Prairie in the Mountains

That is the meaning of “Ya Ha Tinda”, Parks Canada’s ranch where they raise and train all the horses they use for backcountry travel. Besides a relatively small fenced area, the ranch is open to the public and there is a free campground which is usually filled with horses, horse trailers, and a few people. This is a beautiful area of open grassland spotted with trees, full of wildlife, and surrounded by mountains. There is a spectacular waterfall a short walk from the campground where the river cuts through the prairie creating a canyon.

Quick Pics Between Trips

Editing photos right after a trip has always been a challenge for me. I find it hard to judge whether my photos are good or not because I’m usually judging my memory of the place rather than the photo. After a few months I find I can be more objective. But a few months is a long time to wait for photos. Sometimes whole trips get forgotten.

So here’s me trying to do quick edits. I still gave myself a few days, but I wanted to get these up before I leave on my next trip (actually in a few hours) and this last one is forgotten. These are from just east of Jasper National Park.

Anna in Ogre Canyon near Brule

Icicles hanging from a cutaway

Spruce trees near Cadomin

Evening light on the river

An old abandoned railway

Morning Light

Mornings are generally not for me. I’d rather sleep in, drink coffee while wearing slippers, and generally ease into the day. But when I’m out camping, something magical happens in the morning. It’s a time when the world is refreshed. This was taken this last weekend near Hinton. It was cold and it was windy and it was 6 in the morning. But it was also an amazing start to the day.


Today’s post is dedicated to the life on the prairies: pictures of an old seed cleaning plant, the interior of a wooden grain elevator, some gears from a threshing machine, an abandoned town, and an old radar dome which is a relic from the cold war.

A road trip with Jason is a departure from my normal weekend hike, and brings with it photos I wouldn’t otherwise have taken. It was a great trip through some of my favorite landscapes (eastern Alberta is much more hilly than one would think). But rather than exploring the landscape, we went to all the places between the landscapes – the ghost towns. I’d never been inside an elevator before, not to mention an abandoned radar station. Some people think I’m crazy for hiking alone, but exploring structurally questionable buildings seems much more dangerous to me. It was pretty fascinating though.

Seed cleaning plant:

Threshing machine gears:

An old car on the prairies:

House: destroyed but still standing

Grain elevator interior:

Hah, I snuck in a landscape anyway.

Rusty razor wire – how friendly

The radar dome at Alsask:

New Thoughts on Old Photos

A couple days ago I was cleaning up my library of photos and came across a couple photos that I haven’t seen in a long time. For some reason I had originally rated them quite low and they were lost in the depths of my computer until I stumbled on them again today.

The first is from my Yellowstone trip of 2007. There seems to be some sort of interesting complimentary / reflective thing going on here. The yellow reeds are almost exactly mirroring the trees and mountain, and the water contrasts the sky – the tones are almost reversed while the colors are complimentary. Anyway, it caught my eye, and after staring at it for a while I do believe I like it.

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The second is just from last year in Jasper, but it got lost in the shuffle of more bold and colorful pictures (or maybe dark and brooding, I occasionally gravitate towards that). This one has a more quiet feel but still has a lot going on.

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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.

Winter Roadtrip in the Prairies

Prairies are incredible. They’re more subtle than most landscapes, but they convey such a sense of freedom that they keep drawing me back. Last weekend I went on a roadtrip to south eastern Alberta. There were a number of places I was interested in seeing. Among them were Dinosaur Provincial Park, Red Rock Coulee, some sand dunes south of Wainwright, and a bunch of dried out salt lakes. Due to some unforseen vehicle trouble, I didn’t get to them all, but it was an amazing roadtrip none the less.

I took the scenic route on the way down from Edmonton. In this case that means almost random highways, secondary roads, and a fair number of gravel roads thrown in. The gravel roads are where you get to see the interesting stuff. You’re going slow enough that you can stop if you see something interesting and no one will mind if you’re stopped on the side of the road. In fact, probably no one will drive by. The day I drove down the weather was pretty bad. It was fog and freezing rain for much of the way, and gravel is less slippery than highways anyway in this case.

What people generally consider bad weather makes for great pictures though, so I stopped at an old farm to take some pictures.

I was heading roughly in the direction of Drumheller and Dinosaur Provincial Park, and I had been looking around google maps for interesting places to stop on the way down. Sullivan Lake, east of Endiang, looked quite interesting, so, not really knowing the area, I drove as close as I could along one gravel road. The landscape was pretty interesting – it looked like the lakebed was pretty much dry, but I never got close enough to know for sure. There were lots of interesting hills surrounding the lake, and cattle were grazing in the area. I got out and hiked around for a bit. The cattle were interested in me, but seemed pretty scared of me. I mooed at them for a while, and they got quite curious. They slowly came closer and closer. When they started to encircle me, I got a little nervous, and headed back towards the car. Even if cows aren’t mean (and some of them are), stampeding cattle is just a bad thing all around, and something I definitely wanted to avoid being in the middle of.

Next I headed down towards Chain Lakes, which are a series of smaller alkali lakes.

Being December in Canada, it gets dark pretty early, and if I wanted to still see the Red Deer River valley I had to get going. I headed down towards Drumheller, stopped there for gas, and kept going down highway 10, which winds its way down the valley. This is a beautiful drive, and highly recommended. It continues as the 570, and eventually comes up out of the valley at Dorothy, a little hamlet that still has a standing wooden grain elevator. It looks pretty rickety though, and I don’t know how much longer it will be standing.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is actually quite a bit downstream from Drumheller. For some reason I thought they were pretty close, but this is not exactly the case. From the 570 I headed down the 36 to Brooks where I had supper and filled up. This was fairly late on a Sunday night, so everything in Duchess was closed. By this time I needed to start looking for a good place to sleep. Picking a place to sleep in a car is harder than it might sound. Theoretically you could park anywhere and sleep. However, there are a number of conditions that make it a little more complicated. First of all, you want to make sure you’re not blocking any driveway that someone is going to need to use at 5 in the morning. Second, you want a place to park that is not in a parking lot where people are either going to be driving or walking by. I don’t have tinted windows in my car, and I don’t want to either weird people out (I think sleeping in a car is generally considered to be weird) or be disturbed during the night. Despite precautions against these, its pretty much impossible to find a perfect place. Often I’ve had hunters or snowplows driving by early in the morning (in the case of snowplows they’re pretty loud and can give you a bit of a scare first thing in the morning). So around 8 I started looking for a good place. I also wanted it to be pretty close to the park, so I could photograph with the early morning light. Complicating things was a heavy snowfall warning and almost bald tires on my car. I found a driveway into a farmer’s field off of a gravel road that wasn’t to close to any farmhouse that did pretty well. I got a good 7 hours of sleep wrapped in a couple of sleeping bags. It went down to -13 C, so I woke up in the morning fairly cold. I started the car to get some heat going, and the car was rattling quite a bit. This was a little worrysome, as I was miles from any town and 6 hours from home. Interrupting my worries, the car lurched a bit. Strange, I was in neutral. Well, I tried putting the clutch in, and miraculously the rattling stopped. Uh oh, that means it’s my transmission. Well, I was about a 10 minute drive from the park, so that didn’t make much of a difference to whether I could get home or not. So I drove out to Dinosaur Provincial Park, and that went quite well. The car seemed to work fine. Maybe if I just avoided letting the clutch out while in neutral I’d be ok. I got to Dinosaur Provincial Park, and I was the only person there. It was first thing Monday morning, with fresh snow on the ground. Simply beautiful. I hiked around for quite a few hours, thoroughly enjoying myself.

OK, that’s probably enough pictures. Despite quite a bit of cloud cover, you can see it was amazing. There were cat tracks everywhere, and I’m curious what kind of cats frequent the park. They didn’t look big enough to be a cougar or anything – just slightly larger than housecat tracks. There were also rabbit, and many small rodent tracks. Fresh snow is cool. I never saw any animals though, despite all the tracks.

After getting back to the car, I decided to cut my roadtrip short. I had a couple energy bars for lunch, finished the can of cold chili I had for breakfast, and started the car. Good so far. I was really sorry to miss Red Rock Coulee, but really happy with what I did get to see. I drove north, along the icy highway 36, and all was well. Suddenly the engine revved, and the car started slowing down. That’s not good. I tried fourth gear. Ok, good. That was still catching. Back into fifth. It went in easily enough, but there’s nothing there. I had no fifth gear. Well, back into fourth gear.

I drove the whole way home in fourth gear at around 100km/hour. Yeah, that’s what the speed limit is, but everyone else was going so much faster and I held up quite a bit of traffic. I ended up taking a lot of gravel on the way home to avoid fast traffic, which ended up being good because the highways were icy and it was snowing too.

I got home, ate a bunch of warm food, had a warm shower, and fealt like going out on another road trip.