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Excerpt: Masters of Mountain Knowledge



By Lynn Martel

They have achieved the pinnacle of Rockies knowledge. Master Interpreters are integral members of the Interpretive Guides Association, nominated by their peers to receive the highest accreditation for knowledge sharing. The Canadian Rockies Annual put three such interpreters to the test with questions crowd-sourced from our readers.

Great Divide Nature Interpretation

If it walks, swims, hops, grows, sways in the breeze, splashes over rocks, or falls from the sky, Joel Hagen knows about it. Fascinated with nature from the age of eight, Hagen studied biology at Simon Fraser University. He never graduated, but instead found his ultimate “natural university,” the Canadian Rockies, where he entertains and enlightens clients on the trails. 

Q/ What makes purple/green shale on our mountains?

A/ Shale is made of small clay particles, often drab grey. To get green and purple shales, you need iron. Iron exists in different forms, and different ratios create different colours. Reddish, orange, purple, pink or yellow rocks contain oxidized iron, making them “ferric.” Most green rocks have iron, but with oxygen stripped away. They are anoxic (“ferrous”). This applies to sandstone and siltstone, too.

Q/ How long was it from when this area was an inland sea until it became the mountains of today? 

A/ The massive Western Interior Seaway ran from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean 145 to 66 million years ago, as the Rockies began rising. As the mountains on the western edge of the North American Plate piled up, they pushed that side of the plate downward, making that part of the seaway deeper. Once the sea disappeared, 60 or 70 million years ago, the Rockies rose for another 10 or 20 million years.

Q/ How did fish get to high-elevation lakes? 

A/ Ice melting at the end of the last glaciation caused temporary lakes, some gigantic and some blocked by stagnant ice. Water bodies connected across mountain passes; rivers flowed in different directions than they do today. This allowed fish to reach places previously buried under ice for millennia. Also, in the 20th century, the Parks Service stocked fish at dozens of fish-less lakes, including Lake O’Hara.

→ Keep reading this feature in Volume 5 of the Canadian Rockies Annual for more from Joel, as well as Peter Lemieux and Brenda Holder!

The team at the Canadian Rockies Annual is devoted to high-quality storytelling, carefully curated content and top-notch photography – all wrapped up in a meticulously and thoughtfully designed publication. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing (available worldwide) or picking up a copy at one of our retail locations. 

The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.

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