Great Canadian Parks / Northwest Territories

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The Parks / Northwest Territories / Nahanni National Park Reserve


The volcanic activity, which was responsible for the upheaval of the mountains, continues to influence the landscape at Rabbitkettle Hotsprings. Water runs down the mountains into faults, descending close to 2 kilometres, where it is heated and infused with calcium carbonate from the sedimentary rocks underground. The heated water then rises to the surface in the Rabbitkettle Valley, where it flows from the kettle in a paper-thin layer, depositing calcium and magnesium carbonate as it cools. Over thousands of years, the springs have built up delicate terraces of mineral deposits called Tufa Mounds, a landform unusual at any latitude and particularly rare in the North.


The lacy circles of calcium carbonate are extremely fragile, although algae residing in the water filled formations actually make them stronger. Water rotates around the dome as each section builds up and the areas left high and dry become a brittle, porous wall, until the cycle comes around again. There are two mounds at Rabbitkettle, the larger being 14 metres high with a diameter of 76 metres.


A visit to the Tufa Mounds must be done in the company of the Park Warden stationed at Rabbitkettle Check-in; all climbers must make the trip barefoot to help preserve the delicate structure. The view from the upper mound is serenely beautiful. On one side is the Ragged Range, the highest mountains in the Northwest Territories, spikes of igneous rock that seem to stab the sky, and on the other side, the gently sloping Nahanni Valley.


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