You might find yourself driving down the #1 Highway around Swift Current, musing about the hills and the sky and the possibility of another Tim Horton’s stop, and you might ask yourself: “I wonder what there is to do around here?”
Step 1: Stop at Maple Creek
It’s five seconds south of the Trans-Canada. If you look that way, you can pretty well see it – actually, you’ll probably see the sign for Cypress Hills Provincial Park, which is the same turnoff.
Step 2: Check in
I stayed at the Ghostown Blues B&B, and the English language doesn’t currently have words for what they’re doing so very, very well there. Being the Saskatchewanderer and all, I thought I’d make some up: Cowboy chic. Western boutique. Pioneerily awesome. These come close to capturing what it’s like to stay in a sheepwagon from the 1890s (a sheepwagon!), but they fall short of explaining the man behind this wild wild bed and breakfast: Greg Hisey. A former pro bullrider, he’s been doing his thing from Texas to northern SK, and now he’s setting his creative energies loose on Ghostown Blues. Everything on site (including the music hall, where some of Canada’s country and blues greats will stop and gig at) has been restored from existing heritage buildings, with the addition of modern facilities and the nicest bathrooms you’re likely to run into in the wild west.
Greg runs an amazing operation – and if you give him an ear, you’re bound to hear all his best cowboy stories. Give Molly the border collie a scratch, and ask about the time he was John Voight’s body double in a Hollywood movie.
Step 3: Wine and dine
Just southwest of Ghost Town Blues is the Cypress Hills Winery. They operate out of a beautiful valley and turn out a half dozen wines annually – most of them being made from Saskatchewan fruit. My old pal, the carmine cherry, had a whole wine to itself. Personally, my favourites were the saskatoon berry wine – it had an unbelievably complex, smokey flavour – and the black currant and honey wine, which I intend to pair with dessert.
In town, there are tons of dining options. The Star Café and Redmond House are the local fine dining options – and the Star has the best selection of Paddock Wood beers I’ve seen anywhere. There’s also the Rockin’ Horse Cookhouse, which sports delicious made-from-scratch BBQ.
Step 4: Adventure time
Just check my video of the area to see some of the more extreme options – then avail yourself of this list:
• Fort Walsh: this national historic site is tucked away in Cypress Hills’ West Block, and it’s truly an immersive experience: some folks I met at the Cypress Hills campground told me their kids got to dress up in North West Mounted Police outfits, which, it turns out, meant they could arrest their parents. The drive there is also pretty impressive – “I had no idea there were switchback roads in Saskatchewan,” said one visitor.
• Dark-Sky campground and observatory: formerly the largest dark sky preserve in the world, the Cypress Hills are a huge destination for stargazers of all stripes. This August 25th, they’ll be launching the new observatory and yurt classroom, which is near the central block’s main park campground.
• Oldtimer’s Museum: Here’s a great place to learn the history of the area if you want to get acquainted before Fort Walsh. There are also some incredible moustaches on display. $5 for adults, on Jasper St. in Maple Creek.
• T-Rex Discovery Centre: Near Eastend, the T-Rex Discovery Centre is where Scotty the T-Rex was discovered. Saskatchewan’s wealth of fossil history is on display here, and it’ll be an informative trip back to the cretaceous period. Fun fact: Scotty turns 65,000,020 years old this August 13th (celebrations and cake start at 11AM), which makes him 64,999,999 years older than me.