Stonehenge, Saskatchewan, is just a little over two hours southwest of Regina, just past the town of Assiniboia. I've explored this area of the province before on previous trips, but I've never been to Stonehenge. In fact, my journey started out as a trip to Castle Butte, but after seeing a nearby marker for Stonehenge on a map, that quickly became my primary destination.
I've driven this area a few times looking for abandoned buildings. Normally I'd keep an eye out for them, but I knew most of them were a little further south. Before I got that far, I took the turn off to Ogema.
Shortly after, the landscape began to change. Long stretches of prairie turned into rippling hills and then hills turned into a dramatic snow-covered valley. Although I had arrived in the Big Muddy Valley, I still had a bit to drive before arriving at Castle Butte. Under the snow and ice, the valley looked like a massive stretch of prairie, but looking at maps later I realized there were plenty of streams and lakes hidden under the snow.
As I ventured into the valley, my GPS lost signal. I followed the single road through the valley, past a turn off near a dairy farm and then back up the other side. I imagined Castle Butte would stick out like a sore thumb, but I didn't see it. Once I was able to regain signal, I realized the turn off near the dairy farm was exactly what I was looking for. Returning from the south, I then saw a sign that said "Castle Butte" with an arrow. I didn't see a sign coming from the north, so I wonder if the winds of winter had stolen it and buried it under the snow.
After winding past stretches of cows, I eventually saw Castle Butte sitting on the edge of the valley. I had expected it to be surrounded by prairie, but instead there were nearby sandstone cliffs. The road leading up to it gave the illusion that there was nothing around it, but it wasn't as much of a "sore thumb" as I had expected.
Nevertheless, the butte was impressive, and being always adventurous, I immediately attempted to climb it. Unfortunately, as the spring run off had just started, all the main climbing paths had turned to mud. In fact, the road up to Castle Butte was nothing but mud as well. I guess that's expected, since the area is called the Big Muddy Valley.
Big Muddy, and Castle Butte, were a primary landmark used by both the earlier settlers and the RCMP. This area is where Wild West outlaws such as the Sundance Kid, one of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch members, often hid to escape law enforcement. Caves throughout the area gave him the ability to disappear from the police, only to appear days later. These caves were used by other outlaws as well, such as Dutch Henry and his brother Coyote Pete, Sam Kelly and the Pigeon-Toed Kid. Considered the most northern part of the "Outlaw Trail" this was the final stop on a network of trails that led from Mexico, through the United States and up to Canada. In the summer this area is home to several tours, and the rocking Gateway Festival. Today though, the Butte sate silent, covered in a mix of snow, mud and sand.
Unable to climb the butte, I walked around the half a kilometer wide base of the free-standing structure, amazed at the sedimentary stone that jutted out awkwardly of the otherwise smooth surface. In the winter the massive geological formation was impressive, so I wondered just how breathtaking it would be in the summer.
When I had finished taking pictures, I jumped into my Ford Escape and started back towards the dairy farm. I turned north, exited the valley and carried back onto Highway 13. I passed through the remains of Horizon and drove through the towns of Verwood and Willows before arriving in Assiniboia.
Although Assiniboia is only a couple hours away from Regina, I don't believe I have ever explored it. I stopped at the local A&W for a bathroom break and took a quick look around the town. The first thing that impressed me were the wide streets, and late 19th century shopfronts that were once common throughout the prairies. A lot of them have been replaced with brick buildings in Regina, so I often only see them in ghost towns or Boomtown in Saskatoon. Instead, I saw streets and streets of them in Assiniboia. This really impressed me, and I hope to revisit Assiniboia in the summer so I can explore them further.
After leaving Assiniboia, I followed Highway 2 south for a few kilometers. The road curved so I kept following it. I had checked my phone in Assiniboia to see how far I had to go before I arrived in Stonehenge (as it didn't show up on my car GPS) and I felt like I had gone far enough. Granted, I didn't expect to see a monolithic stone structure, but since it showed up on a map, it had to be something, right?
I pulled over on the empty highway and checked my phone agin. Although the road had curved a few kilometers past, I had mistaken that for a change in highway. I had been going the wrong way for about 10 minutes. I turned my car around, found the correct highway (Highway 719) and kept driving.
Finally, I found the turn off to Stonehenge. I was really excited! What could it be? Was I going to find the "new Beechy" in Saskatchewan? Would this be the new hot spot for provincial travel? Would there be some kind of sign symbolizing the stone formation 6,700 kilometers away? Was there going to be a Heritage Saskatchewan pullover that talked about the British settlers that arrived here over a century ago?
I kept driving and I didn't see anything, so I pulled out my phone again, checked the map and it saw I had driven past it. I turned my car around, held my phone against the steering wheel and watched. Slowly I encroached closer and closer to the marker. Was it here? No, just a little further. Was it here? Not yet. Now? Finally, I had arrived.
But there was nothing here. I was sitting in the middle of a gravel road surrounded by snow covered prairie. There was no sign, there was no structure, there was no building, and there certainly wasn't a 5,000-year-old pile of stones.
It turns out Stonehenge is a rural municipality. It's a vast area, not a singular location, and this marker just happened to be where it began. The population of Stonehenge is somewhere around 440 and covers a vast area of farmland. I didn't explore the area to see if there was anything that connected it to Stonehenge in England, other than the namesake, so I made my own little Stonehenge instead.
It was small, and probably fell down the moment I drove away, but it was a journey to Stonehenge nevertheless.
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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The following is a guest article by Sally Elbassir, the owner and food taster of Passport and Plates, originally titled "The Tapas, Taverns and History of Madrid: A Food Tour". Be sure to drop by her blog for culinary treats from around the world!
I've always been a foodie. Long before the term "foodie" ever existed, I was that kid who was always eager to try something new.
Things haven't changed much in the last couple of decades. My palate has expanded, and I discovered that my dream job does exist; it just happens to be occupied by Anthony Bourdain. Now I satisfy my foodie obsession by writing on Yelp, and on my blog... there's plenty more where that came from.
My article "8 Places to Visit in Regina" is by far my most popular article, being read over 7,000 times in the past 6 months. In honour of the anniversary of my blog (and because 1 of the 8 locations mentioned before is now closed), I decided to do a sequel and talk about 8 more places to visit in Regina. This was really easy as Regina is growing at an extraordinary rate and new, incredible places are opening almost every week.
After the Regina Cyclone huffed and puffed and blew down the majority of houses across the city in 1912, Annie Darke asked her beloved Francis Darke to build her a house that could withstand even the worse things Saskatchewan could blow at it. Being one of the richest and most influential men in Regina’s history, Francis Darke took up the challenge and began to create his wife their very own stone castle.
This massive fortress served as their dwelling for the remainder of their days, until Francis Darke passed away in 1940 and his widowed wife passed away in the very house he had built her, twelve years later.
If you're visiting Alberta this summer, you probably have your heart set on visiting the mountains. After all, places like Lake Louise, Banff, Waterton and now Castle Provincial Park are some of the most beautiful sites in Canada, and they're always a hit on Instagram (if you're into that kind of thing). But, between Regina and the mountains is a whole province with plenty of sights to explore.
Last year I took more trips than I could count to southern Alberta, but most of them ended near Medicine Hat. Had I gone a bit further, I would have found myself in a myriad of attractions to see, from historical museums to sites of natural disasters and just about everything in-between.
For those looking to make a few stops on their way to the Rocky Mountains, or for those who are just looking for an Alberta road trip, here are six attractions you must visit while in southern Alberta.