Like last year, I chose to join my friends Charles and Caroline on the Wood Mountain Wagon Train for my vacation. This time, I went with my friend L, who brought his trailer, so I had a kitchen and a cook! 😀
The setting this year was the East Block of Grasslands National Park. We set up a base camp at Rock Creek Campground and set out each day in a different direction.
Caroline was recovering from back surgery, so she stayed behind during the day, opting for walks in the hills with their dog, so there was extra space in the wagon.
L and I arrived on Sunday. It was very sunny and hot until we arrived, and then it got pretty wet and cold, a disappointing start to the week. We set up camp next to C&C. Like last year, I opted to sleep in my truck and use a tent as a change room and wash house.
Sunday supper was a communal potluck with roast beef and a bunch of sides. I brought coleslaw.
Monday dawned very wet, but the rain stopped in time to go down for the traditional first morning of the wagon train breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and coffee.
I knew that one family had brought an extra horse, so I went to ask if I could ride for a few hours at some point in the week. I was asked my skill level and if I had proper footwear. My skill level is good and I was wearing cowboy boots, so I was promised that something could be arranged.
Monday morning, I rode in the back of the wagon and it was pretty comfortable since we were going through a cleared path and Charles had put a bus seat in the wagon, an improvement over last year’s hay bale!
It rained at lunch and then the black clouds stayed behind, so we all got into our rain gear. A young girl (‘Daisy’) from last year’s wagon train, whom I’ve seen on and off in Assiniboia and who is the daughter of the lady I had asked about a horse, came by and offered me her mount, a grey named Wynter, for the afternoon. I was shocked because she doesn’t let anyone else ride her horse!
I asked if I had to stay with the wagon or if I could play in the hills and Daisy said she’d seen me ride last year and that I could do what I was comfortable doing. I immediately felt comfortable on Wynter and knew I would have a great afternoon, alternating between walking and trotting through the Prairie, a fair distance from the wagons.
I was a bit nervous about mounting Wynter since there was no mounting block, but I got right on her without any issue. I’m 30lbs down from this time last year at this time and can’t believe what a difference it makes! I was able to easily mount and dismount all week!
At one point, Daisy and her mount, Sadie, rode to the top of a tall butte and Wynter decided that she was going up there, too. I nudged her into a gentle lope and she decided to go into a full out gallop! I’m pretty sure I’ve never been that fast on a horse before. It felt like I was flying! Seasoned riders who saw me take off thought that that was pretty impressive riding for a greenhorn. I felt safe and in control, so I just enjoyed the ride. Wynter stopped at the top when I asked her to.
Rain started up again as we headed back to camp. Horses don’t like the wind because it messes up their senses and they turn their back to it. As soon as the wind picked up, Wynter would stop and turn her rump into the wind. She wouldn’t budge until the rain stopped and the wind died down. It was pretty uncomfortable because the rain was like little ice pellets needling my neck and the back of my ears, but it was better than dealing with a panicking horse!
When I got to camp on Monday afternoon, I helped groom Wynter and brought her to the watering trough. I was pretty beat and quite sore!
Tuesday was this year’s OMG THAT WAS SO AWESOME day. I woke up pretty stiff and my tailbone was hurting, but I was in much better shape than after riding the year before.
I started the morning by riding up front with Charles in the wagon and he gave me my first wagon driving lesson!
We stopped for a break before lunch and Daisy came up to me with a horse she was ponying (leading by the halter). She’d asked the owner if I could ride him and he said that based on what he’d seen on Monday, I sure could! So I switched to riding a beautiful chestnut named Dee for the rest of Tuesday morning.
After lunch, I saw that Dee’s owner was going to remain on someone else’s mount and that Daisy was going to pony him again. So I went to Dee’s owner and asked about riding him all afternoon. “Sure! Have fun!” Wow, some people are so nice!
I set off with the wagons and then heard Daisy call my name. She told me to join the seasoned riders who go over more difficult terrain on a different path than do the wagons. Holy moly! I felt very, very comfortable on Dee and decided to get out of my comfort zone a little and do this.
I learned to ride in a part of Quebec that is very, very, very flat, so I don’t have much experience with going up and down hills, especially ones in uneven terrain. Daisy gave me tips and my confidence grew with each descent.
At one point, Dee took off on me and I think it’s because he stepped on a cactus or something. I wasn’t in control the way I had been galloping with Wynter on Monday and somehow one of my fingernails got caught under the reins and bent backwards, so I was fighting pain and a pretty wild horse. It was rather exciting. 🙂 I got Dee calmed down, tended to my hilariously insignificant wound, and felt rather pleased with myself. I did not feel any less secure on Dee after this, I’m happy to say.
Tuesday afternoon was full of big open country and buttes that seemed to be made of elephant skin. It was the stuff of dreams.
I really liked how I felt safe in that there were seasoned riders all around me, but I wasn’t being babied and I had full control over the route I wanted to take. I got a few tips when I needed them, but I felt respected even though I was a greenhorn. More than one person said that I was invited to come along because I’m a good rider on the right horse and I know my limits. I go out of my comfort zone, but I’m not cocky.
One of the last obstacles of the day was a fairly deep water crossing. That went better than my water crossing in Scotland where the horse decided to leap over the creek! Dee just plowed right through and barely took time for a drink.
When we got back to camp, Dee’s owner had me dismount at his trailer, then changed his mind and suggested that I take his horse up to the watering trough, where someone else would take care of untacking him. For the first time ever on a horse I didn’t know super well, I dismounted without someone else holding my horse and remounted on my own! It felt really nice to ride up the hill to the watering trough all by myself.
L made the most perfect wagon train dinner Tuesday night, spaghetti with buffalo meat! I also got to snack later on Caroline’s venison salami.
I was really stiff by Tuesday night, so I had a dram of Scotch to loosen me up before bed. 🙂
Wednesday and Thursday weren’t particularly memorable except that we did the water crossing in the wagon on Wednesday and went through some really rough terrain on Thursday. I rode in the back of the wagon all day Wednesday and sat in the front on Thursday morning. Part of why the days began to run together is that the landscapes were all essentially the same this year. I do remember the butterscotch Schnapps from Thursday night very well. 🙂
Thursday was also games night, which was more fun than last year since there was room to do them on horseback. The kids did all sorts of stuff, like doing figure eights while holding a piece of toilet paper. The objective was to finish the pattern without ripping the toilet paper.
We had expected Friday to be a short day, but wound up going out all day (which means to about 2:30PM). I rode in the back of the wagon in the morning and then was offered a horse until lunch. This horse belongs to the daughter (JB) of a good friend of Laura’s.
The horse is young and very green and I didn’t feel very comfortable on her, so I declined to ride her in the afternoon. Instead, I rode up front with Charles and got a second driving lesson, this time going up and down hills and around curves!
When we got back to camp on Friday, it was time to pack up. Charles and Caroline had three vehicles between them and had planned to drive the bus, horse trailer, and car home, then come back for the truck and wagon trailer on Saturday. But JB’s dad showed up with her mom, so we had an extra driver.
She had never towed anything and didn’t want to drive C&C’s truck towing the wagon trailer. I’d never towed anything like that, but have towed behind the motorhome, so I felt comfortable suggesting that she drive my truck (after confirming that she can drive stick) and that I would drive C&C’s truck.
C&C were delighted with this arrangement since they would have to pick up their truck about twenty minutes away instead of nearly an hour and a half.
It was pretty harrowing driving that huge truck and trailer, but I took it slow and got it to JB’s dad’s without incident, then I switched to my truck for the rest of the drive. This was barely a detour and I quickly caught up with C&C and L on the last leg of the journey back to Haven.
I really enjoyed the wagon train this year and having L along. He made breakfast in the morning, I was on my own for lunch, and then he made dinner. JB joined us for most meals and we would do the washing up after. L really doesn’t mind doing the cooking and was thrilled to not have to clean up after!
After Monday, the weather was perfect, very hot with an unrelenting sun during the day and very cool at night. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so tan in my life and I was wearing long sleeves and pants, a wide brimmed outback hat, a kerchief around my neck, boots, and tons of sunscreen. Next time I do this, I’ll add thin cotton gloves because the back of my hands took a real beating.
The wagon train will likely be in the same location next year and if that’s the case, I probably won’t go. I just wasn’t as enchanted with this site as I was last year’s. Don’t get me wrong; the rolling hills of southern Saskatchewan never cease to wow me with their beauty, but I like to see different things.
I took hundreds of pictures, but, again, I know my readers don’t need to see that many iterations of green rolling hills, so here’s a sampler.