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.