I am grateful in the morning to have had Caleb emanating DEET through his sweat during the night. It was enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay so we could all get some sleep. Last night we saw the large letters, CAMPING, written on the back of a brick wall that happens to be the restrooms and self-registration area. This campground charges by the tent or RV, not by the site, and for $3.00 a non-camper can use the shower with soap provided. We choose to skip the white walls, yellow curtain, and pink suds and see the sunrise instead.
There is an Ecotour Road that takes visitors through the West Block of Grasslands National Park. The signs to get there are easy enough, but once we are lost in the view, we get lost on the route too. There is a mix of public and private property – roads and buildings. No intentional trespassing for us. We stick to birds in water, horses on hills, a rusted car in a field, and a ferruginous hawk in the distance. Also along this route are plenty of prairie dog colonies. I tame my excitement in photographing their masses so that Sparky won’t scare them into their holes.
We drive by a lone bison bull. I’ve seen them shed before, but this guy looks shaved to the standards of a giant poodle in the American Kennel Club. His horns are white at the base, but shiny and black on the top from him rubbing them on signs and other sturdy supports throughout the park. Sparky is oblivious and we are able to stop and enjoy this buffalo’s company for a while and admire the thickness of his afro, the length of his beard, the snot on his lip (he doesn’t sweat), and the grass in his fur.
Even though we detoured we were able to find our way back to town, to the visitor center by 9:00 am, after the 80 km loop drive. We made some sandwiches as we prepared to wait fifty minutes for the office to open so I could get a stamp, my fifth in Canada. Caleb thought it didn’t open until 10:00 am, but when the ranger, Rachelle, came out to update the weather report she invited us in and gave me the only red-inked stamp so far in my Canadian collection. From there the conversation covered black-footed ferrets, the herd of bison we didn’t see, other parks we’ve been to, and other things in-between concerning travel, animals, and education.
As we go to leave, over an hour later, Rachelle asks if we have gas in the tank as the nearest station is thirty minutes away. We are sure that we have enough to make it to Swift Current about an hour and a half drive past construction, yellow fields, and algae-covered water. In town, we stop for drinks and the sales lady lets us know, because we asked, that we wrongfully adjusted our clocks as Saskatchewan doesn’t participate in Daylight Savings Time. We also learn that ‘off sale’ means the selling of sealed alcoholic beverages for consumption off premises.
We stop at a small local market to look around. The every day things for people living here may seem boring, but they are a tourist attraction to us. While inside with nothing catching our eye we happen to interest the clerk at the counter. She asks to join us, but was probably thinking that we wouldn’t say yes. I love to help people who want to help themselves and see more of the world they live in. Sadly she didn’t come with us, but perhaps she has pets or children or an unwilling husband at home.
We drive a few blocks before finding a park bench in the shade to stop for a lunch of chips and pretzels with cheese. Eating outside for us is so enjoyable that we will do it in the city or country, at a bench or on a median, in the dirt or in the car with the windows down. It feels more natural, historical, romantic, and memorable – what life should be about, but also about experiencing new things and learning the unknown or more about popular stereotypes such as the use of ‘eh?’ and ‘oh ya, fer sure’ that puts a smile on my face.
Another thing that makes me happy is the use of oversized things (a tepee, a moose, etc.) to give credit to the town’s namesake and bring in more tourists – the majority being from the U.S., Canada, Europe, China, Japan, New Zealand, and Eastern Australia that have visited Moose Jaw. We got to add a pin to the map in the visitor center and got extensive help from the woman working there and a large man who frequents the local eateries. We grab some brochures and head downtown.
The thing is, the restaurant recommendations were for people who enjoy meals centered on chicken fried steak and fried fish. In our search for a less meaty lunch, a man stops us at a burger/hot dog stand so that Caleb can put on the apron of the cook and pose for a photo. It’s just too bad I only took a picture of Caleb behind the grill and signs and not one beside all that to see the apron. We decide on a place that we think will give us more choices on toppings – Houston Pizza.
It seems like we are eating a lot of pizza on this trip – and we are. I would love to try other delicacies, but Caleb fears they won’t have something I can eat or that the leftovers will be too messy or the meal too spicy – not sure. The place seems empty and we watch a few people come in, look at the menu, and leave. We could’ve done likewise, but ordered the chicken pizza with the meat on the side – more ingredients for the same price as the two-topping alternative. Caleb and the dogs would appreciate the treat.
We paid for two hours of parking and still had half our time left so we took the Murals of Moose Jaw Walking Tour. There are options available on the brochure, but we just went with what was close by. Of the 14 we saw they mostly pertained to the pioneers of the 1880s, theatre and nightlife of the 1920s, the history of the fire department, and local veterans that fought in WWII and other wars. It was a great introduction to the past of the city, a beautiful way to decorate the buildings, and a thoughtful way to commemorate the people the murals represent and the ones involved in making it.
On the north side of the city is the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre. We leave the car in the shade across the parking lot. These birds are endangered in Canada and of special concern in the States. They use old nests that other animals (gophers, badgers, etc.) have made and abandoned. Most of the owls are released back into the wild once the young are fed and their habitat better preserved, but for those that can’t they can become ambassadors for the ‘Save the Owls’ movement.
All this driving had the car looking dirty – and parts of it felt that way too, so in Regina we drove around searching for a car wash. We came upon one that wanted special tokens from the attendant inside – we skipped it. We passed a TCBY (The Country’s Best Yogurt) – a franchise Caleb had never been to. I got a chocolate-dipped waffle cone with frozen honey-vanilla Greek yogurt and suggested that we walk around while eating our treats so they wouldn’t melt in the car. Nothing caused us to detour from the sidewalk and soon we were on our next hunt.
Piggy gets car sick, no vomiting, but she shakes and pants vigorously. We needed some more Dramamine or Benadryl to help calm her – if given an hour before getting on the road. After visiting a few stores we learn that medicine must be bought at a drug store, not a convenient or grocery store. The Shoppers Drug Mart reminds us of any pharmacy store in the States where people have the freedom to go into almost any store (retail and fast food too) and buy drugs. Canada may be one step ahead of us when they deny kids access to one store instead of cutting stock or demanding ID for certain purchases at all of them.
With pills in hand it will be us against the sunset as we head toward Echo Valley Provincial Park. I want to get there before dark, but the pinks and oranges of the horizon and the purple wispy clouds demand my eyes attention from the road. We pass trees, ponds, and small roads that add to the magic of the moment as nature puts on her evening light show in honor of this Thursday – a day that may look the same as the rest, be considered a weekend in some countries, but that stands out and can never be repeated.
The park entrance has a light at the information station, but is surrounded in darkness until we get deeper into the park full of RVs – TVs, campfires, Christmas lights, and flashlights. We are looking for a dimly lit spot to call our own for the evening and we find it on a hill overlooking the valley next to a group with a camper enjoying their dinner at a picnic table. They seem friendly enough and point us in the direction of the toilet, but I’m more interested in smelling my pillow and dog breath for the next few hours.