Cypress Hills — Day three in God’s country

He saved the best for the last. Monday morning, off we went for a second day at Dan Reesor’s ranch. This time, instead of heading out to where his cattle range over some 3,000 acres, we headed up … and up … and up. We started on a narrow road that soon turned into a track and then into a trail used by deer.

At the top, we came to the most fantastic field I’ve ever ridden. It was a high mesa that is grazed by cattle and elk and deer. I don’t even know the names of all the wild flowers that were there, but it was a veritable carpet of them like I’ve not seen before. There were the ubiquitous Alberta Wild Roses, but these were a shorter variety — a scant 12 inches tall as compared to the three and four foot ones found in the Edmonton area. There were “Brown Eyed Susans” (or at least that’s what my mother taught me to call them), and much to my surprise, Delphiniums — growing wild! There were other kinds of flowers, but I don’t know what they were. I wished everybody could see this. It’s amazing what Mother Earth shares when we allow her to do her thing!

From the top of this mesa, there is a steep cliff on one side. Dan said that it has been caving in and sliding down for a number of years, but he feels that it is stabilizing now. From the edge of it you can see across a wide valley to another tall hill … and to the right you can see down the valley and out to the plains. In the middle of the field there’s an area of about 50’x100′ that is fenced off with barbed wire. Dan explained that that is a test area that the Alberta government is monitoring to see how much better the field would do if cattle were not allowed up there (or if the cattle, in fact, help, which is Dan’s contention). They know what animals are there naturally by the dung left within the fenced enclosure where cattle can’t go. I laughed out loud when Dan said he’d like to go to the Calgary Zoo and get some ape dung and throw it in there!

I wish I’d remember to take my phone with me when I ride, but I never seem to. This would have been an excellent time to have it. The beauty is beyond words, but in talking to Dan Reesor, he says that Cypress Hills is carrying such a burden of deadfall that it is just a matter of time before the entire area goes up in flames! Apparently Cypress Hills has a bigger burden of tinder than any other forest in the province. They can’t use controlled burning here because the entire region is one long wind tunnel. There’d be nowhere that a back-fire could be started. The only option, then, is “mechanical means” … meaning logging. But this is a provincial park, and can you imagine the outcry if the government started logging? So when asked, Dan Reesor says, if it comes to fire, he’ll cut fences to let his cattle try to get out, load up his horses and his dogs and get out of Dodge. In the meantime, he’s taking hundreds of logging trucks of trees off of his 3,000 acres in the hope that that will help save his land.

Getting back down from that mesa was a trick! Talk about steep downhill riding! Whoa, Nellie! (Or would that be, “Whoa, Dingo”?) It was crazy steep, but as Dan pointed out, this is Cypress Hills, not Cypress Flats!

This was the most incredible ride I’ve ever done. Too bad we had to cut it short so that everybody could get home at a decent hour.

I’d say it was “Paradise Lost” … but that’s only for now. We will be back. Not this year, but we will be back. Count on it. And in the meantime … next stop: Willmore Wilderness Park on the August long weekend. You in?

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