Grasslands National Park / East Block Saskatchewan – The great thing about visiting the eastblock of Grasslands National Park is that because thisarea was missed by four glaciers there are incredibly rich fossil deposits, and visitors can easily go out on their own dinosaur hunt – but you must just photograph whatever you find and then leave it behind. We started our hike very close to the new East Block Visitor Centre. It’s only been open two years, and fortunately itʼs not really busy. During itʼs first season just a little over 1,000 people made their way here to explore.
We set off with park interpreter Brenda Peterson, who comes from a local ranching family has sold and traded land that is now part of the park. A former teacher and school principal, she’s now an enthusiastic steward of the land who tells visitors what to look for, and where. After crossing a prairie field we found ourselves at the ridge of a badland canyon with rounded mud-caked mounds. Within a few steps, as we started to work our way down, we began finding fossils. It was a thrill. I picked up a large chunk of what turned out to be petrified wood. Often weʼd spot evidence of plant life embedded in rocks, etc. The East Block is known as the first dinosaur fossils to be found in western Canada – in 1874 by George M. Dawson.
As we descended lower into the little valley, which was fragrant with the sweet smell of wolf willow, juniper and sage, we searched through low scrub with deer tracks in clay, and eventually found evidence of tipi rings. We were told they were likely about 600 years old. The park as a whole is home to about 12,000 tipi rings. Nearby a friend spotted a small clay bead on the ground, it still carried a little of its original colouring.
With Brenda’s hints on where to look, we eventually find a dinosaur fossil ourselves, which has been sitting in the same spot since it’s discovery. Further along through the valleys we find evidence of another, and eventually we climb a mound to see the remnants of a fossilized head fan. Without Brendaʼs help I likely would have walked past it not knowing what was at my feet.
I learned that the area most densely covered in fossils in the valley of 1,000 Devils. Pretty much everywhere you step you’d be standing on some sort of fossils. Itʼs not reachable by walking, but some would explore by horseback.
Grasslands National Park, which is in southwestern Saskatchewan near the Montana border, is made of two huge pieces of land. There are 70 species of grasses found in the park. This East Block has badlands, and is abundant with fossils. There are campsites at the Visitor Center, and we parked our RV at a site at nearby Wood Mountain, where there was a small cowboy museum, swimming pool, and which hosted rodeos.
At the West Block, the Visitor Centre is located near the tiny village of Val Marie. At the visitor centre you can pick up information on an 80-km Ecotour you can drive in one-to-three- hours. Driving in the park you can see some of the 200 free-roaming bison (before Europeans arrived more than 30 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains of North America.) The rule is if you extend your arm and your thumb doesn’t fully block the bison you are too close.
While you are watching buffalo chances are you are being watched by curious barking black-tailed prairie dogs who pop up and down from hole that lead to their underground homes.
Unnamed Road, Old Post No. 43, SK S0H, Canada