Last weekend, having taken leave of our senses, Mike and I decided to take a preliminary expedition into winter camping. Not so long ago we picked up a reasonably priced 4-season tent from MEC (more on that in an upcoming review) and the forecast was mild, which seemed like the best time to give it our first go. Maybe it wasn’t “Arctic Conditions” winter camping, but March in Alberta is pretty fierce, so it still counts.
There isn’t a ton of selection when it comes to parks that are open for winter. We could have random camped, but we thought for our first time, it would be wist to pick somewhere that had some luxuries, like toilets, and fire pits. After consulting the internet, we settled on Dinosaur Provincial Park, which is actually nowhere near Drumheller, as the name might lead you to expect. Rather it’s about 45 kms northeast of Brooks.
We set out on Saturday morning, and had a really lovely drive out there. We saw two snowy owls along the way (which were sadly a bit too difficult to photograph. As was the ring-necked pheasant we came across, the first one I’ve ever seen in the wild, but Mike managed a shot of it from a great distance away.
When we arrived at the park, there were some deer just hanging out on the hill, which made for some great photos!
There were some people picnicking in the park when we arrived, but it looked like we would be the only campers. We decided to set up our tent, throw all of our gear inside, and then take a hike before we lost all of our daylight.
The terrain and the scenery there seems oddly alien in the middle of the wide open prairies, but it’s beautiful and unique and we had a wonderful time exploring the area.
We hiked around for a couple of hours, enjoying the nice weather and taking in all of the sights. When we returned to our site, Mike got started working on the fire, and I set up to make us some dinner (which was hamburgers). The fire took some coaxing, even with dry wood, but Mike was persistent, and eventually we had a lovely fire going.
Everyone had cleared out of the area by this time, except for a pair of researchers who wandered over and introduced themselves. They were biologists, studying the bats in the area, which apparently fly all winter. They were extremely polite and friendly, and just wanted to let us know that they would be walking around with their headlamps on, looking for subjects, and that we should not be alarmed. It was interesting to hear about the research they were doing. Apparently the bats come out of a semi-hibernation to find water.
It was so nice to sit around a campfire again! We could hear an owl calling, not far off. For the most part though, it was quiet, except for the crackling of logs, our own voices, and the occasional passing biologist. I made us a cup of hot chocolate as the evening wore on, and soon enough it was time for bed. There was a chill in the air, but our tent and sleeping bags kept us totally toasty all night long! We stayed warm and comfortable, and the new tent preformed well, which was awesome.
Morning arrived, and boy was it windy! A storm was blowing in, so we didn’t waste any time. After reluctantly extracting ourselves from the tent, we decided to take a quick drive to check out some of the fossil beds that were on display in the area. You can also hike out to them, which we would have liked better, but there wasn’t enough time.
There was a lot of interesting information about the area, and about the excavations that have been done there. I would like to take the kids in the summer, as I think they would really enjoy it.
Once we returned to camp, I made some breakfast while Mike started packing up our things. It was beginning to snow, and although we had wanted to stay longer, we decided we should get on the roads before they became too impassable.
I’ve never fried eggs and sausage in a parka before.
118. Camp in the winter
Once we had everything packed, and our bellies were full, we departed for home. It was a shorter trip than I would have liked, but it was well worth it. We made it home safe after a harrowing drive (visibility was very poor and there were plenty of less fortunate drivers in the ditches) and decided that we should like to do more winter camping in the future, but we may have to wait until next season 😉