Tag Archives: grasslands national park

It’s Grasslands National Park Day on ReadReidRead

Reid Dickie

For the second year in a row, February 1st is Grassland National Park Day on my blog. This year I’m offering two new videos, one of prairie dogs in GNP and a video tour of The Convent Bed & Breakfast in Val Marie, SK on the edge of the park.

Grasslands National Park is an enchanting place. Features of the park include its recent designation as a Dark Sky Preserve, in fact, the darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. Critterwise, GNP is celebrating its first wild-born black-footed ferrets. The park reintroduced black-footed ferrets without much success until last year when, for the first time in 70 years, a wild black-footed ferret was born in Canada. Watch a park video of the ferrets.  

Another reintroduction to Grasslands National Park is plains bison. For the first time in 150 years, a herd of plains bison now numbering about 250 head are part of the prairie ecosystem. Adaptable and comfortable, the plains bison population is increasing quickly with about 75 calves expected to be born in spring 2012. The herd has increased from the 70 bison first released in 2005.

Read posts from last year’s Grasslands National Park Day.

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Filed under Critters, grasslands national park, Heritage Buildings, Natural Places, Saskatchewan

The Convent B&B, Val Marie, SK

Reid Dickie

I’ve spent more glorious nights at The Convent Bed & Breakfast than any other lodging on my prairie travels. Its appeal is powerful and pleasant, relaxing yet stimulating at the same time. The combination of a serene old building and the caring owners creates a peaceful and rare experience. The picture above is The Convent’s charming dining room overlooking Grasslands National Park.

Val Marie (pop. about 130) is located at the western end of Grasslands National Park and features the park office and visitor centre. It’s about an hour south of Swift Current off the Trans Canada Highway. Few accommodations for travelers exist in the little village making The Convent even more precious. An actual convent used as a teaching facility into the late 1960s, the Ducans converted it into a bed and breakfast in the late 1990s. They retained many of the features, such as blackboards, chapel including confessional and woodwork from the original building. Take a video tour of The Convent inside and out with me by clicking on the pic below.

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Filed under Accommodations, grasslands national park, Heritage Buildings, Old Souls, Saskatchewan, Spirit

Prairie Dogtown in Grasslands National Park

Reid Dickie

For sheer cuteness and adorability it’s hard to find a rodent more fitting than the black-tailed prairie dog. Largely extirpated from most of their habitat which extends down into Texas, the prairie dogs in Canada are safely preserved in Grasslands National Park. Several easily accessible dogtowns dot the park and you won’t be disappointed with the shenanigans of these cute critters.

Prairie dogs are a keystone species, meaning they are often the main course for several other species in their habitat. In GNP prairie dogs are preyed upon by newly-reintroduced black-footed ferrets, prairie rattlesnakes, swift foxes, ferruginous hawks,  golden eagles, badgers and coyotes. Burrowing owls nest in old prairie dog burrows. It’s a cozy relationship. Click the pic and spend two minutes in dogtown.

You can find more information on prairie dogs elsewhere on my blog like here and here

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February 1 is Grasslands National Park Day on ReadReidRead

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Out There It’s Summertime

Reid Dickie

I’m just back from a eight-day ramble on the prairies, mostly in the Missouri Coteau and Cypress Hills areas of southern Saskatchewan. I visited half a dozen new sites, revisited some familiar ones, shot almost 2 hours of video (expect plenty of reports from afar as a result), met wonderful new people and spent time with some old favourites. My intuition quickened, Spirit whispered through the trees in Pine Cree Park and Old Souls aided and abetted me along the way. My reward for the 2800 kms and ensuing events is serenity, a renewed sense of purpose and a bolstering of my humanity. You get what you intend.

The trip began with a perfect Saturday at the Regina Folk Festival with Linda’s cousin, Mike Panko and his beautiful partner, Brenda. Mike’s an Old Soul and a ton of fun. Here’s Mike and me at the fest.

A day of great music culminated with an energetic set from k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang closing the evening concert which also featured Taj Mahal. k.d. is in fine form these days with a new band, high energy, great new songs from her Sing It Loud CD (buy it if you haven’t already) and a back catalogue that would be the envy of any singer with perfect pitch. The show began with the lead-off track from the CD called I Confess, to my ears a Roy Orbison homage of high order. (That was one of the Tunes of the Tour as was Moonglow because Wendy Thomson performed it beautifully with the moon rising above her on the second floor balcony at The Convent in Val Marie. Both tunes sift through the inattentive spaces in my mind as the miles go by.) k.d. covers two songs on the CD and performed both of them: Heaven “by that great country band, Talking Heads,” as she introduced it, led eerily, perfectly into a new arrangement of Hallelujah; and she swung the Little River Band hit Reminiscing. She sang Miss Chatelaine, Western Skies, ending the show with a rockin’ version of her now-evergreen Constant Craving. To end the encores and evening she sang Neil Young’s Helpless.

After a restful night on Mike’s futon and a long, leisurely breakfast with him and Brenda, I was westbound onto the Missouri Coteau. The Coteau stretches from the northwest in central Saskatchewan south between Moose Jaw and Swift Current into South Dakota. It’s the next step up on the prairies after the Manitoba Escarpment and features lots of hills and gullies, some of Saskatchewan’s best scenery and worst highways, friendly people and endlessly changing vistas that surprise and enchant the curious seeker. It’s one of my favourite places to drive. The highways are lonesome and long, the sky runs ahead of me just as far as it extends behind me and there’s enough room to think, to evolve, to expand my awareness and discover what’s there. I head south from Moose Jaw to Assiniboia then west toward Pine Cree Park, my camping destination for the night.

Located in the foothills to the Cypress Hills between Shaunavon and Eastend, over the years Pine Cree Park has sheltered my little tent more than any other campground on the praires. This is a shot of the South Fork of Swift Current Creek, which runs right through Pine Cree Park; its pleasant burble can be heard from most campsites in the park.

Set in a deep mysterious coulee on a Continental Divide, Pine Cree Park is a truly rustic camping experience. There is no other like it in southern Saskatchewan. Soft-shell camping is encouraged, the park is non-electric, the width of the road and bridges prevents any unit longer than 28 feet from using the park and weight restrictions on the bridges apply. It gets extremely dark. Great for stargazing. Here’s another shot of the little stream through the park.

The little park has custodians this year, something new. Joan Hodgins and her nephew Darcy tend the park and live in two trailers just at the entrance. Both wonderful helpful people. I bought a generous tailgate load of firewood for $5 delivered. Joan offers outdoor programs at the park and both her and the lad demonstrated a great love for and understanding of this sacred place. Joan helped me understand the significance of a gift Spirit gave me just after I arrived in the park. I will have a video report on the gift soon.

The next night I moved from soft shell camping to luxury on the prairie, staying at The Convent Country Inn in Val Marie. A former convent saved from demolition by Robert and Mette Ducan about 15 years ago, this is my favourite bed and breakfast out there.  Other guests included Wendy and Eldon Thomson from Saskatoon who’d also attended the Regina Folk Festival and were out for a drive on the Coteau. Up on the second floor balcony, Wendy serenaded us with her lovely singing and guitar playing until way past dark. The balcony affords a wide view of the Frenchman River valley, Grasslands National Park beyond and the star-filled night sky. The Convent is for sale, a bargain at $525,000. Video coming soon. UPDATE: Watch my video tour. Here is a picture of me in front of The Convent.

Two more shots of The Convent: the first floor breakfast room and the second floor sitting room.

The next day I took the eco-driving tour of Grasslands National Park. There is some development occurring in the park. A small, primitive campground has been set up at the Belza Place which has a vast view of the Frenchman River valley, and closer to the prairie dog Dogtown, another development is being built. Spend a couple of minutes with the prairie dogs in GNP. Here’s a shot of the vista from the Belza campsite.

After a night at the Stage Coach Motel in Willow Bunch, I took a private tour of the Big Muddy Badlands offered through Coronach Tourism. Tillie Duncan, who’d lived in the area her whole life and knew it like the back of her hand, was my guide. She took me through the Sam Kelly Caves where outlaws like Dutch Henry and Butch Cassidy hid the horses and cattle they rustled back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We also visited two sacred sites that were new to me: a ceremonial circle and a turtle effigy, both high atop a butte on the Giles Ranch which is private property and accessible only through guided tours. Though elderly, Tillie was spry and full of vigour, offering countless entertaining anecdotes about the area. She still farms 13 quarters, growing durum and lentils this year! I recommend her highly for the Big Muddy tour. Here’s a shot of me taken near the turtle effigy.

A night in the Country Boy Motel then I re-explored a couple of the accessible sites Tillie had shown me, like the 1902 Big Muddy North West Mounted Police barracks and the family cemetery of an early pioneer, James Marshall, all with magnificent vistas of the huge Big Muddy valley. I revisited Castle Butte and took some great video of the place. Again coming soon to a blog near you. The only rain of my eight-day journey occurred Friday morning when I awoke in Weyburn. By the time I got to Manitoba, the sun was shining again. I was thrilled to discover Hwy #5 through Spruce Woods Park is now open and the park is slowly getting back on its feet. This is my report on the park’s current status.

I arrived home feeling rejuvenated and fully in touch with my humanity. The mighty Avenger and I will travel the prairies for another month. There is always room in the virtual passenger seat for you. Hope you are up to the drive all the way “out there” and back. Come on along.

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Filed under Accommodations, Ancient Wisdom, Natural Places, Parks, Pioneers, Prairie People, PRAIRIES, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, Spirit, spirit sands, Video

Prairie Dog Rapture? Repost

Reid Dickie

It’s been floating around for years and landed a few days back in my sidebar. I mean this painting of the prairie dogs with their paws and heads raised performing en masse what appears to be a ritual. Titled where I’ve seen it as Prairie Dog Rapture, I got curious about it. Do prairie dogs do this?

The painting is by a contemporary artist named Anthony Falbo, a multi-stylist who sometimes paints in Dali style, sometimes cubist, other times representational. His God Art site gives you the gist and gamut of his work. I learned that the artist’s actual name for the painting is Praising Prairie Dogs, giving it a slight twist, otherwise Anthony wasn’t much help.

Since image is the language of the soul, any picture on the internet will create its own mythology, as did this one. Some people stated and many believed that every morning and every evening prairie dogs stop whatever it is they are doing and spend anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour grouped in this pose honouring the sunrise and sunset.

Over the decades, several of my long treks, including two this past summer, took me into southwestern Saskatchewan and Grasslands National Park. GNP has two large dog towns, which comprise the only Canadian habitat for prairie dogs, those varmints whose burrows broke the legs of horses and cattle. Easily accessible, the dog towns are part of the self-guiding driving tour the Park offers to visitors. Linda and I visited there together one year and spent hours watching the funny little critters run and play, hug and kiss each other and bark like, well, prairie dogs. I thought if anyone in the country can tell me if prairie dogs do sunrise and sunset rituals, they’d be at Grasslands. And they were.

Pat Fargey, a species-at-risk biologist at GNP, returned my call and was curious about the picture. Without seeing it and based on my description, Pat thought the only time prairie dogs made that gesture was when they were barking which was usually not formal as in the picture. I scoured internet images to find a prairie dog making the gesture.

There’s the gesture – prairie dog barking! It does have an element of Hallelujah in it, to be sure and I can see how Falbo adapted the pose turning it into praise. If prairie dogs spend an hour a day gesturing like this for whatever reason, that behaviour would be a well-known part of the prairie dog description and wouldn’t need a painting on the internet to suddenly bring it to light.

Nonetheless, the image remains evocative, even edifying. As a group, they share joy and passion, prompting me to imagine them about to sing as a choir of little prairie dog voices and wonder what hymn they picked and what it sounds like. Let’s listen…

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Filed under Art Actions, Critters, grasslands national park, Parks, Saskatchewan