Grasslands National Park
Wide-open plain, a sea of grasses and Bison in the far distance. The blue sky above and not to forget the Prairie Dogs
|GPS Coordinates are 49.217984181317306, -107.56215628597309.
Link on Google Maps
We crossed the Canadian Prairies a few times. In general, there is very little sensory stimulation unless you like the horizon meet the sky on eye-level, all around you. I found a short definition from National Geographic Society which pretty much nails it: "Prairies are enormous stretches of flat grassland with moderate temperatures, moderate rainfall, and few trees".
We kind of knew what to expect when we dedicated a full day for the Grasslands National Park, but ran out of time mostly due to being held up by taking pictures, especially at dusk.
The park is 200 km south of Swift Current in Saskatchewan, sharing the border to the US with Montana. We drove to the Park Office in Val Marie and got all the information and directions. The short version is, from hwy 4 follow Hwy 18 east and follow the signs. The drive down on hwy 4 is a display of the Prairies when the land is cultivated. Once we entered the park, it is pure nature.
The top on the Parks Things to do list is Camping. After seeing the campsite and envision the night sky, we will definitely stop there for 2 or more nights. They promote the park as the Darkest dark sky preserve in Canada.
The thing about the trees, there are none. The shrubs look like they were shaped by the wind and lack of water. We saw one creek that could sustain some vegetation, but nothing like a tree as we know them from Ontario or BC. The picnic area had a few shrubs big enough to shade a picnic table. We enjoyed our sandwiches and a cold pop. It was end of August and the breeze was comfortable.
The road through the park is packed gravel and we took frequent stops to take a picture.
Several Interpretive Sites along the way explain different topics. This is the Larsen Homestead, a ranch that was successfully operating in the late 1800. The only creek flows only about 100 meters away from this building. The Larsen Homestead may not have any cattle anymore, but there are still cows grazing in parts of the park. The park has several Pastures from what we could find out. But it was also difficult to figure out where we were once we followed the Ecotour signs. They extend past the parks boundary and we may have gotten lost. Without a map or navigation system, we followed the road and the few signs that we found.
We found a bison rubbing stone and it is still being used. The hoof marks around the rock and relatively fresh dung would support our conclusion. Did you know that the Bison will turn into a storm and not drifting with the wind. Taking it head-on and running right through it reduces the amount of exposure to the storm.
We saw a bison herd in the far distance. They were constantly moving. We noticed a dust cloud every once in a while where the bison may have butted their heads. We did see them very close in the Riding Mount National Park in Manitoba in 2019. The last thing we want to do is butting heads with them.
Black-tailed Prairie Dog
The Black-tailed Prairie Dogs live in large colonies near the road and interpretive sites. It is almost sad, the sign about the Prairie Dogs is all about being pray.
Pronghorns aka Speedgoat are the fastest mammal around. With a top speed of almost 90 km/h, their instinct tells them to outrun the predator. They are present in southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. Pronghorns can jump, but do have problems with fences that are increasingly more common in the Prairies.
Deer are well adapted to the prairies as it seems. We saw them during the day and lots of them when we drove back in the dark.
The Grasslands National Park was an interesting trip. As we mentioned earlier, we will be back to spend a few nights at the camp site. We are looking forward to the night life at the park.