on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular

Enlarge Map



EASTEND SASKATCHEWAN — T. REX DISCOVERY DRIVING TOURS

Story and photos by

If you like dinosaurs and fossils, you will love Eastend and these driving tours of the Frenchman River Valley. Until the discovery of a Tyrannosaurus rex in Eastend, in 1994, few people had ever heard of this Southwestern Saskatchewan town, with a population of only 600.

Hiker views Valley of the Hidden Secrets from Jones' Peak.
Hiker views Valley of the Hidden Secrets from Jones' Peak.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

From Jones' Peak, you can enjoy sweeping views of what residents call "the Valley of Hidden Secrets." Dinosaurs and now extinct mammals roamed here 65 million years ago.

Eastend Museum

A 37 million-year-old brontothere skeleton, a 63 million-year-old horned torosaurus shield and a five-foot (1.5-meter)-long shoulder blade and skull from triceratops, a plant-eating dinosaur, are displayed in the Eastend Museum.

The bones, along with several Indian points, scrapers and war clubs, were mostly found by accident during road construction. The building itself is an historic landmark, because it was the town's Pastime Theatre for 61 years, after it was built in 1914.

Dinosaur skeleton

Between 1994 and 2003, paleontologists unearthed Scotty, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in Canada. Paleontologists estimate that Scotty was 49 feet (15 meters) long and weighed as much as two elephants.

At Eastend's T. rex Discovery Centre, you can watch a film about the discovery and excavation of Scotty, learn about fossils and dinosaur extinction and examine models of prehistoric animals, like the Borealosuchus, a northern relative of crocodiles.

The highlight is the reconstructed T. rex skull, with serrated teeth up to 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) long (including roots). Most of Scotty's large bones are also on display, behind glass in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM) Fossil Research Station lab, where paleotechnicians sort through dirt for fossils, clean fossils and mould replica casts.

White Mud Pits in Frenchman River Valley
White Mud Pits in Frenchman River Valley
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Frenchman River Valley driving tour

The Dinocountry website provides details and maps for three car tours, all beginning and ending in Eastend SK. First stop on the 25-mile (40-kilometer) Frenchman River Valley car tour is Chocolate Peak.

There used to be a deposit of white mud clay at its base. It is the same white mud you see in hills throughout the valley. White mud is used to make pottery, which you can see at the Whitemud Clay Studio in Eastend.

In the 1930s, a miner thought it would be easier to mine the white mud clay if the coal seam on top was weakened, so he set fire to the coal. Instead of burning out in a few days, the coal burned into the hill for years, baking the clay and ruining the deposit. When the clay turned dark brown in color, people named the hill Chocolate Peak.

Crazy Horse Camp

The open flatland at the next stop on the auto tour is Crazy Horse Camp. Crazy Horse was a Sioux warrior who helped Sitting Bull defeat Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

While Chief Sitting Bull fled north, Crazy Horse continued fighting before finally surrendering to the American Calvary. After an American soldier fatally stabbed Crazy Horse in 1876, about 200 lodges of his followers crossed the Medicine Line, the border between Canada and the United States, and camped here.

White mud

The most fascinating stop on the Saskatchewan car tour is White Mud Pits, named after the clay that is mined here. In the early days, it was back-breaking work, done mostly with picks, shovels and dynamite, for $1.05 a ton.

Leaf fossil found in Saskatchewan Badlands
Leaf fossil found in Saskatchewan Badlands
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

These are ancient hills. You can actually see layers of time. Below the white mud clay are fossils from ancient seas. Between the white mud and the coal seam are dinosaur bones. Above the coal seams are prints of ancient sequoia trees and fossils of early plains mammals.

On top of the hills, you can see tipi rings, medicine wheels, abandoned wagons and crumbling log corrals. A log cabin, built in 1905, used to stand here. Part of one of the earliest ranches in the Frenchman River Valley, it is now at the museum in Eastend.

Exploring the hills, we found a dozen fossilized leaves and plants, dating back 30 to 60 million years. Because all fossils belong to the government, under the Saskatchewan Heritage Property Act, we left the leaf fossils for the next visitors to discover.

Jones' Peak

The best-known landmark in the valley, Jones' Peak, is the final stop on the driving tour of Frenchman River Valley. It was named after Corky Jones, an amateur paleontologist and historian who found the triceratops skull in the Eastend Museum, as well as fossils of mammals such as the three-toed horse, cursorial rhinoceros and giant pig.

The top of Jones' Peak gives you a panoramic view of the Frenchman River Valley. To the west is Crazy Horse Camp and the White Mud Pits and to the east is Chocolate Peak and the town of Eastend.

The Bench driving tour

The 25-mile (40-kilometer) long Bench car tour begins at the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Post on the banks of the White Mud River (called the Frenchman River today) and continues along the Red Coat Trail to Pine Cree Park.

Jones' Peak in Eastend SK
Jones' Peak in Eastend SK
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Red Coat Trail (now called Hwy 13) is one of western Canada's oldest and most scenic roads. The NWMP took this route on their historic 1874 westward march.

It was the Mounties who named this area Eastend, a strange name for an outpost on the western frontier. But as the NWMP saw it, the place was in the east end of the Cypress Hills and on the eastern boundary of their patrol route, so Eastend was a logical name.

Pine Cree Park

On the hilltops, you can see 100-year-old tipi rings, circles of stones used by Cree First Nations people to hold down the edges of their tipis. Pine Cree Park takes its name from these tribes and from the abundance of pine trees in the coulee.

Pine Cree Park is a good place to hike. There's an old hermit's cave deep in the coulee. You can fish in Swift Current Creek, which is stocked with brook trout. Bring a picnic. The park has barbecues and an outdoor kitchen.

The last stop on The Bench tour is Chimney Coulee, named for the stone chimneys that remained for years after cabins collapsed in a Metis settlement. The last chimney fell in 1915.

Continental Divide driving tour

The 36-mile (58-kilometer) Saskatchewan car tour goes to the Continental Divide, where many of the bones in the Eastend Museum were found. You can spot mule deer, antelope, coyotes, foxes, beavers, muskrats and gophers along the route.

Red fox
Red fox
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Brady Coulee is a good place for birdwatching. Look for ring-necked pheasants, Canada geese, bald eagles, hawks, owls and a variety of songbirds.

Keep your eyes open for the unique shrike. This gray and black bird, about the size of a robin, is also called a butcher bird for its habit of impaling prey on hawthorns.

Along the roadsides, in Conglomerate Creek Valley, look for the silvery gray leaves and purplish stems of the wolf willow bush. Pulitzer Prize-winning Saskatchewan author, Wallace Stegner, entitled his Eastend memoir, Wolf Willow. (Artists and writers in residence now occupy Stegner's boyhood home in Eastend, just a few blocks away from the museum.)

Directions to Eastend

Follow the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) west from Regina, Saskatchewan through Moose Jaw and Swift Current to Gull Lake. Drive south on Hwy 37, then drive west on Hwy 13 to Eastend.

Driving time is about four hours. Eastend is located 30 minutes east of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.

Although Eastend's Valley of the Hidden Secrets is in the middle of nowhere, it is a worthwhile driving trip for fossil and dinosaur fans, history buffs, nature lovers and birdwatchers who dare to venture off the beaten track.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Eastend Saskatchewan: www.dinocountry.com

Tourism Saskatchewan: www.sasktourism.com

More things to see & do in Saskatchewan

Big Muddy Saskatchewan Tour

Saskatchewan B&B Farm Vacations

Canada Historic Sites - Fort Walsh Saskatchewan

Wood Mountain Stampede and Rodeo Ranch Museum

Hike Trail to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park