Saturday, June 6, 2009

To the Desert for a Deluge

We are at last on the road again in Leo and the Taj. A succession of events pushed this year’s transcontinental departure date into June. We departed Wednesday, June 3, our latest-by-far embarkation date in the truck and camper. We raced through BC as though it were an old car dumping ground rather than the ‘Best place on earth’ bragged about on our home province’s embarrassing new license plates.

We drove through four spectacular mountain national parks – Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho, Banff – without stopping once. We’d been there before. I like to see new vistas, which gets more difficult after a decade of cross-country travels. I had my heart set on a ‘lifer’, another of Canada’s six natural-area World Heritage Sites – Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta.

On Thursday, leaving our campground in Hope at 6:20 in the morning we drove 1,040 km and managed to reach Dinosaur just past 10 at night, early enough to see that the hoodoos of these desert badlands would be fantastic in the early morning light. Alas, the best laid plans gang aft agley: Dinosaur is a desert with all the cactus and sage a desert-lover could ever want to see. Overnight a steady rain beat a tattoo on the camper roof. Sunrise brought no relief. I was inclined to sulk about it but Dr. Jan, country psychologist extraordinaire, delivered a slap to the head and ordered me to buck up. I did.

The lovely young thing in charge of the campground kiosk evoked Drew Barrymore. I might have imagined she was the inspiration for Van Morrison’s ‘Brown-eyed Girl’, but that’s impossible: she was too young and besides, I know better – Mary Sanseverino was Morrison’s brown-eyed gal. Missie told us she‘d been on the job since April and this was the first rain she had seen. Marvelous.

We walked the Badlands Trail, ignoring official advice not to do that in bad weather. Rain turns the smectites of the park’s Bentonite clay deposits into slippery gooey slime. But we slip-slid our way around the circuit without major incident and, best of all, had this wet desert world all to ourselves. Pretty soon I was turning liability into asset: hardly anyone gets to experience these desert badlands in the rain. We were the lucky ones.

The fossilized bones of some 35 species of dinosaur have been found at the park, the latest just this year we were told. We took in the hadrosaur and centrosaur bone displays before exploring the very ‘birdy’ Cottonwood Riparian Trail. The cottonwoods along the Red Deer River delivered magnolia warbler and prairie falcon among a host of others. The rain even relented for spell and we wound up hauling in an even 50 species for our morning effort.

The prairies are a vast nursery of waterbirds. Almost very pond and pothole features a pair or three of breeding ducks, some deliver far more than a few. While driving Highway 1 at 100 kph we only get to ID a few of the birds seen in fleeting glances through Leo’s rain-speckled windows. But as the second full day of our journey drew to a close – at unlovely, uncharming Herbert SK – we’d somehow managed, despite all the non-stop driving – to bring our trip total to 96 species. As I type this post at 0530 hrs on Saturday morning, rain lashes the camper and wind rattles our windows but what the heck, Psychologist Brown says sagely that our best course is to embrace the circumstances fate provides. Good. Let’s see how quickly we can get to a hundred this morning.


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