Death Valley is located in the Sheep River Valley area of Kananaskis Country west of Turner Valley, Alberta.
The day begins with the drive south from Calgary on Hwy 22 for the turn west from Turner Valley onto Hwy 546 into the Sheep River Ranger Station of Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. Death Valley is located in Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park within the Sheep River Valley area of Kananaskis Country west of Turner Valley, Alberta, Canada.
The trail head begins to the right of parking at the Ranger Station and leads directly to signage at a fenced area which keeps horses in and cows out.
This last day of July 2016 ends boasting the most rain in the month of July since 1927. There has been more rain in July 2016 than there was throughout all of 2015.
Very wet trail on this day leads to a chained gate which can be opened and must be closed behind to keep the cows from invading residential property. Well established path leads into a mix of deciduous aspen and evergreen forest where initially flat land proceeds to gentle ascent towards the top of Long Prairie Ridge trail which serves as cross country ski trail in winter. On this day, valley bottom options will simply be too wet for decent hiking on lower altitude and wet, muddy path.
The wet conditions have left forest and grassland vibrantly colored and wonderfully aromatic. Sections of evergreen forest lead to the ridge top where evergreen forest on the north side is complemented by aspen forest on the left with long stretches of grassland opening to provide sweeping views across meadows to mountains beyond these rolling foothills.
There are a number of interesting rocky landscape features among forest fire burn reminders from many years prior.
There are many cows. Many cows. The opportunity to avoid interrupting the feeding of calves provides several opportunities to detour off-trail around them though wet, tall grass. Hiking pants made from somewhat water repellent and quick drying fabric will help and gaiters are a controversial option.
The Long Prairie Ridge trail curls right into gradual descent towards a series of trail junctions which require careful examination to locate the preferred route along the Death Valley Loop and on to the Death Valley Trail. The Death Valley Trail descends into the bottom of Death Valley for expanding views and, on a dry day with better trail conditions, continues north 5.1 KM (3.2 miles) to pass the Windy Point Trail junction and continue north for an additional 4.9 KM (3 miles) at termination with the Ware Creek Trail and 9999 Trail in this predominantly equestrian area.
Today, this hike will enjoy lunch sitting on an old fallen tree while enjoying the common and relaxing expansive views over meadows and forests to mountains beyond. Return is via the same route taken in.
Adjacent to trailside there is an intriguing circle of aspen trees surrounding a large boulder hosting a curious brass plaque which undoubtedly represents a fascinating story from the past. If a reader chooses to share the story, we may all be enriched.
July 2017 Update. The touching story, regarding the plaque photo-document below, has been provided to me anonymously.
"When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, Long Prairie Ridge became our favorite year round hike. We called it the "chemo hike" because it was easy enough for him to do after treatments. My husband and I were childhood sweethearts and after being best friends since our early teen years, he lost his physical presence to cancer at age 28, just shy of our first wedding anniversary. His final wish was to have his ashes scattered on Long Prairie Ridge where so many valuable memories were created together."
Both families fulfilled his final wish on what would have been our one year wedding anniversary. The plaque marks his resting place and contains images representing his greatest passions. His favorite saying from the time he learned to talk was ‘You're not the boss of me’. The quotation describes his adamant personality and as a musician, there is no doubt he continues to dance wherever he is now. The inscription ‘Invicto’ means ‘unconquered’ in Latin and stands as enduring testament to perpetual fond memories. Mystery solved. Thank you for sharing.
Wet conditions are gradually abating as reverse views from Long Prairie Ridge expand across vibrantly green meadows over forest and foothills to mountains beyond. The visions through gentle, aromatic breeze are magnificent.
Even though skies are predominantly overcast and trail conditions are less than ideal, these factors also provide a unique and diverse experience which better stimulates all the senses. Sturdy footwear and layers maintain comfort throughout this short and excellent hiking mission. Minor inclement weather which keeps the fair weather hikers at home reduces the traffic on the trail and improves the experience substantially.
Important recommended documentation for navigating the myriad of trail possibilities in this area include:
Gem Trek Map # 8; Bragg Creek and Sheep Valley - Kananaskis Country
Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, 4th Edition, Volume 4
Photographs for this hike with Seija in Sheep River Provincial Park were captured on Sunday, July 31, 2016.