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.

Happy Humans, Happy Hound

It’s been a tough year for humankind. We dogs have been able to go about our lives as normal, sniffing each other’s butts and the like, but humans haven’t been able to hug their friends or otherwise be close to anyone outside their own home. When we go to the park, I can sniff noses (etcetera) with dogs I meet along the way, get a cuddle from humans we cross paths with, and nobody is put at risk. I don’t even have to wear a mask!

Greeting friends along the canal in Strathmore.

I see the toll it’s all taking on my peeps. They’re a sturdy pair and have shouldered the changes to life quite admirably, but now and then, it gets to them. For T it’s more because of the way people treat and talk to one another these days than any fear or consequence of the pandemic. For Nollind, it’s the recurring uncertainty of the coming sailing season, the many Glenmore Sailing Club programs he’s put in place, and the people eager to participate.

They think I don’t notice, going about my day—eating, napping, walking, sniffing—but I feel it when they’re unhappy or grumpy or discouraged. We dogs are a very sensitive species.

Here I am adding a little cheer by nearly stepping on T’s head.

I’ve taken it upon myself this past year to carry some of the burden, get them out of their funks and back into the world when necessary, cheer them up. I’m not young enough to scoot around in circles with my tail tucked anymore (those of you with young dogs will know what this looks like), but I do have other tools at my disposal, like telepathy.

Yup, you read that right, I use my powers of non-verbal communication to plant ideas in their heads, ideas they think are theirs. And I’m totally fine with not getting the credit. As long as they’re happy, I’m happy. Happy humans, happy hound, I like to say.

It goes something like this: I notice that T is not as enthusiastic about going outdoors (her favourite place), spending time with the horses, or is watching more TV than usual. Chico to the rescue! Without actually saying it, because I can’t speak, I suggest an outing, transferring the thought directly to her right neocortex. Next thing I know, plans are in the works for day camping, road tripping, or an outdoor get-together with friends. Pleased with my success, I take a nap.

Always paying attention to what’s happening with the humans.

In the past week, I’ve had to rescue the humans twice. My first solution was getting G, S & R an invite to the farm for a walk, bbq, and outdoor visit. I have to say, one of my better ideas. It’s tough to get T and Nollind to go anywhere on a weekend (too many people), especially a long weekend, so bringing the party to them was my solution. Clever canine, right?

We took a walk along the canal, which is something we do almost every day, but not with Ria entertaining the troops with her water antics or the wide-roaming conversation that happens when the four bi-peds hang out.

Me along the canal.
Ria along the canal

The walk was followed by some glorious time on the deck in the sun for the humans and some even more glorious bone-chewing time for us dogs. More food followed for everyone. A few beverages were imbibed. The new gas fire pit was put through its first paces. It felt like the “good old spring days” of 2019. The smiles said it all. Ria and I shared a little front-paw high five on her way out. Mission accomplished.

If you zoom in, you’ll see Ria’s “knowing” expression.

That was just last Saturday, Easter weekend. Normally I can coast for a week or two before I have to step in and rearrange their day-to-day, but I was called to action in just two days. It’s a busy time for dogs right now. This time it was some stuff that T read online that had her down in the dumps again in very short order. (I keep telling her to stay away from Facebook!) So, I suggested an outing, an excursion, a close-to-home road trip.

How it works is that I plant the general idea but then leave it up to the peeps to nail down the specifics. They have more knowledge of locations and conditions. I am the seed planter.

T needed some new boots for around the farm so we started off at Irvine’s Western Wear near Crossfield where she tried on multiple styles and sizes before finding her Goldilocks pair. From there we drove west to Water Valley, a completely new place to me, and visited William J. Bagnall Wilderness Park, a completely new place to all of us. (A quick shout out here to our neighbour—THANKS!—who posted about a recent hike and inspired the destination of Wednesday’s excursion.)

The stairs at Skunk Hollow—just two more flights to go!

Given its location in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, it wasn’t a big surprise we found some snow and ice still on the trail, but I managed to get the humans around the loop without incident. If I slip and fall, which has happened numerous times, no biggie, but they go down hard from farther up. It’s a scary thing to watch happen. Anyway, Skunk Hollow in the William J. Bagnall Wilderness Park. Great place. Can’t wait to go back in the green-grass, free-flowing river season.

An icy patch on the trail.

After Skunk Hollow, we ventured through the community of Water Valley and north, to the Water Valley Campground. It’s closed for camping until May but the day use area was open for a picnic beside the river. As I watched T sipping her peppermint tea and looking up at the evergreens swaying in the breeze, I knew my plan had succeeded, another seed had sprouted and borne fruit.

I was content to call it a win and head home at that point but there was another stop and another walk in our day, this one at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park between Cochrane and Calgary. If a little nature could bring the cheer back to my peeps, a little more might get them through the next bump on the Covid road. Count me in!

Tiger Lily Trail at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

Yesterday I was exhausted. T had to come downstairs and get me out of bed for breakfast in the morning. What?! But it was worth every sore muscle brought on by what felt like hundreds of stairs at Skunk Hollow and a near ninety-degree hill climb at Glenbow Ranch. I am such a trooper.

The big hill at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

All is quiet on the home front for now, peeps content, but I’m ready to jump back into action when duty next calls.