The North Saskatchewan river makes a 90 degree bend just before it empties into Abraham Lake. Be very cautious on this lake, the winds coming through this gap in the Rockies can whip up very dangerous waves on this large lake / reservoir. Due to drawdown during the winter, the lake level can vary by as much as 10 meters or more with the highest level being in late fall and the lowest in late spring.
The lake and river take on a turquoise colour typical of glacial-fed waters because of the fine particles of rock flour suspended in the water.
One of my favorite trips is Highway 11 (the David Thompson Highway) west of Red Deer.
THE OLDEST TREE IN ALBERTA
About 6 miles from the Banff Park boundary at Whirlpool Point on the North Saskatchewan River is the oldest living tree in Alberta, possibly in all of Canada. This twisted, gnarled, Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) perches on the nearly bare rock and one huge limb extends out over the river.
This tree is over 1100 years old. There may be some slightly older trees on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, but none with as much character as this one.
The strong winds that rush through the gap in this area have contorted this tree into a fantastic shape that reminds me of a Michaelangelo sculpture. It's only about 30' tall and about 3 feet in diameter at the thickest part of the trunk. It could tell a fantastic story. It was a mature tree when some of the oldest cities in Europe were just getting started, and William the Conquerer invaded England. During the reign of Charlemagne it was a small seedling.
This picture photographed with my 8x10 camera shows the infinite detail of this ancient tree.
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Here is a list of the oldest trees on earth:
Copyright © 1982 David R. Belcher
The most recent photographs I took in 2008 with my digital camera.
To see the tree, just park in the wide pull-over beside the highway and walk about 250 meters east past the guardrail and the Trailblazers memorial cairn.
As you approach Saskatchewan Crossing on Highway 11 or the Icefield Parkway Highway 93, one of the most impressive mountains in this area shoulders up on your right...Mount Wilson. Its huge bulk is a mountain range in itself, with massive buttresses, and mist-shrouded pinnacles and crags that tower more than a mile above you. I dont know if any of these lofty spires have ever been climbed, but surely they must be some of the most formidable challenges to climbers in this area. On the northeast flank of the mountain there is also a large glacier, out of sight from the highway. At 3260 meters or 10,695 feet, it's the 59th highest mountain in Alberta. It was named for Tom Wilson, explorer, guide and outfitter
The best vantage point to view the mountain crags is at Rampart Creek (aptly named), about 6 km north of Saskatchewan Crossing. There is a pull-out where you can park and stretch you neck.
Visit historic Nordegg, about an hour's drive west of Rocky Mountain House. It is the site of the former Brazeau Colleries which was a coal mining operation here for many years.
Here's a link to some of the historic significance to this area as provided by the Nordegg Historical Socieity
In October, 1940, a group of intrepid travellers with two vehicles made the first trip from Rocky Mountain House to Saskatchewan Crossing, a dangerous undertaking of 118 miles. There were no roads in this area at the time and the trip took 10 days! Today you can drive the same route in about two hours.
There is a small cairn with a plaque on it at Whirlpool Point commemerating these brave and hardy travellers.
As you approach Banff National Park from Highway 11 at Saskatchewan Crossing, you will encounter a rather broad plain bordering the river for about 20km or so. This is the Kootenay Plains Ecological reserve which hosts a variety of wildlife and plant species unique to this area.
The warm Chinook winds melt the winter snows early and provide the area with an abundance of grasses for the grazing deer, moose, bison and elk. Migrating birds also frequent this area. I encountered several flocks of Canada geese on my recent trip there.
This area was explored first by James Hector, but there was an unfortunate accident that befell him here. The name "Kicking Horse Pass" lives on in the memory of his accident.
Read about the New Zealand connection here and the tale of two tombstones.
The only real reason to come to this town is for off the beaten path activites. The surrounding area has some killer mountain and dirtbiking as well as camping, hiking, fishing and anything outdoors. There is no one off the beaten track place for any of these activities. Like i said before, befriend a local and get them to be your guide. It's really about the only way to do anything, but it's definitly worth it. You won't do stuff like this hardly anywhere else. The majority of locals know some of the real gem spots in the surrounding area and are pretty much the only way of experiencing them.
The young people in this area really enjoy bush parties. If the weather is nice, there's a good chance everyone will spend the night somewhere out in the forrest partying around a fire pit. Your best bet to attend one of these is to befriend a local, infact, i don't know if i'd recommend going if you didn't know anybody. Your other option is to hang out on mainstreet and ask loitering teenagers where the party is tonight. To get there, you'll probably have to catch a lift from one of the kids going so try to make arrangements or just hang out infront of the liquer store and try to catch a ride.
The Nordegg Historical Society has some excellent resources on its website including this detailed map of the region.