Monday, January 15, 2018

A Look Back at Ten Years of Geotripping: I toured a marble quarry on Vancouver Island; It's almost as if they didn't want us to see the rocks.

I've been digging through the archives of Geotripper on the occasion of my tenth anniversary of geoblogging, looking for some of my favorites. In 2015 I spent a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest, resulting in several blog series, but a favorite moment was my tour of this "quarry" which some of you may recognize as something else. This blog appeared on July 13, 2015...

So, I'm out on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, enjoying my vacation with Mrs. Geotripper, and we're casting about trying to figure out what to do on this 300-mile long island. I'm doing some reading and find out that there is this place called the Saanich Peninsula Marble Quarry that offers tours. That sounds great to the geologist in me, so I talk Mrs. Geotripper into checking it out. It turns out that when you are touring an island that is mainly rainforest, rock exposures are in short supply.
I figure that a rock quarry isn't going to have a whole lot of visitors on a given day, so imagine my surprise when we reach the end of the road, and find out that the place has a parking lot, and charges admission! It was pretty steep, too, about $30 Canadian for each of us. But hey, it's rocks, and I haven't seen a lot of rocks on this trip. We pay and go on in. I'm astounded by how many people are here for the tour of the quarry.

I did some research on the rocks. The marble of the Saanich Peninsula is part of the Wrangellia terrane, rocks that formed far out in the Pacific Ocean during the Triassic Period. Around 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period the rocks plowed into the west coast of North America and became part of the continent. The rocks were originally limestone that formed in coral reefs and along tropical island beaches. The heat and pressure of the collision with North America caused the rock to recrystallize into marble. Today it is called the Quatsino formation.
So I follow the map, my anticipation rising as we reach the edge of the quarry, and I looked in. I was kind of shocked. There was vegetation everywhere! There was barely any rock to be seen at all! I did notice the smokestack from the smelter almost hidden in the forest beyond the quarry. How could they let this happen? Didn't they care enough to keep the rock exposed for us geologists? 
The hundreds of people around me didn't seem to mind all the vegetation. As far as I could tell, they were actually paying more attention to the flowers and stuff and pretty much ignoring the rock. I was a little confused. But at least the people that run the place have a sense of history. They put up some interpretive signs that showed the raw beauty of the rock before all the vegetation was allowed to grow over it.
The quarry was active from the late 1800s to around 1905 or so. I guess in this temperate rainforest environment the plants can take over pretty quickly. I was kind of surprised by how colorful the flowers and other plants were. I thought that at this latitude, the species diversity was on the low side. I guess not.
I finally found some rock exposures at the lower end of the quarry. The flowers hadn't yet covered everything. Water had filled the lowest part of the quarry, and I guess they were using a fountain to aerate the water or something.
It's almost as if they were ashamed of the rocks. Look at the picture above to see how the plants covered almost every part of the marble. I just didn't get it. In any case, we finished up our tour and found some gelato being sold at a stand in what looked like an old mansion of some sort, so we had a bit of dessert before heading back to Victoria.
So what did I think about the marble quarry tour? I was surprised by how popular and expensive it was, and how easily the visitors were distracted by the vegetation covering all the rocks. The pathways were well done, and there were lots of interpretive signs showing the glory of years past when plants didn't cover every rock, so one got a sense of history, and of loss. On the whole, it wasn't too bad, especially if you like plants and stuff like that. I don't recommend bringing a rock hammer. They got pretty upset when I starting taking rock samples.

If you want to check it out, don't go by the old name of Saanich Peninsula Quarry. They changed it, I guess when it got all overgrown. Nowadays the place is called Butchart Gardens.
The glories of the old days before plants covered everything.

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