Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cypress Hills & Area - Summer Vacation 2011

Bluebell Sunset
A bluebell catches the last rays of daylight on Balde Butte in Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park
To see all photos from this trip click here
[Editorial note: I meant to post this months ago and apparently forgot so here goes, better late than never]

This summer holidays took place right here in Saskatchewan, southern SK to be exact. Me, my girlfriend [at the time], and her dog, spent 5 days tenting in Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park (Centre Block) and then a day and a night in a really great little campground called Pine Cree. Initially we had planned on staying only 3 days in Cypress and then 3 days in Pine Cree but we opted to stay at Cypress a little longer. There were some great photo ops along the way, interesting things to see and do, but mainly it was just nice to get the hell out of the city and away from my job for awhile ;)

Camping (Deer Hollow in Cypress Hills Centre Block)
The first thing I learned upon arriving at Cypress Hills is that the park is located on a geological formation called Conglomerate.

A conglomerate (/kəŋˈɡlɒmərɨt/) is a rock consisting of individual clasts within a finer-grained matrix that have become cemented together.

Now why the geology lesson you might ask? Well aside from my girlfriend [at the time] being a geologist and finding this sort of thing very interesting it became painfully clear that regular tent pegs were simply not up to the challenge. The saying "you've brought a knife to a gunfight" came to mind as blisters formed from futilely pounding the tent pegs into what is described as "natural cobblestone cement" using a picture hammer. I was making up new words on the spot and none of them were fit for a family campground, it was just lucky we didn't get kicked out ;) Since our tent needed at least 14 pegs and after an hour I'd only managed to get 4 into the ground I conceded defeat and sought help. To our extreme luck our nearest camping neighbours not only had a bigger hammer for me to borrow but lent us a bag of gravel stakes! These things are fantastic and I can't recommend them enough, I'll never go camping without some again. I quickly set about exacting my revenge on the conglomerate as my framing hammer rang out victoriously and split through the many tiny rocks to get purchase in the cobbled earth below. Ten or fifteen minutes was all it took for all of the stakes secured.

That hurdle being overcome the rest of the trip was relatively without incident. Our tent which we borrowed from Mary's sister was nice and leak proof (ordered the same one as soon as we got home). Guinness, our canine camping companion, was really good throughout the whole trip. On the first or second night we had a good thunderstorm with scared her a little and after running around inside the tent a little she calmed down and somehow curled up under my cot just below my head. I joked the next day that we bonded during the storm :)

With our basecamp setup we day tripped to Fort Walsh, the Conglomerate Cliffs, Cypress Hills Winery &Vineyard, and Eastend to see the T-Rex centre. We also checked out some of the attractions within the main campground like Lookout Point and Balde Butte.

Congomerate Cliffs (map link)
Located just a little ways off of highway 271, very easy to find with good signage showing you where to go. Whatever you do though don't take Gap Road* to get there ;)

Conglomerate Cliffs 1
Amazing view from the Conglomerate Cliffs in Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park

*While planning our trip out to the Conglomerate Cliffs and Fort Walsh we saw a road that connected the Centre block with the West Block, it was called Gap Road. Now that road had a little disclaimer saying that it was impassable when wet. Since it had been fairly dry while we were there we figured we'd take it. At the last minute before heading out I figured we should stop and ask one of the locals at the gas station as to whether or not we should take the road, the kid raised an eyebrow and said that he doesn't even use gap road lol. It was lucky for us we stopped, a few days later a friend who was fishing in the West Block was supposed to meet up with us for lunch and never showed. I simply thought the fishing was good and they decided to stay longer, since cell reception is spotty I wasn't surprised to find I couldn't reach him. A few days later I found out they had been on gap road in a 4x4 and slid down and embankment, no injuries luckily but they were stranded until a farmer finally saw them and pulled them out with his tractor.

Living Skies
Taken a few minutes away from the Conglomerate Cliffs

Fort Walsh (map link)

Stormy Jack

This turned out to be a very neat place, there was a lot of history there that I had no idea about. The Fort was built in response to the Cypress Hills Massacre, an event which also precipitated the formation of the North West Mounted Police. The fort was, for a time, the central base for the NWMP in Canada. Today at the site you can find a nice little visitor's centre and a partially restored fort complete with tour operators dressed in period costumes. Tours are offered of the various buildings left standing in the fort but you also have the option of a self guided tour. We opted for a self guided tour, we had the dog with us and wouldn't have been able to go into the buildings with her. Also by going self guided we could avoid the crowds so I could get some unobstructed photos. We did go into a few buildings with one of the guides who were between tours and he was quite knowledgeable and friendly. If you have the time I'd recommend following the guided tour just for the sake of good information, then lingering for any photos you may want to take.

Cypress Hills Vineyard & Winery (website)
When you think of Saskatchewan the last thing you'd probably think is wine country, beer country perhaps due to the vast fields of wheat and barley but not wine. It's still in its infancy and though its had some setbacks the Cypress Hills Vineyard & Winery is a quaint stop that you should definitely check out. Despite not being a wine aficionado I still found it neat and its a great place to stock up on gifts for friends and love ones who are winos afficionados. As a side note the people running this place turned us on to another SK winery that has been creating quite a buzz, the Living Sky Winery out of Perdue Saskatchewan.

Pine Cree Regional Park (unofficial website)
Elysian Fields 2
View from "Top of the World Trail" at Pine Cree Regional Park

As I said earlier our original plan was to stay 3 days in Cypress Hills park and then leave early Friday morning in hopes of getting a spot at this little gem of a campground. I'd heard from a friend who lives in Shaunavon that come the weekend all bets are off as to whether or not you'll be able to get a site. In the end it was until Sunday that we got to Pine Cree so we were only able to spend a night. It turned out this was lucky, had we came on Friday there wouldn't have been a spot anyway.

I'm a little apprehensive about even including Pine Cree in this post, its a great little spot and part of me doesn't want the secret to get out, the other part wants to shout "Hey look at this!!!!". Located just little ways NE of Eastend if it weren't for the sign you'd never even know anything worthwhile was down the road you turn off onto. After a few hundred feet you quickly descend into this amazing little valley filled with towering pines that immediately wedged a Saskatoon band's version of a Joan Baez song in my head I couldn't shake loose for two days.

Cotton Candy Creek
Shot from my previous visit to Pine Cree in 2007

Pine Cree is fairly small with only 28 sites and most are very close to the stream. Within about half an hour of arriving the camp's caretaker showed up in her little quarter-ton and welcomed us. She immediately began apologizing for the state of the campsite (which already appeared pristine) and found 2 some hitherto unseen beer cans that had been left in the fire pit. To say she took pride in her campground would be an understatement :) I've never had to do my business in a cleaner porta-potty than the one at Pine Cree lol. I can't say enough good things about the place and others have described it better than I can. Check it out if you can but leave the trailer at home because they don't accommodate them, also if you're just wanting to get out an party don't bother coming here because you're not welcome.

In conclusion...
All in all I had a great time and was able to capture what I thought to be some good images. If you live in Saskatchewan and haven't been down south to Cypress Hills I highly encourage you to check it out!

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