When you get the opportunity to camp in some of Alberta's most diverse and alien landscape, you grab it with both hands. Dinosaur Provincial Park serves up some of the most interesting geological formations in Canada. Boulders sit atop pedestals of sculpted sandstone and hoodoos cast ominous shadows in the morning light. It's easy to forget that you're walking on one of the largest deposits of dinosaur fossils in Canada (if not the world). From swarms of mosquitoes to rain slick terrain, we explore the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Setting up base-camp
Finding a balance between family time and photography is always an interesting pursuit. As a weekend warrior it's not uncommon to have the entire family (complete with dog) with you during your journeys. Thankfully a large majority of the path systems at Dino Park are accessible (and manageable) to children and dogs. I was able to scout out a decent section of the landscape while enjoying time with the family. This was also an introduction to the overwhelming swarms of mosquitoes we'd encounter the entire trip. We were moving along at quite a pace, as stopping for even a moment guaranteed a fresh set of bites - bug spray or not.
It goes without saying (and yet I am) that kids and landscape photography don't always mix, so it's important to schedule time away from the family and venture out for some "patient shoots". The best way to do that is during the early hours of the day when the light is prime and everyone is still asleep. Unfortunately for us it had rained all night and left the paths in a sludgy, slippery state. I suppose that's the price you pay for the beautiful morning light. There was simply no turning back..
Slippery when wet
No, this isn't a tribute to Bon Jovi, but it was an apt description of the paths we were about to encounter. To top it off I hadn't slept a wink that night. Between the pounding rain and the anticipation of our 4:30 AM hike I was wired. It wasn't long before my dog alerted us to a visitor outside the tent. Darren, complete with fedora, was packed up and ready to roll before I even noticed the time. I had managed to doze off for a moment and was now behind schedule by 30 minutes - not a good start. We were now in a rush to beat the morning light; so much for my ritual morning coffee.
It took only 10 minutes into our hike before one of us (namely Darren) took a dramatic spill that left both body and gear caked in a thick layer of clay-like mud. I wish I had snapped a photo of the aftermath but I was more concerned with his health and the gear that smashed into the ground. Good thing the A900 camera body is rigid enough (thanks to the magnesium alloy body) to take a serious blow. That said, I'll be sure to capture Darren's trips, falls and grotesque injuries in the future... safety first, right?
After tackling several more "slip and slopes" we finally hit level ground and took a moment to get our gear prepared for the sunrise. The overcast sky stole a lot of the magic from the sunrise, and between the mosquitoes and treacherous paths we were in a less than ideal state of mind. We each snapped off a couple dozen photos then plotted our exit from the cliff... All in all it wasn't what we were hoping for, and we both left the path with a sense of regret.
Touring the reserve
Provincial programs to the rescue! The inherit risk of shooting landscape photos close to a popular campsite is, well, other people. Coupled with that is the modern infrastructure required for the buildings, roads, etc. It truly feels like you're never far from civilization. The saving grace came in the form of a guided sunset tour facilitated by the park staff. I was skeptical that the tour would offer up something unique, especially for only $24, but we would soon discover that the reserve areas held a great number of secrets.
We lucked out and had a very small group for the tour - five total. Kale (our wonderfully enthusiastic tour guide) took us up a back road and unlocked the gate which limited travel (by car at least) to guided tours only. What followed was a stretch of narrow, bumpy roads and a few scheduled stops in some of the most bizarre terrain we had ever experienced. The tour was decidedly the highlight of the entire trip for me. You know you're in a magical place when you don't even know where to start with your compositions!
Dinosaur Provincial Park held great promise for our landscape photography, and with help from the park staff it delivered just that. The mosquitoes put a severe damper on the occasion but that's a small price (a collection of small bites more like) to pay for experiencing the magic of the Badlands during the summer months. We highly recommend the sunset tour assuming you can head out with a smaller group.
Check out a few of our favorite shots from the journey!