Saturday, September 7, 2013

Zephyr Creek

Trip Date: August 2013

A group of seven of us, and three dogs, headed out to the Highwood region of Kananaskis Country to go for a hike.  The day's destination was the pictographs that are located up the Zephyr Creek trail in Painted Creek Valley.  The trail itself is quite easy, the hardest part is fording the icy cold Highwood River.

The trailhead for the hike is the Sentinel Provincial Recreation Area, which is about 120km southwest of Calgary along Highway 40.  Unfortunately the Sentinel Recreation Area no longer exists due to the terrible floods earlier this spring.  We ended up parking along the highway and making our way down to the river over the flood debris.  Locating the trail on the opposite side of the river also proved to be difficult as the flood had badly eroded the opposite bank.  There was some off-trail exploration and a little bushwacking required before we found the right trail.  The hike itself is approximately 9km round trip with about 150m gained in elevation.

The Highwood River.  You can see a bunch of debris leftover from the flooding.
While searching for the trail we stumbled across this bear track.  By the size of it we assumed it was a Black Bear.
The trail quickly opens up into a large meadow that was once the site of a ti-jurabi-chubi, or Sun Dance Ceremony, performed by the Stoney First Nation.  There is no commemorative sign at this location, so I am unsure when this ceremony happened.  If you would like some more information about the ti-jurabi-chubi ceremony please refer to my Deer Ridge post.

Mount Mann standing over the meadow
The remains of the structures from the Sun Dance Ceremony with Gunnery Mountain in the background
After the ceremony the structures are left for nature to dismantle
This site appears to be quite old as there's not much left standing
The site of the ti-jurabi-chubi ceremony
Across the meadow from the structures are ceremonial banners tied around several trees
Ceremonial banners
They are very bright and colourful
They've been here a long time as the tree has grown and increased in size, except where the banner has been tied
The trail beyond the meadow crosses Zephyr Creek a couple of times before coming to an intersection.  To the left is the trail into Painted Creek Valley.  Here the trail zig-zags across Painted Creek six times in only half a kilometre before reaching the pictograph site.  

A bone hanging on the branch of a tree
Archaeologists believe the pictographs are over 300 years old and were painted by either the Kootenai or Salish Indians who lived on the edge of the prairies.  Due to their isolated location it is believed that the pictographs are from a successful completion of a Vision Quest ceremony.  The site was originally home to a large collection of pictographs, but a rock slide in 1975 destroyed most of them.  Today there are two, very distinct paintings with a few more that have been eroded by time and weather.

The first pictograph shows a human figure with a wild beast
The second appears to be some sort of bird, possibly a Thunderbird
These red smudges are located above the other two.  Unfortunately it is impossible to tell what they once were.
 There are also reports that there are more pictographs located higher up on the ridge.  There's a steep scree slope to the right of the paintings that would need to be climbed.  A few of us decided to scramble up the slope to see if we could find anymore of the paintings.  If nothing else we'd be treated to a great view of Painted Creek Valley.

Part way up the ridge looking west
Looking down at a gnarly tree above the valley floor
We only found these red smudges that look like they could have been pictographs at one point
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.

Below the smudges was this nest that is likely home to a small rodent
Ryan and Ashley before heading back down
Hiking back to the cars.  We all had a great day out!
The hike follows this unnamed ridge.  With its large, flat rock faces it almost looked like a painting.

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