A Bad Day With A Camera

Into the Badlands

Five towns, four roadside stops, three washroom breaks, two photographers, one provincial park, and 479 images in the bag for today. We (I had a partner in crime) covered a lot of territory in ten hours, for sure.

Surveying the scene, Dinosaur Provincial Park, AB, 2024-04-13

James Tworow, a Calgary street photographer who can often be found pounding the downtown streets with his trusty Fujifilm mirrorless camera, was my aforementioned partner in crime. When he’s not walking up to strangers and getting their permission for a picture, he is haunting car shows across the province photographing classic cars and their even more classic owners. It is nearly impossible to find a vehicle he is not knowledgeable about.

We met in Strathmore, Alberta, early on Saturday morning and roared east on the TransCan in Vlad the Impala with James calling the shots. The plan was to hike some trails in Dinosaur Provincial Park, but first…

Cluny, Alberta

I’d guestimate that Cluny is a hamlet of fifty people – max – living in half as many homes. If you’ve heard the saying, “stick a fork in its ass, it’s done,” well, an eating implement has been protruding from Cluny’s rump since at least 2000. Much of the town looks like hell.

A run down convenience store and a well-maintained, but oddly placed liquor outlet seem to be the last two functioning businesses in town. There is a large and nicely-kept school building, but the hamlet no longer has the population to support one, so it has transitioned into a community center.

In terms of building codes and bylaw enforcement, there aren’t any. Anything goes so long as a person can pay the property taxes on their lot or building. Yes, that really is a truck trailer incorporated into the structure of the building below. There is a matching one on the other side.

An overgrown yard had one of the most dubious looking two-story structures I have ever seen in person. I cannot imagine how it is legal or even safe. A more positive note was the old church being renovated into a private residence, but given the state of much of the hamlet, I think the owners of the church would have been money ahead to move the building somewhere less sketchy.

I believe the building above left is an old community hall that became too run down to salvage and was boarded up. The home on the right is falling in, but its owner is living in a fifth wheel trailer barely visible at the right side of the frame. There are no trespassing signs all over the yard. Very strange.

I got a chuckle out of the Trans-Van rotting at the south edge of town. Can you imagine someone naming a vehicle that these days? “Trans” has become a politically loaded term.

James and I both found and liked the look of the tree juxtaposed with a red roofed Quonset and also a train that came through town while we were there. And that was that for Cluny.

Bassano, Alberta

The Bassano Hotel and Imperial Tavern was the second place James and I stopped at, and with some urgency. That’s because there wasn’t a single car parked in front of the hotel as usual, offering me some clean shots of it. I jumped at the chance.

James and I were showering the building some serious shutter action when an older fellow named Duane rolled up in a classic white 1951 Chevy. James was on the guy like white on rice and was learning all kinds of things about the vehicle, the town, the hotel – you name it. He also managed to get a great portrait of Duane next to his whip. Me, I did what I almost always do when there is someone strange to talk to. I fled, and it was down Main Street.

The yellow building, or La Maison Jaune as I think of it, is an old retail building being repurposed into a private residence. I had a horrible time photographing it on a previous trip because of the cold and the dirty brown ice everywhere. Not this time. Paraphrasing the immortal Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters: I came, I saw, I photographed its ass.

There is a single electrical wire running in front of the building that I could have removed easily enough, but it is part of the story, so I left it there. If you’re wondering what La Maison Jaune looks like from the rear…

The renos obviously haven’t progressed as far with the back of the structure. Anyhow, there’s your booty shot for the day. You’re welcome.

You’ll find two vintage buildings featuring classic styled storefronts that are obviously empty because they have been decorated by the local chamber of commerce or some such to look less vacant. They’re very pretty, but the effect is somewhat undone as they are flanked by scuzzy looking weed and booze shops. The fact that buildings looking this good on the outside are vacant makes me wonder how bad the interiors are.

Back up the block from these stores is Harry’s Place, which sits kitty-corner from the hotel. It is a defunct Chinese and Western restaurant that looks like it was a going concern back in its day. Its day ended some time in 2022, as a sign in the front door dated in 2022 proclaims the restaurant will open soon after repairs and renos. “But it’s 2024 now” was scrawled under the sign in marker by some cheeky sod, adding humour to a sad scene.

The green roof belongs to Boaster’s Chicken on main street Bassano. I noticed the juxtaposition of lines and colours while I was plotting my escape from Duane and James’ talking and took a snap.

There’s nothing special about the Western Financial Group building in Bassano, save for one thing. The company is my employer, and they have been a damn good one for seven years and counting. I’m giving them a shout-out on this basis.

The first place we stopped in Bassano is the last one I’m featuring because it is my favourite. I have no idea what the motel was called back when it was running, but it hasn’t been open for decades. Everything is falling apart, especially the A-frame washroom planted in the middle. It is crammed full of nasty mattresses. Going near any of the other buildings results in aggressive dive-bombing by the local pigeons.

I bet this motel was The Shit back in the sixties with kids roaring around outside and adults lounging around and sunning in Southern Alberta heat. It’s a shame these things don’t last.

Duchess, Alberta

I hadn’t been to Duchess in over four decades and I can’t say I remembered a lot about it, except that I remembered many more businesses than we saw on Saturday morning when we rolled into town. I think half of the town has evaporated since my last visit. What was left of main street was pretty ho-hum and not of interest to me. There were some trucks we spotted on the way into town that were, but we stopped for lunch first.

The Canadian Kenworth was the prize out of all the vehicles I saw on this day. I have only seen one other over a decade back and it was a burned out husk. It was nice to find a rare, intact specimen in the wild.

Dinosaur Country Store

We cruised through Patricia, Alberta, and it was slim pickings. I couldn’t find anything at all I liked and the best James could rustle up was a little car named a Bug Eyed Sprite. He spotted it from an amazing distance, too. It was a bit freaky, as only vampires are supposed to see that well. Also freaky was the town itself. Patricia is one of the few small towns that gives off a weird, almost hostile vibe. We both noticed and decided it would be best to move on. That we did, to the nearby Dinosaur Country Store.

James says the store has been defunct for at least a half a decade and probably a lot longer, but that was the last time he was through the area with a camera. The store itself was still locked and inaccessible back then, but the local truants have since managed to bust the door open and trash the hell out of the interior. It’s a shame, as someone made quite an investment into the operation when it was new. Too bad it didn’t pan out for them.

There is a derelict car to the side of the store and it’s an old Buick Wildcat. The windows are smashed; the doors kicked and dented, and the poor thing’s engine is sitting about five feet in front of it, exposed to the elements. Not the death this beautiful beast deserved.

So here’s the weird bit. The chalkboard on the front of the store was covered with graffiti, of course. This was not your garden variety work, by which I mean crudely drawn genitals and profane language. There are actually cute cartoons and hopeful messages left there waiting for people. I have never seen something so positive like this at a vandalism site before.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

This was the main attraction of the day for me, or at least it was until I got there. The problem with going to the badlands in the spring or the fall is that it is draaaab. There is just not enough colour without the needed little pops of green from sparse vegetation. Worse, the sun was close to being directly overhead, so the details were washed out as well. Not optimal photography conditions on this visit. Well, it was still a nice day to hike.

This was a challenging hike for me as there was some up and down and I am grateful to James for being patient with me as I struggled with the hills, particularly the steps near the end. He is one of those people who walks relentlessly and is in pretty good shape. I can go a long way on level ground, but throw a few hills into the mix and my tuckered ticker starts to have Opinions. I needed a break halfway up the stairs as my vision was turning white.

The Alberta Badlands are challenging to photograph because there is a sameness to them. I did the best I could to look for lines, colour contrast (for use in B&W conversion) and interesting shapes such as hoodoos. For me it was more about being able to get out and walk and talk photography with another shutterbug.

The visitor center, which is where most people stop first when they visit a place, was our last stop. There was a $2.00 fee to go in and see the exhibits, but I felt affronted to be asked to pay more money to see what I had already paid for through my taxes, so I said no thank you. I did photograph the building and the dinosaur model just inside of it, (it’s cast material – not real bones) because it was my money that paid for them. So there. The butte pictured above is to the left of the visitor center and honesty compels me to admit that I didn’t pay for that, at least not yet. I’m sure that’s coming.

I chose black and white for all the Dinosaur Provincial Park photos because there was so little colour that no colour at all seemed to be the way to go and that is how it turned out.


The fifth and last town we stopped in was Cessford, Alberta. I think there is even less to Cessford than to Patricia, Alberta, other than their school is still functioning as such. This is not surprising if you are familiar with their wonky school division as they have a history of putting brand new schools in absolute shit locations. Anyhow, Cessford was a no-go photographically. James and I made a few stops along the highway and I present these random images for your delectation instead.

It was a long, but fun day, and I’m grateful to James for the road trip, especially as I know that traditional landscape photography is not so much his thing as mine and I appreciate his accommodating me on this trip.

The camera used for all but one of this entry’s images is the Canon EOS 40D that I recently received that is in top nick and a joy to use. It was paired with my Canon 17-40mm EF L USM f4-5.6 lens. I used my Canon EOS R5 for the opening pano shot of the Dinosaur Park badlands simply because I grabbed it out of a bag by mistake. It was also paired with the 17-40.

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© 2024 Sean D. McCormick

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