Brandon Manitoba to Big Muddy Saskatchewan
After two days of driving from Southern Ontario through Northwestern Ontario and across to Manitoba, we embarked on our Southern Saskatchewan diversion. Last year we drove west through Saskatchewan on the TransCanada Highway, on the way to Alberta – and then returned home on another route, a little further north to see a different part of Alberta and Saskatchewan. On the recommendation of Margaret from A Prairie Perspective, we happily took the Southern Saskatchewan route this time around. Please visit Margaret’s site!
It’s true that the fastest way to drive across Canada is to jump on the TransCanada highway. As Margaret says, the drive through Saskatchewan gives you the impression that Saskatchewan is completely flat! It’s not – but there’s nothing wrong with flat by the way – the horizon is breathtaking, you can see forever, and there is no “bigger sky”!. Read and enjoy – A Prairie Perspective – https://margaretghanna.wordpress.com/2021/10/28/saskatchewan-is-not-flat/
No Planning, a good GPS and a Rental Car
When we set out to travel west this year as usual we did little planning. That’s not my husband’s way, he relies on me to make a plan and give directions. I’m all about the journey, and so happy to go a little (or a lot off course). This time we spent a day or two making our decision to go west, and then just loaded up the rental car and headed out. Fortunately this car had a great GPS in it. Now that we rely on GPS devices and phones with GPS, we often find ourselves in situations where we lose satellite GPS signals in the middle of nowhere. I find this humorous, but the humour is not always appreciated at the time!
Brandon Manitoba to the Saskatchewan Border
From Brandon Manitoba we proceeded along the TransCanada Highway (1), and turned left at Griswold on Manitoba Highway 21.
This took us straight south through Ralston Manitoba, and then west along Highway 2/21 along Findlay Pass, south of Oak and Plum Lakes, to Pipestone at the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border.
In addition to our own preference to keep socially distant during our trip, Manitoba still required travelers to isolate if visiting from out of province but are permitted to travel straight through – and so we did!
The Redcoat Trail
We diverted from the TransCanada Highway to the Redcoat trail. The Redcoat Trail is a series of highways through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba which approximate the path of the North West Mounted Police in their 1874 journey west. They marched 1300 kilometers from Fort Dufferin (at the Manitoba Canada border with the U.S.) to Fort Whoop Up (near Lethbridge Alberta) to protect and facilitate the settlement of the western frontier, and to deal with “desperadoes” or whiskey traders at Fort Whoop Up before dispersing to form police posts along the route.
At the border of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, there is a statue of a Redcoat or North West Mounted Police Officer. (Redvers Saskatchewan). The Redcoat Trail is Highway 13 in Saskatchewan.
We took the Redcoat Trail directly west through the small towns of Carlyle, Arcola, Stoughton, Weyburn, Trossachs and Ogema Saskatchewan. Then we headed directly South on Highway 34, through Bengough and meeting up with Highway 18 at Big Beaver, where we headed eastward again for a little while.
Highway 13 is also known as the Ghost Town Trail, as there are supposed to be 32 Ghost Towns (or dissolved townships) along the length of the highway. We did notice a few seemingly abandoned farmhouses along the way, The area is very sparsely populated, but there were a lot of large pieces of farming machinery at work in the fields. We read that there is a lot of farm consolidation of smaller farms into large.
This detour was also an easy drive, and we had very little traffic to deal with on the two lane highway, just a few pick up trucks who knew where they were going and were happy to pass us.
I enjoyed reading about the naming of Ogema Saskatchewan. Ogema was settled in 1908. It was to be called Omega, which means end of the line (Greek), to signify the end of the rail line at the time. When it was time to register the name, another town had already used the name – so they switched the letters around. In Ojibwe, Ogema means Chief – so I think the Ogema townspeople picked the better name.
South on Saskatchewan Highway 34
After Glasneven Saskatchewan, we headed south on Highway 34.
The landscape began to get more “rolling” in nature along Highway 34. We were heading straight for Montana, but we couldn’t go there this time. The border was closed to Canadians. Do you think there is a “Wall” on the Saskatchewan/Montana border? Probably not….
We chose this route – travelling towards Montana, because I remembered driving up through the Dakotas and Montana in 1973. I remember spectacular badlands and canyons, and I was hoping to show my husband some of this without crossing the border. We headed towards Big Muddy Valley Saskatchewan.
Big Muddy Valley
We took a right turn at Big Muddy Creek. It was confusing, because there were a few ranches and a sign. Where was the park entrance? The gift shop?
We headed further down the road into the Big Muddy Creek Valley. At a wire farm gate, we thought we were entering private property. There were still no signs to tell us we were in a park. The scenery was wonderful though.
At the gates, we turned around and headed back down the way we came to the highway. There were no signs or people to ask, but we didn’t want to tresspass. There was no cell phone service – so we waited until we got to the top of a rise – and SHOCKINGLY – there was cellular and internet. I googled Big Muddy and came up with a number for Tourism Saskatchewan. The lady kindly told me – “No dear – just go straight in – yes there are ranches on either side of the road – just drive straight through, the road is Crown Land. Just don’t bother the cattle or litter – keep driving to Castle Butte”. We turned around and headed back into the Big Muddy.
We headed further down the gravel and dirt road to Castle Butte – our destination. The Big Muddy Badlands are a 55km valley of badlands along Big Muddy Creek, which extends from Saskatchewan into Montana. We were at the northern end of the “outlaw trail”. The outlaws, Henry Borne, his brother Coyote Pete, Sam Kelly, the Pigeon Toed Kid, and the famous Sundance Kid were known to have evaded the authorities in the area. It wasn’t difficult in the spectacular and desolate scenery to imagine ourselves in that time.
We drove our car directly up to Castle Butte and parked next to it. Castle Butte is a 70 metre high land formation with crumbly sandstone and crevices all around.
Now at every other scenic point in North America I would expect to see a few hundred other tourists, but on this pleasant August afternoon, we saw nobody! Now there were no snackbars or bathrooms either but that’s OK. It was nice just to walk around the butte and admire it by ourselves. We were only interrupted by Prairie Dogs, (local ground squirrels) that were not at all concerned about us.
After a few hours of piece and quiet, we hit the road and moseyed back on our trail towards Calgary. Our diversion to Southern Saskatchewan was worth the drive. I hate to use the term “bucket-list”, but the Big Muddy definitely fits the bill!
Even though the cellphone signal frequently absent, I had just plugged Castle Butte into the car’s GPS and it actually took us there. Lucky thing, because I don’t think our phones with google maps would have worked!
Southern Saskatchewan was the perfect place to visit during this pandemic road trip – we saw spectacular landscape, imagined the history of the region, had a very easy 4 1/2 hour drive – and stayed completely socially isolated!