Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 3, Kootenay National Park

If that's not a glaciated saddle, well...
If that’s not a glaciated saddle, well…

Twelve days ago, June 14, 2015.

In which I run into an old friend, sort of. Or have one flow by me, at any rate.

My first order of the day was to go explore Kootenay National Park, one of the two parks of the contiguous four Canadian Rockies parks on the BC side of the Continental Divide.  So I went through the entrance gate, and paid for an annual pass (which came out to $50-something American), because it was more economical and convenient than buying eight days’ worth of daily passes, and there was no in between alternative. Not that I’m complaining. An American annual national parks pass costs $80, and I buy one of those every year because it always ends up paying for itself.

The road into the park leads up through a red rock canyon that had apparently been blasted out by navvies with dynamite back in the day, past the hot springs (which have been developed into swimming pools, etc., and aren’t in their natural state like the ones in Yellowstone), and up over a pass into the valley of the Kootenay River.

Looking north from Kootenay Pass.
Looking north from Kootenay Pass.
Looking south from the same vantage point.
Looking south from the same vantage point.
Kootenay River, on its way to Libby, Montana.  The turquoise is due to the glacial flour in the water.  All the water here is varying shades of opaque because of it.
Kootenay River, on its way to Libby, Montana. The turquoise is due to the glacial flour in the water. All the water here is varying shades of opaque because of it.
Looking north along the highway.
Looking north along the highway.

I used to live beside that Kootenay River when I lived in Montana. It flowed right through Libby, the town I lived in briefly. It was rather astonishing to look at a map that evening and discover that the Kootenay (named after a local Indian tribe) starts in Canada, drops briefly down into the U.S. by Libby, then heads back up to Canada where it eventually flows into the Columbia, which flows back into the U.S. and out into the Pacific Ocean. Rivers are very convoluted in this part of the world. Or maybe it’s just the national boundaries that make it seem that way.

I drove about an hour up into the park, through the valley lined with sheer mountains on either side. I saw a couple of deer, but that was it so far as wildlife was concerned unless you count the many, many chipmunks hanging around wherever I happened to stop the car. I kind of wonder if that’s the case because Kootenay is called the “highway” park, since the reason it exists in the first place is due to the highway, which the federal government built in return for the donation of the land to create the park. It’s a through road that connects southern BC with the Trans-Canada Highway — the speed limit is 90 kph (55 mph), and most drivers seem to treat it as a two-lane freeway rather than the kind of national park road I’m used to. I was passed frequently on the straightaways by people going considerably over 90 kph.

My destination that day was Marble Canyon, which was the first of several long, narrow slot canyons I saw on this trip. It’s not really marble, but dolomite (which I’d always thought was a kind of limestone, but the signs seemed to distinguish between it and limestone, so maybe not), and it’s pretty impressive, a stream at least a hundred feet below thundering and echoing off the vertical, sheer walls close enough together that if I was nuts I could probably leap to the other side.

Tokumm Creek, just leaving Marble Canyon.
Tokumm Creek, just leaving Marble Canyon.
Looking down into Marble Canyon from one of several bridges.
Looking down into Marble Canyon from one of several bridges.
The waterfall at the head of Marble Canyon.
The waterfall at the head of Marble Canyon.

Wildflowers everywhere, too, which surprised me as I thought I might be a bit too early in the season this far north. I suspect their abundance had something to do with fires that swept through this part of the park a few years ago, opening the forest and allowing plenty of sunlight.

A large clump of bunchberry, a member of the dogwood genus.
A large clump of bunchberry, a member of the dogwood genus.
Twinflowers.  I don't think I'd ever seen these before.
Twinflowers. I don’t think I’d ever seen these before.
White mountain avens, another flower new to me.
White mountain avens, another flower new to me.
The first of literally acres of Indian paintbrush that I saw on this trip.
The first of literally acres of Indian paintbrush that I saw on this trip.

On my way back, I stopped at the only commercial development inside the park, thinking I’d eat lunch at the little restaurant, but it was not quite ready for customers yet, so I picnicked, then drove back on down to Radium Hot Springs, where I stopped to photograph the red rock canyon, then crossed town to reach the north-flowing Columbia River and ponder just how long it would take for the water passing in front of me to end up in the ocean.

Red rock canyon (not nearly as red in the photo as in real life) just inside Kootenay National Park.
Red rock canyon (not nearly as red in the photo as in real life) just inside Kootenay National Park.
The north-flowing Columbia River, already pretty good-sized.
The north-flowing Columbia River, already pretty good-sized.

All in all, a very good day.