Abraham Lake used to be a secret, now the internet has ruined it

Abraham Lake, ice bubbles, David Thomson Country, Alberta, Winter, ice, Preachers Point, Windy Point, landscape, methane bubbles, river, cold, snow,

As an Albertan who had a father who loved camping we were lucky to enjoy many wild places during our early childhoods before dad died. Dad was also an avid hunter and fisher. This was back in the fifties and early sixties when during autumn every pickup truck in the province seemed to have a gun rack hanging from inside the back window and a few rifles or shotguns. I haven’t seen that in at least thirty years. How things have changed.

Oh, how things have changed. One of our favourite places to go camping and fishing was in the Alberta foothills near a small mining town named Nordegg. There was and still is a  beautiful clear water creek flowing through the tall trees named Shunda Creek and many is the freshly caught rainbow trout pan fried over a campfire with only butter, salt and pepper. Those truth tasted heavenly. Fifty years later I can still remember how they tasted.

Over the years like most places, the area started to become developed. It is named David Thomson country after an explorer who mapped the area in the early 1800’s. Back then the area that is now Abraham Lake was part of the Kootenay plains and when Thomson first travelled through the area he remarked on how it resembled the African plains with herds of animals filling the wide open spaces.

The area that he wrote about was later dammed in the early 1970’s. It was and still is a wild area. The Edmonton Journal, a very respectable paper, a Pulitzer prize winning paper and not a tabloid to be taken lightly wrote in the 60’s about a couple of construction workers who spotted a Sasquatch in the area. There are still to this day cougars that hunt around there and one in particular that has been written about that only hunts the wild horses that frequent the area. In fact on my last trip I saw a herd of wild horses by the side of the road.

Before the dam was built the place was only accessible by a gravel road. Today it is  wide open, well paved two lane highway that connects Rocky Mountain House to Jasper and Banff National Parks. The road was intended to go straight through the parks and into the adjoining province of British Columbia making the route shorter and quicker for long haul truckers but the approval from Parks Canada was never granted. So the David Thomson Highway ends in a T-bone forking north to Jasper and south to Banff where it was planned originally to go straight through to the west.

For many years Abraham Lake was a well kept secret. Just as beautiful as the national parks but not as crowded. A local photographer ran photography workshops from a lodge at the lake. The area is gorgeous in the fall with a mix of yellows and greens splashed across the mountains and come winter there is both Abraham Lake and the proximity to the national parks.

That has all changed. I was at the most famous part of the lake, where the ice bubbles are and for the first time in my life saw people dotted all across the ice. Even on the drive to the spot, Preachers Point there were groups of vehicle parked along the road and on the ice. Why I thought? Because the regular spot was too crowded I found out.

Google ice bubbles and you will probably come across the iconic photos of the place. For me, it has been wrecked. People leaving marks across the ice. Discarded chemical hand warmers laying all over the place. A fellow even walked in front of my tripod and stood in front of me blocking my pic while he aimed his camera down and snapped away. Oblivious to where I was.

In the past if I took a photo in the national parks I would purposely not say where it was other than to say that it was in Jasper or Banff. Part of the joy of photography is the act of discovering places. At least for me but it seems not to be the case for others.

There are other great spots for bubbles like Spray Lakes near Canmore that is much closer to the town of Banff than Abraham and already the word is out about it. I have started seeing many more pics of the place on Instagram than ever before.

Now that I have that off of my chest…

It was good to get out of town and into the mountains again. With one eye on the sky and the other on the road I kept watching to see what was happening up high. Would the lake be completely overcast or would it clear up and be cloudless. Arrgh.

As it turned out there was a strong wind blowing as there usually is in the area which kept the clouds moving. I looked for a few spots that might make for an interesting composition and snapped away. For me, taking photos is kind of like doing a rough sketch. Take a pic, see the result and move from there.

The pic above was taken normally and with a neutral density filter. Happily I had taken these giant filters along because once I saw the results on the camera display I continued using long exposures the whole time I was on the ice.

My planned sunset didn’t materialize and by 4:30, the sun was supposed to set at 5:00 I got in my vehicle for a last kick at the can. Near the dam side of the lake is a spot called Windy Point where I saw some giant ice heaves on my way to Preachers Point.

Windy Point is called that for a good reason. The mountains around the lake form a venturi and the wind accelerates through there. It is always windy there it seems. On this day out of curiosity I stopped and leaving the camera gear in the vehicle decided to walk to the lake. In my 63 years I have never experienced  a stronger wind. With each step I took my leg was swung wildly downwind and at 190 pounds I was being pushed downwind as I walked. There was no way I was going to be taking photos there on this evening so in the vehicle I went to begin the four hour drive home.

This will probably be my last grip to Preachers Point at least when the temperatures are nice if only to avoid the crowds. I don’t imagine that there will be too many people on the ice when it its -30 Celsius at least not for too long.

Landscape photography for me has always been a solitary pursuit. Crowds don’t fit into the equation. For many reasons I am happy to be living in a country like Canada where there are many as yet undiscovered and unpublicized places.

Happy shooting,


BTW, I did photograph bubbles but in my own stubborn way of having to be different chose to post a non-bubble photo. Call me a rebel or call me nuts.

What you don’t see are all the people out of the frame to the right all over the bubbles.



~ by Dan Jurak on January 18, 2018.

One Response to “Abraham Lake used to be a secret, now the internet has ruined it”

  1. I like the smoothed-out effect on the ice and water. It has been a while since I have been to this area but love it.

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