Travelling with Chuck and Sheila again is terrific – it’s been a while.
Our plan was to tour every other day and use the other days for other things – like solving all the problems of the world or catching up on the card games we have been missing.
First Day Out
1. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
There in the middle of the prairies just north of the Montana border is the Milk River.
It carves a path coming up from Montana - meanders along for a few miles - and then wanders back into Montana. The river offers a fascinating canoeing pathway or an inviting swimming hole! The banks are steep cliffs and eons of climatic change and erosion have created a landscape unique to the valley.
As you follow Hwy 501 east from the Town of Milk River (on Hwy 4 – the main highway that goes from the Canadian/USA border crossing at Coutts to Lethbridge), you find yourself travelling along a flat, straight road through farm fields and grazing cattle. About 30 km down the road, a rather innocuous Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park sign directs you off to your right and into a field of wild prairie grass.
At the top of an incline, there is a fork in the road. One road leads down into the Milk River Valley and an eclectic campground that offers everything from primitive, dry camping to fully serviced sites. It lies in and amongst the trees along the Milk River. The second road goes further up the hill to an impressive new Interpretation Centre that overlooks the valley, the river, and the unique rock formations. From there you can see the Sweet Grass Hills that are in Montana on the other side of the river. The entire park covers over 4000 acres and the river forms the boundary between Alberta and Montana.
This area was a traditional native camping spot with the abundance of water and food but most of all the protection it offered.
To the Blackfoot people, Writing-on-Stone has long been a sacred place. Oddly shaped rock formations (Hoodoos) erupt out of a sandstone foundation. Millions and millions of years of flooding, winds, freezing and thawing has worked its magic to create a ghostly atmosphere where these tall narrow constructs reach majestically to the sky. There they stand – a hard layered caprock that protects the softer stem with holes where the harder ironstone has fallen out.
I can just visualize the hunters etching "messages" – in the form of carvings (petroglyphs) and painting (pictographs) – to those who followed after them about their successful hunt or where others could find game.
Today this delicate rock art is carefully preserved and protected. Visitors must be accompanied by a guide. In the 1880’s the North West Mounted Police established a presence in the Valley. Their job was to be a resource for the incoming settlers and keep out the whisky runners but it was a lonely, debilitation experience for them and many deserted or were dispersed to other assignments. At its height the Post housed 12 horses, 5 Mounties and 2 hired range riders but it burned down shortly after it was closed down in 1918. After an archaeological excavation (in 1975) the buildings were rebuilt and then refurnished to recreate the year 1897.
2. The Etzikom Museum and the Canadian Historic Windpower Interpretive Centre
Now this was a real hidden treasure. We only found out about it from the fellow at the Interpretive Centre at Writing-on-Stone. The Museum took over the Etzikom School when it closed down and the Windmill site sits next to it.
The 4 acres windmills ranging from a Holland-looking mill to the water pumping windmills that dot the landscape throughout the south.
Inside, there is over 11 000 square feet of indoor display space. My favourite display is the dolls (and I thought I had a lot of dolls).
The Youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKAOS1Ypk_0) shows just how extensive and well displayed this local museum is.
The next tour was to Smashed-in Buffalo Jump.