Bad Lands, Good Dog

Early this week, we spent three days camping at Dinosaur Provincial Park, in an area known as the Alberta Badlands. It reminds me a lot of some of the desert places we’ve travelled in winter, which I think is why T and Nollind like it so much. Unusual rocks, dry-land shrubs, cactus and other spiny plants, all feel a little like home to us part-time desert dwellers. And after three winters of not travelling to places south, we soaked it all up.

Soaking up the desert-like landscape.

It didn’t feel very desert-esque when we first arrived. There were a lot of puddles in the campground, and the air was damp and cool. Perfect, really. At this stage of my life, the latter part, I do appreciate cool, but not cold, weather. I’ve become a bit of a Goldilocks when it comes to temperature, needing it to be just right.

An indoor game of crib on the chilly first evening.

The puddles persisted in the clay soil, but the trails soon dried and we were off hiking on Monday morning to the Cottonwood Flats Trail along the Red Deer River. We tried to walk this same trail a few years back when we camped at Dinosaur, but the mosquitoes were terrible and had us keeping to the drier areas of the park. This year, a month earlier than that trip, no mosquitoes, no flies, and no sign of the snakes that inhabit this part of Alberta. Too cool for them yet I imagine. It’s the same in Arizona. The snakes are hibernating when we visit. In five winters we’ve only seen two snakes, and both were too cold and slow to be of concern.

A geocache along the Cottonwood Trail.

Each day at the park, we walked in the morning and again in the evening, because it’s coolest then and because the trails are all quite short. Just right for a 12-year-old dog who doesn’t have quite the same stamina for climbing as in my youth, and as I mentioned earlier, lacks temperature tolerance (aka Goldilocks syndrome).

A sizeable portion of Dinosaur Provincial Park is closed to the public unless you join a park-organized tour (currently not offered because of the pandemic). Being a Unesco World Heritage Site, the goal is to preserve. No offense, readers, but you humans are hard on natural spaces. The publicly accessible part of the park is easily explored on foot or paw over a few days, and we did just that, walking all the designated trails and even venturing off-track one evening, seeking a good place for sunset viewing. (If you like evening shots, check out T’s photos on her Instagram account @teresavanbryce).

Hiking the Badlands Trail.

Wednesday morning was our final walk, and T ambitiously planned the Badlands Loop, a hike across the hills to the Cottonwood Trailhead, and then back to camp via that trail. I, on the other hand, after two days of many walks and a bunch of hill climbing, was planning a nice nap in the shade on a warm morning. We compromised, completing the Badlands Loop (good boy, Chico!) and returning to camp for that spot in the shade (good girl, T!).

Back at camp.

We got home mid-afternoon Wednesday, and I helped unpack by following the peeps to and from the trailer, supervising the process. It was a quick job this time. After only two days at home, we’re headed out again tomorrow, so we left some things in Simon for the next adventure. I hear we’re southbound this time, and I’ll tell you all about it in a week or two.

In the meantime, as my G-Ma used to say, “Don’t hurry, don’t worry, and don’t forget to smell … well, everything!” (Sorry, G-Ma. I changed the ending a little.)

My favourite way to explore … with my nose.

Straight A’s

I hardly know where to start. What an awesome trip! And you know that my censor doesn’t let me use that word lightly, as is the habit of today. So, just this once, I’ll use it again—Awesome Autumn Alberta Adventure.

Maybe it was because we’ve spent so much time at home this year, or perhaps because fall was lingering and colourful well into October, or maybe just that we landed in four really terrific camp spots. Whatever the reason, the fall tour was a grand success.

One of many autumn trails.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, we kicked off the trip with three days at Sibbald Lake with friends G and S and their trusty sidekick Ria. Games, walks, laughs, wine, and food are common themes when this group gets together, walks and food being my favourites from the list.

Checking out the Escape treat dispenser.

Neither Ria nor I get the excitement with throwing golf balls attached to strings at ladders made of pvc pipe, but, hey, humans do a lot of things we dogs don’t understand. And likely vice versa. Different strokes for different species I always say.

The final night at Sibbald was the first sign of what was to come in terms of weather, when it got quite chilly during the post-dinner campfire hours. Fortunately, a senior dog like me gets a little extra consideration including being turned into a very cozy doggy burrito. Thanks, S.

Warm and cozy.

We said goodbye to our campmates on Wednesday morning and drove south on Highway 40 through Kananaskis to the bottom end of the province. Our destination… another place new to us, Beauvais Lake. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore when we arrived just before sunset, but first view and sniff told me we were going to like it. Turns out, we liked it so much that two planned nights turned into five with side trips to Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass.

This place looks great!

Day one we hiked Piney Point Trail through coloured forests of aspen and poplar trees, leaves drifting to the ground in the breeze, and incredible views west to the Rockies. T was actually teary at one point as she looked out over the landscape, ready to build a cabin right on the spot.

View from the front porch of T’s cabin.

Of course, I notice smells more than sights and there was no shortage of human and animal scents to explore. And then there was Beauvais Lake itself for a drink when we came down off the hill.

Beauvais Lake tastes mighty fine.

Day two, Nollind took the truck to Pincher Creek for a leaky hose repair, and since T wasn’t feeling so great, she and I stayed back at the trailer. We set out for a walk when Nollind returned, but T was feeling worse, so they doubled back to camp, tucked me in, and drove to Pincher to a clinic. In the past, it’s been me or Logan needing to see a vet along the road so this was a new thing. I was worried and did what I always do when concerned, slept.

I like being included in everything, everywhere.

When they got back, T had a bottle of pills and, by Saturday morning, was already feeling a little better. So, off we went to the Crowsnest Pass just half an hour west. In February, we stayed in Blairmore during the Wintervention Festival. One of the walks we took during that winter stay was on the Miners’ Path at Coleman and it was fun to repeat the experience on this trip, sans February’s death-defying iciness.

Miners’ Path inhabitant.

With T on the mend, Sunday morning was spent circumnavigating Beauvais Lake, about a 6 km trail. This hike didn’t have the vistas of Piney Point, but there was plenty to see and smell along the shores and wetland areas, finishing off with the trail along the cabin section. I can’t say for sure, but I think T would really like one of those cabins on Beauvais, but, the provincial campground is a pretty fine second choice, close to the lake, the hiking trails, and open year-round.

Stream along the Beauvais Lake trail.

Monday, it was finally time to leave Beauvais Lake. The plan had been to travel farther south to two locations, Payne Lake and Police Outpost Provincial Parks, but Fred’s leak problem hadn’t been fixed due to an out-of-stock part, so we drove to St Mary’s Lower Campground instead with plans to take the truck to Lethbridge on Tuesday morning.

That’s us!

At St Mary’s, we were treated to a campsite that backed onto the river plus a warm, calm afternoon for exploring the campground and surrounding area. Sometimes it’s those unplanned stops that turn out to be the real gems on a journey. Don’t you think? Tea and cookies in the sun (I do love ginger snaps) wrapped up another fine day before retreating inside from the cooling temps and a light rain.

Afternoon teatime in the sun.

Tuesday’s weather was damp but spirits were not when Nollind returned to camp with a fixed Fred. The trip we feared was going to end similarly to the last one, limping home with a broken truck, was not over yet!

Police Outpost Provincial Park sits right at the border between Alberta and Montana and features a pretty lake, a campground tucked into aspen woodland, and crazy cool views of Chief Mountain. First Nations people from both the US and Canada travel to the base of this mountain for sweet grass ceremonies and other religious rites and, if you’ve ever seen it, you’ll understand why.

Pretty wow, right?

It was windy and mostly overcast when we arrived at Police Outpost, so the peeps made the decision to venture along the lakeshore trail that first afternoon. We had the place to ourselves, the campground and the trail, and our walk included a long footbridge to the tip of an island. We do find the coolest places to walk.

Walking to Outpost Island.

It started to rain again that night, turning to snow in the wee hours and covering the ground by morning. T wanted to see the mountain shown in many of the photos of the park, but it wasn’t going to happen with the heavy skies. So, it was a snowy walk around the campground followed by a matinee in the trailer. I do love a matinee … it fits in so well with my nap time. Maybe it should be called a nap-inee?

It was a great movie.

By mid-afternoon, the sun was shining brightly on melting snow. The hike to the United States was on! Yup, that was our destination … Montana, USA. The southern boundary of Police Outpost Provincial Park lies right on the International Boundary and there’s a terrific trail, with views of Chief Mountain, to the border obelisk (and cameras). I’ve been across the US border in a vehicle five times now but never on foot and, since the land border is currently closed to nonessential traffic, this is the only border crossing I’ll experience this year. Nobody there but the cows to check my health papers.

See the leash? So you know where I was.

The hike to the border was so much fun we did it again Thursday morning before packing up and heading out in a chilly northwest wind. Payne Lake was going to have to wait for another trip with snow on the ground and more headed our way, along with wintry temps. We’d rolled right through Mother Nature’s first winter pitch, but we wanted to be home and tucked in before she brought out her A game. And we were, just in time, with most of last Fur-iday to winterize trailer and farm.

Snowy afternoon at Police Outpost.

With the border closed due to the pandemic, we won’t be trailer travelling to snowbird destinations anytime soon, sad to say, but I know there’ll be more adventures, probably snowy ones, in the months ahead.

Chico, Fur-iday Files correspondent signing off, from the farm.

Snow in June!

You’re probably thinking that “Snow in June” isn’t a very promising title for a camping blog, but the snow was only in one place and made for a terrific roll. The rest of our recent journey was summery weather—warm, sunny, and buggy. The bugs don’t actually bother me too much, but they sure drive the humans to distraction.

The original camping plan was for a few days at one of many local campgrounds that recently reopened after the pandemic shutdown. Then T decided there was no reason not to add a couple of days and turn it into a bit more of a vacation. It was a long winter of postponed and then cancelled plans followed by a spring of isolation on the farm so I think she was ready for more miles than the short journey to Kananaskis or Severn Dam.

So off we went on the morning of her birthday, bound for Crimson Lake Provincial Park near Rocky Mountain House. She and I stopped there last spring on our way home from visiting T’s mom, I believe it was number eight of twenty-six in my 2019 season of lakes.

Aaahh…lake time.

Wikipedia says that Crimson Lake “received its name from the striking colours of the setting sun reflecting on the surface of its waters seen by an earlier trapper” but T and Nollind are pretty sure it has more to do with the voracious mosquitoes and subsequent bloodletting. Either way, it’s a beautiful spot with a nice campground, great walking trails, and we stayed there two nights.

Sunset walk at Crimson Lake.

Wednesday we were on our way west to another provincial park, Goldeye Lake. What should have been a happy arrival at this pretty lake in the foothills was disrupted by a flood in Simon the travel trailer. The campground road had some mega bumps and one of them managed to turn the tap on, which overflowed the sink down into the cupboards and onto the floor. T and Nollind normally turn the pump off when we travel but, oops, they forgot. I don’t think they will again. Our campsite looked like laundry day with everything hanging on lines.

What’s camping without at least one small disaster?

A hike around the lake, combined with a drying breeze and a lack of mosquitoes, put everything to right and the peeps were laughing and playing dominoes at the picnic table by evening (there may have been a drink or two involved).

Happier campers.

Thursday we drove to nearby Crescent Falls. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride from the highway to the falls but we left Simon behind at Goldeye so there were no concerns about further trailer disasters. The peeps loved the falls, took photos of them from many angles, oohed and aahed, but me, I was more interested in the other people, and their dogs. After all, it’s just a river that met a cliff, right?

Cooling my feet at the top of the falls.

While they watched three kayakers tackle the lower falls, I rested in the shade, watching the other visitors wander by. A few stopped to say hello and give me a scratch. But the best part? The picnic. Is there anything better than a picnic? I say, not likely.

Upper and lower Crescent Falls.

After another evening of campfire time and bluegrass jamming, we were on our way west on Friday morning to yet another provincial park, Thompson Creek. This park sits right on the edge of Banff National Park near Saskatchewan River Crossing. We were all a little concerned at first by the bright yellow signs posted all over the park, but we carried our bear spray just in case and never did see the resident bear.

They called this guy a “problem bear” but the people who fed him are the real problem.
Thompson Creek Campground.

I’m far more interested in what I smell than what I see, but I have to admit that our day trip to Athabasca Glacier was pretty cool, in more ways than one. That breeze that blows down off the glacier is refreshing, to say the least. We have some packed snow and ice that likes to linger in the spring around here, but did you know the Athabasca Glacier has been melting for over a hundred years and it’s still huge? How impressive it must have been when it flowed right down to the bottom of the valley.

The glacier used to go all the way to that building at the base of the mountain.

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Parker Ridge where there was still snow at the trailhead parking lot. Yup, quite a lot of it for June 12. The peeps weren’t interested in a snowy hike but stopped just for me because they know how much I love to roll in snow.

Going in for the roll!

Saturday morning was absolutely the best morning of the whole trip. Not because it was time to go home, although that was good too, but because I got pancakes and bacon for my breakfast. So, so, so delicious. The cute tablecloth and tableside fire were nice touches added by T, but, for me, it’s all about the food.

After one last walk around the campground, we started the journey home around noon, making a quick stop at Mistaya Canyon on our way south. I normally drink from every creek or river we come across, especially in the mountains where the water is cold and clean, but I passed on this one. T joked they could lower me down into the canyon on my harness for a sip. Ha ha. Very funny.

Mistaya Canyon

So, the first camping trip of the summer season is in the book (there is actually a little book that lives in Simon) and I’m sure hoping it won’t be the last. We came home to an injured horse—Nevada rolled onto an old stump and it punctured his hip—but I’m sure he’ll heal in time for us to venture out again soon.

If you talked to me on day one I might have said I don’t like camping, but it just takes me a little time to adjust to a new routine and a different bed. By day two or three of new places to walk and explore and sniff, I’m one happy camper.

And the bed doesn’t suck either.