Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park


July 31, 2009
The rain finally stopped at around 8 AM.  We shook the water off the tent, packed  and took off. As the cloud was still hanging low, we decided skip Banff and head directly for Elkwater, Alberta, our destination for camping tonight.

Cypress Hills

We chose this place because we learned that this hill, elevation 1,466 meters, is the highest point East of the Canadian Rockies, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.  Its nearest town is Elkwater, just 40some kilometers east of Medicine Hat. We turned onto Highway 41 from Highway 1, going south.  This is a very quiet road--all along the way, we hardly saw any town, any human, even cows and hay bales were sparse. 

After about half an hour we saw a good sized lake, tucked away in the bend of some rolling hills and Elkwater is hidden in a wooded area in a bend.    This quaint little town, population 107, is like an oasis in this wide stretch of prairie.  Though attractive, we did not stop in the town because we would like to get to the campground first.   Camping in this provincial park  is $22 per night, reservation is additional $10.  As we were not familiar with the camping situation here, we felt the reservation can help avoid some possible mishap such as not having
 a place to stay overnight.

The camping site is quite crowded.  We were surrounded on three sides by large RVs.  Luckily our four person tent is tall enough that we didn't feel too diminished.  Our concern, though, is that the noise from the generators and air-conditioners of the RVs will take away the quietness of nights which we so treasure on camping.  Actually, I almost has an aversion against RV because it is equivalent to carrying your bedroom, kitchen and washroom on wheels--in the name of convenience.  It is not just a question of the cost of energy.  There is a moral element in this phenomenon.   Here, on this campground, we had our first sad realization that RVs are taking over the camping.  Later, we find again and again,RVs are in.  Roll over, tents!

Lost?Just ask Fred and Cathy

After super, we went to the Visitor Center to fetch whatever information we could about the area.  The Center was already closed but area maps were available for picking up.  As we tried to figure out our where to turn to head for Reesar Lake, an SUV behind us pulled up and a bearded man came to us, said, "You look lost, maybe we can help you out."  That's how we met Fred and Cathy.  They both love the area so much that they camp around Reesar Lake during the summer months and volunteer as Cypress Hills Park Watch.   Happily, we followed them.  When we came to a outlook point up on a plateau, he stopped and began to explain to us the special features of the area.

"Glacier never covered this area,"he said, "and due to a caprock which protected this land from erosion, this plateau is high as it is." "Although this area doesn't look very high, the township of Elkwater has higher elevation than the township of Banff." We can detect a sense of pride in his voice and, indeed, this fact would strike most people as extraordinary. 

Project Black Sky 

Another interesting character of this area is its darkness.  The light pollution in this area is so minimum that  this area is ideal of star gazing.   Some nights, one can even see satellite with bare eyes.  It's included in NASA's "Black Sky" project.  And in 2004, this park area is declared "Dark-sky Preserve".  Not far from the outlook point is a star watching station.  Star buffs would lie flat on the picnic benches there and count the stars they observe.  In wintry nights, one even see aurora borealis here.  This really sounds tempting!  To see northern lights in such low latitude is worth trying!

After we left the lovely couple, we checked out the star watching station.  It's fenced in so animals would not get in to cause injuries. When we arrived, the sun was setting and extreme quietness surrounded us.  On the Southeastern sky hung a half moon, pale against the darkening blue sky, so peaceful, so elegant.  We took all these in, in silence.

Sunset at Horse Shoe Canyon

On the map, there is a Horse Shoe Canyon to the West.  It is so named because the land caved in, forming a chasm in the shape of a horse shoe.   As the sun set, it crisoms into deeper and deeper red.   We couldn't help but to compare it with the sunset over the sea in Richmond.  Here, the sea line is replaced by the land line which stretched into where our eyes could not tell where.  Instead of the dancing shiny waves created by the reflection of the setting sun on the water, here we saw layers upon layers of different shades of the land, the sky and the sun.  No need to have the accompaniment of clouds, just the red setting sun.  Just that.

It was getting rather cool.  But we insisted on bidding goodnight to this setting sun.  We stood there, watching the sun shed it bright rays, the fire ball turned from bright red into purplish, the sphere gradually eclipsed into half, then a sliver then vanished completely into the horizon.

 Good Night, Sun!

When night fell, it got to be quite cold.  The temperature dropped to the 40s (F).  I went to sleep wondering if I would get up in the middle of the night to watch the stars.  I didn't, but Din-sue did.  He came back exclaiming excitedly, "Oh, so many  bright and clear stars, each was shining like a diamond!"   These stars brought back to him his childhood memories.  "For how long have I missed the starry nights! " He sighed, recollecting the  star gazing summer nights in his distant farm house in Tainan.  He said, he didn't see any satellite.  Perhaps we need more patience and time.  A little luck, too.

Well, we should like to come back again, to this surprisingly interesting and challenging place.

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