some fossil sites. But there was rain coming - and it came - HARD - shortly afterward. Plus, it had rained hard once already in the previous few days (once, memorably, during dinner, which resulted in an invitation into my neighbouring tipi to share some nutloaf cooked in Campbell's tomato soup, which in the midst of a thunderstorm in a tipi is actually the best thing possible). So the roads into the East Block would have been so bad that if I did get in, I might not get out.
So I decided to leave Grasslands park one day early. The day actually cleared up very quickly, and by the time I packed up and drove less than half an hour, the sun was out and the world was bright and drippy. I pulled into a town called Orkney, once again bemused by the Scottishness of Saskatchewan.
Orkney is a near-ghost-town, like many I saw across the south of SK. There are still P.O. boxes, and a couple of the houses are inhabited, but mostly it's falling down. There was an abandoned grocery store with the window missing in the door, and debris all over the place - including bits of the ceiling gradually collapsing as water seeped in. The sound of the water dripping was amazing, so I recorded that as well as taking a lot of pictures. I couldn't believe some of the things abandoned in there: a not-old microwave, a beautiful antique radio. There were still posters in the window advertising upcoming events, some of them still to come. So this place is still a community centre, in a very limited sort of way.
I kept driving west, though other towns, some also kind of dead and some quite adorable. Because I got up and going so early I had much of the day ahead of me. I turned north at Climax and headed north to Shaunavon, which was kind of out of the way, just because I'd been told the ice cream was good.
Sigh. People of Climax, keep on being beautiful.
To my surprise, Shaunavon was big enough that I actually had to look around a bit for the ice cream place. I found it, but it wasn't quite open, so I figured I'd wait. About five minutes after the time it was supposed to open, an old wood-pannelled station wagon pulled up. The driver rolled down the window and explained that they had had to visit his wife's mother at the hospital, and then the couple in their 70s went in to open the parlour. It was a drive-up place with nowhere to sit but outside, and only soft serve. That's what they mean in Saskatchewan when they say ice cream. And it's good stuff. And they have coconut dip! I had that about eight times this summer.
No, Shauvanon, you are not the Home of Chinese Food. Also: surfing the Frenchman Valley?
I drove west along the Red Coat Trail (Mounties, not the British) and down into the valley to East End, which is surrounded by some amazing coulees and badlands on the sides of the valley. (this is the same valley that defines Grasslands park) East End is where Scotty the Tyrannosaur was dug up in the 1990s, and there is a T-Rex Discovery Centre built into the hillside above the town, plus another town museum full of entirely random fossils in equally old glass cases, and dinosaur images on just about everything - though it can't hold a candle to Drumheller for sheer dinobranding. The T-Rex Centre was open for tours, but work on Scotty halts for the weekend. We could see into the area where scientists and volunteers are working on his fossils and will be for years to come. I was shocked to learn how little we know about T-Rexes: only 8 or so have ever been found. And the only Tyrannosaur coprolite (fossil poop) ever found might have been Scotty's, based on where it was found. It is conjectured to be T-Rex poo only because of its size.
On my way out of Eastend I took some seriously crazy gravel roads up and out of the Frenchman Valley, onto a rocky sideroad that goes straight up a hill (to access a radio tower - I actually stopped partway up and walked the rest lest my loaded wagon not make it) - the view was incredible, and somehow there was valley to be seen in all directions, almost like I was on an island.
I can't get these photos to turn correctly. This is similar to how I can't run a CD player when my students are watching.
Then, over plateaus, down and up steep smaller valleys where the bridge is as close to river level as it can get, and finally onto Highway 21.
My ultimate goal was Cypress Hills park which straddles the SK/AB border and is a pretty popular spot on a long weekend, which this was. I didn't have a reservation and was arriving a day earlier than planned, on the Sunday before the August Holiday Monday. I got one of the few remaining tent sites and was told that I could move to an awesomer one the next day if people left.
Wow, that was only one day - and it took me a siginficant portion of a day to write it down.