A Good and Disasterous Journey

Grasslands National Park is a little known park in southern Saskatchewan. It sounds dull, flat, and lifeless, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, in the last hour of driving before we got to the park, we must have seen 50 deer. Unfortunately the 51st decided to sprint directly at our car at a break neck speed – literally. We were a little shaken, our passenger side door was quite dented, and the deer was dead. There was really nothing to do but carry on to the hotel.

Well, not really a hotel – more of a hostel / bed and breakfast / very interesting place to stay. We stayed at the convent. It’s an old school that has been renovated into a “country inn” which has 9 (I believe) guest rooms, a library, a study, a chapel, and a dining room. None of the guest rooms has a bathroom, but they all have sinks and there are 3 bathrooms across 2 floors. The outside looks like an old two story schoolhouse, and the inside still has all the wood floors and cabinets. Our room was very bright and airy, and at night when we had the whole building to ourselves, got a little spooky. But we slept very well on comfortable beds, ate wonderful food prepared by our hosts, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

I am a nature photographer, and as a nature photographer, I often say that the worst weather is the best weather for shooting. I knew it was going to rain the weekend we were there, and I was pretty excited about that. The first day it didn’t rain. We didn’t see the sun. There was no sunrise and no sunset. The clouds were a uniform dull gray. This was slightly disappointing, but nevertheless, I ventured forth and spent my day photographing the park. In fact, I really enjoyed it. I never saw one person the whole day, but had plenty of company in the form of mule deer, whitetail deer, prairie dogs, bison, coyotes, and a plethora of birds. One of my friends generously lent me his Nikon D700 and some amazing lenses for our trip, so I enjoyed using some very capable gear to capture the amazing surroundings and the dull light.

The next day it rained. Normally I like rain, but this slushy rain made the park inaccessible. The roads were too muddy, and we almost got stuck trying to get into the park. Luckily, southern Saskatchewan has other attractions for the foiled photographer. We went to a nearby ghost town, and took pictures of old abandoned buildings.

We got off to a bit of a late start for the drive home. We got chatting with our hosts, Robert and Mette, which made it hard to leave quickly, but the promised storm was blowing in and we wanted to be on our way before it got bad. The drive home began with a very nice photo ingredient – fog. There was a little rain, a little snow, but mostly it was foggy. This precipitated a surprisingly beautiful stop in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park, which I now really want to go back to. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long, so after a bit of exploring we headed back to Edmonton. Little did we know we were heading into a blizzard.

I don’t have pictures of this part. I wanted to get them, but there was 10 inches of slushy wet snow everywhere except the tracks we were driving in, so I couldn’t pull off to the side of the road. I almost got stuck going in the gas station parking lot trying to get gas. It was a stressful drive to say the least. At last we got through the storm into sunny Alberta, and after a few more short stops we were having supper in Camrose. With an hour left to drive, we were reminiscing about the amazing success we’d been able to pull out of this disaster known as our working vacation. I had just said something to the effect of “If another deer jumps out in front of us…” while shaking my fist, when a moose walked into the road. Leisurely. I came to a rolling stop about four feet from her, before she realized that maybe moving would be an good idea. Well, at least it finally settled the debate we’d been having about stopping distance – it turns out you can stop in the distance illuminated by high beams.

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