Photography by Royce Howland

Fall On the Rocks

Allstones Canyon is a quiet spot just off the David Thompson Highway. The narrow but energetic Allstones Creek carves its way through steep, textured rock walls, tumbling over a myriad of weathered pebbles and stones that erosion has scattered across the canyon floor. (Hence the name.) Plant life seeks out the water in every crevice, however spare and tenuous the foothold may be. Here I found a few remaining red-yellow fall leaves, glowing against a dark rock wall. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Ancient Rippled Stone

A cloudy morning is a good time to visit a canyon, when the soft, diffused light shows subtle textures and colors. One of my favorite details in Allstones Canyon is a spot where several rock strata have been exposed as softer parts of the canyon wall eroded away. As the layers of blocky, fractured stone were revealed, they brought to light the petrified ripples of some prehistoric sandy beach… perhaps in its time also a good place to spend a peaceful morning. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

He Went Thataway

A light breeze blew over the Great Sand Hills, Saskatchewan. Birds were calling from the trees, and a coyote yipped in the distance. The rising sun bathed everything in a warm glow through a low layer of haze on the horizon. The tracks of small animals, made after heavy rains had stopped, were crisply formed in small, pristine sections of the still-moist sand. I found an appealing section of sand with good ripples and the prints of a small mouse, sharply limned by the rising sun... looks like he went thataway. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Icy Breath Of the Frost Dragon

At the Cave and Basin location in Banff, Alberta, there are some natural hot springs that are one of the historical attractions of this area of the Canadian West in the early days of the westward expansion of the railroad. The hot springs flow all year round. In the winter, warm water vapor rises from the flow and coats the trees and everything else nearby with fantastic & intricately detailed frost. Here, a pair of converging / diverging heavy tree branches looked to me like the outline of a dragon's head, complete with a blast of frosty breath from its nostrils. In a winter wonderland, there is a lot for the imagination to play with! Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Pure Blue Waters

Below the ridges and seracs of the Athabasca Glacier icefall can be found several pools of some of the most pristine water on Earth. Trapped temporarily in pockets of glacier ice before reaching a fissure and draining away into the great Athabasca River, the crystal-clear water shines with an incredible blue-green color. But it might as well be blood-red, since it’s the life of the glacier, draining away. That such a volume of millennia-old ice could be gone within years is almost beyond belief, especially when its chill, immense presence has been has been experienced up close. The Columbia Icefield is described as one of two hydrological apexes of North America (the other being in Glacier National Park in Montana). Meltwater from here flows into three separate oceans (Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic). But as the ancient glacier melts, it isn’t being replaced. Its disappearance will have many consequences. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Staring Into the Abyss

As the Athabasca Glacier ice melts, water runs off along the surface in little streams. Occasionally, it will drill into the ice with the aid of some fast-moving rocks and grit, and plunge down through the glacier until hitting another stream layer (or bedrock) below. The tubular holes are called glacier mills, or moulins. A few people fall into them accidentally, which is a death-sentence. Our glacier walk guide told us that in some places, well-prepared divers will go into mills on purpose to explore below the surface of millennia-old glaciers! Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Just A Little Cut

Bright clouds in the sky mean every bit of subtle color and texture is on display in Cline Canyon this fall morning. Over untold years, the river has narrowly cut its way down through the rock, leaving fluid lines intermixed with harder angles where the rock has broken apart to reveal its structure. Trees stand tall right up the edge, occasionally toppling over if their bases become too insecure. I watch my footing, too. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Darkling Falls

Svartifoss is one of the many famous waterfalls dotting the landscape of Iceland. It’s so named (“svartur” is “black”) for the dark-colored hexagonal basalt columns cut through by the 20 meter falls, blackened further by many years of corrosion until new chunks of the columns break off and expose new rock surfaces. It’s not a massive or grand waterfall by Iceland’s standards, but it is one of the most interesting ones I saw, calling to mind something like organ pipes within a small amphitheater, all rendered in stone. The basalt columns found in locations like this one are a design theme that shows up frequently in architectural designs. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Flowing Past the Rank and File

Svartifoss (the “Black Falls”) is one of the many famous waterfalls dotting the landscape of Iceland. Its dark-colored hexagonal basalt columns are cut through by the 20 meter cascade; the rock is blackened further by many years of corrosion, until chunks of the columns break off and expose new surfaces. The broken columns form an inverted pattern of rising ranks, as weather and the elements cause the column ends to drop under their own weight, cut loose quite evenly across natural fracture lines. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Animal Watching Mineral and Vegetable

Svartifoss (the “Black Falls”) is one of the many famous waterfalls dotting the landscape of Iceland. The main falls, as well as many water seeps, bring swathes of verdant greenery to the patterned expanse of hexagonal basalt columns that comprise the cliff face. Besides the mosses & other vegetation, the leaching of minerals by water and scarring of the column faces by freeze/thaw cycles further enhance the texture and color of the rock wall. The result is a scene rife with intricate details, once the wonder of the grander view has been absorbed. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Fallen Rock and Falling Water

In a geological feature found many places in Iceland, columns of basalt rock were formed many years ago, as cooling lava solidified into tightly packed hexagonal shapes. At Svartifoss (the “Black Falls”), the columns form a natural amphitheater where the on-going action of water and weather slowly carve away chunks of the rock face. Water flows over and seeps through, and creates the conditions for a carpet of rich green plant life covering the steep tumbles of fallen boulders. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Mini-berg Details

This is a closeup of ice details from one of the mini-bergs floating in Jökulsárlón lagoon, near Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland. These bergs calve off the retreating ice face of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. They float in the lagoon until they melt down small enough to wash out to the ocean; you can see the patterns in the melting ice. The colors and forms in the frozen surfaces are just short of being mesmerizing. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

Autumn Tapestry

Who would look for a blaze of autumn in the middle of the Canadian prairies? In the Cypress Hills, many patchworks of vegetation create beautiful patterns of colour. Parts burst into vivid hues even as others fade towards winter sparseness. Each day, each hour the tapestry evolves under the changing light and progress of the season, inviting the eye to explore the scene time after time. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.

For Now, Winter

Big Hill Springs is a small Alberta provincial park. Not overly well known, it offers some nice trails through a couple of its defining characteristics: a hot spring-fed stream, and tufa rock formations. Visiting during the winter, especially during a cold snap after a heavy snow fall, provides access to a veritable winter wonderland. Even at colder than -20 C on this day, the hours passed by quickly as we wandered the trails, drinking in the myriad winter details on display. Copyright © Royce Howland. All rights reserved.