Dinosaurs and Grasslands

Day one of our holiday in July started out with the Sandhills & Cypress Hills, and day two started out with ziplining in Cypress Hills. After ziplining we left Cypress Hills and started off towards the Grasslands. Our first stop along the way was to meet Scotty the T-Rex at Eastend.

Our first stop along the road was at Eastend, SK at the T-Rex Discovery Centre. Admission into the centre is by donation, though they do have a recommended amount.

In 1991 a vertebra was found near Eastend, SK. This ended up being a T-Rex who soon earned the name Scotty. It’s one of the largest and most complete skeletons in the whole world, and the first to have been found in Saskatchewan! Fossils have shown us that both carnivores and herbivores inhabited Saskatchewan. I also learned that way back in the dinosaur days the environment here was much like that of modern day Arizona, we even had palm trees. Such a stark difference of how it is nowadays with our -50C winter days. With how dry it’s been this year I can’t help but wonder if that is what we are going back to though.

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Fossilized turtle!

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Scotty!

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After we took a look around, we once again hit the road. Our next stop was in Shaunavon because Ian wanted some coffee, and I was hoping for some chocolate milk. We stopped at a small service station just off the highway, and that was quite the experience. We learned quite a bit about the owner of the place, and his .25 cent a week allowance that his wife gives him. Though, he now has it all because his wife went to go see family in Europe. Ian also had to show this man how to use the camera on his phone.

This is the part of the movie that he sneakily takes our picture to add to his wall of victims before he kills us. Good thing we aren’t in a movie.

He also didn’t have any chocolate milk. I’m guessing he doesn’t get enough visitors to keep perishables like milk.

Next stop was at Val Marie, right near the West Block of the Grasslands National Park. We stopped at the government information centre and got some pamphlets and information on the area. We were advised that the campground was fairly full, but there may still be some spots. They recommended setting up inside the bison fence, though if we needed to set up outside of that, it would be okay. They hadn’t ever had anyone get trampled, so there no need to feel unsafe. They did advise us that there had been a couple of rattlesnacks spotted in the day stop area though.

It was about a half hour drive to the campground, and you went through a bunch of gravel roads. We were basically smack dab in the middle of a valley, and boy was it hot. It was probably close to about 40C (104F). We were able to snag one of the last spots within the bison fence and got set up. We were right near the bathrooms, which were pretty sad compared to Cypress Hills. They were just an outhouse with hand sanitizer. There was a water tap outside of the area in case you needed, and I used that to wash off the stickiness of the sanitizer.

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There wasn’t really any convenient hiking trails near the campsite, most were over 10km long, which was too far given the time that we got there. We decided to go hike the 70 mile Butte, which was located on the other side of Val Marie. This hike is considered to be difficult and gets you to one of the highest points in the park. It’s a 5km round trip, if you do it right. We didn’t do it right. We went the wrong direction so we ended up doing about a 2km hike, and then the 5km one right after. The trail is still being constructed so some areas are a bit rougher, but it was doable.

They have this fence set up to keep the animals away from the highway.

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You can see the little dots by the road int he center area of the picture, that’s our car. This was just a short time after we started off on the 5km hike. So far away!

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It was like something out of Land Before Time. Anyone who claims that Saskatchewan is nothing but flat has clearly never been here. So much beauty! It’s easy to feel like you’re the only people in the world when you’re out in nature like this. We didn’t see anyone else while on this hike, or hear any road noise. It was so perfect.

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We didn’t see any snakes (I was still hoping to see a bull snake!) but we did spot some deer!

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After we got back to the car we stopped at a restaurant in Val Marie for some food. We went to the hotel restaurant and were informed that the cook was not there so the only food that could be deep fried. We both ended up getting a chicken burger, and it was really good. It didn’t have the greasy feel that so many do, and I got a really fresh garden salad with it which just hit the spot.

After supper we started to drive back out to the campground. Ian wanted some sunset pictures so we made a stop at the lookout point. When we got out of the vehicle we heard a loud yipping noise. We looked across the road and all we saw were tons of gophers standing at attention. We couldn’t see anything else, and it definitely wasn’t the gophers making this noise. Well, eventually we spotted it.

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It was apparently this guys meal time. The gophers were all keeping an eye on him and popping in and out of their holes. The coyote eventually wandered off without any food, but I love how in this picture you can see them all around him!

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Ian wandered off while all that excitement was going on to get his sunset pictures, and I was able to get a few after the coyote went too far away for my camera.

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We started heading back to the campsite after the sun went down, but had to pause for a bit to let some bison cross the road. Thankfully they actually moved pretty quick while doing so. We were instructed to not honk at them or rush them. Ian wanted me to try and ride one, but we were advised earlier that probably wasn’t the best idea.

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We got back to the campsite and that ended our second day. It was the only day that we really saw any wildlife (other than the dead bird that got attached to the front end of the car) but unfortunately no snakes. It was certainly an experience to camp in such an area, it definitely felt like roughing it. We did talk about just staying at the campground in Val Marie next time though. There just wasn’t much out at the campsite, and it was quite the drive to get out there. It was worth it, but not second time worth it.