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The Cardinal Divide

As I write this monthly column, I am busy getting ready for my annual late July visit to Cadomin and the Cardinal Divide which is part of the Whitehorse Wildland Provincial Park, east of Jasper and one of the few places in our province where one can
Watson Creek Campground
Watson Creek Campground

As I write this monthly column, I am busy getting ready for my annual late July visit to Cadomin and the Cardinal Divide which is part of the Whitehorse Wildland Provincial Park, east of Jasper and one of the few places in our province where one can drive up above the tree line. There is a huge coal operation up there, but the public road is quite safe as all heavy traffic runs on specially designated roads away from public transportation routes.

Cadomin is an old coal-mining village south of Hinton and there is an acceptable road from the village up to the Divide, passing Prospect Creek, Wildhorse Creek and the Mountain Park cemetery, which is lovingly maintained by local residents. Once the Divide parking lot is reached, the views are tremendous in all directions. The park authority has done an excellent job with picnic tables, washrooms and signs that say "No ATVs, no mountain bikes, no skidoos."

Last year three of us decided to take the trail running towards the scree-covered slopes of a distant peak, hoping to find a few butterflies. It was rather chilly as we set off and I was not too optimistic, mentioning that bird watching was a better alternative! It could be fun up there as there were sure to be some bird species that I had not come across before. The well-marked trail rises quite modestly and the wild flowers and plants are a welcome sight. These trails up in this area are well defined and it is a good walk for any active family group who wish to see some breathtaking mountain views.

The amazing quiet was only broken by the delightful song of the many white-crowned and chipping sparrows along with the call of a Junco, a small song bird related to the American sparrow. It was not too long before some Horned Larks showed up, which I am more used to seeing around the grasslands south of the Red Deer River. My intention was to find a Golden-Crowned sparrow which habitually breeds just above the tree line. This sparrow is not often encountered in Alberta because the breeding grounds are so remote. We were hiking along pretty good and it turned out to be our lucky day as we found one singing in a low spruce in the midst of the deserted landscape, the song being a mournful 3/4 note "oh dear, oh dear me." An impressive bird to find at such a high elevation but we were not finished as a Clark's Nutcracker came into view. This member of the jay and crow family can be found at lower elevations, usually at various picnic areas alongside our mountain highways. I did manage to find a small group of Bog Fritillaries which I usually encounter in the many bogs around Edmonton. I was quite surprised to find these butterflies up there but they are known to breed in the northern half of the province and in the mountains to above tree line.

For those interested in visiting this area, there is an excellent campground close to Cadomin, namely Watson Creek campground. There is a small store in the village but no gas! Hinton is about a thirty minute drive on a well maintained road but look out for heavy vehicles at times.