Exploring Historic Roche Percée
· 9 min. read
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Summer has finally arrived, and with that comes my favourite thing: impromptu Saskatchewan road trips!
The first place on my list to visit this summer was Roche Percée. I first heard of Roche Percée on Instagram where I saw a picture of unique rock formations. Normally rock formations like this are in Alberta, closer to Drumheller, so I was surprised to find them in my own backyard. I did a quick search online to see where they were, and I learned they were only about 2 hours south of Regina, just past Estevan.
"Roche Percée" is French for "pierced rock" and is named after these unique rock formations. Upon visiting them, you can see the rocks very much do look like they've been pierced by some divine entity. Due to their appearance, these rocks were regarded by local First Nation tribes as being sacred, and they often carved symbols into the malleable sandstone.
As this area is so close to the US border, both British and American surveyors frequented the area before the March West arrived in 1874. One of the more famous visitors that passed through these parts ? and is said to have carved his name into the stone ? is General Custer and his 7th Cavalry.
Local legend is that while surveying the land, one of the explorers and a guide were caught in a freak thunderstorm and hid in the nearby caves. While hiding, the explorer saw lightning strike the opposite side of the valley and witnessed red veins glow in the ground nearby. He realized that this area was full of coal. He then passed on this information to the North-West Mounted Police, and they would set up their first camp here in 1874, called Short Creek Camp. Two decades later the first coal mines became operational.
Due to the actions of General Custer, many surveyors, explorers, the NWMP and decades of countless teens, lovers, graduates and adults, the walls in this area are etched with signatures. It's almost impossible to see the original First Nations writing, but you can see many dating back to the early 1900s.
While mankind is responsible for the damage to the area, they didn't act alone. The stones are made of sandstone, so centuries of wind and rain have torn layers of sediment away. In 1922 the area was hit by a massive thunderstorm and a stone outcropping near the road ? said to contain most of the original First Nation inscriptions ? was stuck by lightening and shattered.
I had some difficulty finding Roche Percée when I first arrived in the valley, so if you're anything like me, you'll probably need some guidance too. On your way into the valley you're going to cross some train tracks. From there, follow the paved road all the way through Lower Roche Percée, staying on the left. You will then slowly start to ascent back up a hill and you will see a white obelisk. If you see that, you've gone just a touch too far, so turn around and go about 150 meters to the main gate. You can park on the grass.
Once you walk up to the rocks, you will find various roads that trail off into different directions. Some of them have been maintained, while others vanish into the bush. Your best bet would be to walk right, towards the white obelisk, and then down.
The area where you first entered Roche Percée is one of the most accessible points, but if you don't mind hiking down a couple paths, you can get into a more extensive ? although less open ? rocky area. Here you will find a few cave networks. From the research I've done, the First Nations people believed these caves are home to "rugeroos"; evil spirits that take the shape of coyotes or other furry beasts. Stories say these spirits will hurt you if you do not leave them alone. Other reports state that when visiting them at night, you can often see their red or yellow eyes peering at you from within the caves.
I visited in the daytime, and had no experiences, but both Sask Hauntings, Prairie Spectres, PAST Saskatchewan and the locals I've talked to said the area is very active.
Two locals arrived a few minutes after I arrived, and they told me that along with these rocks, there are others on the opposite side of the valley, and they are additional ? and relatively untouched ? stones just down the river. They told me those stones were more impressive, but they were only accessible by canoe.
As with any time spending any time outside in the summer, be sure to check yourself for ticks after getting home. I checked myself in a washroom in Estevan and found a tick crawling through my hair. Yuck!
For those who don't follow me on Facebook, here is a quick video I made about my time out in the rocks, and what I saw inside the caves:
If you're looking for other stone formations, on your way back towards Estevan, on your right, will be acres of grey, stone hills. The shape of these rocks does not appear to be natural, but the reservoir they surround does, as you can still see the lines of sediment on the nearby edges. I posted a picture of this area on social media and was told this area is a "coal tailing field". Since I have limited mining knowledge, I had to look up what that was.
Apparently, this area is where they put material that has been separated from coal, which includes chemicals, salt, extra rock and extra waste. They then reuse this water for mining, so to prevent the usage of clean water. Mining operations like this recycle 85-90% of their water.
I was a little disappointed to learn it was just a mining field and not a natural geological formation, but they say within 30-40 years the tailing field is often reclaimed by nature. Also, mining is a huge industry in this part of the province, so as dystopian as it may look, I'm glad it will be reclaimed, and that it's supporting families.
I really enjoyed my day around the Estevan area, so if you're from that part of the province, or if you visit it often, what should I go see next? Did I miss anything at Roche Percée? Should I go back at night? Let me know in the comments below!
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Categories: Canada, History, Regina, Saskatchewan