Crinoid Country

Imagine being able to travel back in time million years. What would you see?

Crinoid stalk side profile with jackknife for scale.
Crinoid stalk - side profile with jackknife for scale (Marble Meadows).

Our visit to Karst Creek in early November enabled us to do just that, at least in a figurative sense. The limestone, or karst, landscape of the Karst Creek Trail in Strathcona Provincial Park is part of the Buttle Lake Formation, laid down nearly 280 million years ago. At that time, the Wrangellia Terrane (a series of island arcs and oceanic plateaus which would become Vancouver Island) was much further south near present day Mexico and surrounded by a warm, shallow, tropical sea. The organisms that lived and died in this sea sank to the ocean bottom depositing layer upon layer of material that eventually formed the limestone that makes up the Buttle Lake Formation.

Crinoid cross section showing individual disk of stalk (Marble Meadows).
Crinoid cross section showing individual disk of stalk (Marble Meadows).

It is possible to see the remains of these creatures preserved in the limestone on the Karst Creek Trail. Small disks that look like pencil cross-sections can be found embedded in the stone along the creek if one looks carefully enough – these are fossils of crinoids or “water-lilies.” Crinoids were attached to the bottom of the ancient seabed and quite beautiful. They had a long flexible “stalk” with a feathery feeding structure to filter food from the ocean water.

Brachiopod - found in Marble Meadows, Strathcona Provincial Park
Brachiopod - found in Marble Meadows, Strathcona Provincial Park

While the fossils at Karst Creek are interesting, it is worthwhile to hike up to Marble Meadows on the far side of Buttle Lake. The crinoids in this part of Strathcona Provincial Park are truly spectacular and larger than those at Karst Creek. In addition, other fossil animals like brachiopods can also be found.

Brachiopod and knife for scale.
Brachiopod and knife for scale (Marble Meadows).

To get to Marble Meadows you need to take a canoe or boat across Buttle Lake from the Auger Point picnic area to the Phillips Creek trail head. The trail climbs 1250 meters to a wilderness camping area at Limestone Lake (allow 5-6 hours). From here, it is possible to make a full day trip through fascinating karst landscape to Morrison Spire with excellent views of the Golden Hinde and the Limestone Cap. Remember that Marble Meadows is within a provincial park and no collecting of fossils is permitted – take only photographs.

Macro Monday


  1. Well, that does it. I am definitely going back to Vancouver, only this time I’m going to make it over to Vancouver Island to do those hikes! We just didn’t have time on our last visit!!

    Thanks for the beautiful pictures and informative post. 🙂

  2. Thanks Jay -I took these photographs on a 4 day hike to the Meadows in July, 2005 BK (before kids). It’s quite a bash to get up to Marble Meadows but definitely worth the effort! The limestone makes it a very surreal landscape and there are fossils everywhere.

  3. Geology is interesting — and one of the many areas related to the natural world that I know too little about. I do know the topography of our Ozark Mountains is also karst because they were once at the bottom of a vast inland sea. Crinoid fossils abound.

    Thanks for the informative and well illustrated post.

    Marvin @ Nature in the Ozarks

  4. Thanks Birgitta – it was really cool to look for and find these fossils in the limestone. It made the effort of getting up to Marble Meadows really worthwhile! Thanks for stopping in.

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