British Columbia is blessed with an abundance of beautiful parks. Some of them provide travellers with a place to stay; others preserve areas of outstanding beauty, history, or significance; and some combine these functions. I’ve touched on a few of the local ones and what can be seen there, in past pieces; and for this staycation instalment I’m going to look at a few other parks in our area that locals might want to make part of a summer day trip.
We’ll start at Chasm Provincial Park, 15km north of Clinton. Many people have probably passed by it on the highway, with no idea that a short drive will reveal a spectacular geologic formation carved out by a melting glacier some 10,000 years ago. The resulting canyon is some 8km long, 600m wide, and 300m deep, with walls that show successive layers of lava that have been revealed by erosion over millions of years. Fun fact: The bands of red, yellow, purple, pink, and brown thus revealed have given the canyon the unofficial name of “Painted Chasm”.
Travel south on Hwy. 97, and to the west of Clinton you find three parks clustered together. Marble Range, Edge Hills, and Downing Provincial Parks are all located south of Jesmond, with Marble Range the largest and most northernmost. Its limestone topography—one of the few places in the province that features this formation—delights hikers with a fascinating landscape of sinkholes, caves, and disappearing stream, while the cliffs attract rock climbers from far and wide. Edge Hills is a hiker’s and photographer’s dream, with sweeping vistas over the Fraser River, flat benches, and grasslands which are now rare in the province. As of this writing Downing is closed to the public due to flooding caused by hydrology changes to nearby streams, but when open the park—which almost encircles Kelly Lake—is extremely popular due to its beautiful setting, and for the fishing, boating and swimming in Kelly Lake. Fun fact: The Grange gold mine, just outside the park boundary, was in operation until the 1940s, and numerous shafts used in the mining operation there still exist.
Continue south on Hwy. 97, then west on Hwy. 99 to Marble Canyon Provincial Park. In 2001 the park, located between Turquoise and Crown Lakes, was expanded to include the bottom of nearby Pavilion Lake, in order to preserve the remarkable underwater formations known as microbiolates which are found there. These structures, as tall as 3m in Pavilion (they have also been found in Kelly Lake), are a very specific sedimentary formation created by algae and a certain type of bacteria some 11,000 years ago, and it is thought that they’re similar to some of the earliest life forms on Earth. Pavilion and Kelly Lakes are two of the few places in the world where these formations have been found, with the Pavilion Lake micribiolates among the largest on the planet, and a team from NASA has been studying them since 2004, hoping they might shed light on the earliest forms of microbe-based life, both here and in space. Fun fact: Marble Canyon was once mostly underwater, with the jagged top of the canyon forming a chain of islands.
On your way back east along Hwy. 99, take a detour through beautiful Hat Creek Valley to Harry Lake Aspen Provincial Park. It preserves one of the remaining upper grasslands in the Hat Creek Valley, giving a glimpse of what attracted early cattle ranchers to the area in the middle of the nineteenth century. Fun fact: as the park is only accessible by logging road, it’s a good idea to have an up-to-date backcountry road map with you.
Head back Cache Creek and explore Arrowstone Provincial Park just to the east. It protects one of the largest undisturbed valleys in the southern interior, and offers plenty of hiking opportunities in a remote location that’s still close to major highways and has several access points. An ancient basalt quarry at the junction of Cache and Arrowstone Creeks was an important source of material for arrowheads, hence the park’s name. Fun fact: a First Nations legend tells how one of the Secwepemc demi-gods, Kwil-î-elt, and some of his friends tried to trick arrow-stone from its owners, two old women who lived near what is now Cache Creek. The men spoke with each woman in turn and told her that the other had been telling malicious stories about her. The two women fell to fighting, and the men collected the arrow-stones which fell from their pockets. When told that they had been deceived, the women asked why the men had not simply asked for what they wanted, and presented them with a box of unfinished arrow-stone, as well as many completed arrowheads. The arrow-stones which fell from the women’s clothing were scattered far and wide, accounting for the stone’s abundance in the area.
Back on to the Trans-Canada south to the Provincial Park on the outskirts of Ashcroft. You didn’t know there was one? It’s easy to miss, but Elephant Hill Provincial Park was created in 1996 to protect a rare area of ungrazed grassland in one of the driest parts of the province. A hiking trail leads to the top of Elephant Hill, where you can encounter several native species, including rattlesnakes, so beware. The area was much used by local First Nations people, as evidenced by the remains of several native archaeological sites in the area. Fun fact: From the top of Elephant Hill you get spectacular view along the Thompson and Bonaparte Rivers, and can see Cache Creek, Ashcroft, the highlands above Barnes Lake, and the Cornwall Hills.
Next instalment: south and west and maybe east.