Tag Archives: vacation 2008

The Vandersluys Back Roads of Saskatchewan Tour: Day 4

(Days 1 & 2; Day 3)

First “normal” night after a couple of weeks of craziness.  Lets get back on the Vandertrail.

Day 4 was a marathon.  We drove more than 500 kilometres and it took us ALL DAY.  Wow.  That was a tiring one.  Luckily the following day involved relatively little driving.

Day 4’s route:

View Larger Map

Day 4 started out with a delicious home-made breakfast at the Country Flavor Bed & Breakfast.  After breakfast I wandered around the farmyard in though for a good half hour and then I took the the kids to look at the horses and cattle in a nearby pasture.  Then it was time to start driving.

Part of the fun of these trips is taking our time and stopping for pictures.  Madeline had a fit at the beginning of that day’s drive because she had wanted to take pictures of the horses at the farm, but we had driven off without doing so.  Luckily Typically, we found some more horses soon.



As many of you know, we gave Madeline our old camera, which she took along on the trip. And every so often she would come out of the van to take pictures with me, or ask that we stop so that she could take some.


Chris (Maryanne’s husband) had shown us a way to get to a good vantage point to watch the drag-lines at a mine near Coronach.  The lady at the bed and breakfast warned us that we probably wouldn’t be able to get close.  She was right, though we tried.

So we took a roundabout route to Willow Bunch, where we saw the Willow Bunch Giant (he was 8’2″!) at the local museum.  This was interesting but was sort of mucked up because  a) none of these museums are made for children, b) we had our children with us, and c) EVERYTHING had a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign on it.  Actually, the museum tour guide was kind enough to babysit our kids for half an hour while we walked around on our own.

After this we drove up and over to St. Victor to see the petroglyphs.  The petroglyphs were, in the end, a little disappointing.  This was for a couple of reasons.  First, we learned soon after we arrived in the middle of the day that the best time to see the petroglyphs is near sunrise or sunset.  This is because the petroglyphs are so worn with time that it’s difficult to see them without the defining effect of early morning or evening shadows.  We drove into the hills anyway, but I was the only one to get out of the car to check them out.  The petroglyphs are fenced off to prevent further erosion from human traffic.  The petroglyphs are on a rocky outcrop, and this is what it looks like from the fence:


Signs on the way had warned us of the difficulty of seeing the petroglyphs in the middle of the day and I wasn’t quiet sure what I was looking for, so I examined the hills across the valley for signs of aboriginal art. In fact, the petroglyphs were small pictures carved into the rock at my feet. It took me a while to see anything:


Here are a couple of crops:

IMGP5151-2 IMGP5151-1

I was also disappointed to learn that the age of the petroglyphs is estimated at several hundred years.  I had expected them to date from somewhere like 1,000 years before the arrival of Europeans.  They’re still interesting, but 1,000 years is more interesting than 400.  Plus, they were small and difficult to see.

After this we started the longest stretch of the trip.


We had planned on driving straight to Val Marie by the main roads, but Val Marie is on the other side of Grasslands National Park—our actual destination for this leg of the day’s drive—and we’d have to do quite a bit of backtracking to get into the park proper.  So at the last minute, Dixie suggested we take a back route through the country, up through Grasslands National Park and then to Val Marie.

Now our guidebook for both this year’s and last year’s Back Roads of Saskatchewan tours, Saskatchewan Scenic Drives, specifically said that we should not take this route if it has recently rained, or is raining OR EVEN IF IT LOOKS LIKE IT MIGHT RAIN. It looked like it might rain when we made our decision.  20 minutes south of Mankota we started seeing drops on the windshield and rain falling in the distance.  I had wanted to quote the guidebook, but I can’t find it.  Following their warning about driving this road on a rainy day, they decide to elaborate by pointing out that if you have car trouble on this road, it’s a LONG walk for help.  In this area there really is nothing in terms of shelter or civilization.  Immediately I imagine myself trudging through hot, crunchy prairie while my wife and little ones huddle alone in the van on the side of some road somewhere nowhere.

Begin hour’s worth of driving anxiety.

As it happens, the back route was stony or gravelly all the way through, so it wouldn’t be a real driving concern in anything but torrential downpours.

Halfway through our route, we came upon this somewhat creepy stone house falling apart in the middle of nowhere:


This was at the narrowest, harrowiest portion of the road.

It may be of interest to some of you, incidentally, that we spotted The Marc (Marcos Vandersluysus Photographis) several times on Day 4.  It seems its range is much larger than originally thought.

Here is one at the side of a grid road south of St. Victor:

The Marc in hiding

Can you see him? How about now?

The Marc in hiding, but more visible


The Marc shoots an observer

Here is one in Grasslands National Park, taking a pensive leak:

The Marc takes a thoughtful leak

And here is one taking a photograph of a rainbow north of Morse:

The Marc shoots a rainbow

It seems that its range covers much of southern and western Saskatchewan. But I digress.

Quite frankly, in the hour between turning south of Mankota and crossing the Frenchman River, we didn’t know where the hell we were, and it was a bit unnerving.  Would we unwittingly turn up somewhere in Montana?  What if the road gets washed out along the way and we get stranded?  And so on.

Eventually we reoriented ourselves and realized that we were driving through the flats of the Frenchman Valley.  We were in the Frenchman Valley, driving along the Frenchman River and nary a Frenchman to be seen.  Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

It is beautiful country around Grasslands National Park.  I had expected it to be as flat as flat can be, but the area is made up of gently rolling hills. This is just before we hit the valley:

The Road into Grasslands National Park

The Frenchman Valley, on the other hand, is flat, hot and silent.


Near the main entrance to the park, on the Val Marie side, the road is flanked by a large prairie dog colony.

Prairie Dog Colony

I had collected myself enough by this time to stop the van, turn off the ignition and get out. I wanted to hear the silence. Aside from the occasional warning “bark” (more of a chirp, really) from a prairie dog, and the echo of white noise throbbing in my ears, it was absolutely still there. I wondered how long it would take to adjust, for the buzz in my ear to die down so that I could truly enjoy the silence.  Alas, I did not have the time to find out.

Dixie was reluctant to exit the van in this part of the country.  She was worried about rattlesnakes.  I assured her that in 15 years of wandering the grasslands of southern Saskatchewan I had not once encountered a rattlesnake.  Still she refused.

And now we come to the potential breaking point for all of us.  Dixie had looked into staying in a B&B in Val Marie, but the recommended one there required us to book 2 nights, which we did not want to do.  Because of this, our intended destination for the night was on Lake Diefenbaker, 2 hours northwest of Val Marie.  It was 5:00p.m. and we were tired and needed to eat supper.  We considered staying in a hotel in Swift Current, the midway point.  When we got there, we had supper in a Burger King with a giant play . . . Thing, where the kids blew off steam for an hour.  This was just what they needed.  We decided to push through to Riverhurst.

North of Morse, Saskatchewan, with the sun on the western horizon, we came across a beautiful rainbow.


Lousy photo stitch, I know.  I was standing in more or less the same spot for both exposures, but was thinking only of the rainbow, rather than the whole scene stitching together.  (The harsh vignetting in the cheap kit lens didn’t help.)

After that, it was straight on to Riverhurst, Lake Diefenbaker and the Mainstay Inn.

Stay tuned for Day 5 of the Vandersluys Back Roads of Saskatchewan Tour 2008.

The Vandersluys Back Roads Tour 2008: Day 3

Day 3 of the vacation was a full day—not too much driving, but quite a bit to see.  We started the day with a trip to the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina.  The main reason we went to the Science Centre was because right now there is a Magic School Bus (children’s educational television show) exhibit, which we thought would be interesting for the kids.  The kids went through it and seemed to enjoy themselves for the most part, but it proved to be underwhelming; I’m guessing this was the tail-end of the exhibit’s tour, as some displays were not functioning properly or altogether broken.

Luke poses.  For once.

The science centre hasn’t changed much since I went there as a child.  The kids enjoyed it.

After wandering in alone, Madeline ran screaming from the room below.Mangy Zombie Bear with Gimp Eye

Behind Luke and I is what I have dubbed “Mangy Gimp-Eyed Zombie Bear”.   There is a motion sensor somewhere in the room; when you enter, the bear’s head starts moving and it starts pawing and growling.

It’s an unnerving sight, mostly because the bear looks like taxidermied road-kill.  Its stiff movements, mangy hair and dead right eye belied the fact that this bear had been dead on the side of the road for several days before being picked up, stuffed and making the rounds of science centres and roadshows across the continent before settling at the Saskatchewan Science Centre.  The bear, it appears, had been undead prior to said demise.  This is all conjecture of course.  Scary stuff.

After the science centre, I took Madeline and Luke to the Kramer Imax Theatre, which adjoins the science centre, while Dixie and Olivia went off to do some shopping.  The choice for the kids was between exclamatory titles: Dinosaurs Alive! or Sharks! It’s too late now, but had I noticed the punctuation in those titles at the time, I would have exclaimed them each time they were spoken, like so:

“Well, which film should we see, kids—Dinosaurs ALIVE! or SHARKS!! ? What do you think?  It’s up to you.  I think I’d prefer SHARKS!, but it’s more likely that you’d enjoy Dinosaurs ALIVE!

But I digress . . .

We did choose Dinosaurs Alive! because we thought the kids would enjoy it more.  In retrospect, Sharks! may have been a better choice, because Dinosaurs Alive! was 80% documentary about palientology and discoveries of new dinosaurs and maybe 20% subpar computer animation of those dinosaurs.  This was enjoyable to me, maybe not so much for the kids.  But they got (free! day old! they were out of kernels!) popcorn and (not free!) candy and saw some dinosaurs on a really big screen.  They said they liked it.  Kids are probably easier to please than parents-on-behalf-of-kids.

After the IMAX theatre, we all drove to the University of Regina, our alma-mater, which is just south of the science centre.  From the outside the university looks the same, but once on the grounds inside the circle of main buildings the place is nearly unrecognizable.  I spent 4.5 years there and nearly got lost.

We visited our favourite buildings, which are actually Luther College and Campion College and looked up the offices of our favourite professors.  Of course, being summer, no one was around.  Then it was off to the Ad-Hum building, where Maryanne and friends would hang out in the pit.

This is me at the writing centre, where I choose to work for my one semester of graduate studies:

The Writing Centre

Exciting stuff, isn’t it?  There’s a more interesting story I can attach, however: one of my other options available to me for student work was to work with Jeanne Shami, who is a world-renowned John Donne expert (she’s referenced, incidentally, in Wikipedia’s article on John Donne).  What a chicken I was!  It was probably a good thing for Dr. Shami that I chose not to work with her, because I left the program temporarily (and then permanently) after one semester.  Had I stuck with it, however, I would have made a very poor choice.

The Writing Centre was a frustrating job, by the way, because I spent most of my time tutoring a) dim-witted jocks who were just filling their English requirement, and b) English As a Second Language Students who somehow managed to get into 200+ level English courses without having English as even a 3rd or 4th language.  But it paid the bills.

And here’s me at the other end of the hall in front of what was my shared office that one semester:

My office The professor in the office next to mine was also a tea lover.  He would give me tea samples.  He’s one of the people I missed after I left.

After the university and a quick lunch, we left the city in search of the Big Muddy Badlands.  After I read about the Big Muddy Badlands in a CAA magazine a couple of years ago I intended to take a solo road trip to the area.  That turned into a road trip with Madeline.  That didn’t happen.  Then last year’s travels of the back roads of Saskatchewan were a hit, so Dixie planned this year’s trip around the Big Muddy Badlands.


On the way there we found the highway completely blocked by someone moving a Quonset in one piece.

Quonset being moved, near Coronach, SK

Quonset being moved, near Coronach, SK

You won’t see that on the main highways.

The Big Muddy Badlands are the head of the Outlaw Trail, where outlaws such as the Sundance Kid would hide out.  Immediate appeal there.  Plus, “Big Muddy” sounds like the perfect name for a town in a western film (it’s probably the similarity to Unforgiven‘s “Big Whiskey” that makes it appealing).

Here’s the thing: the Big Muddy Valley looks exactly like something from a Clint Eastwood western:

Big Muddy Valley

Bug Muddy Valley

It was hot, dry, solitary—just what I was looking for.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a shoot-out on horseback in the distance.  Davey could very well have been shot by William Munny in them hills yonder.

Our goal was Castle Butte, a 90-metre high clay monolith in the Big Muddy Valley (approximately at the green dot on the map above).  It was about 20 kilometres down a gravel road.  Here it is, folks:

Castle Butte

It was quite a sight and bigger than it looked.  We drove up to the base of Castle Butte and go out planning on first doing a little spelunking in a cave Maryanne’s husband, Chris, told us about and then climbing the Butte itself.

The cave wasn’t hard to find.  The entrance was a little low and even though I’m not claustrophic (that I’m aware of), I was reluctant to go into the cave.  Madeline had been talking about exploring the cave since before we left.  We even packed some flashlights.  We did finally go in.  It goes back into the Butte about 50 feet, before the cave jumps up into a smaller passage clearly carved by water.  The cave was very cool (in both senses of the term). Someone more brave and skilled than I could possibly have gone further into that smaller passage, but that wasn’t for me or the kids.

At the entrance to the Castle Butte cave

After we left the cave, Madeline, Luke and I started climbing Castle Butte, but it quickly became clear that it was too steep for the kids to climb.  After some yelling and some tears, I headed up alone while everyone else waited in the van.

A picture of me at the top and one of the van from the top:

Me near the top of Castle Butte The Van from the top of Castle Butte

After this, we drove to Coronach and had a nice meal at At Touch of Class (which looked far from it on the outside), where I had possibly the most refreshing Pilsner ever.  That southern Saskatchewan sun was hot!  It was like we spent the afternoon in a Sergio Leone film.  After that we drove to the B&B on a farm 10 minutes out.

More pictures in my vacation set.  And check out the map.