Big Muddy: Southern Saskatchewan’s Bad Lands
People think of Saskatchewan as wheat fields and land so flat you can watch your dog run away for 3 days. While some of Saskatchewan is flat and we do have wheat fields, there is a lot of geography here that is hilly, with interesting rock formations. In my quest to showcase the true beauty that is Saskatchewan, I’m road tripping as often as I can. One of the places I’ve wanted to visit for several years is the Big Muddy, which is located in Southern Saskatchewan.
Called Saskatchewan’s Badlands, the Big Muddy is located in between Coronach and Bengough. It is a somewhat desolate looking area, made worse this year by the dry weather conditions. Raising cattle on the hilly land seems to be more successful than planting crops. The land in places reminded me of the Qu’Appelle Valley, with the native grasses growing wild.
History of the Big Muddy
As we drove through the Big Muddy, I found myself imagining how it looked when horses were the main form of transportation.
In the 1800’s, when the US economy was poor, many of those who were out of work joined cattle rustling and bank robbing gangs. Since the borders were unmanned, after committing crimes the gangs went north into Canada until the excitement died down.
Historians say the Big Muddy was a hideout for bandits like Sam Kelly, Dutch Henry, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid back in the 1800’s. Bank robbers and horse thieves could get lost in the cavernous stones while people searched endlessly for them. Add to that the proximity to the US border (less than 25km) and you have a law breakers paradise.
Rumour has it that Butch Cassidy wanted his own version of the Pony Express; he created his Outlaw Trail that ran from the Big Muddy to Mexico. Ranchers helped (or were forced to help) escapees fleeing lawmen by providing fresh horses every 10-12 miles. Station #1 is south of Big Beaver on a ranch.
As a non-geologist, I always say my favourite rocks are the shiny ones on my fingers.😂 But when it’s a really interesting and photographic rock formation, I take notice. The geological formations in the Big Muddy are made up of dark marine shale, bentonite layers, and sandstone tongues, all dating back millions of years.
The Big Muddy is unlike anything I’ve seen in Saskatchewan. The area is dotted with buttes, caves, cone shaped hills, and steep cliffs. As you are driving, suddenly there are sheer cliffs or a large rock formation.
Castle Butte is a relic from the Ice Age. Around 200 feet in height, it served as a landmark to First Nations People, the North West Mounted Police, and some of Saskatchewan’s earliest settlers.
Castle Butte is arguably the crown jewel of the Big Muddy. It’s majestic from the road as you drive up, but once you are at the base of it, it’s even bigger and more imposing. Steep walls make it impossible to climb in most places.
We found the single path to the top; it was a steep climb at times, with footholds hard to find. The first part was slippery, but not that hard—hiking shoes made my trek up (and down) much better. We stopped for a rest about halfway up. The beauty was already undeniable.
Once at the top, the view was spectacular! The sky was clear and we could see for miles. More hills and cliffs were in the distance, while cattle walked around a field a short distance away.
I was planning on taking a family photo at the top, but the wind was intense and would have carried my camera to the bottom in a hurry so I didn’t set it up. The stone was weatherbeaten and smooth, and likely not somewhere you want to be when it rains.
Making our way south to the Bad Lands, we didn’t realize that many of the “to do” things in the Big Muddy were on private land. The owners of the land that Castle Butte is on were kind enough to let visitors drive through the cattle fields, but there were some things we couldn’t do because they weren’t available to the general public. We wanted to check out the Sam Kelly Caves, which were the hiding place for outlaws, but we had to attend a tour to do so. The tour didn’t operate on the day we went to the Big Muddy, so we will have to check it out another day.
Getting to the Big Muddy
We drove to the Big Muddy via Moose Jaw. It was just under 200 km, and we stopped several times for a photo op. We came home via Ogema and Milestone. Our round trip was close to 500 km once we drove all around.
Have you been to the Big Muddy? What was your favourite thing to do?
Want to check out a different road trip?
- Tobin Lake: More than Fishing
- A not so ordinary weekend in Moose Jaw
- A day trip to Wolseley and Ellisboro