The last few months of COVID-19 lockdowns may seem a nightmare but as travel restrictions ease, southeast Alberta is a perfect place for dreaming of late summer fun. Road trips along Canada’s back roads can introduce you to lesser-known but globally significant attractions and reignite your imagination.
At the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation in Coaldale, founder Colin Weir had a dream of rescuing and rehabilitating raptors. Since 1983 he’s saved over 3,000 birds and brought his brand of conversational conservation to hundreds of thousands of people. After turning forty acres of cultivated farmland back into wetlands wild birds stop by to rest or nest, flooding of nearby neighbourhoods has been reduced, and visitors get to learn about hawks, eagles and owls up close.
After a pandemic-induced “silent spring” the facility is open and birds are soaring in daily flight demonstrations. You can’t touch bird feathers because of health protocols, but you can hold a raptor on your arm with a sanitized glove and a little help from one of the enthusiastic staff. Ask them about their dreams in southeast Alberta; you may discover a future veterinarian learning falconry skills or a budding environmental scientist feeding endangered burrowing owls.
Ask someone to point out Grace, an immature bald eagle found starving a year ago. Back to a proper weight, she can handle the big winds in-flight demonstrations, and a lucky visitor gets to hold the hose for the cold shower she enjoys after exercising.
Keep up the dreamtime by driving two hours southeast to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and Áísínai’pi National Historic Site, one of Alberta’s most mysterious UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Known as the “long time dreaming” place by the Blackfoot people, warriors would come to the sandstone cliffs overlooking the Milk River to read petroglyphs (art carved into stone) and pictographs (art painted on stone) to foretell battle success. No one stayed in the area for long periods as the spirits were too strong but a few nights in the campground will have you picturing Alberta vacation fun.
The slow-moving Milk River snakes past sandstone cliffs holding the highest density of rock art in North American plains. Archaeologists found evidence First Nations people camped in the area 3,500 years ago, gathering game or berries, and connecting to the spirits.
Feed your spirit by exploring sandstone cliffs with views of rippling prairies, Sweet Grass Hills, and cotton-puff clouds. Hoodoo Interpretive Trail from the east side of the campground is one of the most popular hikes and leads to one of the park’s most significant petroglyphs – the Battle Scene. The 4.4km trail is suitable for young hikers although little feet might need a boost in steep spots.
Some of the park is off-limits to visitors, so consider taking a guided rock art tour to see more. Check at the Visitor Centre for times and availability.
The river valley is often hot during summer months so if you’re dreaming of cool water, head to the small beach beside the campground. It’s more mud than sand, but the water is fresh and the current gentle. There is no beach water sampling due to the pandemic, so if water levels are low check current conditions before jumping in..
Although the park hasn’t officially been designated a Dark Sky Preserve, there is little light pollution, so watch the stars come out and dream about your next road trip.