Burgess Shale FossilsPosted: November 16, 2012 Filed under: Animal Life, Canadian Rockies, Mineral World | Tags: beauty, British Columbia, Burgess Shale, Burgess Shale Fossils, Canada, Canadian Rockies, fossils, Mt. Stephen, Mt. Wapta, paleontology, Rocky Mountains, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yoho National Park 4 Comments
When we were in Field, B.C. this summer, I first heard about the Burgess Shale fossils in Yoho National Park. The Burgess Shale quarries have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Indeed, the entire park is part of a World Heritage Site. Because of the force of the land’s beauty, I bought a small book, A Geoscience Guide to The Burgess Shale by Murray Coppold and Wayne Powell to begin learning about the fossils. I’m using that book and How Old is That Mountain? by Chris Yorath as references in this post.
The name Burgess Shale refers to a segment of layered rocks, called a formation. It’s within this particular formation that the fossils of well preserved soft bodied creatures were found. This is a big deal because it’s much more common to find only the skeletons of animals without their soft tissues being preserved.
The Burgess Shale fossils were first found in 1909 on a ridge between Wapta Mountain and Mt. Field. And on nearby Mt. Stephen, many trilobite fossils have been found. I’ve compared my photos of mountains in the area to several online photos. From this comparison, I’ve included two photos I took that I believe show the area close to the the Burgess Shale fossil quarries as well as Mt. Stephen.
While I gather that there’s no one exact indication of the age of the fossils, the two books I’ve mentioned indicate they are between 530 and 505 million years old. In A Geoscience Guide to The Burgess Shale the authors compress the earth’s history into a single year to help us fathom the enormous sweep of time of the planet’s history. If the birth of the earth is imagined to be on January 1, then the animals of the Burgess Shale appear on November 20th. As a comparison, dinosaurs who seem incredibly old to us are more recent than the fossils, appearing between December 21st and 27th. And humanity’s ancestors appear at 9:07 p.m. on December 31st. Homo sapiens, our exact species, only appear on December 31st at a quarter to midnight! We are the newcomers on earth.
Because of my new interest, I indulged in the common tourist activity of buying a t-shirt memento of this part of our travels. The shirt has a rendition of some of the amazing looking fossilized creatures of the Burgess Shale. I look forward to wearing it around Toronto next spring and summer. I will certainly receive puzzled looks from people who are not paleontology buffs, wondering what on earth it’s about. What on earth, indeed!
Emerald LakePosted: November 7, 2012 Filed under: Animal Life, Canadian Rockies, Plant Life, Water | Tags: beauty, British Columbia, Canada, Canadian Rockies, chipmunk, Emerald Lake, moraine, mountains, rivers, Rocky Mountains, trees, woods, Yoho National Park Leave a comment
While in Yoho National Park in British Columbia this past September, we hiked around Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake, like Lake Louise, is a tarn formed in a basin surrounded by mountains into which melting glaciers have poured their water. And, like Lake Louise, it owes its green blue hue to rock flour. Rock flour is made of very fine particles that have been ground down by glaciers moving against bedrock and washed into the lakes.
The hike around the shore of Emerald Lake was level for the most part and not a strenuous trail, with some climbing near the end. We hiked here twice on our travels. The first time we went on a cloudy and cold day, while our second hike was in mixed cloud and sun.
This trail took us through varied landscapes. On one side of the lake is an open expanse of meadows and streams. I believe I am right in saying that this side is a moraine, that is, an area of gravel and sand washed down from the mountains by their glaciers over time. Here, the trail is paved and is wheel chair accessible. Having never been in the Rocky Mountains until this trip, I was very taken by the beauty of the streams and rivers at the base of mountains and stopped to look at these for a long time at Emerald Lake.
We continued on the trail which led around the other side of the lake through a lush forest reminiscent of west coast rainforests and unusual in this area. I loved this part of the trail, filled with the deep atmosphere of the woods through which we could see mountains on the far side of the lake. Living in Ontario, I am familiar with woods, but not with catching glimpses of enormous mountains beyond the trees. These sights always evoked in me a sense of mystery and awe.
Again, I took many photos and in late afternoon was drawn to the reflections of the mountains in the lake. I did not keep track of which mountain had which name—two of them being Wapta Mountain and Mt. Burgess—but they seem to have accepted my ignorance with good grace.
Field, B. C.Posted: November 3, 2012 Filed under: Animal Life, Canadian Rockies | Tags: B. C., beauty, birds, British Columbia, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Field, magpie, mountains, Rockies, Rocky Mountains, Yoho National Park 2 Comments
Back to the Rockies. When we hiked in Yoho National Park, we stayed in Field, B. C. Field is a tiny town of around 100 people on the eastern border of British Columbia with beautiful views of mountains. Our one sighting of a black bear was in Field. We were eating at the Truffle Pig Restaurant one evening (and greatly enjoying our meal) when another patron pointed to a small bear by the railroad tracks. Most of us got up to have a look. The next day, signs were posted that a young bear had been seen searching for food by the tracks, apparently separated from his or her mother. We were cautioned, for the bear’s safety and our own, not to approach the bear if we saw it again.
Field is on one side of railroad tracks. Directly on the other is the National Park Office which we went to several times to check on conditions before hiking. We heard about the Burgess Shale fossil finds for the first time at the Park Office. And this was, in part, responsible for my interest in the ancient history of the land. I’ll come back to this in a future post. In the National Park Office’s parking lot, we encountered many magpies walking about, likely also in search of food. Though magpies are common in the Rockies, we had never seen these birds before our trip and, to us, they were beautiful.
During our time in Field, the temperature fell to highs of 8 degrees Celsius with clouds and showers. But, after bundling up, we enjoyed our hikes to Wapta Falls and Emerald Lake which I’ll also tell you about in future posts.
Takakkaw FallsPosted: October 29, 2012 Filed under: Canadian Rockies, Plant Life, Water | Tags: beauty, British Columbia, Canada, Canadian Rockies, clouds, conifers, Laughing Falls, mountains, nature, raven, Takakkaw Falls, trees, woods, Yoho National Park, Yoho River Leave a comment
On our September trip to the Rocky Mountains, we travelled from Banff National Park west to Yoho National Park in British Columbia along the border with Alberta. There we spent our first afternoon at Takakkaw Falls and a nearby trail. The day was cool and cloudy as we drove up the winding road to the falls. I loved the views on this road in the midst of steeply rising mountains. The driving, however, was sometimes hair raising with an extreme switchback where we stopped and watched an RV passenger in front of us out on the road, directing the driver as he or she backed up toward the edge of a cliff before being able to make the turn. It’s not surprising that this road is open only from late June to early October. I have no idea how the tour buses made it up there.
At the falls, although there were many of us tourists, it was easy to take in the beauty. In addition to the dramatic waterfall which cascades around 380 metres, we saw nearby mountains partially concealed in moving clouds.
Soon we set off for a walk on a trail heading towards Laughing Falls. It was getting late in the day and so we hiked out and back for an hour or so and didn’t set a goal of getting to the falls. This was an easy, level walk, very quiet, past now empty camp sites by Yoho River and woods.
On returning I enjoyed seeing Takakkaw Falls come into view from afar. Here I had a long view of the mountains and could see first a touch of spray, then gradually more and more of the cascading water as we walked further along.
We had a most enjoyable afternoon in this rugged landscape. Returning in the clear cool moist air, the woods, river and rock held us, opening onto distant deep blue mountains in white cloud, rock walls of burnt orange and blue, deep green narrow triangles of gathered conifers and cascading water.
Geology and Peace of MindPosted: October 4, 2012 Filed under: Canadian Rockies, Mineral World, Ontario | Tags: Alberta, Algonquin Park, British Columbia, Canada, Canadian Rockies, earth, history, Mineral World, mountains, nature, Ontario, Rocks, time, Yoho Park 2 Comments
My recent trip to the Canadian Rockies ignited in me an interest in geology. I looked at the mountains and wanted to know what had formed them. I’ve bought a few beginners’ books on geology and the history of the earth and am reading them with great fascination. This past weekend, when I was in Algonquin Park in Ontario, I was also aware of the boulders and outcroppings of rock and am learning a bit about how these were formed.
Contemplating the incomprehensible sweep of billions of years of creation and change that the earth has gone through has brought me some surprising peace of mind. I’ve learned that the rock in the mountains were once under sea, something I dimly recall hearing about before, but not paying any attention to. In some of the rock, the remains of shells are found. This has gotten me thinking about the oneness of life, in a literal sense. What we now see and experience as solid mass rising above us, was once on the bottom of tropical seas. Water, ice, fire, land and movement shaped the western mountains and the boulders in the east. And my existence here in this tiny speck of time is amazing seen in the context of the vast billions of years of earth’s history.
Many of us are afflicted or in some anguish at different times of our lives and perhaps unable to get outside of our own suffering. Despite this, I have begun wondering if the felt sense of the earth’s awesome history might also help other people feel less alienated from their surroundings, as it has for me. I don’t know the answer to this. But what I’m discovering is that the study of science at a beginner’s level is fascinating and quite do-able and, for me, calming.