A small patch of semiarid grasslands along the Milk River of southern Alberta may seem insignificant but Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park (established in 1957, 2689 hectares) is a place of magic and mystery.
Renowned for Pictographs And Petroglyphs etched and painted onto the sandstone cliffs, the park contains the greatest concentration of aboriginal rock art on the North American plains. The Shoshoni, Gros Ventre and later the Blood felt that the area was inhabited by powerful spirits. Ritualistic carvings and paintings were left on the sandstone cliffs of the Milk River as messages to the spirits. Succeeding generations came to believe that spirits left the writings. Buffalo hunters, medicine men, warriors and young boys on their vision quests returned to the sites for hundreds of years seeking spiritual advice. Elders still visit the writings and ceremonies are performed at the base of the cliffs. In 1977 an archaeological preserve was established to prevent damage by graffiti and vandalism. Public access to the rock art panels is restricted to guided interpretive tours. In 2004 the national significance of Aísínai'pi (Blackfoot for "it is written") was recognized when it was designated as a national historic site.
Fields of bizarre Hoodoos, riparian cottonwood forests, prairie grasslands and the backdrop of the Sweetgrass Hills (in Montana, US) produce a spectacular landscape permanently etched into the spirit of many who visit the area. The park was expanded in 1992 from 400 hectares to 1718 hectares and in 2011 to its present area. A spectacular array of plants and animals including many rare species have been recorded for such a small protected area.
Over 100 species of birds have been noted. Golden eagles, Canada geese and prairie falcons nest on cliff ledges. Forests of cottonwoods with thickets of willow, thorny buffaloberry, rose and dogwood along the rivers and coulee bottoms are some of the most productive songbird habitat in southern Alberta. Sage thrasher, lazuli Bunting and rufous-sided towhee are common residents.
The rare brassy and silvery minnows and stonecat (catfish) are among the more than 20 species of fish found in the Milk River. Reptiles include rattlesnake, bullsnake and plains and wandering garter Snakes.
Of the 22 species of mammals, mule deer, white-tailed deer, Pronghorn, yellow-bellied marmot, white-tailed jack rabbit and Nuttall's cottontail are frequently seen. Two species of Cacti (common plains prickly pear and pincushion) and a species of yucca (Spanish bayonet) are some of the more interesting of the 265 species of plants.
The park has a campground with a central shower, day-use area, small beach, group-use areas and trails. Interpretive programs and guided walks are conducted in the summer.
See also Writing-On-Stone Archaeological Site.