The calm after the storm

Sunday morning seemed colder than the previous mornings but not nearly as cold as my camping trip to Yellowstone a couple of years ago. I had survived the wicked storm and it appeared that so did everyone else. It was eerily calm and cool. With all that moisture last night there was also a hint of fog and I loved the colour of the light and shot some video of the sunrise. I can’t share video on here but I am still going to see if I can edit it into something worth watching.

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As the sun was trying to clear the horizon the fog got a bit thicker.

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And thicker still.

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As the sun climbed higher it appeared to be winning.

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But that didn’t last long.

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The fog came back with a vengeance.

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Campers in the fog

The fog put up a good fight for about an hour but eventually the sun started to beat it down. Something really cool happened in this time that I’d never seen before – a fogbow. I’m not sure what you are supposed to find at the end of a fogbow.

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From my campsite it appeared to come down on another campsite. As I moved around it moved as well. I even managed to get in a few “self portraits” while I was at it.

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My “abandoned” campsite looked a little spooky.dsc04504

Enough playing around – time for breakfast.

By the time I was all done the fog could only be seen in the distance.

Today I was going explore Val Marie and get fuel so I’d be ready to hit the road home tomorrow morning. I decided to take the scenic route back to see if there were different things to see in the morning as opposed to yesterday afternoon.

I saw the same Pheasants as my other trips through here. And I got pretty much the same photo of him as the last time.

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Surprisingly enough, he took off and left the hens to fend for themselves. They were in the grass in no time but at least they were a bit closer. Not that it made for a better photo though.

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Nothing else caught my eye on my way to town and soon I was in Val Marie.

Val Marie is not exactly a booming metropolis as the last population count was 137 people – 10 years ago. The only paved streets in town are the 2 highways that run through and calling them paved is being very generous. All the streets are gravel but seemed more mud like, but they do have sidewalks. Narrow, 1920’s sidewalks, but sidewalks none the less.

They also have not 1 but 2 grain elevators still standing. They are closed, but still there.

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There are also a lot of rundown buildings.

I liked the 1 pane of glass still in the door on this house. It wasn’t till after I took the photo that I noticed the lock isn’t actually attached to anything.

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For such a sparsely populated area, the sure had a lot of people go to war in WWII.

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So far the old grain elevators are the most exciting thing I’ve seen.

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I wandered a couple of blocks and checked out the middle of town. Godforsaken was the word that sprang to mind as I walked around.

The hotel is not only for sale but it’s currently closed.

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Actually, everything in town was closed.

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The only business that didn’t appear to be abandoned was a restaurant that was closed for a couple weeks for holidays.

There are a couple small parks in town. One had a restored firetruck in it. Looked pretty rough to me for being restored.

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I took 1 last shot of the grain elevators before I got the hell out of Dodge

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I headed back towards the park in search of something exciting.

I was almost there when I spotted a Pronghorn Antelope standing on the road staring intently at a group of friends off in the distance. I was almost in the perfect shooting position when he walked off the road and presented 1 angle for me.

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These Antelope were too far away to get any good photos so I tried the ones I saw on the other side of the road.

I walked slowly to the fence line to get as close as possible and this little guy was sitting on one of the posts.

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Once I got to the fence I realized just how far away the Antelope really were.

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Just inside the park fence is a fairly large Prairie Dog town and I stopped to have a quick walk around.

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There is a short loop trail there and I walked it to see if there was more exciting things to see.

I liked the look of the valley.

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As I was getting back to the truck the pack of students were pulling up for their final stop before heading home.

As I drove away I was thinking to myself that I probably could of gone home yesterday as I’d seen pretty much all the park had to offer. I’d only gotten about 100 yards when I say this little guy.

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That’s not a Prairie Dog – that’s a Burrowing Owl. Okay, good choice to stay till tomorrow I thought. I had thought they had all left the park already. I had never seen one before and was pretty excited to see him.

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Burrowing Owls are about the size of a pop can and even with a 600 mm lens he wasn’t very big in the viewfinder. The Prairie Dogs are bigger than he is.

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I saw a flurry of activity out of the corner of my eye and watched a bunch of Prairie Dogs all running in the same direction and soon saw why. The Coyote just seemed to be passing through and didn’t show any interest in them.

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Back to the Owl.

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He was running around catching bugs but most of the time he was running away from me. Finally he started heading more in my direction. He still wasn’t all that close and somehow my white balance changed to a lot cooler.

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He continued to come closer than before but even so, I still cropped this in about 50 percent so he’s show up better.

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He headed off away from me again so I decided I should get some lunch and figure out the rest of the day’s activities.

I found some shade to have lunch in and decided that I still wasn’t up to waking in the sunshine so my quest to find all the red chairs in the park would go unfulfilled. It was an 11.2 km loop along the Broken Hills Trail to find the last pair and that was just too far for me today.

I went back to the campground to read and charge up all my devices batteries.

It was starting to cool off and cloud over as I finished my supper and soon it was raining. There was a bit of a wind blowing but no where near as strong as last night. The rain was steady but didn’t seem to be coming down that hard as I fell asleep.

 

 

 

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Red chairs and night sky

Woke up around midnight feeling like I was laying right on plywood. Yup, as I suspected, my mattress is flat. I guess having it put a way for 6 years might not have been a good idea. A whole lot of tossing and turning over the next few hours ensue as I try to get comfortable enough to get some more sleep. I finally decide at 6:30 am that it’s not too early to get up. I’m going to have to put all the extra blankets I brought under my sleeping bag for softness. Luckily it’s warm enough that won’t be a problem.

I could hear Bison lowing but there were none in site. Sound travels well in the still air as they are over the hill on the west side of the campground. By the time I was done breakfast and the associated dishes I decided to explore around the campground a bit. There is a trail out of the campground up over the hill to the Belza Day Use area that I thought I’d check out. I can still hear Bison in that direction so I cautiously crest the hill looking for them. I can see they are hanging around the area I’m heading to so I walk a bit closer and stand still waiting patiently for them to move along. They move off a bit so I move forward and wait again. One of the bulls keeps looking over at me but I’m far enough away the he decides not to bother with me. They finally moved off far enough for me to go look at the viewpoint. I shot a couple photos of the Bison but I wasn’t happy with what I got so I deleted them and will just have to reach into the brain cells for those memories.

As I’m looking over the valley I spot this young lady.

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I wandered off to check out more of the lookout area and when I came back I thought my doe was gone, but with careful searching I found her.

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Can you spot the deer?

At least I think it’s her. While I stood on top of the hill 3 deer emerged. I know I took some photos of them all but I don’t have the files and there is no gaps in my file numbers so I have no idea of what happened to them.

Even though Lynda wasn’t with me I decided to try and find all the Red Chairs in the park. These ones weren’t even hard as they are in view from the viewpoint. Their location isn’t on the map and apparently they are elusive as for some reason I only took one photo of them and it is not even close to sharp. Maybe I should go back to coffee in the mornings.

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I did sit on them and do a view from the chair panorama though.

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There are a couple of Bison down on the flat near the middle of the photo but good luck seeing them.

I did a bit closer shot of the river because it reminded me of a reverse giant question mark.dsc04357

I was enjoying sitting in the sunshine with all the peace and quiet but decided it was time to head back to the campground. Along the way some of the bushes caught my eye.

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Was going to hang out at the campsite for a while and explore the immediate area when one of my neighbours had their propane alarm go off. Even with the wind blowing the sound away from me it was quite annoying so I hit the road in search of adventure.

I didn’t get very far from the campground (just down the road and around the corner) when I made my first stop. The former Larson homestead still has a few rough looking building on site. There is a 1.4 km trail that takes you around the area.

These Bison were on the flat across the river.

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They are farther away then they look.

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As I started along the trail I met Brent and Cheryl Reid, the couple who’s propane alarm was going off. Nice couple from Comox, BC. We chatted for a while and they went off to disable the alarm so not to bother anyone else and I continued along my walk.

I could certainly find colour but it’s pretty low to the ground in this area.

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The path winds along the river.

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The Frenchman River with the Larson homestead in the background

It’s a pretty easy walk through the grass. I didn’t see any wildlife but found something interesting to catch my eye. At first I thought it was an egg that was smashed but realized it was a dried out mushroom someone had stepped on.

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The yellow wasn’t all that bad, still not the red and oranges of eastern hardwood forests, but not bad.

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Leaving the Larson Homestead I got all of a couple hundred meters and stopped at the Black-tailed Prairie dog town. Grasslands National Park is the only place they live in all of Canada. They look like really big gophers to me. Was hard to just shoot them with a camera.

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I headed south again and came across a couple male Ring Necked Pheasants. I got shots of them from the seemingly prerequisite distance.

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The west block of Grasslands is currently in 3 parts with “land in transition” in between. I headed out of the part I was in to go look for more red chairs in the far SE corner of the park.

Not far from the park gate I just left is another massive Prairie Dog town and I saw a Badger and had time to get exactly 1 photo of him.

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He disappeared down a hole and in the 10 minutes or so I waited for him to come back out I got nothing. The Prairie Dogs went about their business once he was out of sight.

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The map I was following wasn’t exactly accurate and I only drove into 1 driveway by mistake. I found the red chairs after I drove by the area and out of the park. Once I did that I had a reference point to go back to find them. It was easy once I knew where to look. At least this time I got them in focus.

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I did a view from the chair shot like usual.

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It’s a long way to anywhere from up here.

I had my lunch and decided I’d do a few photos of myself in the chairs. With Lynda at home I had to substitute a body to take her place. Last year while we were in Vancouver we went to the Aquarium and decided souvenirs were cheaper than going in. Lynda bought me a stuffed shark and I named him Jeremy Sharkson, Esquire. Jeremy came with me as he’d been cooped up at home for about a year. He was happy to get out and pose – for the most part – till he got hungry.

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Since it was just a flesh wound, I decided to head back towards the campground.

No map needed to get back and as I got to the first Prairie Dog town I’d stopped at there was a lone Bison walking towards the road.

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I just stayed out of his way and let him cross.

It was a bit too windy to sit at my campsite and read so I went into the Centre they have there to read. The bonus was there were lots of power outlets so I could recharge my phone and make sure my camera battery was topped up.

I couldn’t help but notice how many insects were inside and just outside the windows so I figured I’d try to get a photo or two.

1st up was one of the massive spiders I found. It was hanging outside in front of one of the windows.

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There were a crap ton of wasps inside so I thought I’d see if I could find an angle that looked cool.

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I sat around and read for a couple hours before I had to get supper underway. Once that was all done and cleaned up I had more time to kill before it got dark. It was a clear night and it looked like I might be able to try some night sky photography.

I hauled my big ass tripod back up the hill to where the red chairs were. It was a bit harder to find them in the dark but I managed.

Being able to focus was a challenge. I cranked up my ISO so I could have fairly short exposure times but it was still hard to see enough to focus on stars. I used my flashlight to light up the chairs and focused on them.

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I still didn’t get the chairs as sharp as I’d like but the sky looked pretty damn cool. I have never been able to get photos of the Milky Way before. It was pretty damn cool.

I tried to light the chairs up but with my ISO where it was, no matter how little light I tried to put on them it was too much. I tried using my flash at low power and it looked like they had been nuked. I tried my penlight and while not as bright as my flash, it was not going to be usable. So I got between the light and the camera and it wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was better.

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My final solution was to shoot an exposure for the chairs and I and layer it with one of the sky. My Photoshop skills are not the greatest, but it’s good enough for me.

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I played around for about an hour before I started getting tired. I could see the trail without my flashlight so I followed it back down the hill. It wasn’t the “official” trial so it ended at the campground fence. Getting over the fence wasn’t the problem but once I was over it, there was no more trail to follow and it was darker than the inside of a cow there. I didn’t want to turn on my flashlight and disturb my fellow campers so I slowly made my way towards my campsite. Unfortunately, where I crossed the fence was at the only campsite in the entire campground that had any bushes around it. I thrashed my way through the bushes, avoided stepping on their tent and found the road through the campground. No one yelled at me so I was hoping they were sound asleep.

Crawled into my softer than plywood but harder than an air mattress bed a couple hours later than the previous day. No cake this year but all in all, a good day to turn a year older.