"Campground Full" said the sign leading into Writing on Stone Provincial Park. We were still ten kilometers away, making our way along route 501 which runs parallel to the US border. We had counted on staying here - this was a 'Rae magical Alberta' suggestion. We hadn't come this far to be turned away.
We went on anyway. They found a spot for us for 2 nights. Moral of the story: never believe a sign.
Driving into this campground is astounding. You're riding the plain and then suddenly, you drop into the most alluring landscape imaginable. In the distance, the sweetgrass hills of Montana rise up like gentle guardians of the sun-baked flatlands. In the foreground, a fantasy terrain. These are the hoodoos...Natural rock sculptures grafted from the wear and tear of weather and time on sandstone...Sacred to the Blackfoot...Spectacular to the first-time viewer. We felt like we had been plunked down in some other-worldly space odyssey.
A resident mule deer wandered at will through the campground. The aptly named Milk River ran at some pace by its side. We headed out on the Hoodoo trail in the scorching heat of high noon. 300 hundred year old petroglyphs and pictograms carved into the cliffs along the canyon walls caught our attention and captured our imagination. We were mesmerized by the range and scope of the rock formations surrounding us...Neither of us had ever seen anything like it.
That evening we floated down the Milk River on florescent noodles...Cooling down, chilling out, sun setting. A rumble from above alerted us to an impending thunderstorm: the sky darkened, a rainbow appeared, plate lightning dappled the starry dome above us like fireworks, the rocks lit up like amber jewels. It was, as Rae had promised, magical.
We were not to know then that our magical night sky was the aftermath of nearby Cardston's devastating "hail-the-size-of-baseballs" storm of the century. No, a whole other day of rambling round the rock formations - capturing them in water colours (Rona) and learning about them at the excellent cliffside Visitor's Centre (Linnet) - would pass before then.
We'd hear murmurs of it while attending an informative lecture at the campground amphitheatre on raptors of the prairies presented by biologist Brad Downey the next evening. And we would slowly become aware that something wasn't quite right in Cardston as we drove into the town the following day.
For the time being, though - a time where time itself just seemed to stand still - we were simply enjoying this remarkable landscape. It goes without saying that Writing on Stone will remain forever engraved in our memories.