Stoking the fire: finding nature and joy in the Grande Prairie region
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By Jeremy Derksen for #ExploreNWAB
Waking in the middle of the night to a dwindling fire, a few hours’ ride by horse from civilization in a small cabin in the bush, photographer Steve Van Diest was struck by the sudden insight that he was essentially alone in the wilderness and that he had only himself to rely on for his own comfort.
“You have to keep that fire going,” says Van Diest. Building a fire, keeping it stoked for warmth, with nothing but dark and quiet surrounding you, this is the essence of life on the trail for the true cowboy, and it was the camera man’s first real taste of it. “You really get a sense of pulling away from the busyness of the city, all the advertisements, and really ground yourself in nature.”
View of the Dunvegan Bridge. Photographer: Steve Van Diest
Up in this Mighty Peace region, home to Horse Trekking Adventures, towns are few and far between, and there’s a lot of space to enjoy just being out in nature, on your own.
“We’re close to the green zone up here, meaning there’s almost no inhabitants from here to the Northwest Territories. You could ride for a month without seeing another person,” says Harvey Koshieff. “It’s a more authentic, wild Alberta than most places. We ride through boreal forest, through aspen, poplar, willow and spruce, and we see a lot of wildlife, especially in fall - moose, deer, elk, even bears.
Of course, with an outfitter like Horse Trekking Adventures, you can ease into the experience. Like a scene out of Legends of the Fall, the first thing Steve got to experience was Harvey herding his several dozen horses into the paddock, where they fed the horses by hand before saddling them for the ride.
Out on the trail, time passed in that relaxed way it does. “You know when you talk so much, you forget what you talked about?” Van Diest says, by way of explanation.
“The trails we went on were a little bit more challenging, but there are different trails depending on the type of rider,” Van Diest says. The friendly company of both people and animals was a highlight. “It’s really nice being around the horses. They’re such majestic creatures, and it’s cool how in tune they are with everything around them.”
Getting the horses settled in at camp. Photographer: Steve Van Diest
Arriving in camp near dinner time, Van Diest was treated to a classic cowboy dinner of steak, veggies and potatoes over an open fire - all part of the Horse Trekking Adventures experience. Then came the moment every cameraman lives for.
“The sunset was crazy!” Van Diest gushes. “I got some great photos as the sun was dropping, all the leaves were nice and orange. I think I caught it at the exact right time, everything just lit up and I got some great photos with the horses.”
When the camera is set aside though, it’s the impressions and memories that remain, and that’s where the experience most resonated for Van Diest.
“You really separate yourself from the noise and stress of the world. You’re not worried about all those little things that don’t matter, you’re just focused on the basics - eating, warmth, conversation, camaraderie.”
It’s all about getting back to basics, and keeping that fire stoked.
WHEN YOU GO
Make Grand Prairie your basecamp for backcountry adventures but also urban pleasures. To prepare yourself for your Hang On To Your Hat experience, be sure to stock up at the following business you’ll find in town. At approximately 4.5 hours’ drive from Edmonton, Grande Prairie is the closest city to the Horse Trekking Adventures ranch.
Horse Trekking Adventures will get you and your crew smiling and sitting high in the saddle for day trips and overnight horse-packing trips until Oct. 28.
Go full cowboy with some duds from Keddie’s Tack & Western Wear - they’ve got 25,000 square feet of boots, shirts, feed, saddles and more.
Grande Prairie’s BuckWild will get you in western mode. Celebrate all things western at this sanctioned bull riding event happening Nov. 5, 6, 7, 2020.
Grab a bite at the Old Trapper Restaurant, or some sweet road-tripping snacks at Crooked Creek Donuts, Grande Prairie’s latest food truck.
More to explore
- Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum - established near some of the richest bonebeds in the world, the museum offers hands-on exploration and world-class exhibits to expand your paleontological prowess. Read more in Chris Istace’s story here.
- Town of Sexsmith - a classic western Alberta town once known as the “Grain Capital of the British Empire”