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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Serengeti of the North" - The Columbia Valley Wetlands

A huge part of our adventures as a family is learning about nature.  The thrill of finding a bug we have never seen or understanding why plants grow where they do and taking in the diversity of landscapes is just as satisfying as the adventure itself.  This thrill began to rise as I researched the Columbia Valley Wetlands, location of our next adventure.

Wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. Defined as a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, so it comes to no surprise that they are home to a wide range of plants and animals. This was all very exciting to know but it was another bit of information that really captured my attention.


The Columbia Valley Wetlands is one of the longest continuous wetlands remaining on the continent.  The main stem of the Columbia rises in Columbia Lake on the west slope of the Rocky Mountain Range near Canal Flats.  From here, the Columbia River flows northwest between the Selkirk and Rocky Mountain ranges.  North of Golden it turns south and passes through 2 more mountain ranges, the Cascades and the Coastal Mountains, draining into the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Oregon. The Columbia River pours more water into the Pacific Ocean than any other river in North or South America! 

 
The 1900km journey of the Columbia River and one of the longest intact wetlands on the continent.


The Columbia Valley (southwestern British Columbia. Yes, we adventure off the island), Canal Flats to Golden, is where the beauty of the wetlands lie.  Base camp for us was Fairmont and to really explore the wetlands and appreciate the diverse ecosystem it holds meant travelling on, above, and beside it.

First up was canoeing.  Creating our own eco-tour of sorts, we rented canoes and paddled the day along the main and side channels of the Columbia River wetlands.  There was no shortage of beauty.  Lush aquatic plants, plenty of fish, and birds surrounded us continuously.  The water flow through the wetlands is slow and quiet.  Perfect for watching Osprey and beavers going about their daily business.  



Ben enjoying the relaxed easy approach to exploring the Columbia River and Wetlands.


11,000 years ago, melting glaciers filled the valley with water. The steep cliffs are ancient shorelines of Glacial Lake Windermere, formed as the lake receded and rivers and streams cut through the landscape.  A unique formation of the wetlands.


A little river side fun. Practicing rope rescue techniques along the river and cooling off.  Good throw Ben!


As great as it was canoeing the waters, we never really saw the big picture of the wetlands.  Along the banks of the channels we paddled were thick shrubs which restricted our view.  Our second adventure was biking along the Old Coach Trail, a historic route that winds along the benchlands above the Columbia River, offering fantastic views of the wetlands below.  And what a view it was!  This trail allowed us to see the side channels we paddled by and provided us a visual of how grand the wetlands really are.  



Heading out for a ride along the benchlands above the Columbia River and wetlands. The historical trail follows alongside the river and provided movement for many species of wildlife and humans.


View overlooking the Columbia Valley Wetlands.  The main channel, closest to the bank, and numerous side channels and open wetlands offer a spectacular view.  The wetlands can be up to 1km wide.


Smooth and fast flowing trails make biking a breeze and FUN!

The final adventure exploring the Columbia Valley Wetlands took us to the origin of the river and wetlands, the Columbia Lake.  This is where the 1900km journey of water begins.  The wetlands are home to plants and animals that live on, above, and in the water but it also is home to many animals that live alongside it.  Following the east side of Columbia Lake is the Spirit Trail which is the perfect area for animals to winter, like elk, deer and mountain goats.  I ran this section and witnessed the changing landscape one footstep at a time.  Open grassy areas, small trees and shrub sections, and even a gopher city with plenty of birds of prey! 




The headwaters of the Columbia River, Columbia Lake. Beautiful view from the Spirit Trail, a 18km trail along the east side of the lake.


As soon as I came to this open field, my attention was drawn to the numerous osprey, peregrine falcons, and eagles.  I quickly realized why, note the numerous gopher holes!  I was standing on set of a live nature documentary!


Throughout the run, changing landscapes were a common theme.  Loved the sagebrush mixed in the open grassy areas.

Exploring the Columbia Valley Wetlands, lakes and rivers fulfilled our adventure needs.  Our adventures allowed us to explore aprox. 60km of the wetlands and from three unique perspectives.  We all have a new found appreciation and love for wetlands.

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