The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area near Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area is a 4,800 acre (1,942 hectare) parcel of donated ranch land southwest of Calgary, Alberta along Hwy 22x at 160th Street. Parking for the educational recreation area is 2 kilometers (1¼ miles) south of the signed intersection.
The short drive through architecturally unique mansions precludes arrival at the gravel parking area and reception booth. The breathtaking view over prairie foothills to Calgary provides an interesting and unique perspective of the nearby urban establishment.
The booth contains several interpretive signs and an area map which provide the basis and reason this parcel of rolling farmland is available for public enjoyment and education.
There is a sign-in ledger and a sturdy locked donation box. The back of the entrance booth leads to a short road which curls its way uphill to Belvedere House and hiking trail-heads for a variety of options.
Belvedere House is the nerve center for tour gathering and education. A group of young children at the back porch are vibrating with anticipation as their tour leaders prepare them for a wilderness adventure.
Following a short hike to a trail junction, the Aspen Trail is arbitrarily chosen which cuts to the right over a field to good quality trail through long-established Aspen groves. Trees devoid of spring leaves host early spring buds, however the leafless trees provide stunning vistas over sprawling farmland. Each season will provide a unique outdoor experience.
The wide, clearly-defined trail through long established families of Trembling Aspen trees, punctuated by the occasional evergreen companion, hosts informative and educational interpretive plaques concerning the nature of the land and it's relationships within the complete environment.
Clearly, this includes grazing by herds of very healthy cattle so appropriate footwear, and watching where one steps, are important. Narrow cattle guards provide passage around locked gates.
Along the edge of an extended, gentle descent adjacent to icy trail, a fenced and gated area leads to an aspen-divided pasture hosting an outhouse and a rustic, wooden, dining shelter.
As the trail curls left past a small drainage, an interpretive plaque at the far side of the fenced area provides interesting information about the Great Horned Owl (Bubo Virginianus) which is Alberta's provincial bird. Alberta's flower is the Wild Rose.
Trail on a flat stretch across grassland leads to a trail junction with the 3 KM (1⅞ mile) Paradise Trail. Each trail junction is clearly signed and hosts a map. This hike continues uphill on the Aspen Trail until the trail intersects with the Fescue Trail.
Without any specific agenda, it is an easy decision to link on the Fescue Trail to gain elevation on the Mountain View Trail where a radio tower and benches suggest the possibility of spectacular and rewarding views.
Vistas from the high point are spectacular and photographs cannot do justice to capturing the magnificent field of vision. One must stand there and turn about.
The Rocky Mountains are capped with winter snow along the western horizon. The surrounding land contains a wide variety of terrain over vast stretches of rolling land characteristic of the foothills dividing mountain ranges from prairies.
The snow-capped Rocky Mountains from Mountain View at the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area SW of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
The vistas from high ground are spectacular as gentle breeze counters warm sun. This brief and rewarding introduction to the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area has been a worthwhile experience.
Ranch land views at the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area SW of Calgry, Alberta, Canada
This location is not a park. The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area is open to the public and accepts donations to support the cost of maintaining the facility.
There is an opportunity to volunteer time and service in the maintenance and further development of the area. It is recommended to visit the website and reserve your hike in the event there are issues which may require rescheduling. 'Leave no trace' is important here.
More than 700 properties in Canada are administered by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Properties range from tiny parcels to vast areas of critically important watershed. It is worth the time to learn more about them. As well as unique hiking opportunities there are countless opportunities to learn and volunteer in the outdoors.
Photographs for this post at the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area were taken on March 11, 2015 southwest of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.