Friday, August 30, 2013

The Okotoks Erratic

Trip Date: July 2013

If you've ever been down to the Okotoks area, just south of Calgary, you'll have heard of the Big Rock. It's like a local celebrity. Many businesses have named themselves after the large boulder, but probably the most famous is the Big Rock Brewery. The rock itself can be found about 7km west of Okotoks along Highway 7. The informative sign in the parking area had this to say about the rock and how it managed to arrive at its present location:
This enormous quartzite block, weighing about 16,500 tonnes and measuring about 41 x 18 x 9 metres, was carried here on the surface of a glacier. It came from the Rocky Mountains in the Jasper area, probably between 18 and 10 thousand years ago. Rocks moved many kilometres from their original location by the ice are called "glacial erratics". 
Big Rock began its journey when rockslides in the mountains deposited quartzite debris onto the top of a glacier in the Athabasca River valley. The glacier carried the rocks with it as it flowed slowly eastward to the plains, until it collided with the Laurentide ice sheet. This massive ice sheet deflected the glacier to the southeast, parallel to the mountain front. When the ice melted, a string of erratics was left in a narrow belt extending from Jasper National Park along the foothills to northern Montana. This group is known as the Foothills Erratics Train, and the Okotoks Erratic is the largest member. 
The name of the Rock was derived from the Blackfoot word for rock: okatok.
The Okotoks Erratic
The Big Rock
Made out of quartzite
It looks really out of place just sitting in the middle of the prairies
Big Rock
The Big Rock, like many of the rocks in the Foothills Erratic Train, are fractured down the middle. Geologists attribute this to natural processes, but there's a Blackfoot story from the 1800's that offers a different explanation. The story was recorded by George Bird Grinnell.
One hot summer day, Napi - the supernatural trickster of the Blackfoot - sat upon the Rock to rest. Because it was so hot, Napi threw his robe over the Rock saying, "Here, I give you my robe, because you are poor and have let me rest on you. Keep it always."Napi walked on, and it began to rain. Napi sent to the Rock and asked it to lend him the robe, but the Rock refused. Napi got angry, and took "his" robe. As he walked away, he heard a loud noise - the Rock was chasing him! 
Napi was scared and ran. His friends - the buffalo, the deer, and the antelope - tried to stop the Rock, but were crushed. Nearly exhausted, Napi called upon some bats for help. The bats dove at the Rock and one hit it in the middle and split it in two.   
This Blackfoot legend reveals not only how the Rock was split, but also why bats have "squashed" faces. There is also a moral: Don't take back what you've given!
The site and the Rock both have great spiritual significant to the Blackfoot People. There are some pictographs located on the Rock, but time, weather, and vandalism have all but removed them. Here are a couple of photos of some of the pictographs, but they are very difficult to decipher.

Faded pictograph
Very little remains
This one is probably the best preserved as it's located under an overhang
It was a large painting at one time
The Okotoks Big Rock
You can read more about the pictograph sites I have visited by visiting my Western Canadian Rock Art section on the Bradshaw Foundation's webpage.

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