Marja-Leena Rathje
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Alberta Trip Day 3


This was the big day, the main reason for this trip. We finally made it to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, a major site of hoodoos, petroglyphs and pictographs.

Some readers may remember that I wrote about Writing-on-Stone Park and how we had planned to visit it a year ago, but unusual heavy rains and flooding had forced a postponement. New readers may want to read that post, as well as one I wrote about hoodoos.

With cameras, lots of water, lunch, snacks plus hats and sunscreen, we set off from our hotel in Lethbridge. Heading southeast towards Milk River, the drive was pleasant and took about an hour and a half. Coming in, we had a fantastic first impression of the huge site overlooking the river. We knew that the Archaeological Preserve with the majority of the petroglyphs is protected from vandals and access was limited to guided tours daily in the afternoon. We found the park manager who informed us that the tour guide was away for several days on her days off and no one else could do it! There is only one guide now, compared to the two who were there last year. Blame the cutbacks in government funding (this is in Alberta where the economy is booming because of oil!) The park website has not been updated in years, phone service is a taped message, and tours cannot be booked in advance. It seems almost like they do not want visitors there! What's a traveller from far away to do? You can imagine my disappointment.


Anyway, we were told about the self-guided walking tour of the sandstone rocks and the locations of just a few petroglyphs on that route. After a quick lunch we set off, heeding warnings about staying on paths to avoid rattlesnakes - a first time for us! It was getting hot but we were quite mesmerized by the amazing rock formations, spending a lot of time taking photos. It really was an amazing, almost mystical experience, indeed a sacred place. And we did come to an area with about four discernible petroglyphs.

We ran out of time to go to the very end of the more than two hour walk, one way (without stopping to take photos I bet!) where we would have seen more. (Again, more information beforehand would have allowed us to plan better. We had to be back in Lethbridge to meet an old friend for dinner). Back near the parking lot we found some descriptive panels about the petroglyphs and the Blackfoot people who lived here and created them.

There were disappointments but nevertheless we loved the immense area of hoodoos here. We got about a hundred excellent digital photos (thanks to my husband) and some film ones that I took of close-up details and still haven't developed because the roll hasn't been fully exposed. I"m having a difficult time choosing photos to post here, that will look good in a small format! I'm really excited to have the rock photos to use in my continuing Silent Messenger series. But I hope to go back again to see the rock art and the rest of the park sometime!


Related links:

Writing on Stone Provincial Park brochure (pdf)

some nice photos of WOSPP

Alberta Trip Day 1, Day 2, Day 4 and Days 5 & 6

Addendum July 16 and July 31, 2006: See more of our photos here, here and here.

Marja-Leena | 22/06/2006 | 6 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Printworks, Rock Art & Archaeology, Rocks


Wow, very cool. So sorry you couldn't see more. I guess it wouldn't help to call ahead next time since the phone doesn't get to a human being! Maybe an old-fashioned letter in the mail, to make sure the guide will be there and there aren't any other glitches in store. She'd no doubt be thrilled to have someone with your interest in the hoodoos.

Thanks Leslee. Yeah, I've thought about writing too. It's a bit difficult because I'm never sure when exactly we'd get there, plus the fact that they don't take reservations. But maybe a letter would help pave the way to some special treatment, like a private tour, even to sites that are not shown. Hmm, I think I'm going to do that...

Yeah, even when they were better funded, it was not very organized.... Rattlesnakes. It was on this very path you're talking about that one of them taught me how to fly! I put my foot down and it rattled right next to my foot and YOOP I flew about 20 feet down the trail! Our guide for the petroglyphs said it's always the 3rd one in line that gets bit. The first one in line wakes the snake up, the second in line pisses it off, and the third in line gets bit.... So none of us wanted to be third in line.... :)

Yikes, Tom! Glad we didn't meet any! The trail we went on was not the guided one and we never met another soul ( I mean a real human - there were many souls!) on it. We were careful to stay on the paths out of long grass and not put our hands in any holes in the rocks, as we were told, but we were a bit nervous.

I am so happy that I found your website. Your comments will help us plan for our holidays at the end of August. My husband and I are planning to go to Jarvis Lake for 5 days. Visiting and photographing the amazement of Writing on Stone is one of the many things we plan to do while camping at the lake. Your information was so helpful....thank you!

The Martins - Thank you for your note! I'm glad my article is of some interest and help to you. I hope you have better luck getting a tour to the petroglyphs! Have a great vacation!