By John Warden
I don’t think that my Dad thought of himself as a bush-pilot. But at least for part of his flying career, that’s what he did. He flew little twin-engine airplanes, in and out of small makeshift airstrips at construction sites in the bush across Alberta and in the North. He did go on to fly corporate business jets, but I remember him telling us stories of flying into the bush.
The Bighorn Dam, west of Nordegg, was being built in the late 1960’s and my Dad flew into the Dam construction site a few times. Sitting around the supper table one night he told us stories that he had heard from the workers at the dam site, stories about a ‘Bigfoot’ or ‘Sasquatch’. They told stories about a big hairy creature that had been seen regularly around the camp. They were sure that it was a Bigfoot and not a grizzly bear that had raided one of the lunch shacks out on the construction site one night.
Flooding behind the dam created Abraham Lake, the largest man-made lake in the province. You can see a bit of the Bighorn Dam from the David Thompson Highway, which runs alongside Abraham Lake for nearly twenty kilometers. I’ve never been to the dam, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time at Windy Point and up on Windy Point Ridge above Abraham Lake. The name is appropriate, this can be a really windy place and when the water is low in the lake, it can appear to be quite desolate, almost spooky. The sort of place you might expect to find a ‘Bigfoot’.
It turns out that Windy Point is famous for Bigfoot sightings. Who’d have thought? There are at least two reported sightings of Sasquatch right at Windy Point and more reported sightings in the area. Personally, I’ve never seen a Bigfoot and I don’t really want to, but if you were going to see one in Alberta, apparently your chances are better at Windy Point than in Sherwood Park.
Abraham Lake is fed by the North Saskatchewan River. Hmm…Saskatchewan and Sasquatch, has anyone else noticed the similarity between these two words? The river originates at the Saskatchewan Glacier in the nearby Columbia Icefield. Sasquatch aside, this is amazing country, and it’s close to home.
I was introduced to Windy Point by the Edmonton Bonsai Society back in the mid 1980’s. It’s just a few kilometers east of the David Thompson Resort and we would go to the point and up onto the ridge to study and marvel at the naturally dwarfed and twisted spruce and pine trees that are found there. For thousands of years, the wind has come roaring down the valley and has stripped the soil and nutrients away from Windy Point Ridge. The trees have twisted with the force of the wind and they cling to life in pockets of soil. These are naturally dwarfed trees. Japanese Bonsai gardeners, growing and shaping trees in small pots are mimicking the natural effects than nature has had on the trees at places like Windy Point.
There are stunted trees at Windy Point but where there is enough soil; trees will also grow to regular sizes. Big or small, many of the trees on Windy Point Ridge are old, ancient even. There are trees at Windy Point that appear to be three or four hundred years old, or older. Walking amongst the ancient trees there is a special experience. It is quiet and clean and seemingly full of a natural energy. It’s a spiritual place, perhaps even a sacred place. Sunbeams filter through the branches and needles of the old trees like sunshine through the stained glass windows of churches. Warm, golden light that makes you feel special, just to be there. The trees are like ancient sentinels perched high on Windy Point Ridge, watching time and perhaps the occasional Sasquatch march through the valley.
Another thirty or forty kilometers west of Windy Point, past Siffleur Falls and the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve, is Whirlpool Point. There is no sign, just a good sized pull-out on the highway and ancient trees everywhere you look. You can walk down to the river and the point, or climb up onto the ridge. It’s worthwhile to take the time to explore both areas.
Whirlpool Point is perhaps an even more amazing place than Windy Point. The North Saskatchewan River makes a ninety degree turn at this location and the bend in the river causes a whirlpool effect in the water. The trees here are just amazing. It’s like being dropped into a parallel dimension where man has not intruded for a thousand years. It’s a place that you want to share with someone special, but, talking out loud would be improper, like talking in church. I could say that the trees are limber pines or whitebark pines; I don’t really know the difference. But you can see these kinds of old, ancient, worn and weathered, twisted and beaten trees down in the Crowsnest Pass and up on the Whaleback. There’s another little pocket of trees like these along the Trans Canada Highway as you’re driving towards Banff, and more up on the Cardinal Divide and here at Whirlpool Point. These are special trees that create special places.
A highlight of Whirlpool Point is found right on the bank of the river, an ancient limber pine that is one of the oldest trees in Alberta. The tree is estimated to be a thousand or more years old . This is one cool tree. It’s not very tall and the entire trunk has a twisting characteristic that you’ll begin to recognize if you hang around really old trees. It’s the kind of tree that you need to touch to assure yourself that it’s real, that it’s alive. You’ve heard about tree hugging, give it a try. And while you’re pondering this great old tree, do the math in your head. This old tree has been here, on the bank of the river since well before Columbus came to America. That’s a lot of living and reproducing. Pinecones – everywhere.
All around Whirlpool Point are these very old limber pines and it’s an easy and fascinating opportunity to walk amongst these ancient trees. But you’re not done yet. Hiking up from the highway and scrambling up onto Whirlpool Ridge offers its own rewards. The view is fabulous, and there’s another great old limber pine about half way up, clinging to a rock face on a ledge. This is a spirit tree. It’s big and brave and bold, tenaciously clinging to life with its roots wrapped around a massive rock. The tree is old, and beautiful.
There’s rarely any traffic on the highway down below, there are no signs, no buildings and no people. It’s so quiet that it seems you can hear the trees breathing, naturally, with the rhythm of the mountains.
The stories from my Dad and others of Sasquatch in the Abraham Lake area are fun and interesting. Because of the trees though, I’ve come to appreciate Windy Point and Whirlpool Point as spiritual places. They are places that can provide perspective for our own lives and our own small place in the Cosmos. But they are also, places of connection. If Sasquatch have come to visit this area, I’m sure it’s because of the trees. Perhaps they too have felt a need to connect with the very essence of nature by walking amongst the ancients.
I’m told there was a ‘controlled burn’ that got away from the forestry workers and burned a part of Whirlpool Point Ridge since I was last there. I worry about what I’ll find when I go back. I almost don’t want to go back, but, - the magic pulls at me.