Nature’s Abstract Gallery

Sandstone Pattern No. 1
Sandstone Pattern No. 1 - A delicate pattern in sandstone on the Southern Gulf Islands, British Columbia.

From a geological and photographic point of view, the western sides of Gabriola, DeCourcy, Link and Valdez Islands have plenty to offer. The geology is interesting and image making opportunities abound.

Way back in history great beds of sandstone were laid down and compressed. In a subsequent upheaval, the sandstone beds were tilted so that the western sides of the islands have near vertical cliffs of varying height and the eastern sides slope gradually to the ocean. Now, wind, rain, frosts and tides are working away at the sandstone and revealing an extraordinary and varied range of shapes and patterns. Erosion of the sandstone is a continuing process and the patterns displayed are constantly but slowly changing. I have yet to find anyone who can explain to me just how these patterns were formed as the sandstone beds were laid down many years ago. If you know the answer, please let me know!

Sandstone Pattern No. 2
Sandstone Pattern No. 2 - A beautiful example of sandstone patterns on the Southern Gulf Islands, British Columbia.

These formations can only be photographed from a boat, kayak or canoe. In some places it is possible to scramble ashore and photograph from the ledges to obtain close up views. Wider angled shots have to be taken from the water.

In summer months the most even light is before noon while the cliffs and patterns are shaded. Later the shadows are more pronounced. As there is plenty of light being reflected from the water’s surface, morning photography works well for the inner details of caves and galleries.

Sandstone Cliff and Arbutus
A sandstone cliff and Arbutus tree viewed from the water.

Arbutus trees are found on all the Islands. There are some great specimens within the boundary of the Pirates Cove Marine Park on DeCourcy Island. Historians may wish to check up on the Brother XII and The Aquarian Foundation for interesting background stories of the area.

Getting There

You cannot drive or hike to these formations. Even if you are on an Island it is difficult to reach the interesting areas. What a blessing! The vandals have not discovered them yet!

There is a large gallery on Gabriola Island that can be reached by walking but it is not the most interesting and lacks the fine details that can be seen on Link, DeCourcy and Valdez Islands.

A typical sandstone formation viewed from water level in a kayak.

The best way to see these natural wonders is from a small boat, canoe or kayak. There is a small boat ramp at Cedar on Vancouver Island, just south of Nanaimo. The short crossing to Link and De Courcy Islands is in sheltered waters suitable for experienced kayakers or canoers. The water at the ramp is shallow at very low tides. Paddlers must be aware of the strong tidal flows that rush through Dodd Narrows and keep well away.

On Gabriola Island, there are many B & B’s to choose from. A short drive from any of them will bring you to kayak launching sites at False Narrows. It is a short paddle across False Narrows to Link Island. At low tide the crossing is shallow and it is necessary to portage across a narrow neck of land between Link and Mudge Islands to reach the western sides of Link and De Courcy. Very easy.

Sandstone Cliff
A sandstone cliff showing the interesting shapes of the rock.

At the south end of De Courcy Island is a Provincial Marine Park, Pirates Cove, with mooring and camping facilities. Beware of the crows. I have watched crows rummaging in the cockpit of kayaks and discovering and eating the paddlers’ lunches while they went ashore to find a campsite or the loo. Very cheeky. At night, raccoons will check you out at the campsite. There are great views from the beach and campsite area. A short walking trail leads to the Marine Park Anchorage from the campsite.

Most of my close up images were taken by scrambling ashore from a small boat and photographing from the ledges just above the sea. Low tide is best for this. From May to September, the weather is generally dry and the paddling routes sheltered.

About the Contributor:

Chris Carter is a photographer based in the Comox Valley, British Columbia. His current work can be viewed in galleries on Vancouver Island and on his web site.