1940 Yukon Nuggets
Visitors to the Yukon, any time of the year, are in for a soothing treat - the Takhini hot springs. When I was a kid, it was grand adventure to go to the hotsprings. On the long and winding road - always muddy or rutted when it wasn't snow-covered - it seemed to take forever to get there.
Are we there yet, I would constantly ask my brother Fred. But the trip was worth it. Especially in the dead cold of a winter weekend, when the steam rising from the log-encased swimming pool was a wonder to behold, as it froze our brush cuts solid. However, under the water, it was sheer paradise - no matter what the outdoor temperature.
There are about 140 hotsprings in Canada - all located in western mountain ranges. The waters of Takhini have been comforting Yukoners for over a century. So why is the water so hot? Not long ago - geologically speaking - the region south of the springs was a center of volcanic eruptions. These young volcanic rocks - just six million years old - can be seen at Miles Canyon. Some volcanoes remain active for a long time and have magma chambers high up in the cinder cone of the volcano. When underground water meets these chambers, you get heated water.
But scientists aren't sure if that is what causes the heated waters of Takhini. In fact, it might not be nearby volcanoes. Many hot springs are formed by groundwater circulating down through faults in the earth. The water is heated as it descends towards the centre of the Earth. Then - the heated water wends its way back to the surface. This may well be the reason for Takhini's heat.
What we do know for sure is that to qualify as a legitimate hot spring, the water temperature must be at least 32° Celsius. The water of the famed Liard Hotsprings on the Alaska Highway pours out at a blistering 53° C - so it's not a good idea to get too close to the source. The Takhini springs emerge from the earth at about 47° C.
The water in the swimming pool - about thirty meters from the source - is about 38° C. The hotsprings outflow is nearly ninety gallons a minute - not much compared with the main spring at Banff, which releases just over 450 gallons a minute.
The water of Takhini - unlike some hot springs - is odourless, since it contains no sulphur. Instead, the mineral makeup consists of calcium, magnesium, and iron which gives the water a red or brownish colour.
The precise source of the Takhini Hotsprings might never be known. But then, when you swim in this northern treasure, the science behind the heat is secondary to the sheer delight of mineral spring waters coursing around your head, melting the ice in your frozen brushcut.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.