Days 6 and 7
So I pull into the equestrian campground at Cypress Hills Provincial Park, settle my girl, and walk back to my rig.
A perfect picture of a cowboy passes me by, heading over to the catch pen to shoe his horse. He comments on my BC plates, and then says, “You’re not the one heading to PEI, are you?”
But let me backtrack.
After a relaxed morning with Vanessa & Co, and with a jar of Vanessa’s dad’s honey in my paws, I hit the road for Swift Current, Saskatchewan. My very good friend and classmate, Carol, is married to a Swift Current boy, and she and her man Doug did some calling around to relatives to see where I ought to stay, and I had decided that the fairgrounds there looked like a good bet (though I was sorely tempted to go visit Uncle Pepper, just because he’s called Uncle Pepper, even if he did live somewhat off the beaten track). So the Swift Current Fairgrounds was where I was headed.
After about sixty seconds on the road, I changed my mind.
Three or four people had suggested to me that Cypress Hills was not to be missed. I phoned the ranger’s station, and opened with, “A bunch of people told me that Cypress Hills is fabulous riding.” He said, “There’s a reason they say that.” I was sold.
So I detoured down south to the park. At the entrance, I scoffed at the sign leading into the West Block, the one that said, “Steep and Winding Road”. (Steep and winding? Ha. I am from BC, you flatlanders. Bring it on), but nevertheless found myself not unimpressed by their road. It is very steep. It is very winding. It has no shoulder and it has a respect-inducing drop off on one side.
What they don’t warn you about is the insane downhill ski run to the camp. I stopped my rig at the top of the double-black-diamond mud run, and said out loud, “You have got to be kidding me.” I was, however, spurred on by the ranger’s earlier comment that there were a couple of campers in the equestrian grounds. There’s only one road in, and there were no overturned horse trailers in the ditch, so it MUST be safe, right?
As the trailer was pushing my truck sideways down the road, I recall saying, again out loud, “No.” And again, “No.” – sort of like, “Bad trailer. Bad trailer. No. No.” We made it down, at about an inch a minute, give or take. (When I chatted to fellow campers, turns out only one of them had come in on the road today, after last night’s buckets of rain – and they too had their truck pushed around).
So back to my moment of feeling famous.
My mouth dropped open and I said, “How did you know that?”
“Someone told me you were heading through.”
Who? Ron Caswell. I’d asked Carol and Doug if they knew anywhere to ride in the Great Sandhills area, and Doug asked his brother Ron, and Ron spoke to Kelly, my perfect cowboy. And Kelly told Doug that I ought to ride in Cypress Hills. Which is what Doug told me. And so here I was, even though here wasn’t where I had been planning to be.
Kelly and his wife Daphne, who had been fishing trout all afternoon in Battle Creek which skirts the campground, offered to let me tag along on their evening trail ride. We spent a couple of hours riding over the grasslands, up steep hills to gorgeous views, through water crossings. The air smelled of silver willow, spruce, and wild thyme. We rode over to Fort Walsh, former headquarters of the North-West Mounted Police and site of the Cypress Hills Massacre (fictionalized in Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy). I could imagine myself back in time, riding up to the outpost.
We got back to camp around seven-thirty, and I made myself a nice dinner indeed, of pasta with lemon/sage/white wine cream sauce and a baby spinach and avocado salad, washed down with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and then sat around the campfire with fellow campers Cindy and Jim, and Carol and Con. Carol and Con are contemplating an equine road trip of their own, also to PEI. I hope to have some useful feedback for them by the end of the trip.
Today, I set out on a three-hour ride with Kelly and Daphne, up to the Hidden Conglomerate Cliffs, from where you can see for miles and miles.
The riding in Cypress Hills is just as amazing as it is reputed to be. There are trails, but riders are not required to stick to them – you can ride anywhere you like, over the grasslands and up the bluffs. There are cougar, elk, and coyotes in the park; we saw a couple of white tailed deer, and I saw my very first mountain bluebird.
I broke camp and set out for the short two-and-a-bit drive to Swift Current, where I am camping at Kinetic Park. I had to be guided in by some helpful locals (oh Toyota GPS, how I hate you. I need to figure out how to reboot TomTom and switch the Australian maps for Canadian ones).