Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Little Elbow trail -- June 20, 2008

We'd intended to hike Ford Knoll, but some spooked wild horses in the forest turned us back. Instead we walked along the river beside the campground, on the trail we use to get to Nihahi.

I'll never get tired of the view....

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sheep River Valley and Bluerock Trail -- June 14, 2008

Sandy McNabb trail - (1.8 km loop) Head west from Turner Valley on Highway 546 (look for signs pointing to Bluerock). Turn down access road into Sandy McNabb Recreation area. Take third left into parking area.

Bluerock Creek Trail - (2.2 km loop) Head west from Turner Valley on Highway 546 (look for signs pointing to Bluerock). Look for turnout/parking lot along highway just before Bluerock Creek crossing.

When I'm picking my trails, I tend to focus too much on the areas west of the city... though who can blame me? West of Calgary my options include Banff National Park, Canmore, Kananaskis, Lake Louise and Elbow Valley, just for starters.

So at times I have to remind myself of the beautiful and generally less-traveled areas south and southwest of the city, and go check out the many many trails I have never hiked.

D and I briefly examined Brown-Lowery Provincial Park in April, a nice little family area south of Calgary and just north of Turner Valley. This time we decided to venture a little further out to the Sheep River Valley area.

We didn't intend to do a major hike, instead we strung a few smaller hikes together. As we drove along Highway 546 directly west of Turner Valley, we also stopped at road turnouts along the way.

First of all, Sheep River is beautiful in spring. There were so many shades of green, and the water was running high and fast (and pretty muddy). Our first stop was the Sandy McNabb trail, a very easy 1.8 km loop through grassy forest. The first real viewpoint was a stunning look at the valley:

We also pulled over at the Bighorn Sheep Lookout, but this view greeted us from the trailhead:

The cows were *everywhere*. The parking lot. The stop sign. The trailhead, the trail, the meadow. And they were all watching us very carefully. We saw a lot of cattle.... notsomuch on the sheep. ;-)

Further on down the highway, we stopped to hike the Bluerock Creek 2.2 km loop. The trail is along a campground, and the area is stunning in its beauty. Once I start camping again, this will surely be one of my first stops:

Plenty of colour here too... the wildflowers were in full bloom. In keeping with my attempt to go beyond calling them "blue ones", let me present the Smooth Blue Beardtongue (Penstemon nitidus) of the Figwort family. Or at least I think it is (eagerly receiving corrections if I'm wrong):

Another look at Bluerock Creek:

Back out along the highway, where the Sheep River and Bluecreek Creek meet:

We turned around to head back to the city (we stopped by Junction Creek trail, but didn't find the hiking that interesting), but stopped for a look at Sheep River falls. This might have been the highlight of the day, as those unplanned stops often are.

Here's the "mini-falls" on the path to the falls viewpoint. We saw ducks playing in the rapids around here, but none stayed still long enough for a photo!

Sheep River Falls:

Not a lot of hiking in terms of distance, but it was a great day traveling somewhere a little unfamiliar.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Barrier Lake and Stoney Trail - May 31, 2008

After watching a kayaking competition at Canoe Meadows, D and I decided to squeeze in just a short hike at Barrier Lake, opting to use Stoney Trail and Prairie View Trail to create a loop just over the dam.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Barrier Lake went from winter wonderland to springtime surprise in just under three weeks, and while we finally had snow-free trails to hike, I had to wonder where all that snow went so quickly:

But -- finally -- there was some colour to the mountains. And some first sightings of wildflowers. I'm really no expert beyond "purple ones" and "yellow ones", but I'm trying to learn what I'm seeing around me, so I looked these ones up. I believe this is called the Blue Clematis (Clematis occidentalis), from the buttercup family. I've sometimes seen them growing like vines up trees:

It didn't take long to discover we'd been right about the trails.... the snow may have been gone, but the area was still quite wet and muddy and the trails were not quite ready for the recreational season. The hikers would probably be ok, but the bikes were likely to sink right into the trail, and that's a surefire way to cause trail damage:

But it was still refreshing to see green everywhere. Because of the late thaw, spring was like an explosion this year. One week everything was still hidden away, and the next it was suddenly springtime. Trees went from bare to full leaves -- there never seemed to be a time in between:

I know even less about butterflies and other tiny creatures as I know about wildflowers. I used one of my hiking books for help on this one, but I could be wrong.... it looks similar to the "Alberta fritillary", but the body doesn't look quite right. This was the first butterfly we'd seen this spring (lots of caterpillars on the trail though!):

Barrier Lake Dam Recreational area is -- shockingly -- set beside the dam built in 1947. While there's some interesting history surrounding it (and it certainly only barely resembles the dams of today), it is also the main starting point of most Barrier Lake area trails. That long walk across the dam can get mighty hot in mid summer! But it also provided a nice view of the canyon on the opposite side of the dam, and maybe a vision into what once was when the water flowed freely through the canyon:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Canoe Meadows - May 31, 2008

It feels funny to be writing about May as we're just a week from Canadian Thanksgiving, but that's what happens when you fall behind in posting. ;-)

D and I took a drive out to the Kananaskis area via Highway 40 to check out Barrier Lake. The late thaw meant there had been plenty of snow in the area just a couple of weeks prior, but with the nice weather finally settling in, I wanted to see how the area looked (in other words, were we looking at a mud bath).

On the way there, I asked D to pull into Canoe Meadows, a pretty area just off Highway 40 that serves as a day-use area and boat launch. Good thing we did! The Alberta Slalom Canoe Kayak team were holding their junior and senior qualifying races:

The course is built right into the canyon walls, and watching the kayakers.... I have a new respect for their athleticism. Some of the gates required the kayaker to slam on the brakes, turn the boat against the current and go through the gate that way.. sometimes right into rocks!

While we were watching, a nice gentleman from the Kayaking organization started chatting with us and filled us on the teams and competitors. Some of these kayakers -- they were 12 or 13 years old!

We were right above gate 18 -- the gate that required the athlete to ride over a rapid, stop short, turn around, kayak upstream through the gate towards a huge set of rocks and then continue down the course. I took a few photos of one kayaker's trip through gate 18:

Amazing. I'd be too busy trying to keep myself upright to worry about which direction I was going -- never mind the gates and rocks!

We headed downhill to the river side -- here's a nice look at what the competitor sees:

Another tricky gate:

We walked along the shore of the river around a bend to where the starting line was. It looked like judging would be a fun but lonely job:

Another particularly scary looking gate, near the beginning of the course:

Again, the kayakers had to go past the gate, turn around and go through the gate against the current (and into a pile of rocks under the "falls"). My arms ache just thinking about it.

The scene further down the river was much more to my liking....

While it wasn't a hike in the traditional sense, we had a lot of fun poking around Canoe Meadows and Kananaskis River... but there was more hiking to be had.