Dinosaur Provincial Park is about 5 hours from Edmonton by car but it’s about a million years away from the lush green fields and valleys of the Edmonton area.
As you drive south the landscape gets gradually drier and flatter the closer you are to the park until suddenly there it is, just past the “watch for snakes on the road sign” the grassland drops away into the wide valley of the Red Deer River.
It just so happened that for my Thursday evening arrival, nature had arranged a spectacular welcome display consisting of a magnificent rainbow that seemed to emanate from the valley floor directly below me. It appeared to soar up out of the badlands, arch across the sky and return again to earth miles away. And for the first time ever, as I drove along in wonder, towing my little old trailer behind, I could clearly see far below me, the end of the rainbow.
I wish I could show you a picture but alone in the vehicle on a steep hill with signs very boldly declaring “ABSOLUTELY NO STOPPING ON HILL!” I was unable to get a shot of the magical moment.
The trip appeared to be starting out well and I was excited to get parked as quickly as possible because I had 2 tickets to the “Sunset Tour” through the restricted access area of the park.
Of course backing a trailer into a particular spot usually goes well if no-one is around but in this case 15 or so of my fellow photo club members were sitting around the camp fire with nothing better to do than watch the show.
Don tried to help out but it still took a few embarrassing tries before I finally got it parked and then it was time to head for the meeting place and catch the bus for the tour. Don, Steve and his family and some people from Ontario joined me for my first of three tours.
For a moment it looked like we weren’t going to go because of rain but we waited it out and I’m glad we did, the tour was great and we all loved it, the photographic opportunities were amazing and because of the fact that paid tours are the only way to access the restricted areas unless you are on an official dig, we were able to see things that many visitors to the park never get a chance to see.
After two glorious hours chasing amazing vistas illuminated by a setting sun and spiced up with far off rain showers, we finally made our way back to the group campsite to join the rest of the club members around the campfire.
I was up early the next day to catch the sun illuminated ridgeline directly behind our campsite and to begin a daily quest to locate and photograph the small herd of mule deer that inhabit the valley. On this first morning I spotted several deer too far away to get any good shots with the kit lens that happened to be on my camera.
Later that morning a bunch of us drove into Brooks to visit the famous “Brooks Aqueduct” and somehow even though I really didn’t want to, I ended up leading a procession of vehicles into town.
Of course the route I took (which looked like a nice paved road on the map) turned into a barely paved, extremely rough country road before degenerating to gravel. Gordon, who was traveling with me, gamely accepted the map and thereby the blame for our chosen route, giving me the chance to accurately proclaim, “Gordon had the map!” when anyone later mentioned the rough roads we took.
Gordon and Barry and a few others had been to the aqueduct on a previous club trip so they knew the spots to get the best images of the graffiti and junk inside the giant concrete pipe that had once enabled the railways to entice settlers to an area that otherwise would have been too dry to farm.
Down at the other end of the pipe the repeating lines and patterns of the support piers and iron rails across the top made for some great images, especially as the piers are not all the same length. I think we all enjoyed photographing the historically significant local landmark.
That night we enjoyed a communal supper shopped for with much gusto by Hedy who related to us the hilarious story of her adventure purchasing our dinner at Costco.
Getting a little carried away, she accidentally purchased way more sausages then there were going to be group members for super. It was decided during a consultation with her husband Steve, that no-one was likely to want 6 sausages and so she packed up half of them to return to the store.
Apparently returning extra sausages is not something that happens every day and at first the woman was adamant, “sorry but no way”.
She didn’t know who she was dealing with however and unsurprisingly, by the time she was done, Hedy had convinced her that this was a special case and yes, she could in fact return the extra sausages.
Since returned food can’t be resold in the store they make a policy of donating it to homeless shelters, so in the end, “unbridled shopping enthusiasm leads to extra food for the homeless” could be the headline for this little story!
Strangely enough, Hedy’s kind offer to drop off the food at the homeless shelter was politely refused, although perhaps with a few exaggerated eye rolls after it was all over.
After supper, 14 of us met at the bus for the sunset tour and even though it was the same tour as the previous evening, we had a different driver and the weather was a little different and we stopped at one or two different places and I enjoyed it just as much as the night before. In fact, because we were all together and interested in photography, the driver let us have a little more input into when and where we stopped.
Bill (another Sony guy) offered to loan me a lovely 10mm Voigtlander Heliar-Hyper wide angle lens and using it on my Sony A7 ii (full frame mirrorless) over the next two days I fell in love with this lens! It is extremely wide but since it is a rectilinear design there is a lot less distortion then you might expect. I had the lens for 2 days and it was fantastic to have in addition to my regular cheap kit lens.
The next morning I was up early again and when I went up the hill I bumped into Gordon ahead of me with his tripod, trying to get those elusive sunrise shots of the ridgeline and the valley floor.
I was on a mission though to check out the Southwest part of the valley and locate the deer that I had seen the day before. While I was still making my way there, I heard a coyote yelping and howling and I hurried up to a vantage point and peered over the edge.
I was astonished to see a mule deer doe running across the meadow below, chasing…….a lone coyote. I snapped a few shots with my second camera, a Sony A77 APS-C body with a 70-300mm lens and managed to catch a few images showing both the coyote on the run and the angry doe that was chasing it off.
After she was sure it was gone the doe returned to the spotted fawn she had been protecting and I watched as they jumped the creek and moved off across the hillside across from me.
Cool! And I even got a few shots of the action.
That night was our second go at a communal supper and everyone pitched in to cook up a mess of pasta along with garlic toast and Saskatoon pie for dessert. After that it was another night around the camp fire interspersed with trips up the dark mountain looking for cell phone coverage to call or text my wife. I got plenty of brownie points allocated to me when I told her what lengths I had to go through to get a signal.
Climbing the pitch black giant mountain and braving the packs of giant coyotes (would you believe one skinny coyote with weird glowing eyes?) and the swarms of giant mosquitoes to balance precariously on the cliff edge waving a cell phone around just to say good night tends to rack up a lot of valuable points!
One thing that surprised me about this year’s trip was that people didn’t seem to be that interested in doing any night shooting. I imagine some people still went off on their own but as far as I know there was no organized attempt to go out as a group.
Sunday was scorching hot and it ended up being a pretty laid back day with the big excitement being when Bill came back from a visit to Brooks with 2 big tubs of ice cream along with 2, count em, 2 types of sauce!
Monday morning turned into an unofficial race to bug out and move on. It almost seemed like the last one out of there was going to get stuck with the bill!
All in all it was a very successful and worthwhile trip and I enjoyed it immensely. Anyone I talked to seemed to feel the same way so thanks Barry and Don and Hedy and Ralph and all of the board members and anyone else who pitched in to make this years camping trip such a success, it was great and I’m already looking forward to next year!