Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cypress Hills day trip

Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills
One of the great joys of my new job is having the summer months off.
That means being able to get up and go at moment’s notice to investigate something of interest.
Such was the case Tuesday when I decided it was time to visit the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan on a day trip.
While that may sound exotic and distant, it is as easy as a visit to Glacier Park; in fact, closer.
A full trip to Glacier across Going to the Sun Highway is about 225 miles each way.
Cypress Hills is 206 miles from Great Falls by way of Havre and the Wildhorse border crossing into Canada. I began my journey at 11 a.m., and was home by 10 p.m.
What I had expected was an isolated volcanic small mountain range, much like the nearby Sweetgrass Hills or Bears Paw Mountains south of Havre. What I found was a low-slung plateau rising about 1,800 feet off desolate, almost flat prairie.
What makes this area particularly unique are the aspen, spruce and lodgepole pines that give its interior the feeling of being in a valley such as you might find in the Little Belts or Highwoods. But, the elevation is not as great and saying it is like a mountain valley would be to exaggerate.
This is more a tourist spot than a pristine outdoors retreat.
I was surprised to find that the most common animal there are large cattle herds and that there are working ranches within the park boundaries. Yes, and there is an elk herd of 700, moose, deer and other wild animals.
The cattle grazing took the edge off for me, though.
There are numerous hiking trails, but some are on old roads or close to roads.
This area is small enough that you don’t feel like you’re really getting away from it all when you’re there. You get a much wilder experience in our nearby Island Ranges in Montana.
There are plenty of resort and lake things to do in Elkwater, the West Unit’s only real community and supply station.
The park seemed as though it was getting ready for the season, not really going yet.
The Cypress Hills are really more famous for its connection to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which got its impetus putting down an Indian uprising in the 1870s with Fort Walsh, located within the boundaries.
There are re-enactments and daily tours from the Fort, which I thought was in the prettiest part of the park.
I drove across the top of the park from its west to its east boundary in Saskatchewan and then back by way of gravel provincial roads through eerie, dried up range country dotted with abandoned homesteads south, then west before connecting back to Alberta Highway 41 and south to Havre.
I got out of my car frequently to read signs, look over campgrounds and assess the hiking potential of the area.
I was most intrigued by a stretch of the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) I found there. This trail crosses all provinces of Canada, hugging much of the country’s southern border not far from the U.S.
This is something I may do again, but in the fall when those gorgeous aspen are in color, perhaps combining it with a trip to Medicine Hat, some 20 miles north.

1 comment:

David Kotynski said...

How long ago was that Indian war fought? I didn't even know there was one fought there...of course I'm not sure I know a 100th of the battles fought on U.S. soil.