Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Athabasca Glacier

with 16 comments

A year ago today we stopped along the Icefields Parkway to see the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, Alberta.

Plenty of ice and snow remained on the adjacent mountains as well, even at this warmest time of the year.

Below is a mostly downward look at how the moving Athabasca Glacier once scratched its way across a level expanse of upturned rock strata.

Near the scratched rocks I saw some low, fluffy mounds of what I take to be a species of Dryas, likely D. drummondii or D. octopetala. I learned that Dryas is in the rose family, and its seed heads are akin to those of its family mate Fallugia paradoxa, known as Apache plume.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2018 at 4:46 AM

16 Responses

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  1. Wow. Love the scarifications. Had never seen them depicted in just this way.

    Pairodox Farm

    September 6, 2018 at 6:14 AM

    • I’d never seen anything like it, either, with so many parallel scratches at a right angle to so many parallel strata.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2018 at 8:08 AM

  2. Boy that picture of the scarred rock is memorable – – looks like that glacier retreated reluctantly, hanging on by its nails.

    Robert Parker

    September 6, 2018 at 8:02 AM

  3. Oh wow! That scarred rock is outstanding. And how unusual are those “fluffy mounds”! You’ve captured some great shots of oddities with (to me) superlative beauty.


    September 6, 2018 at 8:55 AM

    • The scratched rock has clearly grabbed people’s attention. I’d never seen anything like it, though I don’t know if it’s a familiar site to people who have a lot to do with glaciers. I saw and also photographed other glacial scratching in the area, but the example I showed in this post was the most striking.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2018 at 10:27 AM

    • As for the low plants, I saw them in plenty of places in the Canadian Rockies. I showed another bunch at the beginning of the year:


      What made the ones in today’s picture different is how rounded the clumps were. One hypothesis is that the plants may have been growing in slight depressions that retained more moisture than the ground surrounding them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2018 at 10:42 AM

  4. A carpet of ‘roses’ may one day replace the glacier. That would be an interesting sight, though I expect such a scenario is not possible outside my imagination.


    September 7, 2018 at 5:54 AM

  5. It’s fascinating how closely the seed heads of the Dryas resemble those of Clematis drummondii, at least from a distance. As for a rose-like appearance, the D. octopetala certainly looks like our invasive Macartney rose. If it has the same habits, Gallivanta could have her carpet of roses.

    The scratched rock looks remarkably like a loosely-woven cloth: burlap, perhaps. I’m as interested in the base rock as the scratches. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s good that you included some of the surrounding gravel, too. The colors of the ‘sheet rock’ are easy to pick out even in the bits and pieces. (And wouldn’t that rock make a great accent wall in a home, assuming it would be feasible.)


    September 7, 2018 at 9:10 PM

    • Sometimes in retrospect I’ve wished I’d taken a broader shot of something to include more of the context. Even when I was still at the scratched strata I wanted to do that but couldn’t. I’d have to have been a lot taller or had a freestanding ladder with me to be able to get farther away and still keep aiming mostly downward to keep everything in focus. I did what I could and took the picture at the widest aperture available to me, 24mm. (I have a zoom lens that goes to 16mm but didn’t bring it along on the trip.)

      When I first saw the fluff of Apache plume some years ago I thought immediately of Clematis drummondii, and I had a similar reaction with the Dryas, just as you did. As for the flowers, I saw some pretty roses at Acadia National Park but I suspected they weren’t native; I was right.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 8, 2018 at 6:32 AM

  6. The force of the weight the glacier presses against that rock makes for some interesting patterns. Cool stuff.

    Steve Gingold

    September 8, 2018 at 4:35 AM

    • And in a very cool part of the continent, climate-wise. I’ve read that some glaciers were a mile thick, so you can imagine the force they exerted.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 8, 2018 at 6:20 AM

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