That is not strictly true, of course, as this area does see its fair share of rain and temperature extremes — but visiting in the summer every view is a postcard of mountainous terrain.
Rocks from deep within the Earth's crust underlie the entire East Kootenay region and are commonly exposed in the areas majestic mountain peaks, craggy rocky cliffs, glaciated river canyons, and in rock cuts along the highways. Younger Ice Age sediments blanket much of the underlying rock.
I've been heading to the Cranbrook and Fernie area since the early 1990s. My interest is the local geology and fossil history that these rocks have to tell. I'm also drawn to the warm and welcoming locals who share a love for the land and palaeontological treasures that open a window to our ancient past.
Cranbrook is the largest community in the region and is steeped in mining history and the opening of the west by the railway. It is also a stone's throw away from Fort Steele and the Lower Cambrian exposures of the Eager Formation. These fossil beds rival the slightly younger Burgess Shale fauna and while less varied, produce wonderful examples of olenellid trilobites and weird and wonderful arthropods nearly half a billion years old.
|Labiostria westriopi, McKay Group|
Further east, the Upper Cambrian McKay Group near Tanglefoot Mountain is a palaeontological delight with fifteen known outcrops that have produced some of the best-preserved and varied trilobites in the province — many of them new species. The McKay Formation also includes Ordovician outcrops sprinkled in for good measure.
Other cities in the area and the routes to and from them produce other fossil fauna from Kimberley to Fernie and the district municipality of Invermere and Sparwood. This is an arid country with native grasslands and forests of semi-open fir and pine. Throughout there are a host of fossiliferous exposures from Lower Cretaceous plants to brachiopods. The area around Whiteswan Lake has wonderful large and showy Ordovician graptolites including Cardiograptus morsus and Pseudoclimacograptus angustifolius elongates — some of our oldest relatives. A drive down to Flathead will bring you to ammonite outcrops and you can even find Eocene fresh-water snails in the region.
The drive from Cranbrook to Fernie is about an hour and change through the Cambrian into the Devonian which flipflops and folds over revealing Jurassic exposures.
|Fernie Ichthyosaur Excavation, 1916|
|Cretaceous Plant Material, Fernie, BC|
The regional district's dominant landform is the Rocky Mountain Trench, which is flanked by the Purcell Mountains and the Rocky Mountains on the east and west, and includes the Columbia Valley region. The southern half of which is in the regional district — its northern half is in the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District.
The regional district of Elk Valley in the southern Rockies is the entryway to the Crowsnest Pass and an important coal-mining area.
Other than the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers, whose valleys shape the bottomlands of the Rocky Mountain Trench, the regional districts form the northernmost parts of the basins of the Flathead, Moyie and Yahk Rivers. The Moyie and Yahk are tributaries of the Kootenay, entering it in the United States, and the Flathead is a tributary of the Clark Fork into Montana.
Photo One: Tyaughton Mountain, Mckay Group; Photo Two: Labiostria westriopi, Upper Cambrian McKay Group, Site ML (1998); John Fam Collection; Photo Three: Ichthyosaur Excavation, Fernie, British Columbia, 1916; Photo Four: Cretaceous Plant Fossils, east of Fernie towards Coal Mountain. The deeply awesome Guy Santucci as hand-model for scale.