It was hard to tell where the official site was among all the miles of prairie, but we stayed in the grasslands adjacent to Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan for two wonderful days and nights. It was a unique time in our love exile saga east and one I think about when I find myself in open space nowadays.
This area, southwest Saskatchewan, is one of the few places in North America where you can see untouched prairie. Grazing land can show evidence of animal and human activity, but Grasslands National Park is wilderness sanctuary. It offers visitors rolling grasslands and a rugged landscape of weathered cliffs, deep coulees and mysterious badlands. The wildlife there, which you think does not exist, is as diverse as the landscape itself, which you learn does have variety. Keep your eyes open for white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, sage grouse and golden eagles. The park also provides a safe home for the endangered and threatened species of ferruginous hawks, short-horned lizards and burrowing owls. We saw deer, antelope, eagles and a sage grouse while exploring.
The great open plains is more than a concept – it’s a way of life and a way to appreciate the smallest details around you. We marveled at the great grasslands of Saskatchewan. There is diversity in the ground cover – grasses and flowers and wheel tracks. We saw the occasional rock, which took on greater significance in the flat, wind-blown wide open spaces. We saw buffalo pies. We learned about the rubbing stone – the very special big rock that you can’t believe rises above the grass. It would have a worn out ring around it. It wasn’t a religious site like in some places we have been. There the bison would rub their molting coats and chafe off the itchy hair. It was a scratching post where there were no trees to be had.
We laughed when a path worn into the grass had a sign that said Road Ends. What road, we wondered? We were thrilled to hear the chirping of prairie dogs and sat for hours trying to capture them with our cameras. Karin didn’t believe the watched pot never boils philosophy and stood outside a prairie dog mound, hoping one would pop up for a photo close up. She never got it but she was fun to watch trying!
We chased a sage grouse with our cameras to an abandoned cattle pen before it flew off, sending some feathers our way. We were happy to see that once in awhile a bird had a branch to sit on in the prairie environment. Back at our place, there were a couple of trees for perching and there was a wrought iron railing on our upstairs porch. We had regular swallow visitors there.
We were hosted at The Crossing Resort by wonderful local folks. We stumbled upon this B & B by following a roadside sign as we drove east. The other B & B is The Convent – yes, just what it says, a former convent. We saw it but we had already landed at The Crossing Resort. We were so comfortable there and enjoyed ourselves in that prairie environment we stayed a second night – and got in on a bad storm in comfort, rather than on the road. We had a comfortable place to stay, reliable Internet and the chance to rest from daily driving. It was bliss!
Val Marie is a small town – really small. It’s only a few miles from the Canadian/U.S. border. We thought about taking a country road into America, but then thought against it. Now we wonder what would have happened if we had done that. Val Marie is an interesting mix of wheat farming, ranching and tourism, mixed with federal government workers at Grasslands National Park and natural gas compressor relay station workers at the border with America.
The Crossing Resort was outside town and we enjoyed the sweep of landscape around the place. You can stay in an upstairs room above Ken and Johanna’s home. You can camp or stay in your RV in a camping area that includes facilities. You can even stay in one of two tipis in the camping area and harken back to the days when the indigenous plains tribes had their homes on the grasslands. We know there are remnants of them – tipi rings – in the park. When a circle of rocks of the right diameter is found, historians know a tipi was there in the past. The rocks were used to hold down the edge of the shelter.
This is a place where you experience, you look, you feel. There are no Disneyesque signs or features, barely any neon lights. It’s grass and a few bushes and some slight rolling hills. The people of Val Marie are welcoming and eager to share about their area. We enjoyed a museum/visitor center and bought stamps at the local post office while we were there. We recommend good binoculars to really experience the area and good cameras to capture some memories to share your experience.
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