bearly made it too much coffee versus a nervous cinnamon bear

I know the little bear was just as surprised to see me as I was surprised to see him.

I know this because he was about ten feet in front of my truck and looking back at me about as bug-eyed as a bear can get.

For a couple of seconds we just stared at each other through the windshield and then, as if a bell had rung, I grabbed for my camera at the exact second the bear started to run.

I had just turned in to the Bighorn rest area in Sheep Creek Provincial Park. The two cups of coffee I had guzzled on the way out there had done exactly what coffee always does and I was approaching desperation as I sped around the corner and drove toward the two little shacks put there for the exact purpose for which I intended to use at least one of them.

Why the bear was there, I don’t know.

My window was already down and the camera on the passenger seat as I grabbed it and aimed out the window. The bear was just crossing from the gravel to the grass as he broke into a gallop and I let the motor drive rip. But the light was dim at 7 a.m. here in the forest and my shutter speed was too low. I got one iffy picture and he was gone into the trees.

I stopped the truck and opened the door to carry on with my business but as I did, the bear peeked around the corner of one of the little buildings. I slammed the door shut and grabbed the camera again. The bear bolted. And then came back again.

Okay, Mr. Ursus Americanus, you win. I had no intention of playing hide-and-seek with him. I rolled on, jaw tight and trying not to shift on my seat too much.

The light on the Sheep River valley was stunning, morning sun softened by a blue haze off to the east, mist coming off the meadows. Although my mind was otherwise occupied, I managed to fire off a few pictures as I drove on and just down the road I found a flock of bachelor bighorn rams.

Slim and sleek in their summer coats, they mostly just stared at me as I shot my pictures. I could see the sunlight glinting off their coppery eyes and even shining through the the translucent part of their horns at the tip of the curl. A trio of curious whitetail deer started toward them but they noticed the truck and bounded off.

I had to go too because, well, I had to go. So I continued west, my eyes scanning the trees and valleys for anything interesting - saw a redtail hawk, an eagle, more whitetails, around a hundred cattle - while the middle third of my body kept flashing warning signs that I was rapidly approaching critical mass.

The sound of the the nearby Sheep River Falls nearly did me in as I pulled in to the attraction’s parking lot and kicked open the door. Had there been an 800-pound grizzly between me and the little shack I was headed for, well, I wouldn’t have made it to the shack. But not for lack of trying.

The mental stress of listening to the sound of running water now alleviated, I grabbed my cameras and tripod and headed over to have a look at the falls.

From here on downstream, the Sheep River runs over a series of sandstone shelves before it runs into the canyon below. The waterfalls here aren’t as high as some of the other southern Alberta cataracts but they are every bit as pretty as them. The glossy water drops only about three metres but the thunder it creates gets magnified but the amphitheatre that thousands of years of falling water has created.

But even over that roar, I could hear the sound of dippers.

These crazy little birds actually walk on stream bottoms looking for food and they love these fast currents. I watched a pair of them flying back and forth through the mist below the falls for a good ten minutes before I realized that they had a nest under the rock shelf the falls was tumbling over.

I moved down below the falls so I could see it better. It was actually quite a big thing for such small, robin-sized birds, a basketball-sized mound of moss with a small hole for an entrance. Each time a dipper flew up to it, yellow-lined beaks would appear in the doorway.

The wind was starting to pick up as I walked back to the truck and storm clouds were starting to build. I headed up Gorge Creek Trail to look around before the storm hit.

I’d seen a herd of elk on the way out, all moms and babies, just west of Turner Valley and I was hoping I might find some more of them on the grassy slopes up Gorge Creek. But the further I went up the creek, the stronger the wind got. If they were there, they were hunkered down.

What I did see, though, were lots of flowers.

There was bunchberry all over the forest floor and tall yellow arnica bouncing in the breeze that made it through the trees. Paintbrush and blanket flowers added colour to the bright green of the new grass among the stands of aspen. The crowns of white flowers on the cow parsnip were starting to open and the wind carried their sulphury smell.

A chipping sparrow posed for me.

The clouds got darker as I headed back out of the valley but at Windy Point, I made one more stop. I wanted to get a picture of the canyon here so I walked down toward the edge.

And I got a surprise.

There is a waterfall, a long horsetail of water made by a tiny creek that runs under the road. I am embarrassed to say that even though I’ve been poking around up here for more than 30 years, I have never noticed it before. It’s probably seasonal and is just a trickle for most of the year but it is lovely right now.

I photographed the canyon and the pretty waterfall and headed back to the truck as the rain began to spit down. Wind was starting to bend the trees and flatten the grass. I was pretty sure I heard thunder.

And I nearly stepped in a pile of bear poop. Fairly fresh, too.

My little cinnamon friend? Don’t know, didn’t wait around to find out.

But that reminded me that I had just finished a one-litre bottle of Diet Coke. A vague but familiar feeling began to stir.

Time to head on home.

But I had just one more stop to make.


JUNE 27, 2017

Photographed with the Canon EOS M5, the Canon 7D Mark II, with the Canon 70-300 and the Sigma 150-600C.

PS - If you know what the name of the falls by Windy Point is, please let me know in the Facebook comments for this Spark Page link. It's too pretty to be unnamed but I couldn't find any information about either the falls or the creek.


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