I had been on the river for twelve hours when I reached the boat launch and I was annoyed to find that the campsites were a bit of a haul up a road and across a footbridge. I proceeded to relay most of my gear from the boat over to my camp. A lady, who was waiting for her friends to arrive from their evening paddle, warned me about the rattlesnakes that had come out onto the manicured grass near the boat launch to soak up the warmth of the setting sun. By the time I finished setting up camp and had dinner, it was dark and I retired to the comfort of my inflatable bed.
It was another lovely prairie morning when I awoke the next day. Despite my annoyance at the distance from the boat launch, I found that my campsite was a good one. The golden rays of the sun peered through the shade of the many large poplars and into my camp, which backed onto little Sandhill Creek. The poplar grove and its small creek are perfect habitat for birds such as cedar waxwings, robins, yellow warblers and goldfinch. The call of the many mourning doves could be heard throughout the long hot day. Mule deer and their fawns were everywhere, as were the cottontail rabbits.
|Old cottonwood poplar near the river|
I had only visited the park a couple of times previously (both times during the autumn months). Even in October I had found that it was an interesting place and now (in late June) the badland park was surprisingly full of life. I spent much of the day shooting video of the flora and fauna as well as the stark landscape of the area. Many cacti were beginning to bloom and they added color and beauty to the landscape of gray bentonite clays, sandstone and ironstone. Most of the wildflowers were in bloom. Brown thrashers flitted in and out of the thick brush along the Cottonwood Trail with its several hundred year old trees. The mosquitoes were fairly thick so I made sure that I had plenty of deet. Near the end of the day I found myself worn out from the mosquitoes and the intense heat, but I had a really enjoyable time. The available showers were definitely a bonus for sweaty, deet-covered campers.
Dinosaur Provincial Park has been designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations due to it having one of the highest densities of dinosaur fossils in the world. For this reason most of the park is off limits to visitors except for tours which run daily into the restricted areas. The field office of the Royal Tyrrell Museum is located in the park and there are many active digs going on every summer. What long hot work that must be!
I also made a pilgrimage to one of the (perhaps) lesser known attractions. I visited the cabin of one our early pioneers and perhaps one of the greatest cowboys ever to ride a horse. John Ware began his life as a slave in South Carolina. After emancipation he went to Texas where he learned to rope and ride. He arrived in Alberta with the first herds of cattle and went on to become his own man, respected by his fellow cowhands and dudes alike. He homesteaded his first ranch in the Sheep River area of the foothills country, with which I am well acquainted. Later he moved to this part of Alberta with his wife and children and built a cabin next to the Red Deer River. After a flood destroyed his home he built this second cabin a couple of miles away from the river. There is a picture of him removing logs for this home from the Red Deer River, with a team of horses, in the archives of the Glenbow Museum. The cabin was later moved to its current location in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Ware was well known for his horsemanship. My favorite story is the one about him riding a bronco over a cliff and landing in a river still mounted firmly on the horse’s back. Ironically he was killed when his horse tripped and rolled on him while he was out riding with his son, near this area. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in nearby Calgary and was an indication of the respect he commanded in the Southern Alberta community. He is buried in Calgary’s Union Cemetery.
His famous “four 9’s” brand marked the gateway leading to the cabin and I was able to go inside and view some of the displays and talk to a woman (who was a volunteer interpreter) while she worked her spinning wheel. We talked about John Ware and when I told her how I thought his death was both sad and ironic, she pointed out that he was doing what he loved the most that day - riding his favorite horse with his beloved son and that perhaps it wasn’t such a sad end after all. Obviously she had thought about this before. I bought a copy of Grant MacEwan’s book, “John Ware’s Cow Country” from her and thanked her for her wisdom.
I had a cunning plan for the next morning. I dismantled my camp, shuttled all my belongings down to the boat launch and drained out and loaded up my boat. Only then did I have a shower and buy some ice for my cooler before I set out. By the time I got back in the boat I was already hot and the ice was beginning to melt, but this procedure did help a little bit. It would be a long while before I could have my next shower.
It was great to be back on the river again. Midstream did seem to be a lot cooler than onshore and the mosquitoes didn’t bother me nearly as much. The first stretch of the river was quite scenic and passed through the remainder of the Provincial Park and Deadlodge Canyon. The canyon is said to be named for the many deadlodges of Blackfoot people that died in a smallpox epidemic in this area in 1796.