Vermillion Bluffs Adventure

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Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Vermillion Bluffs, outside of Princeton, in British Columbia. Members of the Rock Lovers Pitstop suggested, organized, and facilitated the trip.

Together we headed out early from Abbotsford and arrived in Princeton by 9am. After parking the vehicles, our hike began with walking an old train tunnel that passed through a mountain … a new experience for me. Above us—almost out of sight—the highway traffic travelled, but inside the tunnel it was totally silent, except for the sound of our footfalls and the echo of our voices. Walking in this tomb became normal after a while, but it was shocking to emerge from it and have the bright sunlight evaporate into silence the echoes of this narrow space.

The couple of kilometres we walked passed quickly, and soon the Vermilion Bluffs came into view. They are magnificent! While I had come to collect their namesake’s red, the bluffs are also full of yellows, oranges, and even purples! It wasn’t hard to find little chunks of colour, which had fallen from above—each sample originating from a specific layer far above us. The different layers along the bluffs are each unique in their colour and makeup—some are bright and hard, others are soft and dull. Although rare, every once in a while, we collected a very special bit of red. It was silky-soft, and although it seemed a little dark at first, once it rubbed off on the hand it was very bright. These red pieces reminded me of a greasy pastel from an artist supply store. I’ve learned over the last couple of years that long ago, when people use to collect their colours from the earth, it wasn’t just their brightness that made a colour desirable. Other characteristics were important—its metallic sheen, or its softness, were understood to indicate that it had special significance. These particular samples are unlike anything else I’ve collected, and very beautiful. I gathered what I could find, with help from Roxanne, and then we all moved on.

Roxanne was also helpful in sharing with me her knowledge of different First Nation expressions of gratitude in taking something from a place. Ever since visiting Hell’s Gate last year, the idea of it being appropriate to leave something behind in thankfulness when collecting local colours has stuck with me, and Roxanne gave me lots of examples to think about—such as tobacco or even hair.

It was shortly after beginning to walk further along the trail when a bear and her cub appeared a little ahead of us. For a moment she looked at us, and we at her … and it was a long moment! But, it passed and she bounded off into the bush with her cub in toe. I’ve never seen a bear run before, and they are the most unconventionally graceful creatures … with their movements being long and gaunt, but beautifully fluid. She didn’t reappear during our hike, but her dance is strongly embedded in my mind.

The Vermilion Bluffs weren’t the only stop we made on this trip. We also climbed a mountain to collect agates in the area, and drove onward to the ghost-town of Blakeburn to look for amber amid the coal (narrow roads with steep-cliffs besides …). It wasn’t until after 9pm that Mike dropped me back off at my hotel, where I contently settled into the room to eat a little dinner and make a few notes in my journal.

The next day, the airport scales reported my bag weighed 49.5lbs—with the limit being 50lbs—so I feel that I took full advantage of the opportunity! I can’t wait to play with these beautiful colours and add a new page to the Atlas of Canada’s Local Colours.

Thanks to everyone involved—especially to Ryan for introducing me to the club, Mike and Wade for being so generous with their expertise and time, Roxanne and her husband for their insights and stories, and to Jakub for his enthusiasm and good naturedness—I thoroughly enjoyed our colourful adventure!

The photograph of the group and of myself is complements of Mike Blampied.

7 Comments

  1. Carolyn Mount on Facebook on June 17th, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I am so glad it was a good trip for you!

  2. Sherri May on Facebook on June 17th, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Would have been nice to join the group, maybe another time!

  3. Susan Kathryn Spencer on Facebook on June 17th, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Great to see you again

  4. Susan Kathryn Spencer on Facebook on June 18th, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Thanks so much Christopher ! I’m hooked!!

  5. mike blampied on June 18th, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Hello Christopher, thank-you for posting such a wonderful story about our trip to Vermillion Bluffs and beyond. I have walked past the bluffs many times and always admire the miracle of colour and structure. I never knew what the material was called but now have learned that the Ochre has played such an important part of history. I appreciate your thanks for the trip but must thank you for teaching me about colour and what this aspect of rock collecting can add to the rock collecting as a whole. I will be keeping my eyes open for more material that can provide a colour streak. After dropping you back at your motel was quick to wash the Jeep and rush home to show my family how the Amber we collected glows under UV light. {ultra violet} The Amber glows white,red and blue and what is invisible to the naked eye is a spectacular display of colour in the dark under the UV light. Adventures like the one Christopher took are always happening with the Rock Lovers Pitstop Facebook group. There is a large membership in western Canada that gather together and go out and collect rocks take in rock shows and even check out some museums. There are also members all around the world so check it out and maybe find yourself on an adventure like this .

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