Fresh old ideas

By Arnold Malone
pioneer columnist 

The communities of the East Kootenays are nestled in the valleys between the Purcell Range and Rocky Mountains. The people who live here claim an attachment of these mountains and our First Nation friends have long claimed that the mountains will “Bring Peace to The People.” Residence in this valley guard our mountains like a mother bear protects her cubs.

No visitor should ever abuse our topography or mess with our environment, or they risk the disdain of the locals. They are our mountains just as if we had drawn a plan and then built them by hand.

These formations are stunning with their snow-covered peaks and moving shades of the green cast from clouds that project shadows that slide along the mountain slopes. Sometimes the morning mist turns the valley into a fairyland. Visitors stare with wonder when seeing a ribbon of clouds resting on the side of a mountain.

So, it is wise for all of us to reflect on how did these magnificent formations come to be.

Mountains don’t develop quickly. They are built over thousands and perhaps millions of years. Mountains are formed when a tectonic plate thrusts against a larger formation which is the land we stand on. When a tectonic plate pushes on to an immovable mass of land, the land starts to buckle. The process is like your foot-pushing on the side of a rug and noticing how it humps and buckles. The mountains in this valley are mostly caused by folding, and some are from volcanic activity.

Long ago, in a university geology class, I was surprised when our professor stated, “Some mountains are upside down.” He added, “We know that because the oldest geological formations are at the top of the mountain, and if you drill into the mountain, you will find the most recent formations at the bottom.

This becomes easier to understand when you observe Mount Rundle in Banff. The west side is flat as it was once a part of a horizontal plain. The east side has been pushed up by the force of a moving plate. To further convince yourself that mountains can be upside down while traveling west, watch for a mountain two Km on the right-hand side (east) after you come through the first animal cross-over west of Banff. You will see a mountain where the once horizontal strata of the earth is now vertical. It does not take much imagination to picture a mountain that was formed with enough force to be tipped completely upside down.

A different formation can be viewed when arriving from the east and going through the magnificent rock crevasse prior to entering Radium Hot Springs. Far off in the westerly distance is a chimney. A chimney is a geological name for a column, like a gigantic culvert, standing vertical. This formation occurs when a volcano pushes hot lava up through a hole in the earth. When the volcano dies the lava cools it leaves a hard core. Over thousands, perhaps millions, of years, the earth around the harder volcanic core erodes, leaving only a vertical hard rock tube. On your next drive in to Radium from Alberta, watch for that special formation.

Folding mountains are formed when two tectonic plates move towards each other. To picture the formation of a folded mountain, place a series of different coloured towels, one on top of the other on a table and then push both ends towards the center. The towels will hump up in the middle, and the different coloured towels will represent the various sedimentary layers laid down over geological time.

Every mountain has an individual history, and each reveals a story a million years old.

Arnold Malone served as MP for Alberta’s Battle River and Crowfoot ridings from 1974 through 1993. He retired to Invermere in 2007.