Saturday night, Canada Day weekend, 6:00 pm. Something told me the park has seen better days. Actually, LOTS of things told me that. The weeds growing out of some of the metal fire rings, for one. And, for two, the fact that the park caretaker (a volunteer only, he kept stressing) had to look up how much to charge us in a guidebook. And then there were all the closed and abandoned buildings: the shuttered concession stand but with a Pepsi machine standing guard in front and oddly out of place, the empty playground, the seemingly abandoned RVs sitting here and there. But probably the biggest tip-off, and the one I should have picked up on before we even drove the twenty kilometres of gravel road to this middle-of-nowhere place – a road that left our rig coated in a greasy film of coffee-coloured mud – is that this park isn’t listed in the Saskatchewan Regional Parks brochure we got at the tourist info booth. And the brochure lists a great many regional parks. Just not this one. So what the hell were we doing there?
Well, when you’re in rural Saskatchewan driving along Township Highway 543 or something, with nothing but fields on either side of the road and the only towns you pass through – tiny dots on the map – are no more than clusters of farm buildings, campground pickings are pretty slim. We were getting road worn. We’d already been hit by three Noah’s Flood style thunder showers and Roland’s nerves were getting frazzled from trying to see out through a solid film of water. The RV parks we figured we’d come across weren’t materializing. So I consulted “Go RVing”, one of the many websites designed to help people like us find camping, and it came up with the Lemsford Ferry Regional Park. Except it listed the park as being in Leader, a town maybe fourty-five kilometres behind us. We drove around Leader in circles, following Google Maps, before we conceded that the campground just wasn’t there. But, Go RVing gave a phone number I called where a guy answered and gave me directions. “Oh sure we got room. There’s hardly anybody here. Just follow the signs.”
The “signs” turned out to be just one sign but it looked legitimate enough and I could see the park on or map. But I’d say we are probably the only actual campers the place has for a while although, from the looks of it, several people live there, in various types of exhausted-looking mobile homes and RVs. We could hear them partying somewhere down the road from us. (Where do they get their groceries from, I wonder?) One of the revellers, a lean no-nonsense woman in her fifties with long blond hair and a smoker’s rasp to her voice invited us to join the fun. “We’re having a BLAST!“ she called out to us as she passed by. “Come on and join us if you want.” And she gave us a bit of background on the game they were playing: Mexican Golf. She seemed like she’d already had a few beers and we had a fair idea of the type of party we’d be stepping into. But she was genuinely nice and it tempted us for a moment or two before we opted to stay in character: anti-social. Also, I didn’t like the sound of the dogs over there. They kept scrapping and sounded big and mean. I didn’t want to take Melo and Pix over there for them to be snacked on.
We stayed put and went inside to go through the photos we took earlier. I told myself the scenery around us was pretty.
The South Saskatchewan River ran just below us, the park and the ferry landing (yes, there is a tiny ferry) are in the midst of some green rolling hills a tiny bit reminiscent of some of Alberta’s badlands, and it was very quiet where we were. Except for the occasional hoot and holler from the Mexican Golf crowd, all we heard was the crickets chirping in the grass and a chorus of coyotes in the distance somewhere. The heart of the country for sure. A different, much different, world from the RV-packed one we left that morning at Cypress Hills. Oddly, in as run-down a place as this park is, we had electricity and, for the first time since we left home, were connected to the sewer so no worries about finding a sami-dump. No water though. The water that gurgled out of the faucet outside was rust brown and undrinkable, full of iron the attendant said, and we were really glad we filled up that morning.
After we got there, and after we spent an hour hosing the mud off our truck and camper, we took Melo and Pix for a walk along the river. We actually found some other people camped in a lower section of this park, in tents (so ok, we were the second real campers the place has seen in a while) and we found a freaking big snake, dead thank God, just lying at the side of the road from the ferry landing.
Roland nudged it with his foot to see if it was really dead and it seemed kind of spongy. How did it die? Did someone run it over? OMG! I’m not sure how I would have reacted if we stumbled across a live version while strolling through the grass but I do know this, it would NOT have been pretty. I am not, nor ever will be, a fan of snakes. Brrrrrhhhh!
Following the walk and dinner and the invitation to the party we sat and listened to music and sipped wine, the dogs crashed out. The breeze wafting in through the open windows brought in the scent of the country outside – mostly of mud and cow cakes – and makes us realize how far away from everything we associate with “home” we were. But that’s part of this adventure too. Seeing places we’d normally not see. At half past midnight, when we crawled into bed, the party was still going on. The steady sound of tires on gravel made it seem like there was all kinds of people coming and going but when we looked outside all was pitch black. It made me nervous. At that time of night, the witching hour, fears escalate. We were in the middle of nowhere without cell reception. The people we met were nice enough but I’d seen too many of those “The Town Where People Eat Others” movies. (Really, even ONE is too many). What if, having failed to entice us over to the party where we’d drink spiked booze and fall down defenceless, they were now just waiting to come get us once we fell asleep? It didn’t help that, just as I was starting to nod off, R roused me:
What’s that sound?
That thumping sound, is that you?
No. Should we be worried?
No, it’s ok.
Of course, it was all ok. We woke to sun and happy little birds chirping. We had breakfast and drove to the shower building – amazingly, there is one – to clean up in the rust-tainted water. The building was clean and reasonably bright inside but there were no signs on the doors to indicate which side is men’s or women’s. Just two wings branching from a central room where a long table with flowers looked like it was meant for folding laundry. No laundry machines though. And boy, are the Saskatchewans an uninhibited bunch! The showers were three in a row on each side and no doors to separate them. Just shower heads and outdoor-style taps sticking out of freshly painted blood-coloured cement walls and a bare (but clean) wooden platform to stand on. Everyone showering, army style, side by side. Hmmmm.
Oddly plumbed too. Turn one set of the taps to warm and the next shower will turn to cold. Crank that one up and you’ll send the first one to ice cold. R and I showered, side by side, under alternating blasts of scalding hot and ice cold, the water smelling like iron. Definitely not the type of shower to linger under but we felt somewhat refreshed nonetheless. We hopped back into the cab of the pickup, waved goodbye to the blond Mexican Golf player, and set off, ready to face the challenge of the twenty kms of dirt back to, relative, civilization.
And here’s Roland’s take: