Friday, November 19, 2010

So Many Places, So Little Time

Novarupta plug in right foreground, Trident volcano in background
Sockeye salmon moving up Brooks River
Sockeye salmon in Brooks River
Brown Bear along Naknek Lake
Travel has always been at the top of my personal agenda – I travel as much as my vacation time and disposable cash flow will allow.   The best of both worlds occurs when I can travel and work, getting paid to be somewhere with a geological twist.  Serendipity finally brought me to Katmai National Park in Alaska this past summer where I worked as a ranger for the national park service from early May until mid-September.   Novarupta volcanism, sockeye salmon, and brown bears – did my Alaska adventure really happen or did I         dream it?

 But like most everyone else, I also have been forever imagining myself in places to which I would travel if I had no limits but had all the time and money in the world.   Since I am fairly confident that at least one of those pesky limits will be present to torture me at any given time (I have plenty of time right now but I’m certainly not getting any younger; as for cash – well, I definitely don’t like leaving home without it), my own personal “bucket list” consists of locations where I can reasonably expect to find myself one day.  

Of course, these sites would have to involve geology – ancient rocks, jaw-dropping formations, tectonic plates colliding, extraordinary fossils.  All I need now is to find an uber-billionaire to underwrite my expeditions or to convince Nat Geo to hire me as a travel writer - and I'll be on my way.      

Burgess Shale, Yoho National Park, British Columbia
 I started working on my GBL (Geological Bucket List) in 2005.  I had been planning an adventure in northern Spain for autumn 2004 – this early pre-geology Bucket List entry included visiting some cave painting sites (remnant yearnings from my first college degree in anthropology but that’s another story), seeing the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, and then doing a 12-day trek in the Picos de Europa mountain range of northern Spain.  Unfortunately for me this trip never materialized – I was in the throes of leaving my 20-year nursing career to go back to school and get my degree in geology and could not manage to fly away to another continent.  So when I had to cancel this trip of a lifetime to Spain, I knew exactly what I’d do instead.  I’d go to Canada.  I’d hike to the Burgess Shale fossils, high in the Rocky Mountains of Yoho National Park, British Columbia.    It seemed like a great place to start checking off entries on my GBL.

At Walcott Quarry

"Exquisite" is the word most often used to describe the preservation of the 505-million-year-old fossils of the Burgess Shale, and I wanted to see them in a bad way.   Ancestors of virtually all life forms on Earth today can be found preserved in these rocks, in the hard shells and soft body parts of creatures such as Pikaia, Anomalocaris, Halucigenia,  Opabinia, Marrella, Canadaspis, and the trilobites Ogygopsis and Elrathia.  Though not in the same abundance or state of preservation, many of these same fossils have been found in similar rocks of western Utah and eastern Nevada, particularly in the Pioche and Wheeler Shales and Marjum Formation.   

Icefields Parkway, Jasper NP
Not many people I know have been to the Burgess Shale.  I have been there twice – first in 2005 and again in 2008 when I returned as a Volunteer Assistant Guide on the hikes to the Walcott Quarry and  Mt. Stephen fossil beds.  The sites are part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.    My two dear San Diego friends accompanied me both times under no duress whatsoever.   The second time we explored further beyond Yoho NP into the uplifted structural geology wonderland of the Icefields Parkway.

Should hiking on the Athabasca Glacier also count as a check-off on my GBL?


  1. I know exactly how you feel about too many places and too little time. Yet you're on your way to checking them off your list. I'll have to live until at least 200 for my list.

    Love your photos and stories.

  2. Hi Gaelyn - I'm working on it, but as sure as I check one entry off my GBL, I find another! We all need several more lifetimes to do everything we want to do. That's what makes the journey so very special - we do as much as we can in the time we have. Every moment counts - every sunset, every dawn.