Category Archives: waterfall

Rocks and Trees

Rocks and Trees and waterfalls in the Canadian Shield

Often when we tell people that we are headed to the east people ask, “Why would you do that?  All you will see are rocks and trees and more rocks and more tree.” Then often, they add, “Boring!”  I would say if you think Northwestern Ontario is boring that you are probably boring.

Shortly after heading east down the Trans-Canada Highway we saw evidence of something that intrigues me.  That is the Canadian Shield. I kept thinking about this as I travelled east.  I love to see it, but my viewing pleasure is enhanced by what I have learned about this astonishing Canadian Shield.

We experienced snow on day 1 and 2 of our trip to the east

When I was at the Grand Canyon we were amazed that the oldest rocks at the bottom of the canyon  were 1.7 billion years old. That seemed like a lot, but those rocks are youngsters compared to the rocks in the Canadian Shield!

The shield contains some of the oldest rocks on the planet.  Many are 2 billion years old. Some are nearly 4 billion years old! The Shield goes well beyond Canada’s borders. Nearly 2/3 of North America is part of the shield.  It stretches from the Arctic to Mexico.

To geologists rocks seem to be alive since they tell us so much about where we and our world came from.  The earliest mountains on our planet are about 3.9 billion years old. The continents of our planet  have always been migratory. They travel like rafts on the surface of the earth. This is part of the system of tectonic plates. When continental plates collide parts of one plate can be added to the other. This is referred to as continental accretion. The plate tectonic process began soon after the earth was created. The Shield was assembled over billions of years. Since then many successive mountain ranges have been created and worn down over deep time. As a result geologists often look for ghosts of ancient mountain ranges. The Shield is one of these ghosts–the worn down stumps of very old mountains.

Colliding continents created immense volcanic activity which in turn created many rocks including  gneiss.  Gneiss is a highly metamorphosed rock that is composed of distinct bands of alternating pinkish granitic rock and darker more iron rich rock. It is very common in Canada. This rock shows the intense deformation of rock that occurred at great depths under the surface of the planet when crustal rocks collided to create the crustal mosaic that constitutes the oldest part of our country.  Where it is now exposed at the surface over large parts of the country these rocks are evidence of deep erosion of mountains and the removal of vast volumes of rock over the millions of years that followed these collisions creating a relatively flat Shield surface with which we are familiar.  The rocks we see are often the very deep roots of what were at one time very high mountains.  Contemplating such immense erosion gives one a profound sense of the power of time.

Gneiss is produced when 2 plates squeeze against each other and the igneous rocks are heated to extreme temperatures as a result of the friction and the pressures are enough to create mountains. The rock at that point is as soft as toothpaste.  The heat is so intense and so extreme that rocks are dehydrated  and produce water streaming from a burning rock.  The rock that is forced out is mineralized water.

Even though the Canadian Shield contains some of the oldest rocks on the planet, from time to time sojourner rocks have arrived from far off places. Some of these have even arrived from other worlds. For example, at Sudbury about 1.8 billion years ago a meteorite rocked the earth, digging deep beneath the surface at that time to create what we now call the Sudbury Basin.  The Basin is so deep it can be seen from space.

The force of that blow was awesome.  In fact it exceeded the force of all of our nuclear weapons combined!  The Sudbury Basin close to where we travelled is the second largest known impact crater on our planet. It is 62 km long and 30 km and 15 km deep.  To consider the force that created such an impact is a humbling task. Railway engineers who were constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway discovered it accidentally in 1885.   Another surprise meteoric visitor from outer space created the crater that later filled with rock. We now call that crater West Hawk Lake.

The last two million years in the Shield have produced great fluctuations in climate. From time to time, this generated massive continental ice sheets that came and went over the continent wearing down mountains, depositing rock materials, and retreating again, only to arise again later.  The changes created by these forces were also awesome.  These ice sheets were HUGE.  Imagine ice sheets 2 km. deep above where we were driving. It really was difficult to comprehend.

I love these little islands of rocks and trees

         My friends probably think I’m nuts, but I was thinking about such things as we drove through the Shield. It is much more than rocks and trees.

Golden Circle Tour

 

Our last day of the Iceland tour was something called the Golden Circle Tour. This has nothing to do with Trumpian hijinks. The Circle Tour is a famous one-day trip around many sites within a couple of hours of Reykjavik. That is all most tourists see of Iceland. Don’t get me wrong, it is a a wonderful part of Iceland, but it is only a small part. We were very fortunate to be able to see large part of the  island from west to east and north to south.

Skálholt, which is Iceland’s first Bishopric (that is not Bishop’s prick). Christianity in Iceland  has been a powerful religious force for more than 1,000 years. This power was carefully built up over hundreds of years by an influential dynasty of chieftain priests. Naturally, like the rest of Europe no one believed in the separation of church and state. The first of the bishops was Gissur the White a bombastic priest who led the pro-Christian faction at the AD 1,000 Alpingi where the people’s leaders decided to convert to Christianity mainly to improve their chances of trade with Europe rather than out of any sincere religious convictions. The people of course had no say in their conversion to Christianity, not unlike the princes of Germany in the German Reformation. Commerce was more important than religion. Sort of like it is now.

Often the best part of church interiors is the stained glass. This was one of those churches.

 

On the Circle Tour was Geysir which has lent its names to all water spouts around the world. Actually Great Geysir started erupting in 1294 and reached heights of 60 metres (200 ft.) but it has not kept up for decades.  In the 20thcentury, eager (read stupid) tourists tipped gravel and garbage into its mouth hoping to cause an explosion. They also used soapy water on special occasions such as Independence Day but that did not help either. As a result of this abuse, the geyser became nearly dormant. Surprisingly, in 2000 it sprang back to life spouting 40 metres (130 ft.) into the air. It is no longer that robust but still lifted off impressively.

I am supposed to be the orchid guy, but while we were looking at the geyser and some hot pots of water, Chris spotted an orchid with her eagle eye. According to a German tourist near us it is called Knabenkrautin German. I think the common English name is marsh orchid or Common twayblade.  I tried to photograph it, but we were too far away and were not allowed to walk closer.

 

After that we drove to Gullfoss(Golden Falls). No this was not a golden shower either. This is one more spectacular waterfall. Actually, it is a double water fall. First the River Hvítá tumbles 11 metres and then the lower falls drops 21 metres. The rock of the riverbed was formed during an interglacial period. Apparently it has flowed for thousands of years. It was a very impressive falls.

We learned that at one time Iceland was planning to build a hydro electric dam and plant here, but a heroic protester led the opposition. She said, “I don’t sell my friends.”  Now it is a UNESCO world heritage site, one of two we visited today on our golden circle tour. No doubt Iceland has earned more money from tourists visiting the site than they would have from the electrical power from one more damn dam. I promise this is the last waterfall I will show from Iceland.

Our last stop on our Golden Circle Tour was Thingvellir National Park the historical heart of Iceland and now the second UNESCO world heritage site we saw in one day!  It is a fantastic natural site as well as the site of the Viking Parliament, the first in the world. The National Assembly was established there by the Vikings in 930 AD and was regularly convened there until 1798. As well the geology there is incredibly important because one can see the continental tectonic plates pulling apart.

This was the end of our tour around the island of Iceland. we finished our visit with a  couple of days in Reykjavik.

 

 

Heaven: 2 wonderful waterfalls in one day

 

Skógafoss.

AO and my guidebook both said this was one of Iceland’s top waterfalls. It drops 60 metres from the upper cliffs. Who  am I to argue with them? It really was a splendid waterfall. I was a happy guy.

 

Chris in front of Skógafoss

 

Chris and Hans by Skógafoss

We also drove by Surtsey an island created by the  tourist eruption in 1963. That eruption began on the floor of the ocean just south of the Westman islands and lasted for 4 years. That makes even Nicholas’s birth seem short. Fishermen were the first to notice the signs of birth when they saw smoke rising from the sea in November of 1963. Molten lava was spewing out of the seafloor and hit the sea cooling instantly. It did not take long for volcanic debris to hit the surface 130 metres (430 ft.)  above the ocean floor creating a burning island.  A pillar of black ash mixed up with steam was sent 10 km. (6 mi.) into the air. This looked very dangerous to people on nearby Heimaey and was even visible from Reykjavik. The flights confirmed that a new island was being formed out of liquid lava that was piling up over a huge mound of tephra. It solidified into a giant volcanic refuse heap that is still visible today. That’s how volcanic islands are born.

 

Seljalandsfoss

This was a day that a waterfall guy (me) was satisfied. We saw 2 outstanding waterfalls in one day I got tt photograph them both. The second one was Seljalandsfoss. All my earlier misgivings about not having a chance to photograph them disappeared. Life was good again.

 

Seljalandsfoss is gorgeous waterfall that is fed by the famed glacier-capped volcano Eyjafjallajökull  that erupted in 2010.  We were allowed to walk behind the falls but our guide advised against it because we would get very wet. I did not want to take my camera behind the falls and feared I would not have enough time to photograph it properly, so I opted to stay in front as did most of our group. However, I was sorry to miss the unique viewpoint of the waterfall.