Friday, June 06, 2008

Dry Island Buffalo Jump

The Chaparral

As I dodged another pothole on a road made up of potholes, I made a mental note to take a different road on my way home. I had been meaning to get on up to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park located in the Red Deer River badlands near the towns of Huxley and Tolman about 180 kilometers northeast of Calgary for some time. For whatever reason it just didn't seem to happen. This morning the lighting was looking good for a photo that I had in mind that had me travelling north on Highway 9 and upon finishing with that, I decided to continue north up to Dry Island Buffalo Jump.
The potholes were due to the fact that the road between Beiseker and highway 21 was under construction as I found myself down to 50kph and wishing that I had gone straight up through Acme from Beiseker then over to highway 21. I would do that on the reverse.
Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park is a natural reserve of forest, canyon and mesas covered in Buffalo grass, the original covering of the Great Plains of North America. Across the open prairie on the road to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, the first glimpse of the Red Deer River Valley and its extensive badlands comes as a jolt with the ridge of the canyon dropping 200 meters to the river.At the heart of Canada's most extensive dinosaur fossil fields and with one of the highest and most dramatic bison jump sites in the province of Alberta, this is a place worth discovering. On the west side of the park is the forty-five meter high cliff face that still holds bone fragments from ancient Native buffalo hunts. Pottery fragments, Indian graves and fire pits have been found at the bottom of the jump where Native hunters drove the buffalo over the cliffs to their death. These items indicate that “the jump” was a ceremonial ground for at least one tribe. Long ago, buffalo and wild horses roamed the canyon. Now, there are 452 flowering plant species, 22 different types of mammals and 150 transient or nesting bird groups such as golden eagles and short-eared owls. Long eared and small-footed bats live in caves that line the canyon. Mule deer and badger graze here all year long.

I passed the hamlet of Huxley located just off of highway 21 and watched for the turn onto the secondary road that takes you east for 20 kilometers to the park located in the Red Deer river badlands. I was surprised upon making the turn off highway 21 to find myself on a paved road as the last time I was out this way (years ago) the road was gravel. I was within a few kilometers of the river when something caught my eye in a field on the south side of the road. I travelled another few hundred meters as a picture of a badger formed in my mind. I came to a stop and backed up for a better look. Sure enough, a badger was holding tight by his den hoping that I had not spotted him. Everything was against me for a decent photo including the back lighting and the badgers distance from the road. Still, I was happy to have got a photo of the badger. After I finished with captures of the badger it was a short distance before I came up on the ridge of the canyon that drops two hundred meters to the river. I pulled over and glassed the canyon before dropping down into it via the twisting trail that follows a coulee down through the badlands. I appeared to be the only visitor in the park, of course why wouldn't I be at 7:30am which is early for most folks but if your looking for nice light as I was, it was late in the day by my standards. I took advantage of the fact and left my truck parked on this narrow trail while I went about shooting photos of cactus, flowers, interesting formations, sage brush, bunch grasses, as well as cliff swallow nests suspended from the cliffs along the ridges. Silver berry, buffalo berry, buckbrush, wildrose, pin cherry, willows, hawthorn and cinqufoil shrubs grow throughout the canyon and is a haven for the birds whose songs I could hear in all directions on this beautiful morning with not a breath of wind to spoil it.
The park also contains the most important Albertosaurus bone bed in the world, which was first discovered by Barnum Brown around the turn of the twentieth century. The Red Deer River twists its way, like a ribbon, through the bottom of the picturesque valley. It is a sight to behold. I shot a lot of photos during the time that I spent wandering around this valley and plan on returning again soon. Now its time that I head over to Trochu for lunch at a neat little eatery that I discovered there several years back. So on that note, do plan on visiting Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park soon. See you there.

This view of the Red Deer river and the surrounding badlands would not be unlike the view seen by fur trader Peter Fidler in 1792 accompanied by fellow Hudson Bay Company employee John Ward and a group of Peigan natives, making their way from the company's new trading post of Buckingham House on the North Saskatchewan River, through what is now central Alberta all the way to the foot of the Rocky Mountains in the southwest.

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