Visiting Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park

Leaving Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh) at 4:00 pm on Day 57 of the trip, June 21, we began a driving tour of Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park, which is actually called Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a. See a park map (pdf, 198 Kb).

It was and has been extremely difficult to find many details about the lava that we’d come to see. Now that I’m home and can research, I’ve found an old Natural Resources Canada report that says that the eruption of the Aiyansh-Tseax River volcano in 1780 is the only eruption in Canada for which legends of First Nations people have been verified. Other sources give widely varying dates for the eruption. The Nisga’a tell of a prolonged period of disruption by the volcano that destroyed the village of Lax Ksiluux on the Nass River, and killed some 2,000 people, from hot lava or “poisonous smoke” (carbon dioxide). The people were killed at Lax Ksiluux, at the villages of Ts’oohl Ts’ap and Lax Hli Wil Giist, and at other places in the valley. The Tseax Cone, 290 meters in diameter at the base, is located in the narrow confines of a tributary of the Tseax River, and is currently only accessible on guided tours. Natural Resources Canada says that the vent was active at least twice, in 1780 and 1350, and remnants of other, older lava flows exist in the area. The park was created in April 1992 to honour the dead and to preserve the unique region.

Dropping down to the park from Gitlaxt’aamiks on BC Highway 113, the Nisga’a Highway. I had left Bella and Tucker in the motorhome while I went into Gitlaxt’aamiks, so the first part of the tour was solo.

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
At the one-lane Tseax River bridge, the park boundary sign.

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park sign
I had picked up a park Auto Tour brochure, and that was my guide for this tour. The brochure says that the tour can be done in any order, so #8, the Tseax River (Ksi Sii Aks) was our first stop.

Tseax River (Ksi Sii Aks), Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
The Tseax River provides an important gravel stream bottom habitat to salmon and steelhead spawning, and can be a great place to watch the fish. When the fish are spawning, the river also attracts both black and grizzly bears, but we were a bit early. A local fellow was fishing here, unsuccessfully so far.

Tseax River (Ksi Sii Aks), Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Stop #9 was Gitlaxt’aamiks, which we had just come from, so #10 was next – the Boat Launch on the Nass River (Hanii-yaga-ba’ansgum Boot). When lava flowed into the Nass River, it pushed the river from the south side of the valley to the north side. Breaks in the front allowed lava to flow into the water, rapidly cooling and forming what looks like an elephant’s trunk, though I didn’t see any.

Boat launch at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
The lava field on the drive back to the highway from the boat launch. The forms and shapes are extremely varied, but three forms dominant the Nisga’a lanscape. A’a lava is rough and jagged, formed when gases escape violently from the lava as it cools. Pahoehoe is smooth lava formed when gases escape quietly from the lava as it cools. Lava tubes are formed when the top layer of lava cools and hardens while molten lava is still flowing underneath. If the molten lava flows out before hardening, a hollow tube remains, and the upper layer often breaks and collapses into it.

Lava field at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Stop #11 is the Tree Cast (Wil Luu-galksi-mihl Gan). A 5-minute walk starting with this boardwalk over some A’a lava and collapsed tubes is supposed to lead to a tree cast, formed when molten lava flows around a tree and then hardens before the tree burns. The path led me nowhere, though. I’ve found tree casts in the lava field on my own during previous visits – I find them very interesting features.

Tree cast walk at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
The Tree Cast walk provided lots of interesting sights, even if I couldn’t find the tree cast. Mother Nature’s transforming of the lava field back to a forest is occurring extremely slowly.

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
A section of pahoehoe that almost looks like an old road.

Pahoehoe at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
You can almost see the lava flowing in the patterns that remain 250 years later.

Signs of flowing lava at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
This is the texture of much of the lava here.

Lava at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
I got into the next photo so you can judge the size of these blocks of A’a lava.

A'a lava at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
I didn’t go into stop #12, which is the village of Gitwinksihlkw, which means “place of the lizards). Stop #13 is the park Dedication Site, a particularly impressive location within the lava field where the ceremony was held on April 30, 1992. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park was the first park to be jointly managed by BC Parks and a First Nation.

Park dedication site, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Blocks of lava at the Dedication Site.

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
I love wilderness hot springs, so stop #14 was of particular interest to me – the hot springs known most commonly as Aiyansh Hot Springs now, but traditionally Hlgu Isgwit. This is the parking lot with a new outhouse, at the highway.

Aiyansh Hot Springs, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
I’d heard some complaints that the wilderness nature of the hot springs has been ruined. The new boardwalk is nice – it used to be quite a slog to get in (see this 2007 photojournal).

Aiyansh Hot Springs, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
There are still some sloppy sections to walk across, but the new boardwalk seems to go across most of them. The forest that the trail goes through is really beautiful.

Aiyansh Hot Springs, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Just over 5 minutes from the parking lot, Aiyansh Hot Springs. My first impression was pretty positive, although the mosquitoes were very bad.

Aiyansh Hot Springs, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Well, the water temperature is wonderful (about 104°F, judged by my hot tub at home), but that’s all the depth there is. I had brought a bathing suit and towel, but that’s as wet as I got. So while natural hot water is always interesting, Aiyansh Hot Springs is at the bottom of the list of hot springs I’ve visited.

Aiyansh Hot Springs, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
I didn’t continue west for the distant stops #15-18, as none are volcano-related, and that was the focus at the moment. They will take a full day, so that will be something for the next visit. In the next photo, I’m back on Highway 113, the Nisga’a Highway, headed for the campground to get Bella and Tucker for the rest of the park tour.

Nisga'a Highway through Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
The access road to the Visitor Center and campground, which is stop #7 on the Auto Tour.

Visitor Center and campground at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Driving south now, retracing my route to the park from Terrace, the next stop was #6, Vetter Falls (Ts’itksim Aks). The water that flows over these falls is overflow from the Tseax River. The water disappears under the lava about 5 km downstream from here.

Vetter Falls (Ts'itksim Aks), Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
The short trail to the falls begins as a gravelled accessible path through the lava field.

Vetter Falls (Ts'itksim Aks), Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
The creek above the falls. I’d been to the falls before, but not when there was this much water flowing.

Vetter Falls (Ts'itksim Aks), Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
About 5 waterfalls were flowing, spread across about 300 feet of the forest, due to the increased amount of water. This photo was shot with a 1-second exposure at ISO 100 to blur the water. It was shot hand-held because I hadn’t brought my tripod – it’s nearly impossible to use with 2 dogs on leashes.

Vetter Falls (Ts'itksim Aks), Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Rose petals beside the falls. There are no roses anywhere close, so they were put there on purpose. Interesting…

Rose petals at Vetter Falls (Ts'itksim Aks), Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
A slightly longer trail (just over 5 minutes) takes visitors to stop #5, Beaupre Falls.

Beaupre Falls trail, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
I was really enjoying the smells of the damp forest on the last 3 walks.

Beaupre Falls trail, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
The viewing deck also for comfortable contemplation of the scene. I noted that unlike the situation at the hot springs, there were very few mosquitoes here.

Beaupre Falls, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Beaupre Falls from the viewing deck.

Beaupre Falls, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Starting back towards the car, Bella wanted to go down a side trail to the creek. Walking up the creek a bit ed us to this view of the falls. Nice work, Bella 🙂 Before going back up to the trail, Tucker initiated a play while in 6 inche sor so of water in the creek, and it got quite animated! Tucker doesn’t like water much, so that really surprised me.

Beaupre Falls, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Stop #4 is the Drowned Forest, the stop we had made earlier on the drive into the park.

Drowned Forest, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Stop #3 is Crater Creek, where a trail goes a short distance towards Tseax cinder cone. As I mentioned, the cinder cone can only be visited on a guided tour, and they weren’t being offered yet. I certainly would have stayed to go on the 4-hour hike if it had been available. The interpretive panels here were the first mention I’d seen about 2,000 people dying here.

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
Another view of the vast lava field (about 39 square kilometers of it), from the campground access road in the evening light.

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park
At 7:30 pm, we were back at the motorhome, and it was time to get a late dinner for everybody. I’d decide in the morning what to do with the day, but moving on towards Stewart was the most likely plan.

Campground at Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park


Comments

Visiting Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park — 2 Comments

  1. This is fabulous, thank you! We’re heading there in early August and, like you, its been difficult to find good information. Of course, in the old days, we always traveled without good information, but now in the internet era, we expect to see everything ahead of time and get it all sorted in advance.
    We’re coming down from Stewart and I’m wondering about taking the cut off through Nass Camp rather than going all the way around via the highway. I’d be curious if you know anything about that route?

    • Hi Vanessa. Glad to hear that my timing for this is good. I actually did the reverse of your route, and took what’s usually known as the Nass Forest Service Road from the lava park to Cranberry Junction on Highway 37. The road was just awful (!!!) – far worse than on my last trip through which was about a dozen years ago. The first 19 km out of New Aiyansh took 2 hours. It will depend on what you’re driving, of course. That drive is going to be the subject of my next blog post, but I’ve already posted a couple of photos at https://forums.goodsamclub.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/thread/tid/29338721.cfm.