Oct 2nd + Oct 3rd Part 1
Touchdown in Calgary - it is warm and sunny, unhurried and bright, and even the wind that typically roars off the Rockies in autumn is resting. My passport is full of stamps from this airport, each one the link to a different memory: Jan 22 2003, May 03 2007, Oct 09 2009, Aug 28 2006...etc, etc. Calgary has always been my gateway to western Canada, and in a sense it personifies the paradox of wildlife conservation in the country that surrounds it, full of people enjoying its scenic location, yet struggling with the coyotes and cougars on its doorstep.
All about the immigration hall, giant photographs of the wilderness stare down at me - the mountains of Jasper and Yoho, the eerie hoodoos of Dinosaur Park. Out there, not more than an hour or two from the big city, are some of the grandest treasures of the natural world, yet many of them are overlaid by a familiar mosiac of unsustainable development and predator hunting and lethal roads. There is still hope there, somewhere, but I'm not heeding the call of the high mountains today.
Past the fountains and bronze horses and replica dinosaur bones, away from the smoothie shops, and out into the Calgary sunshine - even here, you can taste a sample of mountain-born air This is - or was - a boom town after the finest old west style, but if you head in the right direction, the skyscrapers soon fade, and grain elevators stand proud in their stead. I have an eight hour journey ahead through the meadow of a hundred colours
The subtle grandeur of the prairie gradually translates into an almost African vista.
And still the road goes on, into a night of a million stars, past the odd farm vehicle, but there are very few lights of buildings in the sea of grass out there in the blackness But the next morning, the light returns with an ethereal glory
The year is changing, the memories of that soaked spring melting away like vapour off a river.
The fox cubs have long gone from their den. And the wild creatures who will sleep throughout the winter are getting their last fill of sunshine.
Prairie dogs share the landscape with wildlife that casts much longer shadows
Bison are built for this harsh land; they are much more efficient grazers than cattle.
But some animals are surprisingly lively. A flock of sharp-tailed grouse are busy displaying beside the road
I haven't seen this behaviour before. I assume it is something to do with the males seeking prime positions in the lek (breeding display area), which are apparently determined in the autumn and winter, rather than spring, but I don't know very much about this particular species.
I have only a couple of hours in Grasslands park. My road this time is turning southwest But I leave a watcher behind: my trail camera, which has had some success here in the past. It stands alone on a wildlife trail as I head for the international border.
A coyote puppy watches us leave the park, but it is too quick for me. Five days, and then I will be back. But for now, a different horizon is calling