Friday, 6 February 2009

Writing on Stone Provincial Park

This amazing place is in the Milk River valley on the border between Alberta and Montana. This part of the river is in Alberta, but the hills in the background are the Sweetgrass Hills, across the line in Montana.
We stumbled on Writing on Stone park for the first time during a short prairie trip in late summer of 1998.
We had been to Waterton National Park. Some of you may know it as the Northern part of Glacier National Park. Grizzly bears don't care that the 49th parallel forms the border between two nations. Many people on both sides don't care much either and cross merrily back and forth, though that changed after you-know-which date. But we digress.
Our destination was the intriguing Cypress Hills on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Seeing a provincial park on the map we decided to take a peek, it was on the way.
As always we choose the road less traveled, the Soutern-most route. It is a dusty lonely road through largely deserted ranchland. Signs of rural decline abound. Originally this was shortgrass prairie. This land is a more intimidating sort of wilderness than the woods and mountains we are used to. In our part of B.C. water is plentiful, and anyone with a few tools would find the raw materials for shelter.
On the bald open prairy water is scarce and there is little shade or shelter from the wind. Travelers get the full blast of whatever Mother Nature wants to dish out. On this late August day that was blazing heat. We had no air conditioning and the car was swelteringly hot.We had left the mountain views behind and were traveling through an almost empty landscape on a road that was barely on the map, roughly skirting the river and the border. This picture was taken elsewhere in the Palliser region on a later trip, but it gives a good idea.
Finally we came to the town of Milk River and from there we could see, to our surprise, the far silhouette of a mountain. We didn't know of any ranges between the Rockies and the ancient Cypress Hills.
The Sweetgrass Hills are just across the border in Montana and liven up the skyline for a huge portion of Southern Alberta.
We got to Writing on Stone around 2 PM, and found an oasis of sweet cool shade among huge cottonwood trees. That was it, we were done traveling for the day! There was even a nice sandy beach where local people came to swim, or rather frolick, in the lukewarm river. Chris stayed in the shade by the tent while I had a blast playing in the current. Alas, I was recovering from a broken ankle that year and couldn't take part in the guided tour of the petroglyphs. We did take a short self-guided tour.
What I most remember is the berries. I am pretty sure they are Buffalo Berries, but I am not sure. They grow on thorny silvery bushes, taste tart, and give you an amazing uplift that goes far beyond a bit of quenched thirst. I wondered if they are Canada's version of the Goji berry.
You don't have to be a medium to feel the spirits of those who lived here in this sacred place.

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