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"Writing on Stone" National Historic Site: EarthCache

Hidden : 07/20/2007
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Geocache Description:

"Writing on Stone" National Historic Site: Earthcache

Writing on Stone Provincial Park and National Historic Site is located along the Milk River 42km South East of the town of Milk River, Alberta Canada. Writing on Stone protects 4,400 acres of the dry mixed grass sub region of Alberta's Grassland Natural Region. Near the Alberta - Montana border, Writing on Stone is a unique environment of spectacular sandstone formations along the meandering Milk River and adjacent to large stretches of unbroken grasslands. The river winds through a wide valley filled with an intriguing mix of cliffs, hoodoos, grassy knolls and coulees. It is also rich in animal and plant life.

Please when visiting this wonderful place, remain on trails and leave no sign that you were there, take with you only the memory and visions which will be forever etched in your mind.

A SACRED PLACE  A wide, green valley, steep sandstone cliffs, strange rock formations called hoodoos -  all of these things make Writing on Stone a special place. For thousands of years, this unique environment has drawn First Nations people to Writing on Stone. In the past, nomadic bands often returned to traditional camping spots along the Milk River where they found shelter, water and a great abundance of game and berries.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND   From archaeological evidence, we know that some First Nations people camped at Writing 0n Stone as long as 3.500 years ago. Although some rock art may be this old, the date of its first appearance at Writing on Stone remains uncertain. The Late Prehistoric Period which began around 1800 years ago, First Nations people followed the Bison herds on foot. The Shoshone and Blackfoot are two of several groups who are possibly responsible for Late Prehistoric rock art at Writing on Stone. The Historic Period began circa. 1730 A.D. with the return of horses and the arrival of guns and metal revolutionized First Nations culture. Traveling and hunting became easier and warfare more common. Rock Art continued to be created at Writing on Stone throughout this period. The Blackfoot Nation controlled the Writing on Stone area during most to the Historic Period.

THE ROCK ART   Before the introduction of metal tools most petroglyphs were incised or scratched onto the sandstone cliffs using antlers or bones. Some pictographs were painted with red ochre (crushed iron ore mixed with water or bison fat), while others were drawn with a lump of charcoal.

THE BATTLE SCENE   The Battle Scene is one of the most elaborate rock art carvings found on the North American Great Plains. It depicts a large force of warriors attacking an encampment of tipis, defended by a line of guns. Most of the attacking figures are on foot, but eleven horses are also shown, some dragging  travois.

A PAGE FROM HISTORY   Both the gun and horse were introduced to the Northwestern Plains about the year 1730. The large number of guns and horses in this scene indicate that it was carved some time after this date. Although the true origin of the battle scene will always remain a mystery, it dramatically symbolizes the dynamic horse period in the history of the Plains Native People.

WHAT IS A HOODOO   A hoodoo is a mushroom shaped sandstone feature sculpted when the rock erodes primarily because of frost, and wind directed rain, the resulting unusual looking capped rock shapes are known as hoodoos.

THE NORTH WEST MOUNTED POLICE    Have had a long association with what is now Writing on Stone Provincial Park. They first camped here during their march West in 1874 and returned again in 1887 to establish a small outpost, which operated until 1918. The force was formed in 1873 to give the Northwest Territories a government presence, to ensure a lawful region for European settlers and to stop the liquor trade which was devastating the First Nations People. The NWMP presence reached it's height of activity in 1897 with 12 horses, five Mounties, and two hired range-riders. By 1918, the Writing on Stone post was no longer needed. The border was safe, the settlers were established, and the men were needed for other duties, the Post was closed in May, and fire destroyed the barracks a short time later. In 1973 as part of the NWMP centennial projects, an archaeological excavation was conducted upon the Post site, in 1975, the barracks, barn, and tack room were rebuilt on the original site. Today the Post interior is refurnished to recreate the year 1897. Park visitors may be able to view the Police Post by participating in special guided hikes, when available.

VISITOR CENTER   The park today has a wonderful new Visitor/Interpretive Center. It is a must see, and provides a stunning history of the area and a record of the area's significance to the First Nations people who consider this place sacred.

NOTE: Writing on Stone Provincial Park and Historic Site has a restricted area (Archaeological Preserve) set aside to protect most of these magnificent works, this area can be accessed by guided tour only. Information regarding the tours can be found at the Visitor Center, arrangements to participate in one of these tours can be made here also. Tour schedules, ticket prices and details are posted throughout the Park. Please do not enter this restricted area unless on a guided tour, we must respect these historical sites and do all we can to preserve them from human destruction.

In order to log "Writing on Stone" National Historic Site: Earthcache  you are required to do the following:

a) e-mail the owner the answers to the following questions: (1) What happened to the NWMP during the period 1897 - 1918 and (2) Approximately how many sites contain petroglyphs in Writing on Stone and (3) Many First Nations people believe the rock art is the work of  "whom". and (4) What is the approximate height of the sandstone wall on which the battle scene was carved.

b) At these co-ordinates ( N49 05.115 W111 36.925) you will find 4 signs arranged in a circle, you must read each sign and start your learning about Writing on Stone.

c) At these co-ordinates ( N49 05.041 W111 37.162) you must take a photo of yourself in front of this rock with your gps, and post it to the cache page, be sure to read the information signs at this location as well.

All logs which do not conform to the logging requirements of this Earthcache will be deleted, this is meant to be a learning experience firstly, as well as an opportunity to log an Earthcache.

Please feel free to post your pictures of yourself or group to the cache page.

The descriptive information used for this Earthcache was taken from Alberta Parks and Protected Areas "Park Notes" and from signs I visited at the park, all information signs have been photographed by me for reference. The photographs displayed in this cache page were all taken by the cache owner.

I would like to thank the following people for their assistance in making this Earthcache a reality.

  • Rob Hugill, SE Area Manager -  Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture - Parks, Conservation, Recreation and Sport Division, who was my first contact in the process of creating this Earthcache, and directed my request to his efficient staff.
  • Julie MacDougall - District Manager - Cypress Hills and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Parks for her assistance.
  • Robi Gareau, Conservation Officer
  • Finally, the great staff at the Visitor Center.

For park and campground information, contact:

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Box 297
Milk River, Alberta T0K 1M0
(403) 647-2364




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