Pleasant Surprise – Grasslands National Park – Day 77

We woke up and left the dinosaur campground as we continued to make our way back east.  We were on the road by 8 am as we knew that we had a really long ride ahead of us (6 or more hours today). 

We drove to Medicine Hat for breakfast and ate at a little cafe that I had found online.  Then we went to the Medalta clay factory as a little diversion since we had such a long drive ahead of us. The clay factory is over 100 years old and they have staff working onsite using historic techniques, moulds and glazes making reproduction pieces like Stoneware bowls, urns and crocks. I so much wanted to buy a #5 crock but Michael rightfully asked me what I would use it for and where I would put it.  The kids learned about pottery making and ran around the giant rooms expending some of their built-up energy.  I bought some art deco salt and pepper shakers which I will keep for myself (one of the very few souvenirs we have from the trip). 

Julie filled the water bottles which needed to be refreshed (the kids kept commenting that the water tasted bad).  Then we kept on driving.  It was a great day for wildlife viewing.  We saw six coyotes, hundreds of prairie dogs, some grouse, one skunk, many pronghorn antelope and lots of different deer.  We drove into Saskatchewan and started heading south toward the US border. But we had one final Canadian stop – a national park called Grasslands with one more stay booked in an Otentik. And let me tell you, Grasslands did not disappoint!

  My mother spent the first twenty years of her life living in Saskatchewan and had never visited Grasslands so we had minimal expectations. Entering the park was different than other parks. You check in at the town of Val Marie and then drive almost an hour to get to your campsite. The kids got the elusive pink Parks Canada Dog Tag in Val Marie (they’ve been collecting them at every national park but never got pink) and we armed ourselves with lots of brochures about the park including a self-guided tour. 

The first stop on the scenic drive was a prairie dog colony which was truly amazing. We had heard that this was the only place in Canada where you could find black-tailed prairie dogs and we’ve started to suspect all the other “prairie dogs” we’ve seen might just be gophers so we wanted to be sure and see these little guys. There were so many that we watched them for an hour coming in and out of their burrows and “barking” at us.  Isabella and I were in heaven!

We always search for the Parks Canada red chairs and this time they were a 15 minute hike across the prairie from a parking lot. Izzie and I watched Julie and Mike hike to them. Everything was so flat that they were never out of sight. Izzie and I just stood and appreciated the vastness and beauty of the Prairie with deer on one side of us, a prairie dog digging below and bison in the distance. This park is far from everything – otherwise, it would be packed with tourists. We felt very lucky to experience it.

Our last treat when we were leaving the park was a close encounter with a bison. We had seen a few the day before but quite a distance away. This time, we saw a large one scratching himself on a pole right next to the highway. Michael could not keep the recommended distance away from him because we had to drive right past him on the road. He actually looked in quite rough shape with matted fur and bald spots but he did have a beautiful open plain in which to reside.

At the campsite itself, we were thrilled to have a prairie dog living right next to our Otentik.  This campground was already partially closed for the season but the water tanks still had some water left so we could wash dishes, etc. Only a few others were camping there so we felt like we had the place to ourselves.

We ate a delicious bbq dinner and listened to more coyotes.  Since we were no longer keeping a cooler full of ice, we had stopped at M&M Meatshop in Medicine Hat and bought a bunch of frozen entrees . We thought that by buying frozen food, it would last the day in the trunk and finally allow us to use an Otentik BBQ. It turned out to be a great idea as we feasted on chicken satay and twice baked potatoes with impressive scenery on all sides.

Julie and Izzie passed their evening math and spelling tests; this time Izzie even got a perfect score so she gets to pick the next dinner spot (we’re guessing an Olive Garden which she is now obsessed with). 

Today, we had said goodbye to Alberta and the Trans Canada Highway. Tomorrow we’ll say goodbye to Saskatchewan.

Where we stayed (five words or less)

  • Grasslands National Park Otentik: Vast Prairie, open sky, wildlife

By the numbers:

  • Buffalo we saw: 3
  • Souvenirs purchased in one day: 2 – t-shirt and salt & pepper shakers
  • Times Julie spilled the water bottles and had to try again: 3
  • Kilometres Paige actually drove today: 200 – Mike said it was more like 180 but who is counting?

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