Canada turns 150 this year and Parks Canada has opened up its gates to give visitors free access to all the national parks across Canada. When I say ‘free’ I mean I paid for it with my taxes but not out of my wallet.
I ordered my Park Pass in December and it never came – or hasn’t yet but the temperatures were so lovely to day (-2C) that I decided to get up early and head 45km east to Elk Island National Park. I went to the gate and it directed me to the Visitor Pavilion where I went in to get my pass. I was asked a few questions:
- How many people will be using this pass?
- What is your postal code?
- Have you ever been to Elk Island National Park before?
Have I ever been? Sure I had! I like to bring visitors from out of country here. EIP is a nature preserve and is filled with Bison, both Wood and Great Pains. So for someone who had never seen one before, coming here is pretty spectacular. It isn’t a zoo though. It’s not like you can go to the Bison enclosure and take a look at them. It is wilderness so you might see one or you might not. I had been here when I was younger and saw herds of them and I had been and only saw a single one. Today I was hoping to see a few. The park is also filled with elk, deer, moose, wolves, coyotes and birds.
So I hung my pass on my mirror and away I went! I didn’t have snow shoes and if I am coming back here, I think I need to either rent a pair at the Visitor Pavilion or buy a pair. The snow was deep and walking was not easy. I looked at the map and decided to head to Astotin Lake. It is the only lake where you don’t have to hike to, the parking lot is right by the beach. So that was my destination. But first I was going to circle the Bison Loop Road to see if anyone was out in the paddock today.
That was a negative. There were lots of animal tracks but none around. What I did see was the Red Chair. These Red Chairs are set up all over Parks Canada and are located in special view point spots. These beauties were overlooking the paddock on Bison Loop Road. I saw two earlier at the Visitor Pavilion. Now I want to see all of them in Alberta.
After I left the loop I drove north to Astotin Lake. We (me and Cap) came to the parking lot and I saw a single bison munching on grass in the distance. I rolled down my window to take a photo and my pup was over my shoulder barking, snarling and growling at the bison – who was unaffected and just ate. Bison are a lot like cattle. They seem docile and only concerned about eating. This was was no different, although I am smart enough to know to keep my dog away and not to approach these large creatures. They are after all, wild animals.
We left the beach parking and I headed up to the golf course because I just didn’t want to fight with Cap. I knew there was a nice little 6k loop around the lake and thought it would be a nice diversion.
We got out of the car and I noticed the silence. I didn’t even hear birds which was weird for a park that has 250 bird species.
My goal was to head out to the next set of Red Chairs. Cap found all kinds of new smells. As a former wild dog who has now retired to a cushy city life, he was sniffing and digging in search of all kinds of old familiar scents.
We hiked through a foot of snow towards the bison gate.
I was happy I decided to wear snow boots instead of my trail shoes.
Once we made it to the gate, Cap was a little reluctant to go any further. He stopped dead still and listened. I heard nothing, but being deaf I wasn’t all that surprised. Still, the silence was so peaceful. We were the only two city people out and I was the only human except for the park ranger. Early morning does that, people are still in bed.
We made it around the bend before Captain stopped and would not go any further. He sniffed the ground and looked further down the trail. He sniffed again at a very large paw print. it was 3 times the size of his. The he turned around and began pulling me back towards the gate. I have a sled dog. This fellow can pull me up a hill without much effort. He is about 75lbs and is a big boy. Pulling me is something we fight about. He is not allowed to do that, but he sensed danger so we needed to get out and fast. I had never seen such urgency in him before.
I think the track was wolf. Likely more as they run in packs. The difference between a coyote and wolf track is the size and the claws at the end of the toe prints. This thing was huge. Captain wanted nothing to do with this smell. He was going so fast and so hard he pulled the leash right out of my hands and he ran for the car. Stopping every now and again to look over his should to see if the wolves were coming. Once he got to the car, he sat and waited. I swear he was tapping his foot say ‘COME ON HUMAN – HURRY UP!’
As soon as I opened the door he was in – he usually goes through the back hatch, but he jumped into the front seat and then made his way into the back where he sits. He was not getting out of the car again.
I drove back to the beach and the bison was far off in the distance. I wanted to get out but Cap would not leave the car.
I got out and took some photos but it was less fun without my pal, so we left for the drive back.
I am definitely coming back. I will rent snowshoes and bring a picnic lunch. Skating round the island opens up in February so that might be fun and this is the perfect spot to set up the telescope at night. With my handy pass and the park being only a 30 minute drive from my doorstep, I can see me here a lot this year. I am also not coming without my pal, clearly he is the watch dog I need. Who knows what might have happened if I snuck up on a pack?
I am so very thankful I live here. Thanks Parks Canada!