Distance: 10.5 km
Elevation gain: 365 m (from several small ups and downs)
With generally blah weather across the Rockies Sandra and I decided to head east and explore Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park
, a small park about 2 hours northeast of Calgary. The park doesn’t have any official trails and I couldn’t really find much information about it on the web, but I figured the badlands terrain would make navigation easy enough that we could wander wherever we wanted.
The drive there was pleasant, but for anyone heading there I’ve got two warnings about the final highway (34-4): The advised speed of 15 km/h for crossing the railway is very good advice, and the lay of the land provides no warning at all when the road turns to gravel near the park. Lose control at that point and you might just experience the last few seconds of a bison’s life 1000 years ago.
We parked at the picnic area near the Red Deer River (it’s a very nice picnic spot too) and immediately picked up an obvious trail heading north through grass from the easternmost picnic sites. We followed it as it turned east, then northeast, but soon left it and went off on our own, following animal trails for most of the day. Navigation wasn’t a problem at all, although we did need to do a bit of easy bushwhacking and climb a few short but steep hills. In our wanderings we saw several fossilized dinosaur bone fragments, an owl, a few antlers, and eventually found ourselves standing atop the “dry island” for which the park is named. The remarkably diverse ecosystem, plant life, and wonderful rock formations made the entire trip very enjoyable and interesting.
At one point in our wanderings I started to notice that the density of bone fragments was increasing quite dramatically. In many areas it was simply impossible to count the number of bits we could see standing in one spot. Then we found a spectacularly preserved bone about the size of a human tibia, still partially embedded in rock! We slowed down at this point and in a little over an hour found three perfectly preserved dinosaur teeth, dozens of large bone fragments, and countless smaller fragments. Some were still sticking out of the rocks, a few were sitting atop pedestals of rock the bone had prevented from eroding, and many were just lying on the ground. I had no idea things like this could be found in Alberta (or anywhere else). It was an unexpected highlight of the day!
On our way back home we also stopped at the world famous Gopher Hole Museum
in Torrington. It was built 20 years ago with a small government grant given to the town to increase tourism, but during a town council meeting they couldn’t figure out why anyone would visit Torrington. Someone apparently said all they had was an awful gopher problem, someone joked that they should just stuff them, and the museum was born. It currently has dozens of stuffed gopher displays doing all sorts of things, from picnicking to playing hockey. Most feature different events or places in the town and all are incredibly well done. We spent nearly an hour there and with a current admission charge of just $2 it was most definitely worth the visit.