Driftwood Creek watershed – the map

What exactly is a watershed? When I asked map maker extraordinaire Morgan Hite to make a map of Driftwood Creek’s watershed, he did indeed make a beautiful one. But he first had a few words to say about the concept itself:

Sometimes I like the theoretical abstraction of the watershed, but other times it troubles me. The theoretical bit is this: If you hike up into the mountains, sit down on a convenient rock, and pull out your water bottle, and then you empty that water bottle onto the ground (because you’ve just, perhaps, found a spring of better-tasting water), where will that water go? And the theoretical answer is that it will run downhill, into the nearest creek, and thence down to a river and on to the ocean. It’s kind of like Paddle to the Sea, where the tiny canoe goes from the Ontario uplands to the Atlantic. Everywhere From Which Downhill Leads To Here: that’s a watershed.

The troubling bit is that in reality the water you pour out onto the ground will not run to the nearest creek. It sinks into the soil and disappears. Or, if you are on something impermeable, like solid rock or pavement, it runs out until it is spread thin, and then evaporates. Either way it does not reach the nearest creek. You can try this.

So given that water’s actual behaviour is to mix with buried groundwater, or join the vaporous air, is a watershed even a real thing? If we tried to map it, would we have to include all that underground and all that atmosphere? If the concept is irreproducable by experiment, is it still a valuable idea?

I’m still pondering that. It didn’t prevent me from mapping the watershed though. The theoretical watershed.

(It’s a large file – if you click on it, you’ll see the detail more clearly.)

This is how Morgan went about making the map:

With Driftwood Creek I wanted to make a map that presents the watershed embedded in the larger landscape. It should be apparent that you can drive or walk into and out of the watershed, whether you use trails or roads.

From a 1988 map that Marvin George and Neil Sterritt prepared, called the “Territory of WAH KAH KEG’HT,” I was able to draw a few Wet’suwet’en place names. Spellings have changed in the 29 years since then; Wah Kah Keg’ht, for example, is now usually written Ut’akhgit (a chief of the Likhsilyu/Small Frog clan, a name currently held by Henry Alfred). C’ede’i Kwe (Driftwood Creek) is now written C’ide’ Yïkwah. For consistency, I stuck to the old spellings.

I was surprised to learn that, although Driftwood Creek seems to be simply across the river and up the hill from Smithers, it is in fact farther north. If you went due east from Lake Kathlyn and the airport, you would hit Glenwood Hall, the southernmost point in Driftwood Creek’s watershed.

The width of creeks is exaggerated on the map, because water is the main theme. I show Driftwood Creek as 55 metres across. It’s really only about ten.

I wanted to fade the area outside the watershed, but not to fade as much the roads, trails, contours and creeks. So I used two partially transparent masks: one that fades everything equally, and a second that acts only on the basemap of shaded relief and forest type.

The shaded relief, which gives the map its 3D look, is based on measurements made from the Space Shuttle. One of its missions was to use radar to measure the height and shape of every mountain, ridge, valley and depression it flew over. Bright areas and shadows are based on a (hypothetical) sun in the north-northwest.

Unexpectedly, the Driftwood Creek watershed turns out to look like a puffin. Silverking Lake is the eye, and the place where Driftwood Creek flows into the Bulkley is the tail.

Morgan also created a 3D version of the map that gives a visual sense of not only the distance, but the altitude gained if you were to walk or bike from the Snake Road Bridge crossing into Silverking Basin. Thanks for both of these, Morgan.

6 thoughts on “Driftwood Creek watershed – the map

  1. I love everything about this post: the maps, the description of the map-making process, and Morgan’s troubling of the concept of a watershed. But mostly the maps! The 3D one is amazing! Thank you.

  2. Apropos your note on watersheds. I think the term watershed is still useful as long as we don’t see it as definitive, but a place where we might begin to comprehend the entity we call Driftwood Creek.

    Given the limits of language Driftwood could be seen as a state of mind inseparable from the cranes of October, the sound of April laughing, Lelu Island!

    As Ever, Geo.

    Light and Shadow

    They say it began on a day
    much like any other day
    Light and Shadow came down the mountain
    crossed the creek and met Morning
    under a white bark pine.

    After mid day Morning slept,
    Light and Shadow waited for Wolf-light.
    Come afternoon Shadow heard
    Word coming up the valley, up through
    the creek bottoms he came, calling out,
    naming names.
    Those he passed felt something unspeakable.

    At dusk Light lay with Word.
    Her metaphors eluded him
    He foundered in the depths
    that separated her east and west.
    Yet he strode on through
    as if touching and naming
    were the same as knowing.

    She wept.

    He was obsessed with names,
    a relentless keeper of lists.
    A facile knowing, blind to the other’s song.
    She came away in despair.
    Unmoved, ever the petulant child, he left.
    Up through the meadows he went,
    Shadow and Wolf-light passed him traversing the headwall.
    They say it was Morning who found him; standing round eyed,
    transfixed; trying to name the sound of April laughing.

    Word’s loom would never hold the ten times ten thousand threads
    binding Aspen to the cranes of October.
    Every where, every when connected
    Every phrase a master work unfolding.
    The river’s rush. The godless birds of heaven. The press of their desire.
    A falcon stoops, Crow is shaped by Wind-horse and Snow.
    Spring is a swan the colour of Winter.

  3. Pingback: Walter Faeh – above the mouth of the creek | Sheila Peters

  4. Pingback: Beginnings – the height of land | Sheila Peters

  5. Sheila….

    Too much drama….

    Watershed…is a simple thing to determine…and it is not the creek flowing through it…

    “The width of creeks is exaggerated on the map, because water is the main theme. I show Driftwood Creek as 55 metres across. It’s really only about ten.”
    This has nothing to do with watershed….but physicality of the riverine – not the watershed…

    So – tell me….what is the catchment area of Driftwood Creek…from headwaters to confluence with the Bulkley River…which by the by…is wrong….it is not the Bulkley River….politics even way back then…:)

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