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Baker's Coulee

by Dave Yanko

We may have missed them as we passed through the small country intersection a day earlier because our attention was focused on road signs leading to Pine Cree Regional Park.
pronghorn antelope
- courtesy US Wildlife Service
The pronghorn antelope.
When we spotted the seven pronghorn antelope on our second day, however, they were grazing 300 metres beyond the road on a rise offering a commanding view of the valley to the north and big-sky prairie to the south.

They were in the same spot in the morning, at noon and when we returned in the early evening from visiting the T.rex Centre at Eastend 15 km (10 miles) away. Each time we approached that intersection, the

stately buck stared at us from his frozen stance on the perimeter of the herd while two females, two kids and two immature males glanced our way and continued grazing. When we stopped at the side of the sleepy road to get a closer look, however, the other six pairs of eyes slewed onto us like iron filings to a magnet.

Pronghorns have pin-drop hearing and eyesight comparable to eight-power binoculars. Their lungs can handle three times the oxygen ours can and they can reach a speed of 100 km per hour (60 mph) in a burst. They're the fastest animals in North America. And judging by reports of pronghorns "racing" cars down country roads, they seem unwilling to relinquish that title to anything.

"It's like they want to cross the road and you're in the way,'' says Marv Hlady, a Regina wildlife specialist who's experienced the curious phenomenon. "So they kick it up a gear. And if you go faster, then they kick it up another."

The pronghorn is well suited to life in this sparsely treed landscape of crops and pastureland—you can see the town of Shaunavon from the highway sign that says "Shaunavon 13 km". All the more striking, then, is the view that greeted this pair of high plains travellers the first time we descended into Pine Cree Regional Park.

Looking south from a ridge above Pine Cree Regional Park.

Cradled in a coulee embraced by the same Cypress Hills featured at the interprovincial park 80 km (50 miles) west of here, Pine Cree is a lush green secret revealed from the top down. Dark and stately conifers tower above lazy willows that provide shade for brook trout in the creek gurgling along the verdant valley floor. Aspen stands bring patchy relief to the sun-baked hills enveloping the park while bison browse the pastureland in a timeless scene up top. After visiting this area in 1880, well-known naturalist John Macoun wrote "in all my wanderings I never saw any spot to equal in beauty the central plateau of the Cypress Hills."

The creek is stocked with brook trout.

Park amenities include 26 non-serviced campsites staggered along each side of a creek that supplies a soothing soundtrack to the cool, refreshing setting. The water is clear. But with bison and other livestock roaming the hills, campers are advised to retrieve potable water from the pump adjacent the more central of two, semi-enclosed camp kitchens. Visitors are asked to mail their $10 per night camping fees to the address posted at the entrance if the park hostess doesn't drop by to collect.

In keeping with its surprising nature is the man responsible for developing the park. The late Everett Baker, a Shaunavon-based field man for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, took it upon himself to begin clearing the area and creating campsites after his retirement in 1957. "Baker's coulee" or "Baker's park" became Pine Cree Regional Park in the early 1970s—Baker did not want the park named after him. Today, Baker's Coulee refers to land adjacent to the park.

Most campsites border the creek.

Baker was an extraordinary man who left Minnesota in 1917 to sell books, on foot, in rural Saskatchewan—a horse and buggy eventually replaced shanks's pony. Years later he criss-crossed southwest Saskatchewan promoting and organizing co-operatives as a Pool field man. Many of the people and places he encountered are documented in thousands of photographs he took during his travels.

He was instrumental in researching, organizing, raising funds for and marking some 200 miles of the Northwest Mounted Police Trail that ran from Wood Mountain to Fort Walsh, located near the Alberta boundary. The trail ran through difficult terrain and the 260 markers were made of reinforced concrete weighing 218 kilograms (480 pounds) each. Baker was also the first president of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society.

View from the "hermit's cave".

Pine Cree park is a great camping spot for dinosaur fans visiting the T.rex Centre or for tourists travelling Highway 13 along the historic Red Coat Trail. It's exceptionally clean and well maintained; a good supply of dry firewood awaited us at the entrance and the portable washrooms were spotless. There's a neat little "hermit's cave" in the hillside above the park and the playground features three sets of teeter-totters with tilts ranging from mild to daredevil. We'd not seen any like them.

According to the campground hostess, surprise and delight are common reactions among travellers chancing upon this little oasis. Thanks to Everett Baker for recognizing it's a place to be shared.

Pine Cree Regional Park is located approximately 30 km west of Shaunavon and 15 km east of Eastend in the southwest region of Saskatchewan. Watch for the sign on Highway 13.

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