Day 7: Grasslands National Park, 3679.4 km

At dawn we packed up camp and began our drive through Grasslands National Park.  The park is a huge expanse of prairie in the same state as the first settlers would have seen it.  There are miles of rolling hills with 70 different types of grass and wildflowers in bloom.  These were the lands where bison would stampede in huge numbers and animals adapted to live in a habitat with no trees and little shelter.  Burrowing owls make their home in the ground and prairie dogs build underground networks of tunnels where they live in communities for safety.  Prairie dogs are highly social animals who communicate with chirping noises and greet each other was a distinguishing “kiss”.  They resemble meerkats in the way they stand on their hind legs to survey the plains for danger.  Some of them are quite bold and allowed me to get very close to photograph them.

Grasslands National Park

Prairie clouds and grass hills at Grasslands National Park

Me harassing the prairie dogs

Me harassing the prairie dogs.

Adorable prairie dog

Adorable prairie dog watching for danger.

Pronghorn antelope

This pronghorn antelope was walking along the road on the way to Old Man on his Back National Park and didn’t seem too concerned about us.  There are very few visitors to this park so the animals are generally unperturbed by people.

Old Man On His Back National Park

Old Man On His Back National Park, home to a herd of wild bison.

Bison herd at Old Man on his Back National Park

This bison herd was about 130 meters away when we spotted them.  As it is the middle of mating season we were told not to go any closer than 100 meters to observe the herd, but of course we had to try and get just a little closer to see them.  We jumped out of the car and started approaching the bison from downwind.  Within 40 steps the big males spotted us and started charging.  We backed up slowly but it wasn’t until we felt the ground shaking that we turned tail and ran for the car – at which point the herd stopped chasing us and headed over the hill.  Although they look like slow-moving, overgrown cows, bison are highly aggressive and can run up to 65 km per hour.

Train in the prairies

Trains on the way to Cyprus Hills Provincial Park.