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11 November 2010

Red Rock Canyon & Bison Paddock in Waterton National Park

Red Rock Canyon and Bison Paddock

If you read our previous blog you know that Waterton National Park is huge, 505 km² or 203 mi². That is actually bigger then 192 of the smallest countries in the world (just thought you needed to know that)

Waterton National Park a Biosphere Reserve

Waterton Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserve. No other park in the world has these three designations. Waterton Biosphere Reserve as it is officially called, was designated in 1979 under what is called the internationally recognized "Man and the Biosphere program" of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), that sure is a mouthful. Biosphere Reserves are designed to promote and demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature.

Two black bears looking for food in Waterton National Park crossing Red Rock Parkway



Biosphere reserves ideally consist of two components:

  • A core protected area which is relatively undisturbed. This provides a "benchmark" or ecological standard for comparison purposes with altered landscapes.
  • A zone of cooperation adjacent to the core where a variety of resource uses take place.
Waterton National Park - Fall Colours

Lots of deer right in the town of Waterton

The Waterton biosphere reserve covers prairie grasslands, aspen grove forests, sub alpine forests, alpine tundra and meadows, cliffs, lakes and freshwater wetlands as well as disturbed, heavily grazed land in the prairies.

On our next side trip, after a coffee re-fill we headed for the Bison Paddocks. Just a short distance north of Waterton Lakes Nation Park town-site on Highway 6 is the Waterton Bison Paddock.

Buffalo or Bison Paddock in Waterton National Park

This is where a protected herd of rare Plains bison are kept for viewing as a reminder of their legacy as well as in attempt to aid in increasing their population size and advance their species.

Buffalo Paddock in Waterton National Park, Where Prairie Meets the Rocky Mountains

Huge Bison (also called Buffalo) herds once roamed the plains of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Their numbers estimated were between 30-70 million (I guess we never know, will we) in the 17th century. This animal has a keen sense of smell and can distinguish smells from 3km away.The numbers dwindle steadily due to over hunting, and also a steady loss of habitat. Close to the end of the 19th century there were just very few of them left. Bison are now listed on the province's endangered list.

Bison resting 

Bison in Waterton National Park

Back in the 17-1800 the Bison used traditional migration routes across the prairies. These migration routes are still visible from the air as deep, worn paths.

Bison are now farmed in many parts of Canada, like these in Saskatchewan.

The Bison get spooked very easily and stampede.

It's like thunder when the herd takes off

Remarkably, a handful of “wood bison”, a regional variant of the species with a range that once included the forested regions of northern Alberta, northwest Saskatchewan, parts of the Yukon and southern Northwest Territories, managed to survive the slaughters by the early settlers.

Plains Bison Roaming.
Plains Bison

So what's the difference between the Wood Bison and Plains Bison? The Plains Bison is lighter in colour than the Wood Bison. The Wood Bison is taller, has longer legs, is heavier, but it is less stockily built than the Plains Bison.

Red Rock Canyon

Next on our list is the Red Rock Canyon. A 14 km drive west on Red Rock Parkway takes us to the Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Parkway is a paved two lane road in good condition. It is however narrow and has many curves.

Red Rock Parkway following Blakiston Creek

The road follows Blakiston Creek, named for Lt. Thomas Blakiston of the Palliser Expedition in 1858, the stream is also often referred to as Pass Creek as it originates near the South Kootenay Pass.

The Blakiston Valley History
The fauna in the Blakiston Valley is incredible

The fauna in the Blakiston Valley is incredible

I think these are juniper berries (it's actually not a berry, but a female seed cone).

I think these are buffalo berries

Nature at it's best

More berries

With lots of wild life in the area, this is not a place for breaking speed records. We have been told that near the end of October until the beginning of May the road is closed to motor vehicles. This is to provide cycling, hiking, and cross-country skiing experiences without having to worry about vehicles on the road.

The landscape is wonderful

A hike is a must once you reach the Red Rock Canyon

I would say you need an absolute minimum of 2-4 hrs to see just a small portion. You could easy spend a whole day with several wonderful hikes. Arriving at the Canyon, we could not help noticing the striking colors of the bedrock layers.

Anders enjoying every minute by the little creek

Liz look in amazement at the colours

The layers of red, green and white coloured rock offer a brilliant contrast to each other and the lush surroundings.

Different layers of red and green-white minerals
No doubt this is Red Rock Canyon
Liz taking in the sights

There are several short self-guided hikes in the canyon that explain some of the ancient history of mountainous native civilizations, as well as the unique formation of Red Rock Canyon. If you  go to the Waterton National Park, this is a must see.
Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

There is so much more to see and do in the park. For more information on the park, go to the park website More pictures on our Picasa Web Album.

Our next blog will be: From Waterton,to Frank Slide, to Kaslo, BC

Cheers,

Liz & Anders

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