Our valley is a gift to hikers. There's a well established network of trails throughout, with many beautiful parks to enjoy along the way. Cowichan River Provincial Park is one of these: More than 1400 hectares of forested land along the banks of the Cowichan River, with the 20-kilometer-long Cowichan River Footpath running through it.
The park lies mid-way between Duncan and Lake Cowichan and may be
accessed by road, with various parking lots and campgrounds along its length.
Cowichan River park is less than a half hour's drive from my home, so I visit it often. If I have an entire day at my disposal, I'll sometimes walk the length of the footpath, taking photos along the way, or taking along my sketch pad and some watercolours. More often though, I'll go for a shorter visit, to a single destination within the park.
Yesterday, my husband and I went to Marie Canyon. My guy has some mobility challenges so there was no hiking on the agenda. Instead, we parked in the small lot at the top of the canyon, enjoyed the scenery from above and then made our way down towards the bottom. Even with his challenges, my guy can manage all but the last set of stairs down to the riverbank.
Marie canyon is striking at any time of year. From the lot at the top, a person can walk to the lip of the canyon and look down at the water from above. Tall evergreens grow right to the edge, some leaning over at an angle, their roots exposed to the air on the water side. Maples, oaks, and other deciduous trees cling to the steep slope down to the river, some reaching with outstretched boughs to sweep the rushing waters below. In fall, their changing foliage adds to the beauty of the view.
The river narrows to pass through the canyon, making a stretch of white water that is enjoyed by intrepid tubers during the summer months and kayakers and canoeists year 'round. The sound of the rushing water echoes up the canyon walls and actually seems louder at the lip of the canyon than it does nearer the waters below.
The banks of the river at the canyon are shale, with bare black walls, and long
ribs of stone exposed at low water. In the winter months, this bare stone is covered by the rushing river, which
every season breaks away a little more stone, exposing new textures and shapes, and even a few fossils to curious visitors.
It is a place of contrast: dark stone and bright foliage, hard edges and fluid river, soft moss edging every unyielding surface.
There are fish in the river and the forest is teeming with life. There are berries in the summertime and mushrooms nearly all year 'round. They burst from the soil with such sudden force that you can see the
hollows from which they've sprung still empty beneath them and the broken crusts of soil they've pushed aside.
At the sun dappled edges between forest and stream, oak trees share their bounty. Thousands of acorns nestle among the fallen leaves.
It's a banquet.
Bears dine here. (We saw lots of bear sign on our visit but, thankfully, encountered no actual bears.)
Eagles follow the river's course, often flying level with the canyon's lip,
surprising hikers as they soar by at eye level.
A visit to the canyon is a step outside of time, away from all the human noise and bustle and day-to-day-ness that so absorbs us most of the time. I feel blessed to have it so nearby.