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Grasslands National Park

Hot and dry, Great night sky, hiking, bison

sunny 34 °C

Aug 29 to Sep 3 Days 99 to 103

Grasslands, West Block, Into the US at Morgan, MT, and on to Williston ND

Distance traveled: 850 km towing, 150 km local travel; trip total 15,400 kilometers

Gas prices $1.599 in Saskatchewan, $3.899/Gal, converted to Can$1.37/l in Montana, $3.699/gal converted to Can$1.335/l in North Dakota

August 29

As the day progressed, we got to grocery shopping, and then did some banking, getting ready for out jaunt into the United States. We will have no service on our phone, or wi-fi at Grasslands beginning tomorrow.

We got a site booked in a downtown RV park in Duluth, that we really wanted to stay at. It is right on the harbour. Yes, we got the last site for our stay in mid-September. We also looked at festivals on such that we might want to take in during our trip across North Dakota. We will be stopping at a Food Truck Festival in Bismarck, and then a Sunflower Festival near Fargo.

We finished our visit with Bryn and Mike with supper out at the LOCAL, a downtown eatery with a great selection of brews. Great food, good service, good friends.

August 30

We had the TaJ ready to go at 10am, stopped at the Visitor Centre to dump the used tanks, and to fill the fresh water. We normally do not carry water for any distance, but Grasslands does not have enough water to fill trailer tanks.

Jenny bought a new pillow for her seat in Sully, as she is just a bit too short to see comfortably over the hood. It worked well and she drove 150 of the 350 km we are travelling today. I took over when we hit the secondary roads down into the depths of South Saskatchewan. It was great scenery all the way; rolling hills and fields of wheat and hay, all being harvested. Unfortunately, the quality is not great because of the huge number of grasshoppers being sucked into the combines. A sample of the display in Sully’s grill should suffice as an explanation.


We stopped at the Visitor Centre in Val Marie, and registered for our three-night stay. We picked up trail and weather information and headed out the 25 km gravel road to the Frenchman Valley Campground.


Only 13 of the 20 sites were filled for the night. We arrived to 36 C (104 F) temperatures. A stiff breeze was blowing, and that helped. We got TaJ settled onto her stabilizer jacks and retired to the shady side of the trailer for two hours of reading and relaxing.

By 7pm the heat was coming off the day and we had supper and watched the last 2 episodes of Fargo, season 2, waiting for sunset. There is no moon right now and Grasslands is a dark sky preserve so we intend to see the Milky Way. By 10pm it is full dark and the sky is ablaze with stars and the long swath of the galaxy is visible. Jenny tried to get a picture of the stars but was not successful. Try again tomorrow.

It was after 11pm when we crashed for the night and the temperature had dropped to 20 C (72 F). Tomorrow promises to be a scorcher as well.

August 31

Up early to get in some hiking before the heat comes on. We got on the Broken Hills Trail, near the campground at 7:30am and did a full two-hour hike, about 7 km in total, out into the grasslands along the Frenchman River. Great scenery, and the most interesting spider webs.


We understand this is the Wolf spider and quite a viscous little beast it is.


We both had an encounter with a cactus. You have got to watch your step around here.


Back at the campground, it was breakfast outdoors at the picnic table. The heat was building and today is expected to be even hotter than yesterday. Our time at Grasslands has been marred by excess heat this year. A full fire ban is in effect; it is that dry out here.

Our early afternoon was spent doing the Back Country Loop Drive, about 85 kilometers in total. The drive goes through park land, and land about to become park land, as well as operating ranches. The loop gets within 3 kilometers of the US Border. It was an enjoyable experience, as much for the air conditioning in Sully as the scenery. Cattle on the road, and it was dusty:


We arrived back to 37 C (104 F), again with a stiff breeze. You can feel the moisture being sucked out of your body as you walk into this wind.

We rested, did our best to stay out of the heat, and had showers, me outdoors, and Jenny in our tiny shower room. That helped to cool us down. Here are a couple of views of the TaJ-ma-Haul from various angles at the campground:


We walked along the ridge above the campground at dusk, and settled in to wait for the stars to come out. We think TaJ looks pretty special with the Milky Way laid out above her.


Sep 1

It cooled to 10C (52 F) overnight. Just at 11pm last night the power failed here at Frenchman Valley. We witched the fridge to propane and all was well. The power was restored at 7:00am.

We were already up and through breakfast. Our goal this morning was a hike out the Bear Paw Sea Trail, a 10 km linear trail up into the coulees towards Val Marie. Our goal was the Rattlesnake Hibernacula, about 3 kilometers out. As we hiked out the trail, we could see two large Bison off in the distance. It turns out they were a pair of males, just hanging out, waiting for the rutting season to start. Unfortunately for us, they were right on the trail we planned to hike out.


We got some great pictures, but they tell you to stay 100 meters away from these 1,500-pound beasts, so we headed back to the road. 75 minutes and 3.3 km total hike, we were back to the car.

We hooked up with the guided tour taking place at the Black-tailed Prairie Dog Colony. A well-informed guide took us on a tour down into the coulee where we learned about the local grasses, lichen, and even caught a glimpse of a rare lizard. We learned about the 70 species of grass that grows here as well as details of the 500 strong Bison herd. We finished with a walk through the prairie dog village. The ridge by the prairie dog village is lined with tipi rings from the days when this place was inhabited by first nations.


In total we hiked for another 75 minutes and 2.5 km on this hike. We were pretty beat by the end and the heat of the day was just coming on. We went back to TaJ for coffee and to download cameras.

In the early afternoon we hopped into Sully and headed for Val Marie, along back roads to the south of the park. In 2017 we stopped at this abandoned house. Really interesting:


We stopped at the Grasslands Visitor Centre in town for some wi-fi time and then had an ice cream cone at the Restaurant/Pub in town.

Finally, we spent $10 on showers at the Val Marie Campground. Luxury, when you are in a place with pit toilets only, and no useable water supply. Grasslands is lovely, but so far removed from any population centres that services are sparse. The showers at Val Marie are excellent: good water pressure, temperature controls and a sufficient dry space that your stuff does not get wet while you shower.

This is our 5th time at Grasslands and we seem to keep coming back. Three times to the East Block and twice to the West. We just wish the heat would drop off. It is relentless in the late afternoon. Today, the wind was blowing though. Even at 38C we had a 40 kph wind blowing. It was rocking the TaJ with gusts. It cooled off again after dusk and we were able to sleep.

Sep 2

Onward! We were up at 6am and prepared for the road by 7:30am. It is off to the United States for us. Our destination is Williston, North Dakota and an overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot. Our entry into the United States was at Morgan, Montana, a dusty little 5 day-a-week 9-5 border crossing. All went well until we got to food: eggs…we were carrying 2 eggs in our little fridge. Not allowed entry into the US currently. We were required to re-cross into Canada and dispose of our eggs before returning. We promptly complied with the request, much to the grin of the Canadian border guard, who says this happens all too often. The US border guard waved us on into the land of the free and home of the brave.

Shortly afterward we came upon a cattle drive working its way down the highway. They were being escorted by a fellow on an ATV. He told us it was so dry that the cattle were doing better grazing on the road right-of-way, and were taking their sweet time.


Our drive was long, but uneventful. We need a car wash in the worst way. Both Sully and TaJ are covered in dust from our time on gravel roads into and out of Grasslands. We spotted one on our way to Walmart in Williston, but it was on the other side of the road. We will get to it in the morning.

We got permission to park in the Walmart parking lot, and this is the sign we parked under. Huh! No problems though.


We had supper at Doc Holliday’s, a local restaurant that has the most interesting set of sculptures along the road. We had fish tacos and a western version of egg rolls.


Our night was uneventful. A bit noisy until traffic died down but quiet overnight.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 18:34 Archived in Canada Tagged grasslands_national_park_west_b val_marie morgan_border_crossing walmart_williston_nd

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