In the middle of the wide open prairie under azure skies, a large rock formation juts out of the green and yellow fields in Alberta. The Okotok's Erratic or 'Big Rock' as it called by locals, is a left over piece of history when this part of the Canadian landscape was covered in glacial ice.
The 18,200-ton boulder transported far from its mountainous place of origin by a rock slide then by a glacial sheet of ice between 10,000 to 30,000 years ago to its present-day location south of Calgary and west of Okotoks, Alberta. The journey took about 3000 years!
Big Rock actually travelled some distance, all the way from Jasper National Park south and east to its present day location. During the last ice age - about 30,000 years ago - a large rock slide crashed debris onto the surface of a glacier that occupied the present day Athabasca River valley, and this debris, including Big Rock, was carried out of the mountains on the glacial surface. As the ice melted and the glacier retreated to the mountains, the rocky debris, including this huge erratic, were deposited across the prairies.
Visiting Big Rock is easy, as the hike there is considered very easy. A paved pathway leads from a parking lot to the large boulder and all around it. In 1978, the area was protected by the province of Alberta as a historical resource.
Big Rock is made up of quartzite that is light grey, pink, to purplish in colour - measures about 9-metres tall, 41-metres long and 18-metres wide, or about the size of a three-storey apartment building.
Many people try to climb up on top of the rock or use this area to practise mountain climbing, but quartzite is slippery to climb and although it is hard, pieces can break off.
Big Rock is a historical treasure and the rock formation called Okatok in the Blackfoot Indigenous Language means rock. The nearby town of Okotoks is also named after this impressive formation as well as a Calgary Brewery.
The Blackfoot tradition of how this rock came to be is as follows:
"One hot summer day, Napi, the supernatural trickster of the Blackfoot peoples, rested on the rock because the day was warm and he was tired. He spread his robe on the rock, telling the rock to keep the robe in return for letting Napi rest there.
Suddenly, the weather changed and Napi became cold as the wind whistled and the rain fell. Napi asked the rock to return his robe, but the rock refused. Napi got mad and just took the clothing. As he strolled away, he heard a loud noise and turning, he saw the rock was rolling after him. Napi ran for his life.
The deer, the bison and the pronghorn sheep were Napi's friends, and they tried to stop the rock by running in front of it. The rock rolled over them. Napi's last chance was to call on the bats for help. Fortunately, they did better than their hoofed neighbours did, and by diving at the rock and colliding with it, one of them finally hit the rock just right and it broke into two pieces."
The tale provides helpful caution against taking back what you have given away.
Big Rock is located off of Alberta Highway 7 just few minutes west of the town of Okotoks. It is about 20 minutes from downtown Calgary and well worth the stop if you are travelling in this area. There are washrooms on site and the paved pathway is short and just enough to stretch your legs.
Even though the area is closed at 5pm each evening, this is a great place to star gaze as the low-light conditions and wide-open prairie allow for amazing views and photography opportunities.
Photos provided by MiKSMedia Photography of Edmonton, Alberta. For more great photos check out their web page at https://www.miksmedia.photography/
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