Friday, June 27, 2008

75 Million Years Ago

Sunrise near Bassano on highway 1

It seemed like I'd been tossing and turning most of the night, so with one last look at my bedside clock which was pegged at 4:00 a.m., I rolled out of bed and by 4:30 I was rolling down highway 1 near Strathmore on my way east. The sky was looking good with just a hint of dawn visible on the eastern horizon as I hurtled east on the all but deserted highway. My truck thermometer was indicating 9 Celsius with the promise of a beautiful day ahead according to the forecast I had just received on the weather band of my radio from Environment Canada. With my GPS set for 1.2 kilometers, I had a birds eye view of my surroundings and all was well as I thought about the photos that I hoped to capture on this day. Oh-did I forget to mention that I was headed up to Dinosaur Provincial Park located north and east of Brooks in the badlands that border the Red Deer river. Some of the most extensive dinosaur fossil fields in the world are found here; the area badlands & cottonwood river habitat are the other significant features that resulted in the park's designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. I first discovered this park at about that time and have been back many times since. Over the years I have enjoyed camping at the bottom of this canyon amongst the Hoodoos, one of the most distinct landscapes that I have visited in Alberta. I watched the sun rise over the horizon as I neared Bassano and pulled over to shoot several captures as a matter of habit that is hard to break when I witness the beginning of another day. There are a number of roads that lead up to DPP including the official approach north from Brooks. However over the years I have cut across from Bassano through to Rosemary then across highway 36 and along the various back roads that bring you in to DPP from the west. This is in theory a shorter route however with all the turns to be made on to the different back roads, its easy to get temporarily lost and have to backtrack although that's part of the enjoyment of getting there. Today I was hoping to run in to some Pronghorn Antelope along the way and knew that my best hope for that would be if I proceeded east of Brooks a ways into the grasslands that Antelope are found in. I have a friend that goes down to Medicine Hat every week-end and he had told me that he sees Antelope around Tilly almost every week-end.
For some reason I decided to turn north at Brooks instead and was glad I did as I spotted a herd of Plains Bison about 40 kilometers north of Brooks and just out of Patricia a ways that were grazing near the road. Hard to imagine that at one time not that long ago they were wide-spread across the prairies. As I covered the last 10 kilometers across the open grasslands on the bench bordering the badlands on the Red Deer river, signs posted asked that you watch for rattlesnakes on the road and not to run over them. Now if that sounds strange to you that rattlesnakes would be on the roadway, its due to the fact that the heat of the day that warms the blacktop is very appealing to the cold blooded rattlesnakes who love to bask in the sun curled up on the road. I lived in rattlesnake country in Southern Saskatchewan bordering on Montana where while travelling into Montana during the summer heat with the temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you would see rattlesnakes every other mile and many of them were run over. So remember to not run over the rattlesnakes if you find yourself in rattlesnake country as they are a endangered species. I have shot photos of them from time to time while in DPP where they are easily found on a hot summer day. I arrived at the rim of DPP coming up on 7 a.m. and upon getting out of my truck I found the views looking across DPP stunning on a morning with not a breath of wind as the sun hovered over the eastern horizon. I grabbed my camera gear and dropped down below the rim shooting captures in all directions in wild abandonment. I also found that the flowers on the Prickly Pear cactus were not quite open although I got a few captures of flowers where the cactus grew in sheltered areas with a southern exposure. Another week will find the cactus flowers in full bloom. Still many other species of flowers were stunning in the early morning light. Finally I made the walk back to my truck and drove down the twisting road into DPP where I found little activity in the campground as I passed the many camping units sandwiched in between the Red Deer river and Little Sandhill creek. Crossing over the creek took me on a drive along a looping 3 kilometer drive through the badlands where I made many stops for photographs. I also shot several photos of John Ware's log cabin that was relocated here from north of Duchess where he ranched at the turn of the last century before Alberta was a province. John Ware an African-American born into slavery in the Carolina's came up to Alberta on a cattle drive in 1882. John rose to fame in the Canadian west due to his exceptional talents as a cowboy and won the hearts of many with his amiable nature. He is buried in the Union cemetery in Calgary. I added to my collection of photos that I have on DPP around every corner with other captures that I desired but the lighting was wrong on this day. I vowed to return in August when a group of us will be camping at Lake Newell south of Brooks. I will be able to make the drive up to DPP in under a hour, being that DPP is approximately a 60 kilometer drive north of Lake Newell. I parked my truck at the trail head for the Badlands Trail that borders the preserve ( off limits to you and I unless on a guided tour arranged at the visitors center) and enjoyed this short meandering trail that takes you amongst interesting formations where I got captures of mule deer that were bedded down for the day, as well as those very interesting Rock Wrens that are a natural part of the Badlands. I also got captures of Mountain Bluebirds unexpected to some bird watchers not knowing that this is also prime habitat for them. I also saw a Say's Phoebe that stayed just out of camera range although I did get captures of Eastern Kingbirds that were in abundance. Back at my truck I crossed back over little Sandhill creek with its many Cliff Swallow nests built in the supports under the bridge from mud collected from along the creek by the Cliff Swallows that were coming and going with young ones in the nest to feed. I stopped at the visitors center that has recently been rebuilt inside with new displays and worth the visit. This is also where you arrange for tours to the preserve to visit some of the interesting bone beds that reside there. Throughout the summer there are digs going on within DPP that are sometimes led by Dr Philip Currie - curator of the Tyrell museum in Drumheller. The visitors center staff were kind enough to allow me to shoot photos of the various displays before I departed for home. I still wanted photos of Pronghorn Antelope and had one chance left to see them on the way back to Calgary. I stopped at the crossroads South of DPP and made the decision to drive the 25 kilometers down to Tilly on the chance that I may see antelope in the grasslands that this backroad travels through. Things picked up right away as I got captures of a mule deer buck with his rack in velvet and just about the time my GPS was indicating that Tilly and highway 1 was just ahead, I spotted 4 antelope grazing within reasonable camera range. The antelope stood and starred at me as I stood in the open doorway of my truck shooting over a sandbag on the roof. With these last captures of Pronghorn Antelope safely residing on CF cards I drove the last few kilometers to highway 1 where I stopped in a rest area just off of the highway. Pulling out my tea set I brewed a cup of my favorite tea "Goddess Of Mercy" for the trip home. Back in my truck with the cruise control set, I pointed my truck west towards the Rockies as I enjoyed a most enjoyable cup of freshly brewed tea.

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