Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park – part one   11 comments

Posted at 4:57 pm in Uncategorized

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.

Written by bev on November 3rd, 2009