After the Wood Mountain Trail Ride, there is no way anything else could compare. Any ride that followed was pretty much destined to be an anti-climax. When I was debating leaving Grasslands on Friday vs staying in the neighbourhood for the Wood Mountain Rodeo, Glen told me that wherever I ended up, I’d be wishing I was at Wood Mountain. Doug told me, “Well, you’ve got to stay somewhere. Might as well be here.”
But off I went. I sort of understand the phenomenon of having itchy feet, of wanting to move on despite having found friends and community in a particular place. It was time to move on.
So I drove to Saskatchewan Landing, a Provincial Park just north of Swift Current, that had been visited by and recommend by quite a few riders I’d chatted to at Cypress and at Grsslands.
I passed through Speedy Creek on my way, and somehow I managed to completely and utterly fail at accomplishing my single major goal: Buy Good Beer. I forgot to buy beer. I FORGOT TO BUY BEER. I . forgot. to. buy. beer.
WTF? Seriously. WTF? I texted this lapse to Mr Andrews once I discovered the error of my ways, and he texted back, “You need a giant capital L on your forehead.” Yes, yes indeed I do. I am going to blame the fact that it was 38 degrees C on the walk from the mall to the rig with groceries, and that on that walk, the heat messed with my mission of finding a liquor store.
Saskatchewan Landing is nicely set up for horses. It’s a park with something close to one bazillion regular prople campsites, but it also has an equestrian area on the east side of the river, with 10 sites. It’s shady and some of the sites have a view of the river and it’s really quite lovely.
My crankiness at leaving my cowboy family made me less receptive than usual to making friends with neighbours (“Why are they so LOUD? Why do they have to smoke? Why are there CHILDREN rustling around in the bushes making my dog crazy?”), but eventually, I came right, and socialized, and discovered that they were a group of people from the Sask Valley Riding Club, which holds group rides every couple of weeks throughout the summer.
Saskatchewan Landing is a long, narrow park bordering the South Saskatchewan River (which is Lake Diefenbaker in that area). Once you get into the hills, you kind of forget that there’s farmland a stone’s throw away, and a highway equally close.
The pleated, razorback hills with lines of slumping are pretty much exactly like the hills on the North Island of New Zealand.
We just did one ride, the day after we arrived. I made it my mission that afternoon to fix my beer problem, and after driving 15-20 minutes to the next town and visiting two purveyors of the demon liquor, and coming up bust, I found what my heart desired at the camp convenience store, Papa Joe’s: a Swift Current micro brew IPA, that I’d already sampled when I was in Taber.
After our ride at Sask Landing, as I was moseying about camp, a fella approached me and asked me about the local riding. We ended up chatting for quite a while. I needed a plan for where to stay next, on my way to Ya Ha Tinda northwest of Calgary, and he spent some serious time drawing me a map of where he used to ride in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta.
Since we were now buds, and he seemed pretty outdoorsy, I asked him, “Do you know anything about fishing?” Because, fairly typically of me, I’d had grand ideas of catching fish on this trip and cooking them up for dinner. Excellent, right? Except I don’t actually know how to tie a hook to the line, or what lure is best for what fish, or, really, when it comes down to it, anything whatsoever about fishing. John The Outdoor Guy sorted me out, and off I went to fish.
I fished for about ten minutes. I was actually out there for an hour, if you include walking to the spot, but only ten minutes was spent fishing. A bit of time was spent trying to cast and realizing I had no frickin’ idea what I was doing. Then there was some time spent phoning Mr Andrews and asking him how a person actually might accomplish This Thing Called Fishing. And then, for no good reason whatsoever, my line snarled up around the rod apparatus whose name I don’t even know (reel?), and I spent at least 20 minutes swearing a blue streak at my fishing rod.
I’d spotted my other camp neighbours fishing as well, and so the next morning, when I was packing up to go, I hailed them and admired their dog and the craftily asked if they might be smart enough to fix my stupid rod. Cole (I think? Cole? Maybe?) is very good at fixing things, just like Mr Wayde Andrews, and he sorted out my rod. Phew. Back in business.
I left the Landing on Sunday, heading for Dinosaur Provincial Park. John had given me a heads-up that the free rec site (Steveville) he was recommending was likely to have no one else there (he’d never had company when he camped there), and that I needed to be comfortable camping alone. I am, but I did tell Mr Andrews where I was going to be, and that it was remote, with no cell service, and that he should hear from me within 48 hours.
As it turned out, Steveville was just about full when I got there, and full by the end of the evening. In a totally random moment of serendipity, the last people to set up camp ended up being a colleague of mine and his squeeze, en route from Spruce Meadows to the Pan Am Games in Toronto. I think it is hilarious that the two of us should meet up in a tiny backwoods campsite in Alberta.
Riding in Dinosaur ended up being a bust. It had been years since John had lived and ridden here, and things had changed – his marked route had gates with chains and locks. Still, Spy and I visited the official area of the park, as well as the area around our rec site, and the views were spectacular.
When I’d been chatting up folks around the campfire in Sask Landing, and sussing out places to camp on my way towards Ya Ha Tinda, one fella told me that a place I could stay near Calgary would be Irvine’s, a tack store. If you shop in their store, he said, they’ll let you camp for free. I phoned up to confirm that this was the case, and yes, yes it is. So from Dinosaur, I drove through Drumheller to Crossfield, and Irvine’s.
It was pissing down rain when we pulled up – so really, what better to do than shop?
Irvine’s is a western store, so the dressage whip that was on my list (Spy ate mine) was a no go. I did find me some hobbles, though, and some gloves I like (Noble Outfitters – good stuff!), and a few other odds and ends.
Back in 2012, I camped at and rode out from Sandy McNab campsite in Sheep River, Kananskis, where I met Ann, Vicki, and Dani. We’ve kept in touch through Facebook, and Ann has kept tabs on my whereabouts on this trip. Through a lovely twist of fate, her barn (a 50 minute drive from her house) is a 4-minute drive from Irvine’s. So we met up, and the weather had cleared, and we had a purely gorgeous evening ride through fields of canola and wheat and barley. We saw a moose! I think of moose as Northern Ontario swampy creatues. Nope. They also live in coolees in Alberta, and have naps in canola fields.
From Crossfield, we headed north and west, to Sundre, and on to Ya Ha Tinda…
Camp and trail notes for horsey folk:
Sask Landing has 10 sites, and 10 corrals. The corrals are big enough for 2 horses, so I’m guessing that if you arrive with two, they should go together, but in practice, it’s a free-for-all. There’s also a big grazing field – if you wanted to set up an e-corral there, no one would care. You could probably also set one up in the “stock trailer drop-off” area. I don’t think anyone gives a damn.
There’s water for horses, none for people. There are pit toilets, manure disposal (wheelbarrow, forks provided), garbage. Firewood is free.
Cost $18/night plus park user fee of $7/day (which is supposed to be charged at Cypress as well, but nobody at Cypress gives a flying).
The campsites are treed and reasonably private, though you are pretty close to your neighbour. You can reserve a site should you so desire. Sites 6 thru 10 have a direct view of the lake. The others face the horse pens. I was in #2, which gave me a view of the lake across a couple of other sites, was in view of my horse, and was close to garbage and toilets.
Horse paddocks are shaded.
There are some marked (mown) trails (I didn’t find them), but I just rode out on obviously ridden but unmarked horse trails. (A rider I met at Grasslands told me he gets turned around in the draws there, but I can’t see how that would be possible – it’s a really narrow park.) The draws are steep, and there are some fairly precarious trails. There are, apparently, some bad boggy areas, but I found none – then again, it’s been a crazy-dry summer. I rode north and east from the equestrian campsite, and then south, and then northwest back home, on horse/cattle/game trails.
If you unhitch and go across to the regular campsite, you’ll find Papa Joe’s, a laundromat, the golf club restaurant…
- Steveville Rec Site
Steveville is not set up for horses, but it works. I set up an e-corral for Pai. There are maybe 9 or 10 sites (it’s pretty random), some with picnic tables. There is no water for people or horses – huff it down to the Red Deer River. There are pit toilets, garbage, and a very rustic (read, scruffy) cooking shelter.
You can’t access Dinosaur. You could ride along the road that takes off to the right as you head north from camp, but it’s road riding – the road does have nice views of badlands (I walked Spy there).
Free. No one seems to care what or if you spend in the store. You just pull up to the pipe corrals, and Bob’s your uncle. I used tape (not electrified) to set Pai up with a grazing area in an alley next to their outdoor arena. There is no water, and I couldn’t see any toilets. (Yeah. No toilets. Hello horse trailer.) But whatevs. It was free.