Dramatic Tension’s kind of overrated, isn’t it? Anyways, This is going to be a long one; it took a while to write, and of course with my last computer unexpectedly joining my camera kill count(hey- it had a webcam so it counts), I had to re-threedimensionalize my photos. Yes, I know that threedimensonalize isn’t a word, but I don’t know if there is an actual word for converting 2d into 3d.
Like I mentioned last post, I took a visit to Yoho National Park last summer. I mentioned that I had a fixed date for a tour, but didn’t mention what that tour was. Actually, regular readers of my blog who are familiar with Canadian parks should have worked that out… given that no one reads this blog, however, I think I was the only one to piece the clues together(if you think you read the last post, I’m sorry to announce that you statistically do not exist. You’re a figment of my strange and twisted imagination, which does at least offer several attractive tax credits). Basically, the thing to remember is that I’m irrationally obsessed with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At first glance, that wouldn’t really narrow it down. The entirety of Yoho National Park is a UNESCO site, part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks site. In fact, the 1300 km² park is only a small portion of the Rocky Mountains site; the entire site not only includes Yoho but also Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay Parks, as well as Mount Robson, Hamber, and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Parks in British Columbia, covering a total of 23 600 km².
… as a side note, Waterton National Park, despite being a Canadian Park in the Rocky Mountains and a UNESCO Site, ISN’T part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks UNESCO site. I mean, Instead, it shares a separate UNESCO site designation with Glacier National Park… no, not that one… you’re thinking of Glacier National Park, and should be thinking of Glacier National Park. Rookie mistake. If India can have a site-within-a-site, I don’t see why Canada can’t have a double-site.
Anyways, to get back on track, my whole UNESCO obsession doesn’t seem to narrow down my tour… until you look into it. Banff, Hamber, Kootenay, Jasper, Mount Assiniboine, Mount Robson, and Yoho are all part of the greater Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks site. However, Yoho was first… and only a portion of it at that. The park wasn’t originally a site to protect the ecology or wildlife, at least….not living ones!
…I don’t know how to embed music, so just imagine that there’s some tense horror music here. something generic and non-copyrighted, though- even in my imagination, I can’t visualize a world where I understand copyright law.
The Burgess Shale beds were inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1980. I wasn’t able to find a map of the original inscription boundaries, but it seems as if there were two locations; Walcott Quarry and Mount Stephen, and both are fairly small areas. They were notable because of their fossil record, not their current ecology.
You might be picturing massive dinosaur fossils, well preserved and protruding from the cliff side. You’d be wrong. The fossils are well before dinosaurs, massive fossils, or bones. They’re almost a half-billion years old. For comparison, that’s as long ago as a time where it’s really hard to come up with a good analogy. The numbers are too big. Instead, let’s just mention a fact: These animals lived in the ocean, because animals hadn’t evolved to live on land yet. They died or moulted, and the bodies/shells sank to the bottom of the ocean floor. These fossils now are about 2 km above sea level. These animals died in the ocean.
I always was fascinated by the Cambrian period: it’s not the oldest record of life on earth: there are a lot of older Precambrian fossils. But seriously: Those fossils are boring. It’s all fossilized algae. have you ever seen fossilized algae? they looks like rocks, and not an interesting ones.
But the Cambrian was where animals started to evolve and diversify(shut up, Ediacarian period– you didn’t exist when I was in grade school, and I refuse to learn new things now that I’m an adult). The best way to put it is that the Cambrian period is where animals learned to be animals.
The other aspect of the site is that it isn’t just old fossils; it’s that the fossils are especially well preserved, including soft-bodied animals. It isn’t just shells, but imprints of bodies, and even some organs. When the site was discovered in the early 20th century, Trilobites were already known, but there were so many new animals found at Walcott Quarry that the site was unique. Since then, new Cambrian sites have been discovered around the world(NO I ALREADY SAID SHUT UP EDIACARIAN PERIOD I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU), but these sites are still incredibly important
There were two sites originally on the UNESCO site(I think). There’s a third fossil location to the south in Kootenay Park, but I was keeping to Yoho this trip. I couldn’t visit these sites on my own for reasons I’ll get into; I needed to book a tour. According to the tour company, The Mt Stephen site was shorter, and rated as easier for children, but the fossils weren’t as varied. The Walcott Quarry site supposedly had more variety of fossils, but was a lot longer, and more strenuous hike. Both would take a majority of a day. I couldn’t visit both, so after weighing all the relevant factors(Namely, my curiosity vs laziness), I decided that I was lying and actually I didn’t have to choose, so yes, I could visit both locations. By the way, I went with the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation, and highly recommend their tours.
I was practically tripping over trilobite fossils at both sites. When I say practically, I mean literally. It’s loose chunks of shale at a fairly steep slope, and there is an unbelievable amount of fossils that have fallen from the cliffside, so I was actually stumbling over them.
I’m going to tackle these sites individually; for the record, here’s the map to both of them according to my GPS.
Site 1: Walcott Quarry.
I mean, it doesn’t look too far away… you can even see the quarry from Emerald Lake!
… but it was a little bit of a workout. 22 kilometres of it. It actually wasn’t too hard; lots of breaks and discussions on the way. The hike didn’t start at Emerald Lake, as I’d assumed; instead it started at the other large parking lot. This lot is primarily for visitors to see Takakkaw Falls(the top left of the map), and it didn’t seem very busy on the trail we took. The trail connects with the Emerald Triangle at Yoho Pass, then branches off at the end to ascend a steep slope into the quarry. This last section is the only part of the trail not accessible without a guide. Of course, the only sign that it is off-limits is a literal sign, so what’s to stop people from ignoring it?
I wrote last time about hiking the Emerald Triangle trail; This hike connected with the most scenic part of the trail… and of course it was a rainy, smoky day. It was actually the worst day on my trip, weather-wise; the rain had come from the west, dousing the forest fires on the way. That’s good for controlling the fires, but also means a lot of smoke is created(something I have had some experience with).
Still, I had my good views of the lake and valley when I hiked the Emerald Triangle trail two days earlier, and the trail is good enough that the rain doesn’t make it too slippery.
The site itself doesn’t look like much; just a quarry cut into the slope.
In the middle? There? That’s what protects the fossils. A motion detector & camera setup that is connected to the ranger’s house. Admittedly, that location isn’t nearby, but there’s only a few ways in or out of the quarry, all by foot, so it would be easy to catch someone. Maybe you could find another path through the bush, but do you really want to be pathfinding over mountains? Especially if you’re trying to avoid attention, perhaps at night? The other site has this setup too.
Anyhow, the fossils. I found the first one ascending the restricted path to the fossil beds.
When we reached the quarry, there was a problem. Cloudy and damp weather had changed to rainy. Not a problem for me, but more of a problem for my photos. I have a love/hate relationship with photographing wet objects. In the right conditions, the reflections and light cane make for some interesting 3D shots. However, more often, they obscure the subject and any reflections just get confusing in 3D. Case in point:
Thankfully, the rain let up pretty quickly after we arrived, and one nice thing about shale is that it dries quickly. a half-hour later, and the rocks were clear.
Trilobites are the most common fossils there, but not the only ones. To be clear here, I didn’t find these next two fossils. They are from the site, but had already been examined and catalogued. Because they were so well preserved, they were kept on-site as examples to show visitors.
Okay, I don’t remember what species it was, but I thought it was interesting because you can see the stomach inside the fossil(in the middle of the fossil in the break at the top), and even some fragments of shells from its last meal. I guess that’s the world’s first recipe?
There’s a problem here. The Burgess Shale is notable because of the variety of the fossils. They’re amazing. That said, most of the interesting ones are flat, and there really isn’t much purpose in showing them in 3d. Trilobites, on the other hand…
… were preserved in their full three dimensional glory. The shells weren’t crushed or flattened, and their shapes and imprints survived the last half-billion years.
So, as this is primarily a 3D blog, I’m mostly sticking with trilobites from here on out.
As you can see, lots of them have the details shell imprinted in 3D. There are also many fossils with a mold imprint; that is, a ‘negative’ fossil cause by the imprint of the shell.
… and if you’re bored of trilobites, how about… THREE TRILOBITES!
No? Still bored? Fine. on to the next day then.
Site 2: Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds.
I’m going to get this out of the way first. The website was changed after my tour; I’m linking to an older archived version of the website. Honestly, The next paragraph is me half-joking; the hike was worth it, and I think older kids would do fine… but I think most six-year-olds would likely be overwhelmed. I assume so, at least. I don’t have kids, so what do I know? I mean, I know enough to throw raw meat into their cage twice a week, but you can’t do that on a hike. Anyways, based on the information I had at the time…
The trail information lied. Mount Stephen was easy, they said. It would be more suitable for families and children, they said. It’s shorter, they said, but at least they told the truth about that.
Here’s the problem. It’s shorter, yes. That might not be not a good thing(or it might be, depending on your specific needs. Specifically, do you want to sweat? I don’t want to judge). The Walcott Quarry hike was 22 km; 11 there and 11 back along the same route. The Mount Stephen hike in 8 km, again 4 there and 4 back on the same trail. Likewise, the elevation gain on Mount Stephen was less than Walcott Quarry; only a mere 795 metres, vs 825 m for Walcott Quarry. Almost the same, but still a little less.
You see the problem, don’t you? If not, think math. Think division. A 825 metre elevation gain over 11 km(825/11000) is about a 7.5% trail gradient, or a bit under 7°. 795 m over 4 km is 19.9%, or almost 18°. More than twice as steep. Anecdotally, I think the trail is probably steeper; the hike starts from the town of field, and is a gradual incline until you walk to the trailhead. Maybe closer to a 25% grade average, with a few points approaching 40°? In addition to that, the trail system around Walcott Quarry is well used; most of it is accessible to the public, with only that small section being off-limits without a guide. Mount Stephen Trilobite beds is on a trail that is rarely used, and mostly only for the beds(There is a branch off the trail that ascends the mountain, but it is apparently difficult and rarely used, and due the proximity of the fossils, users of this trail need a special permit to use it, even if they’re avoiding the fossil area. So the trail isn’t as well worn, and it’s steeper… anything else?
Oh yeah. There aren’t any steep cliffs right beside the trail, but it does climb a steep ridge with slopes on both sides(maybe 50°-60°), and with the loose scree higher up, it can be slow going. An at the end?
A beautiful and scenic meadow, surrounded by a pristine pond, lush grasses and a misty- Nope. It’s another rock quarry.
Trilobites weren’t all one species; there are several different species that really aren’t distinguishable without some fossil experience. I don’t have any of that, however. There’s a wide variety of sizes that I saw, from fossils smaller than my fingernail to some larger than my palm.
Ready for more trilobites? Here’s a true form fossil and a mould fossil, just to better see the difference.
Here’s what looks like a new type of fossil, but is just the imprint of a trilobite head.
And here’s one of the stranger trilobite fossils. I’m first posting this photo in 2D.
This illustrates why I love 3D photography. in two dimensions, it looks like part of the dark fossil peeled away, leaving an imprint on the shale underneath. in three dimensions, however?
It’s actually two separate trilobite fossils; one just happened to fossilize directly over the other, in the exact same position. It’s a weird coincidence that they line up so perfectly. At least I assume it’s a coincidence; maybe synchronized fossilization was a group activity back in the day.
Another trilobite fossil fossilized a little differently… the mineralization here must have been from different materials. End result… it fossilized…
… into crystal!
That isn’t helping. Even I’m getting bored of trilobites now. They were everywhere.
Thankfully, there were some other species. There were a few shell fossils…
… and imprints…
… which were worth photographing in 3D. However, the most interesting fossils were these:
Here’s another one, a bit easier to make out.
They look like ancient shrimp, but are actually part of an anomilocar… no, Animalicur… no, wait… Anomol… ONE OF THESE!
Anomalocaris was the alpha predator of this period of the Cambrian period, the top of the food chain for millions of years. early paleontologists actually thought the mandible/tentacle appendage was a separate species, as it is often found on its own. It wasn’t until an intact fossil was found that they realized that it was just a small part of a larger species.
500 million years ago, these small creatures were the most advanced life on the planet, setting the foundation for all modern life, and traces of them remain today. On the other hand, I’m still alive and can point and laugh at them, so who’s the real winner here?
… Probably Anomolacaris, because that thing still scares me.
The above photos were taken with a modified Canon Rebel T3i camera