One of the all time great trips Dad and I did was early May, probably 2006, to the Cypress Hills and Southeast Alberta. We left in the afternoon, it felt like the world was truly alive, not just green and growing as in May, but farmers seeding, rigs drilling, irrigation pipe being trenched and laid, busy busy beehive world. We had a bite in Medicine Hat, stayed overnight in Shaunavon, drove South, checked out pretty little Eastend tucked in a coulee, where Wallace Stegner lived a while as a boy. At the time Dad and I had both read ‘Wolf Willow, where Stegner talks about his childhood and the historical context of the area and the West as a whole so we were excited to see what we’d been so absorbed in with our own eyes.
We went to Fort Walsh, the first NWMP post in the area, on the edge of the hills. It felt like a long ways from anywhere, and would have been that much more remote in the days before rail, road, flight. We drove into the Cypress Hills proper, and across the Gap, we were worried about getting stuck in the bottom, as the road was wet and mucky with spring moisture, and there were only wary antelope for miles around on the wide open fenceless steppe.
The next day we went through, Manyberries, I loved that lots of people there had old painted up pumpjacks as lawn ornaments there. Prior to our trip, Dad had spotted a road that cut down to the Milk River, and made a map to it. He was always interested in the idea of having land where you could put your back up something like a big river or a grazing reserve, and have no visitors, real quiet like. We made our way to the road across real wide open short grass prairie, not a fence for miles, just cowboys riding with their cows.
At the bottom of the road was a beautiful little ranch and a well site. The type of ranch dreams are made of. In the road cut we spotted a shell bed and got some neat fossils when we stopped on the way back up. There was a big dinosaur leg bone too, we noticed it had been flagged for recovery,, almost thought it was petrified wood, but no that was a big ol leg that would make a cows leg look like a chickens by comparison.
Then we went back up and across the bottom of Pakowki Lake which was totally dry alkali at that time., across and down to Writing on Stone Writing On Stone. Writing on Stone in May is one of God’s true gems. Swallows flitting about above the river, everything leafing out green and fresh. The petroglyphs are absorbing and make you think deep thoughts about the primal power of the earth and the people that, although they hunted with stone arrowheads, felt the same things we feel in spring, and perhaps wrote about it, on stone.
We talked about all the things fathers and sons talk about. That and the roads Opa built down there in the 40s and some wells dad drilled, success and failure, the natives and Stegner and early settlers. Looking back it almost seems odd, we didn’t take any pictures, and what’s more didn’t feel the impulse to,. This was before cell phones had good cameras and it was expected that people document everything for social media. In some ways I wish I had some to help me remember, in others, I’m happy that we were just on a road trip, father and son. It’s been said before but is worth drilling home – savour those times with your family.