I’ve been chronicling our recent holiday, and we are now heading towards our last stop, Coronach. Just to recap though, in case you missed the rest of the posts, we started off seeing the Sandhills & Cypress Hills, went ziplining, and then went to the West Block of the Grasslands.
We woke up fairly early in the morning at the Grasslands, and started heading towards the East Block. Located there is the Valley of 1,000 Devils, which just sounded amazing. There are red clay hoodoos, dinosaur fossils, wildlife, it sounded like it would have it all. We got to the East Block and stopped at the information centre to find out how to get there. We were drawn a map, and right then I started to feel a bit iffy about it. There wasn’t a trail, and you had to cross the creek and just the right spot, because it was only dried up in some areas. Well, map in hand, plenty of water, and our cameras, we set out.
It was hot, windy, and we couldn’t find a dry spot in the creek. We gave up after about 30 minutes of walking and went back to the car.
I fully intend to go back there next year and actually explore the area, there just wasn’t enough time to wander for as long as we may have needed to.
We got back to the car and headed towards Coronach, where we were going to spend the night. We got there in the afternoon and stopped at the tourist centre. We confirmed our booking for the private tour of Big Muddy the next day, and asked about the campgrounds. There were two in the town, and one just outside. We drove through the ones in town but they looked pretty full, and were really close together.
We decided that we would get a site at the campground just outside of town. It’s the Poplar River Community Park, and is located right beside the Cookson Reservoir. It wasn’t too full, and had showers and decent enough bathrooms. After setting up we ran back to town for a short time, picked up a few things from the store, and went back to the campsite. It was a really windy day, but we managed to get our little grill going and had some bacon and steaks. The campground is still fairly new so they don’t have many trees to offer shelter. They are working on that though!
After sitting by the fire for a bit, we decided to head to the tent for the night. We knew we had a full day coming up with our Big Muddy Tour! This was quite the night. It was horribly windy and beyond rainy. I was a bit concerned because that area is known for having some pretty intense storms, that’s where most of the tornadoes in the province end up! Thankfully it didn’t go beyond the rain and wind, and our tent survived.
We got up in the morning and went to Deb’s Country Kitchen for breakfast. It was a great price, and a full plate!
We then went to the tourist centre to pay (they only accept cash) and wait for our private tour guide to come. So we waited..and waited. The van with one guide showed up to get those who were going on the group tour. While they were loading we waited a bit more. Finally Ian went into the office to see if/when our tour guide was going to show up, and to confirm (again) that we had booked the private tour. The girl said we had, but when she looked at her booking sheet right then, she realized that someone had crossed off private and wrote “van”. It hadn’t been like that the day before, and we had not received any notice of it changing. If Ian hadn’t gone in to check the other van would have left, and we would have missed out on the tour. I have to say that didn’t sit well with me. That’s not professional, and I was very annoyed by this. I’m still annoyed actually.
Anyway, we hastily grabbed what we could, though we only had a few snacks to eat because we were counting on our cooler for our lunch. Soon after nine we were on the road. While we drove out to our first stop we got some information about the mining and history of the area. I’ll be honest, I was grumpy, annoyed, tired and not paying attention. Finally we made it to our first stop.
Castle Butte is a relic from the ice age and was used as a landmark by the Native people, Northwest Mounted Police and settlers. It’s over 60 meters high and made of sandstone and clay. There were all sorts of caves throughout, and many people had made their mark over the years, including “Andy”. We were told that we can walk around it, or climb to the top if we wanted. The climb up was EXTREMELY steep and Ian and I weren’t feeling the climb.
Big Beaver Nature Centre and Aust’s General Store
Big Beaver is a very small Hamlet in the Big Muddy area. The census taken in 2006 registered a total of 15 people. I absolutely love General Store’s, they always have such neat things! Unfortunately as we were driving closer to it, we were informed that they are usually closed on Sunday. We did drive by it, but since I was on the other side of the van I didn’t get any pictures of the outside. It would be nice to know that when booking the tour.
We did go into the Nature Centre, and there was a lot to look at. It had all sorts of information about the history of the area, and a wildlife are set up with animals that had been stuffed. Unfortunately, this was the closest that I got to a snake on the whole trip!
Heritage School House
I always find it neat to look around old school houses, and see what types of maps and such they have. I think that comes largely from all the years of looking around Heritage Park in Calgary! This was a pretty standard school, I appreciated the Neilson map!
Burgess’ Outlaw Gallery
We stopped for lunch at the Burgess’ ranch. There we heard tons of stories of all the different ranchers, NWMP and outlaws who ran the area. This was one of my favorite parts. I love everything to do with outlaws. The only downside is that it got hard to keep all of the connections straight!
After hearing the stories we got a chance to look around the ranch a bit. There was tons of old collectibles, and of course I instantly noticed the old pop bottles. So much to look at!
North West Mounted Police
This was the location of the NWMP barracks at one point, but it’s been reduced to rubble, and the outline of the basement. This is located on Marshall land, and the cemetery is there too. There was actually a Marshall family reunion going on the same weekend we were there, so there were a lot of flowers set up at the gravestones.
Sam Kelly’s Outlaw Caves
This is what I was most excited about, the Sam Kelly outlaw caves! Sam Kelly was one of the most notorious outlaw’s of the Big Muddy area. You can do your own research if you want to know more, because I don’t even know where to start with all the history!
Butch Cassidy also used this as station 1 on the outlaw trail that stretched from Canada all the way to Mexico.
This first picture was at the base of the hill, and that’s where the outlaws would hide out. The cave has fallen in a lot, but at one point it was much bigger!
This was up the hill a short ways, and this is where the horses would be kept. This one was much bigger than the other, and at one point there were actually tunnels that connected the two.
Do you see the tiny speck of a flag on the tallest hill there? The other side of that hill is Montana! We were that close to border.
The next stop was at a ceremonial circle. This is a sacred spot for the Aboriginal people. You cannot step on, or over, the rocks. You had to use the doorways in order to enter.
What a view!
Animal effigies are extremely rare, and this is one of two that we saw. It’s a bit hard to make out, but the longer rock on the left of the picture is the turtle’s tail.
There was a ceremonial pole at the location of the buffalo effigy. Again, it’s really hard to make out, but if I remember correctly, the left side of the picture was the front of it.
I enjoyed the tour, and it was something that I have wanted to do for a long time. I’m glad to have finally taken it off my list. I just wish that they hadn’t been so dodgy about canceling our private tour. This isn’t something that I would feel the need to do a second time, but it’s well worth the tour.
That ended the Big Muddy tour. It was a quiet drive back to Coronach as it had been a long day. We went back to Deb’s for supper and then went back to the campground. We did some relaxing before heading to back into the tent for the night. It was another rainy night, though not as bad as the previous. Thankfully the rain stopped long enough for us to pack up in the morning, and begin our journey home.
We stopped at a small town gas station and Ian got coffee and a muffin, and I got chocolate milk and a muffin. Next stop was in Regina. We got to enjoy a very delicious buffet lunch at Pizza Hut!
It was a great trip, but very long. We saw a lot, did a lot of exploring, and a lot of discovering about our amazing province. I look forward to our next trip and seeing what else Saskatchewan has to offer!