Paint Pots of Kootenay National Park, BC, Canada. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

A Big Orange Smudge Visible from Space in the Canadian Rockies; What the Heck is That?

Part 4 of a series: 

Iron-rich mineral springs color the ochre mud of the Paint Pots of Kootenay National Park. The vivid contrast with the park’s green forests and milky blue rivers is visible from space.

Who knew?

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Just tap “paint pots British Columbia” into your Google Earth app and you’re there! Or you can do what we did, drive fifteen hundred miles and stroll in from the parking lot just off of Highway 93. Your choice. Though it’s a long drive for a short hike, so perhaps take in some additional sights .

We stopped by as a “bonus hike” after a moderately grueling climb to the rocky moraine beneath Stanley Glacier, also in Kootenay, and a brief visit to Marble Canyon. We had planned to hike a trail from the canyon to the paint pots but turned back and drove the three miles when the trail turned swampy and buggy, which was kinda how we felt after a long day of hiking.

Walking in from the parking lot was easy. Stroll down the slope, cross the Vermilion River on an incredible foot bridge, catch a whiff of sulphur, head through a thicket, and find a marsh of various shades of ochre, aka the Paint Pots. The mineral springs that feed the marsh run down the hill on the far side. The ochre color varies from murky yellow to ruddy orange, depending on the amount of water and impurities.

Try not to step in it. It stains. But if  you can’t help yourself, go for the ruddy orange, a tone that matches the color of our home office. Rather than call it ochre, Home Depot’s Behr paint brand calls it “Nouveau Copper.” Smart.

Brilliant green marsh grasses grow happily in the ochre soup, but the handful of spruce that have given the swampy lowland a shot and survived seemed decidedly unhappy. Perhaps it’s simply a marketing issue.

Long ago, Native Americans would travel long distances from the neighboring mountains and prairies to collect the colored earth. They would bake it to a powder and then mix it with fish oil or animal grease to create body paint. It also was used on tipis and clothing, and for artwork on rocks. At the turn of the last century, enterprising European Americans mined the soil and shipped it off to Calgary as pigment for house paint. We’re pretty sure the color swatch wasn’t labeled “Nouveau Copper.”

Today the paint pots are protected as a World Heritage Site within Kootenay National Park. Too bad, our office could use a touch-up.

“Who Knew?” is an occasional feature of that spotlights roadside wonders and oddities that might be worth a gawk if you’re in the neighborhood. This post also happens to be the fourth in a series on the wonders of the Canadian Rockies pegged to the 150th year of the Canadian Confederation. Here are links to other posts in the Canadian Rockies series:

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