Tag Archives: Canadian Rockies trip

climate change in my lifetime

In honor of Leo DiCaprio’s acceptance speech on the Oscars last night, here’s a couple of nature photos I’ve posted here before, showing visible climate change over a period of 45 years.

Two photos of Athabaska Glacier, an offshoot of the Columbia Icefield, in Jasper National Park.

So far as I can tell, the two places I stood when I took these photos weren’t all that far apart (granted, the 1970 photo was taken from closer up than the 2015 photo was).  The parking lot and road haven’t moved, either.

I took this photo on a family vacation in 1970, when I was eleven years old.
I took this photo on a family vacation in 1970, when I was eleven years old.
I took this when I went back to the Canadian Rockies last summer (2015).
I took this when I went back to the Canadian Rockies last summer (2015).

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.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 1

Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit.
Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit west of Sherman Pass.

Twelve days ago, Friday, June 12, 2015

I think it was about three months ago when it was pointed out to me that I’m no farther from the Canadian Rockies than I am from

Yellowstone (about a hundred miles closer, in fact) and I thought, you know, I’ve been to Yellowstone how many times in the 22 years since I moved to western Washington — why have the only trips I’ve made to Canada in that time been a couple of weekends via ferry to Victoria?

So I renewed my passport and started making plans for the trip as soon as the exhibit was finished. That this happened to coincide with the dates the U.S. Open golf tournament was held less than
fifteen miles from my house was just a bonus (I am told the traffic that week was pretty overwhelming).

Anyway. As is normal on any first day of a vacation like this, I spent most of it on the road. Northeast on SR 18, where I began my day with a hawk stooping at prey right beside the road as I drove by, then east on I-90, of course, to the town of Cle Elum, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where I picked up a back road for a few miles to U.S. 97, which stretches north to the Canadian border, and,
incidentally, allowed me to bypass driving up I-5 through the entire
Puget Sound conurbation, plus avoid one of the busiest border crossings between here and Detroit.

I did not, however, go straight up U.S. 97 to the border. I turned east at the little town of Tonasket, in the heart of the Okanogan country, to explore the northeastern part of Washington before I headed on. I’d always been curious about this area, but it was just a bit farther than I’d want to go for an overnight.

I don’t know if anyone familiar with eastern Washington who’s reading this is as surprised as I was to discover how mountainous the northeast corner of the state actually is. I mean, south of here it’s pretty much flat and seriously monotonous all the way from
Ellensburg to Spokane. But SR 20 climbs quickly up from the
Okanogan River valley and enters national forest land. I passed through the “town” (if there were half a dozen buildings, I’d be shocked) of Wauconda, crossed a 4500 foot pass, dropped down to the San Poil River valley at the town of Republic (which could be the twin of Libby, Montana, where I lived briefly a long time ago), then climbed steeply to Sherman Pass, elevation 5500 feet.

The Sherman Pass viewpoint looks out over one of those curvature-of-the-earth views, over mountains that had obviously been burned in the not-too-distant past. An exhibit board said that the fire had taken place in 1988, the same year as the Yellowstone fires, and the landscape looked similar to the park.

View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.
View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.

East of Sherman Pass were a couple of historic landmarks. The first one was the site of a CCC camp in the 1930s, with some fun
sculpture:

Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.

The second one was apparently about logging, but with no sign, it was kind of hard to tell. On the other hand, this is where I saw the first of many, many wild roses in bloom on this trip (photo at top).

I crossed the Columbia River, actually Lake Roosevelt above the Grand Coulee Dam, at the town of Kettle Falls, the namesake of which is now buried under the reservoir.

The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.
The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.

But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.

The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.
The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.

And then I drove the last few miles to the county seat of Colville (pronounced CALL-ville, not COAL-ville), where I spent my first night on the road!