Thursday, July 20, 2017

One Wild Year






In light of a video that recently surfaced on Facebook featuring a single tree being recorded for an entire year, I thought I would bring back a similar video I created using the trail cameras at Enviros Wilderness School's Base Camp, a program I used to work at. Up until now the video has lived on the Wild About Base Camp blog that I created, but that site does not see much traffic, so I thought I would transfer it to my personal blog with the hope of sharing it with more people.

Back in 2013 my co-teacher and I placed a Bushnell  trail camera on a single tree and left it there for an entire year. We were surprised at the variety of wildlife we captured throughout that year and have shown the video to countless students that came through our program. You'll quickly notice that it's not only wildlife that are actively using our forests and the level of coexistence between animal and man is quite impressive in the Base Camp area. Truth be told, after all the success we had with that camera it is still on that same tree today!

I would just like to thank Parks Canada for the inspiration behind this video. In 2011 they published Banff National Park's Wild Year and I liked it so much that I decided to put my own spin on things.

Enjoy!!


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Wascana Trails

Trip Date: July 2017



During a recent trip to Regina my brother Kyle and I headed out to the Wascana Valley Natural Area, known locally as Wascana Trails, to do some biking. The area boasts over 15km of multi-use trails that are suitable for all ability levels. With its close proximity to the city (it's less than a 30 minute drive) it is popular for all types of outdoor recreation such as hiking, trail running, and mountain biking in the summer or snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tobogganing in the winter. It also provides another option for wildlife viewing and photography than the Condie Nature Refuge, which is located close by.

Welcome to Wascana Valley Natural Area Recreation Site aka Wascana Trails
A map of the trail system at Wascana Trails
The trails are in excellent shape and are meticulously maintained by local mountain biking clubs, such as Offroad Syndicate and the South Sask MTB Club, as well as other enthusiasts. In 2011 the local clubs collaborated with Sask Environment to create a map and signage for the trail system. This has gone a long way to improving navigation throughout the complex network of trails in the area.

Crossing Wascana Creek to access the rest of the trail system
Kyle cruising down one of the trails
Overlooking the valley from one of the high points
The trail system is divided by Wascana Creek, a tributary of the Qu'Appelle River. The only way to access the trails on the eastern side of the creek is to cross the main bridge, which is visible from the parking lot above the valley on the west side of the site. It is also worth noting that the only washroom facilities are in the parking lot and there are no other amenities throughout the trail system, so come prepared.

Mountain biking prairie style!
If you look closely (to the right of my helmet) you can see the vehicles at the trailhead on the opposite side of the valley
View from the saddle
Although it is very different than what I am used to riding in the Canadian Rockies the trails feature a variety of challenges such as gradual hills, sharp and winding descents, steep climbs, technical sections, and incredible views of the valley and surrounding prairie landscape. I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of terrain available and hope to return next time I'm in Regina!

Riding some of the trails in the valley bottom
Slowly working our way back up to the trailhead
Panoramic shot of the Wascana Trail System
This Brown-Headed Cowbird was perched on a sign as we were leaving

Thursday, June 29, 2017

First Nation Rock Art Part 2





This post is a continuation from my previous one titled First Nation Rock Art. It's simply a follow-up post that includes some new rock art sites, as well as a couple of duplicates with new photos and/or updated information. I have processed many of the photos using DStretch with the hope of revealing missing information or at least getting a clearer picture. Even though I have visited other rock art sites in places like Cuba and Arizona I have decided to keep this post strictly Canadian with its content.

Braeside Site, Skaha Lake, Penticton, British Columbia
We were in Penticton for a wedding and a local resident told me about this site, known locally as Braeside. One morning I headed out along Skaha Lake's eastern shoreline in search of this large panel. It look a lot of searching, but I finally found it about 15 feet above the road and partially hidden behind some trees. The panel was much bigger than I originally expected. That same local, who tends to be a bit of a history buff, seems to think that the painting depicts a successful hunt or series of hunts. His theory is that the painting could have been in a constant state of change, with many different individuals contributing new artwork over the course of several years. It's not hard to imagine that stretch of Skaha Lake being prime hunting territory and after each successful hunt it being common practice to stop at Braeside and add to the painting. There could also be the element of magic where painting a picture of a successful hunt could help ensure a successful hunt would happen. Whatever its true meaning it is one of the best preserved and largest pictograph sites I have visited to date.

This pictograph of a human-like figure was to the left of the larger panels of artwork
The same photo as above after being processed using DStretch
Even before processing you can clearly see both animal and human figures
After processing all of the figures become much clearer
Dozens of figures cover this section of rock
Even after processing you can see that many of these figures have been smudged
It is difficult to tell what this might have been
But after processing it looks like it could be several hand prints on the rock face
This view shows the majority of the artwork at the Braeside site. It gives you an idea of how many different paintings are there.
The whole site after being processed using DStretch
Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
The entrance of Dinosaur Provincial Park features a parking lot overlooking the majestic badlands below. There is also one of the park's self-guided interpretive trails, known as Prairie Trail, which explores the open prairie ecosystem that covers the outer edge of the park's land base. Along this trail is an ancient glyphstone with etchings carved by First Nation People. The boulder was originally found west of the park, but was relocated to the park in 1958 by local residents who wanted the stone to be protected, yet still accessible to everyone. The lines and pits that adorn the rock's surface were sculpted with tools made of bone or stone. It is unclear what the petroglyphs exactly mean, but two common theories are landmarks or sacred offerings before and/or after a buffalo hunt. There have been at least 13 of these sacred stones found in Alberta.

The sacred glyphstone in Dinosaur Provincial Park
A closer look at the etchings and pits on the stone's surface
When the stone was moved to this final resting place it was done in consultation with Elders from the Siksika Nation. They held a special ceremony to bless the stone at its new location on the open prairie.
The glyphstone sits below these protective bars to ensure it is not disturbed
Writing-On-Stone (Áísínai'pi) Provincial Park, Alberta
I mentioned Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in my original post about First Nation Rock Art, but at that time had only seen the famous Battle Scene. Luckily I was able to return to the park and take the guided tour, which offered access to some of the park's most famous sites. Writing-On-Stone, or Áísínai'pi as it's known in Blackfoot, is home to the largest collection of rock art on the Great Plains of North America. The park sits in the heart of the Blackfoot's traditional territory and holds great spiritual and cultural importance for their People. The tour guide informed us there are over 1,000 pieces of artwork that have been found inside the park and some are estimated to be over 5,000 years old. There is evidence that First Nation People camped in the area as long as 3,500 year ago, but it remains unclear when the first appearance of rock art truly was. Researchers believe that the Blackfoot created the majority of the artwork, but other groups such as the Cree, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Crow, Kutenai, and Shoshone are thought to have also contributed. Many of the petroglyphs that were created before the introduction of stone tools were incised or scratched onto the cliffs using antlers or bones. The pictographs were painted using red ochre, which is crushed iron ore mixed with animal fat or water. Sometimes even a piece of charcoal was used to create a painting. Unfortunately there is no technique that can accurately date rock art sites, instead researchers can approximate age based on objects depicted in the artwork or by analyzing changes in styles. Much of the rock art is still shrouded in mystery as the exact meaning for many pieces may never be known. Using a variety of methods, such as legends, archaeology, historical records, and the help of First Nation Elders, researchers can hypothesize some of the meanings behind the art. It is believed that much of the artwork was probably ceremonial, created during different rituals such as vision quests.

The self-guided Hoodoo Trail offers visitors the chance to see different rock art pieces without going on the guided tour.
This is the same photo as above after being processed in DStretch. Apparently it depicts a hunting scene complete with horses, bison, humans, and the sun.
This panel wasn't featured in the Self-Guiding Trail Brochure, but with keen eyes you can spot it from the trail. It features a pecked-out style of pictographs, which is different than other styles you'll see later.
This petroglyph represents a bear's paw; a sacred animal to many First Nation groups
This is an artist's rendering of the Battle Scene, one of the largest panels in the entire park and likely the most famous.
Photo from a Buzz Bishop blog post.
This is the rock face where the Battle Scene was carved. It is very difficult to see, but if you look closely you'll make out some of the figures. The scene is behind a steel fence to prevent destruction.
This is Signature Rock and it can be found in Police Coulee. In 1889 a North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Post was established on the south side of the Milk River. This rock was where many of the Mounties who were stationed at the post carved their names. Although carving your name into the cliffs is now illegal these carvings are considered historical graffiti and are embraced by staff as part of the park's history.
The next series of photos were all taken during my Rock Art Tour. All of the rock art in these photos is off-limits to the public unless you are accompanied by a guide. It is well-worth the extra time and money if you're visiting the park.
The above photo shows badly faded pictographs, but after being processed you can clearly see three shield-bearing warriors and one unidentified figure top left
This panel is immediately next to the above pictographs and features several figures including both animals and humans
This is a v-neck human holding a quiver of arrows
This is an arrow with two feathers attached to it
The figure in the centre of this circle is a representation of Napi
The small tick marks on the outside of the larger circle are an indication of counting, possibly tracking the passage of time
A large petroglyph panel with many human-like figures including a Medicine Man (inside the circle to the right of centre)
For many years this panel was thought to be vandalism, but it is now recognized as the earliest depiction of automobiles within the valley
The human-figure left of centre is depicted wearing his finest clothing. The lines coming off the body represent mink furs, which adorned clothing for special occasions.
These are horses and the lines at left likely represent the number of horses obtained during a raid
Another panel featuring shield-bearing warriors. The figure just left of centre that appears to be laying down with another small figure between his/her legs can be interpreted in two ways: (1) someone died and his/her spirit is leaving the body or (2) it's a mother giving birth to her child.
Copper Island, Shuswap Lake, British Columbia
I discussed Copper Island in my previous First Nation Rock Art post, but I found remnants of additional paintings not far from the previous ones. After scouting the location from the water it became apparent that I could climb up to them after a short swim from the boat. Unfortunately like the rest of the artwork on the island these pictographs were also badly faded with little traces of their original intent. Even after viewing them closely it was nearly impossible to determine what they were. Like the rest of the artwork in the Shuswap region I am assuming these were painted by the Shuswap People, but otherwise I have very little information about this site.

Faint smudges on the cliffs of Copper Island
Even after processing it's still difficult to see what it is
A series of red markings on the rock face
Again they are still indecipherable after processing
This red smudge is almost invisible
After processing it looks like it could be an animal figure, maybe a turtle?
This was a large piece on a steep section of rock, but there isn't much left of it anymore
Here's the same photo after being processed
This pictograph was on the adjacent rock to the one above
But much like its neighbour it has been lost to time
You can see faint red lines in the lower half of this photograph
After processing the lines become clearer, but not clear enough to tell what they originally were
Rat's Nest Cave, Alberta
Rat's Nest Cave is one of the longest caves in Canada and is located below Grotto Mountain; the limestone monolith that sits just east of Canmore. The mountain is likely best known for the popular hiking trail through Grotto Canyon than for its subterranean caverns. Likely not coincidental at all, but Grotto Canyon is also home to several pictographs and it's believed that the paintings at both of these sites are also linked to the artwork at Grassi Lakes, both of which I discussed in my previous post titled First Nation Rock Art. Rat's Nest Cave was first "discovered" in 1972, but there is ample evidence to suggest human presence as far back as 3,000 years. The exterior entrance was once adorned with pictographs, now indistinguishably faded. There is also a solitary figure depicted on the interior ceiling, a Medicine Man, much like the same figure at Grassi Lakes. The cave sits on private land and access is controlled by Canmore Cave Tours in conjunction with the landowner. So if you wish to see these pictographs you need to be accompanied by a guide or granted permission to access the area.

To learn more about the pictographs in the Bow Valley please refer to my story titled, Paintings From The Past.

This section of rock is immediately above the cave's main entrance and was once covered with pictographs
After processing you can see the faint remains of some of the artwork including hand prints
Inside the cave sits this solitary figure of a Medicine Man, even though he's pretty hard to see anymore
Even after processing it's still difficult to make out, but if you use your imagination you can see him
Fort Whoop-Up, Lethbridge, Alberta
Sitting outside Fort Whoop-Up is a solitary stone that carries great spiritual significance. Although the stone does not contain any historical rock art it does have cultural importance. According to legend a First Nation hunter saw a figure descend a coulee and sit down at the foot of it. The hunter thought it was a Medicine Pipe Man so he crossed the river to investigate, but found only a granite stone. That night as he slept near the stone a person appeared in his dream and said, "My son, I am the rock you saw. I want you and your children to come to offer me peace offerings at all times." From that point on the people of the Blackfoot Confederacy called the stone Mi'k(l)atowa'si, which translates to 'that which is has become red/holy'. Others called it 'The Painted Rock' as the stone was coated with reddish-brown soil to emulate the red blanket of the holy Medicine Pipe Man.

The Medicine Stone as it appears today
You can read more about the pictograph and petroglyph sites I have visited by visiting my Western Canadian Rock Art section on the Bradshaw Foundation's webpage.