Standing in awe, we were mesmerized by what lay before us. The distant, western edge of the Canadian Rockies rose tall, rugged, barren of trees, and - true to their name - rocky. Below, lesser hills blanketed with deep green velvet forests. Lower still, the rich aquamarine reflection of both in a mirror image spread across a crystal clear, glass-smooth body of water appropriately called Emerald Lake. In the still, crisp, early autumn morning, the silence was truly deafening. Except for one or two early walkers, we were the only ones there, which made the experience all the more memorable.
At the small picnic area along the shore, we paused to read about the site, then squinted through a telescope at the distant spot along a rocky ridge, 1,700 feet above. It was there in the early 1900s that Charles Walcott, third director of the United States Geological Survey, and later, head of the Smithsonian Institution, made a phenomenal discovery.
Mark A. Wilson
Millions of soft-bodied sea creatures, most never before seen, were forever preserved as fossils in what is now known as the Burgess Shale formation. Walcott spent every summer from 1907 to 1925 in the Rockies, mapping the thick Cambrian formations clear to Banff. Although he shipped his fossils - 65,000 specimens on 30,000 slabs - back to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, his duties there prevented him from studying them in much detail. He did describe most in notes & photographs, but all of this lay in drawers for nearly 50 years, until a modern generation of researchers dusted them off and set to work, beginning in 1973. Smith609