(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:
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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:
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:
Can you see him? How about now?
Wait! THERE HE IS!
Here is one in Grasslands National Park, taking a pensive leak:
And here is one taking a photograph of a rainbow north of Morse:
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 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.
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.