Larry Stamm, Luthier

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The Robson Valley

Mount Robson The Robson Valley is a unique and spectacular valley in east-central British Columbia, Canada. It extends from the headwaters of the Fraser River in the Rocky Mountains to the region of Dome Creek, BC, about 100 km southeast of Prince George (map). The name of the valley comes from Mount Robson , the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.

The Fraser River flows along the main valley bottom on its long journey to the Pacific Ocean, but the valley itself was formed by a geological fault long before the beginnings of the river. The north eastern wall of the valley is formed by the Rocky Mountains, while the southwestern wall is formed by the Cariboo Mountains which are geologically quite different from the Rockies just a few km across the valley.

The Robson
 Valley and the Fraser River
The valley has been traditionally used as hunting and fishing territory by the First Nations people, with a settlement at Tete Jeane Cache, but there was no widespread human presence here until 1914 when the Grand Trunk Railroad was completed through the Valley. Today, about 3500 people live scattered along the Fraser River, mostly around the towns of McBride and Valemount, with a few other rural communities comprising the rest of the population. The economy is based on forestry and agriculture, although tourism and cultural employment is rising. Most of the Valley remains unpopulated by humans, although evidence of logging can be seen seen in all but a few protected areas.

One of the characteristics that makes this valley unique is the presence of large areas of inland rainforest, a forest type very similar to the more well known coastal rainforests but growing 700 km inland from the Pacific Ocean and in a continental climate with cold, snowy winters. The Robson Valley is the most northerly extension of a band of inland rainforest that extends along the western side of the Rocky Mountains from Idaho and Montana almost to Prince George, BC.

Within the inland rainforest of the Robson Valley are found pockets of Antique rainforest, areas of old growth cedar and hemlock forest that have grown undisturbed for thousands of years, possibly since the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age. These forests are far older than the individual trees growing in them, even though the trees are centuries old themselves. Researchers are just beginning to explore the diversity of life found in these antique forests, and they offer a rare chance to study an eco-system that has evolved without interference from catastrophic events. Unfortunately, many of the antique forests are under threat of being logged out.

For the naturalist, another interesting characteristic of the Robson Valley is its location within the "suture" zone of many species who have migrated back into this area after the last ice age. The pattern of glaciation during the last ice age resulted in some local species being pushed northward and eastward before the ice, while others were pushed south and westward. As the ice retreated, the animals and plants expanded their range to reoccupy the newly exposed habitat, both from the northeast and the southwest.

As it happens, many expanding populations met their counterpart species from the other side of the glaciation as both species expanded into east-central BC. The result has been a lot of hybridization between species that occupy similar habitats, especially among bird species and plants. The most important of these hybrids from the luthiers perspective is the hybrid Engelmann/White spruce that is found throughout the lower and middle elevations of the Robson Valley.

Recreating in the Robson Valley

Given the wild and spectacular landscape surrounding my home, I try to spend much of my spare time hiking and skiing in the local backcountry. Here are a couple of photos of my favorite habitat:

In the Rockies In the Cariboos
Larry, in the alpine east of McBride Laying out a new hiking trail in the Cariboo Mtns.
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