Archive for November, 2009
In my last post, I wrote about the incredible hoodoo formations at Writing-on-Stone. As if the geology weren’t enough, the park exists to preserve countless petroglyphs and pictograms created by native peoples of the plains over an extended time.
The lands on which Writing-on-Stone lie, have long been considered sacred to the Blackfoot people. Evolving styles of rock art indicate that people have been coming to this place for many hundreds, if not thousands of years. Cliffs within the park have been carved or painted with images of animals, humans and others of spiritual significance. As in the above two photos (click on all photos for larger views), animals are portrayed in various styles ranging from almost sticklike, to highly naturalistic. Some have heart-lines as seen in the animal depictions of plains and other peoples throughout the continent.
Depictions of humans also appear frequently, often carrying large shields, as in the above photo. In addition to technical methods, figures can often be dated by their style and also the presence of certain objects. Figures bearing large shields would be from an older time before horses as such shields were too unwieldy to carry when mounted. The appearance of horses dates those images to the post contact period.
In this detail of the famous “battle scene” petroglyph, a row of rifles firing shots can be seen to the right. This petroglyph is accessible on the hoodoo trail – now contained within a large “cage” built to protect it from vandalism. Unfortunately, vandalism has been a major problem at Writing-on-Stone since well before its designation as a protected area. In places, the cliffs are heavily inscribed with names, dates, words and images created by visitors in recent decades. Now, the larger part of the park is within a protected area which may only be visited during guided tours.
The above image is one that, for some time, was considered questionable. Was it created by a native artist, or a non-native visitor. The leader of the tour related how, in recent years, it was discovered that this depiction of an automobile was created in 1924 by the Piegan elder, Bird Rattle, during a road trip with Roland Willcomb, who kept notes and photos of this event.
The little Mule deer buck who kept prancing into our campsite – described in my last post
I did go on one of the guided tours at Writing-on-Stone. The tours last about two hours and it’s time well spent. It turned out that the guide on my tour was from eastern Ontario (my own home base), and at the end of the tour, as we were arriving back at the visitor center, she commented over the intercom, “I have a warning for the woman from Ontario. Once you come to the west, you won’t want to go back. That’s what happened to me and I’m still here.” I laughed as I have felt that pull to the west for many years. However, it’s been balanced by a similar pull by Nova Scotia which lies to the east. During my travels, I’ve spoken to quite a number of people – many park rangers, other travelers, people who work in parks and museums. So often, people will say to me, “Oh, I wish I were coming along with you!”. Or, they’ll tell me of how they would like to leave the area they’re working and go someplace else – to the desert, to the redwoods, to the ocean. While I was camped at Pukaskwa for a week, I read John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and he wrote of this phenomenon. Wherever he went, people would tell him they wished they were traveling and could come along with him. It seems that it’s in our nature to want to be “going somewhere” even if it’s only to imagine what it would be like someplace else.
Well, as I write this, I’m still on the road. It’s another two weeks or so until I will be taking up winter residence in Bisbee, Arizona. In the time between leaving Writing-on-Stone in southeast Alberta, and where I am now (Brookings, Oregon), I have made what now seems an epic journey through Washington, Oregon, California and back into Oregon. I’ll write more about those travels soon. I keep thinking I’ll have more time to write and put up posts, but that time never seems to materialize when I’m on the road. I guess there’s just too much to do and finding time to sit at the computer doesn’t seem to happen all that often. Soon I should have a little more time.
Due to high winds, my stay at Grasslands National Park was cut short. After leaving the park, I headed west on secondary highways leading in the direction of Cypress Hills interprovincial park. However, the winds increased to the point that I was battling to keep the van tracking in a straight path. After an hour of driving, I abandoned that plan and considered what to do as I’d need a place to stay that evening. At Medicine Hat, I called the information number for Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park to ensure that the campground would be open. After restocking our food supplies, I drove further west and then south to the park which lies in the southeast corner or Alberta, along the Milk River just north of the Montana border.
The drive down to the park was different than the previous day’s trip to Grasslands National Park. Here, the farmland seemed quite productive – much of it being irrigated between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Enroute, in one of the river valleys, I noticed signs asking motorists to watch for and avoid hitting rattlesnakes. The same little valley cradled a small wetland area with signage about the species of birds that could be found there throughout the season. Further along, as described in my last post, I saw the first of several bands of Pronghorns. The bucks were herding their bands of does through recently harvested grain fields. One buck chased his small band across the highway just in front of me so that I had to stop (no inconvenience as far as I was concerned). He and the does seemed entirely oblivious to the danger of an oncoming vehicle as they dashed breakneck across the road.
Spotting a sign stating that the park was just a little further on, I marveled at how it is that you can be driving through gently rolling prairies only to find yourself dropping down into a river coulee where the geology, flora and fauna are so different as to seem as though you’re on another world. That is the case at Writing-on-Stone.
Soon, we were winding down the short switchback lane leading through a hoodoo field to a canopy of tall cottonwoods towering over the campground which lies in a loop of the meandering Milk River. The landscape is unlike almost anything I’ve ever seen, although there were echoes of places I’ve been when traveling through southern Utah and the John Day Fossil Beds region of central Oregon.
The river valley seemed entirely sheltered from the winds blowing across the prairies above. Immediately, I felt relief at having found a place of safe shelter where we could rest for a few days before continuing westward.
We remained at Writing-on-Stone for five nights. During that time, the dogs and I hiked the hoodoo trails as far as the “battle scene” petroglyph (more about the petroglyphs and pictograms for which this park is known coming up in my next post).
The hoodoo trail leads off from one end of the campground. It’s rugged enough that it would not be accessible for anyone who can’t easily clamber up and down both natural and manmade steps hewn from the rock.
In a few spots, I had to give Sabrina a boost up taller steps, but for most of our walks she was able to manage or even lead Sage through places where the rocks seemed to squeeze the trail. I’m glad we arrived fairly late in the season as there seemed to be no rattlesnakes about. I soon realized that, had we visited even a couple of weeks sooner, I would have had to be much more vigilant about snakes as Sage seemed to be attracted to the clattering sound of locust wings. I can only imagine how she might react to the sound of a snake’s warning rattle. It’s a concern I’ll have if I revisit both Writing-on-Stone and Grasslands on my way eastward in the spring.
Although it was late in the season, there were many birds along the section of the hoodoo trail where it follows river. I’m certain it would be a terrific place to do some birding from spring through autumn. The Mule deer around the campground made themselves unusually conspicuous. One doe with two fawns kept wandering into our campsite. She would appear while I was cooking at the picnic table and whenever I took the dogs for a walk. She was pushy enough that the dogs became wary of her. Also, one young buck came skipping into the campsite waving his little spike antlers. We met him on the trail to the visitor center a couple of times. On a couple of nights, we were serenaded by coyote.
Well, I am postng this from a parking lot in California – no proofreading or editing. My apologies for glitches and poor editiing. Lots to write about when I have time to catch up.