The Road to Bella Coola: BC Highway 20

The itinerary for Tuesday, May 3rd, Day 10 of the trip, was to drive from Farwell Canyon to Bella Coola. It would include one of the big Adventures of the journey – driving “The Hill” into Bella Coola. It’s been infamous due to its very steep drop, and winding, gravel sometimes-one-lane surface.

Now that I have good Internet, I can include some extra features, like this interactive map of the day – just click on this one to open a large one in a new window.

I was in no hurry to leave Farwell Canyon – I’d love to spend a few days there. But, just before 09:30, we were ready to hit the road.

Ready to leave Farwell Canyon in the RV
The Farwell Canyon Forest Service Road’s one-lane bridge across the Chilcotin River.

The one-lane bridge across the Chilcotin River at Farwell Canyon
The climb up from the canyon looks good on the GPS 🙂

As I had the previous day, I spaced myself between 2 logging trucks to both stay out of their way, and stay out of their dust as much as possible. This was shot about 2 km from the junction with Highway 20 at Riske Creek.

Dust from a logging truck on the Farwell Canyon Forest Service Road

I’d be going through 2 of the 3 regions covered by the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association, and had been in the third region for part of the previous few days, from high-elevation, dry cattle country, though the Coast Mountain Range and down to sea level. The region sees relatively few visitors, and visitor services are few and far between.

This was shot just west of Riske Creek at 10:00.

BC Highway 20 just west of Riske Creek
The Discovery Coast Circle Route is a 7-10 day, 2,116 km (1,315 mi) loop from Vancouver to Bella Coola by ferry and road.

Discovery Coast Circle Route
The view from the Hanceville Lookout Rest Area at 10:25.

The view from the Hanceville Lookout Rest Area on BC Highway 20
Alexis Creek, population about 140.

Alexis Creek, BC
Bull Canyon Provincial Recreation Area, with a lovely little campground on the Chilcotin River.

Bull Canyon Provincial Recreation Area, BC

At the village of Redstone, a few miles past Bull Canyon, a large and heavily-harnessed dog was laying on the narrow (less than 2 feet wide) gravel shoulder of the highway, apparently guarding a cooler whose contents were spilled around it. While I was trying to figure that out, I came to a man peacefully sleeping on the shoulder, perhaps a foot from the pavement. It was nearing noon.

Turning into a viewpoint is always a bit of a risk, as you can’t be sure that there will be room to turn around. This one was just barely big enough. I mentioned to a flagperson that you can’t back up when you’re towing a car, and he assumed, as I used to, that it was because the driver didn’t have the skill. But Cathy and I discovered that it’s because the front wheels of the towed vehicle don’t track, they just go sideways.

A viewpoint along BC Highway 20
The Rest Area at Pollywog Marsh, a Ducks Unlimited conservation area, is very nice, the nicest I saw along Highway 20. Bella and Tucker and I got a long walk here.

The Rest Area at Pollywog Marsh, a Ducks Unlimited conservation area
The view to the west at 12:45 with the Coast Mountains getting closer.

A view along BC Highway 20
I was going to fuel up at Nimpo Lake, and should have – the price, $1.239, wasn’t high for this region.

Gas station at Nimpo Lake, BC
Anahim Lake, where I planned to fuel up, is the largest community in the Chilcotin (population about 1,500) but whatever services there are, are off the highway somewhere. At Anahim, the road turns to gravel for some 60 km (37 mi). This is as close as I’d driven to Bella Coola before. In 1970 I got this far before a landslide on The Hill closed the road for several days. My goal on that trip was to drive from the Fraser Valley (Vancouver) to Bella Coola without ever touching pavement, and I almost made it (did that get me into some odd places!).

BC Highway 20 turns to gravel at Anahim Lake
The gravel was in great shape, and speeds of 80-90 kmh were easy. This pullout had a large sign with tourist information, primarily aimed at fisherpeople.

A pullout along BC Highway 20
A forest fire burned a large area at the eastern boundary of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Now I was heading into an area that I have a lot of photos of, but shot from 35,000 feet.

A forest fire burned a large area at the eastern boundary of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park
Entering Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, at 2:50 pm. The light really sucked for photos for most of the day.

Entering Tweedsmuir Provincial Park on BC Highway 20
Approaching The Hill. The sign on the right says “All vehicles must use chais beyond this point”, and several more warning signs follow.

Warning signs on BC Highway 20
The amount of misinformation about this hill is amazing – even this sign, which should be definitive, has the length of it wrong (I discovered the following day). But its main purpose is to warn about the grades ahead – 10%, 11%, 14%, 12%, and finally 15%. A common figure seen online and even in The Milepost, is 18%, and there is no 18% grade.

Grades on The Hill into Bella Coola
Heckman Pass Summit, elevation 1,524 meters (5,000 feet), the start of The Hill.

Heckman Pass Summit, elevation 1,524 meters (5,000 feet), the start of The Hill.
My little adventurer wanted a window seat! 🙂

Tucker, my canine RV co-pilot
A black bear with twins slowly crossed the road on a fairly level stretch of the hill.

A black bear with twins on BC Highway 20
One of the narrow sections, with the Atnarko River far below.

One of the narrow sections of The Hill into Bella Coola
Another narrow section. I wasn’t worried about the grades especially (“this ain’t my first bullride, cowboy!” 🙂 ), but on a steep hill these one-lane sections could be a challenge if there was somebody coming the other way.

One of the narrow sections of The Hill into Bella Coola

It started raining as I reached the valley bottom, and got heavier and heavier. I was going to stay at the Gnomes Home RV Park, but both of the guys at the gas station in town said that the Rip Rap Campsite across the road from the Gnomes Home was better. It was mostly very good – more about that in the next post 🙂

Driving the Farwell Canyon / Gang Ranch Circle Tour

Monday (May 2nd) had already been a fabulous day by noon, but there was a circle tour recommended by Destination BC that I wanted to see. It was supposed to take 6 hours, but having the Gang Ranch in the description was enough to get me going.

The route turned out to be 247 km long (about 170 km of that is gravel), and I’d say that 6 hours is about right, but add some time to that to get out and walk a bit and enjoy the country.

Map of the Farwell Canyon / Gang Ranch Circle Tour
I left “home” just after 12:30. I wanted a photo or two of a logging truck on the Farwell Canyon Bridge, then I spaced myself between a couple of them to stay out of their way and avoid as much dust as possible.

Logging truck on the Farwell Canyon Bridge, BC
Climbing the hill, I had lots of time as the logging truck crawled its way slowly up. Another cow babysitter was at work – this morning it had been a brown one 🙂

Cow babysitter in BC's Cariboo cattle country
I made a couple of quick stops in Williams Lake for some fuel for both me (an A&W burger from the drive-thru) and the Tracker (there are no services along most of the route). The first hour out of Williams Lake isn’t particularly interesting as the road climbs and climbs and climbs, but once you reach the high country at Springhouse it gets better in a hurry. This was shot at 2:40.

A scene along the Farwell Canyon / Gang Ranch Circle Tour
The home of the Esketemc First Nation.

The home of the Esketemc First Nation
The Alkali Lake Ranch is among the legendary ones for people interested in BC’s cowboy culture/literature, which I very much was 30-40 years ago. The huge home (just left of centre in the photo) looks very grand.

Alkali Lake Ranch, BC
I didn’t know that BC had pelicans, but on a lake at Alkali Lake Ranch, there they were. These are American White Pelicans according to the lengthy species list on a sign at a pulloff at the lake.

American White Pelicans at Alkali Lake Ranch, BC
Tucker has suddenly turned into a real Adventure Dude the last few days. It’s like a switch got turned on, or he’s now mature enough to realize what a life he’s going to have. As I’m writing this at 06:00 Saturday, he’s been curled up on the chair beside me, sleeping, for the past hour or so. He’s turned into the most wonderful little dog I could have hoped for.

My little adventure dog, Tucker
Looking back at the bird-watching lake and Alkali Lake Ranch.

Alkali Lake Ranch, BC
This is magnificent country. Not spectacular generally, but powerful, and it amazes me what has been accomplished here by ranchers large and small.

A scene along the Farwell Canyon / Gang Ranch Circle Tour
Treeline works backwards to what most of us are used to. In most places, the trees quit growing when you climb to a certain elevation. Here, the trees start growing once you climb out of the dry valleys – my guess is at about 4,500 feet or so. At the edge of the forest zone, these flowers grow, carpeting some slopes.

Looking back down the road.

A scene along the Farwell Canyon / Gang Ranch Circle Tour
And now the mighty Faser River can be seen far below, with the water flowing south, the same direction we were travelling. This is looking back, upriver.

The Fraser River near Dog Creek, BC
Nearing Dog Creek, this massive basalt wall towers over the road for half a mile.

A huge basalt wall near Dog Creek, BC
At Dog Creek, you make a right turn onto the smallest road yet on the journey. It was now 3:40 pm.

Dog Creek, BC
The very impressive descent to the Fraser River. The road on the other side of the river can be seen at the right of the photo. I need to keep my altimeter/GPS in the motorhome – I really would have liked that information on a couple of roads already on this trip.

The very impressive descent to the Fraser River near the Gang Ranch
Turn left to get to Highway 97 on the Meadow Lake Road, or right to go 8 km to the Gang Ranch on the Gang Ranch Road.

Junction of the Meadow Lake Road and Gang Ranch Road
The Churn Creek Bridge over the Raser River is below, and the road does a hairpin turn just ahead to get to it.

Churn Creek Bridge on the Fraser River
The Churn Creek Bridge has a metal-grate road surface.

Churn Creek Bridge on the Fraser River
The junction of Gang Ranch Road and Empire Valley Road – surely the two most iconic names in BC cattle-country history.

The junction of Gang Ranch Road and Empire Valley Road
A mineral spring along the road climbing up from the river was quite an oasis for plants, animals, and birds.

A mineral spring oasis along the Gang Ranch Road
Made it! The Gang Ranch, at 4:15.

The Gang Ranch entrance arch
Now that looks like a successful ranch. It’s amazing what a little water can do. Okay, a lot of water.

The Gang Ranch, BC
The Gang Ranch. The tour description says that there’s “an old cook house and store with a post office”, but I saw no store, and no indication that there was anything that visitors were welcome at.

The Gang Ranch, BC
This spot just north of the ranch headquarters caused me a lot of frustration. The tour description says: “Keep driving and you soon come to a fork in the road. Stay on the 2700 Road heading north. Be prepared, this is a very rough gravel road and you may come across some logging trucks. Stay on the 2700 Road until you arrive at Farwell Canyon.” Whoever wrote that has never been here. No road is marked as the 2700, and going straight ahead on a very rough dirt road (not gravel) for a few minutes got me to a sign stating that the publicly maintained roads ends at that point. Backtracking to the junction and flagging down a local woman got me the information that the left turn is the one I wanted – the one straight ahead would get me to Farwell Canyon but is very rough. The photo shows the correct road, which a tiny, faded sign identifies as the Gang Ranch Reservoir Road, but a map on the sign just ahead on the right calls the 3100 Road. Anyway, back on the road – and the dogs got another long walk while I tried to figure it out.

Gang Ranch Reservoir Road (3100 Road), BC
The Gang Ranch Reservoir.

The Gang Ranch Reservoir
Looking back to the reservoir.

The Gang Ranch Reservoir
Just after 5:00 pm, I reached the end of what was basically a really good ranch road, where it met the 2800 Road, the Gaspard – Churn Creek Forest Service Road (FSR), which is a major logging route that leads north, the direction I wanted to go. This photo was shot 20 minutes later.

2800 Road, the Gaspard - Churn Creek Forest Service Road
A couple more obvious turns onto other FSRs got me to this grouping of signs which could only mean that Farwell Canyon was ahead 🙂

Warning signs on the Farwell Canyon Road
Yes, those warning signs are accurate – that is quite a drop! Especially in a loaded logging truck. The grades, though, aren’t actually as steep as the visuals make it seems – I doubt that any exceed 12%.

And there’s Farwell Canyon, with our home just to the left of centre.

We spent 5½ hours on the circle tour, but rushed a bit because of the late start. I’m definitely glad that I made the trip – as you can see, it got us into some incredible country that very few people ever see, and brought back some good memories.

The next morning, we’d be off to Bella Coola for a couple of nights – another place I’d been wanting to get back to for decades.

Farwell Canyon: Boondocking in the Desert

From the Blue Cedars Campground in Prince George, the next stop was one I’d been looking forward to since a friend from high school who lives in Williams Lake took me there last Fall. Farwell Canyon had pretty much everything that my perfect RV boondocking site requires. “Boondocking” is an RV term for camping in the backcountry (“the boondocks”) without any services.

On Sunday morning (May 1st), I took Bella and Tucker for a long walk along the Greenway Hiking Trail right outside the campground, then went back and finished getting set up to hit the road. By 10:30, we were well down BC Hwy 97, into a section of 4-laning construction. Highway 97 has several names in various areas – here, it’s the Cariboo Highway.

4-laning construction on BC Highway 97 near Quesnel.
I wasn’t in any hurry, so stopped at the Hush Lake Rest Area for a walk. It was a very pleasant place to spend a half-hour or so.

Hush Lake Rest Area, Cariboo Highway
At 1:40, we reached Williams Lake and the turn onto BC Hwy 20, our basic route for the next few days.

Junction of Highways 97 and 20 at Williams Lake, BC
Highway 20 makes a long climb out of Williams Lake, crosses the Fraser River on the Sheep Creek Bridge (seen below), then climbs some more, ending up on a rolling plateau that averages about 900 meters (2,950 feet) in elevation.

Highway 20 crosses the Fraser River on the Sheep Creek Bridge
At the little community of Riske Creek, a turn is made onto the 2000 Road, the Farwell Canyon Forest Service Road.

the little community of Riske Creek on BC Hwy 20
From the highway, it’s 21 km to Farwell Canyon on this good gravel road through cattle-ranching country.

The Farwell Canyon Forest Service Road, BC
The steep switch-backing drop to Farwell Canyon (the Chilcotin River) and back up again.

The Farwell Canyon Forest Service Road
The hills had beautiful new babies scattered all over them. I didn’t know that cows get babysitters – sometimes one cow would be watching over up to 8 calves.

New calf in BC's Cariboo
A bit of a preview of the dramatic hoodoos ahead.

Dramatic cliffs above the Chilcotin River in BC
The one-lane bridge across the Chilcotin River, with Farwell Canyon on the right.

Bridge across the Chilcotin River at Farwell Canyon, BC
Farwell Canyon and the Chilcotin River.

Farwell Canyon and the Chilcotin River, BC
What a camping spot! Unlike what happens at many such informal campsites, there was almost no litter anywhere (and when I left, there was none). It’s always great to see people respecting a place like this as it deserves.

RV at Farwell, Canyon, BC
I shot this for a Twitter post to my friends at Yukon Brewing: “There’s no ice fog at Farwell Canyon in May – you have to bring your own.” Yup, I’m pretty easy to amuse 🙂

Ice Fog - Yukon beer - at Farwell Canyon, BC
These two are so cute together. Tucker decided that to get a teeny drink it would be easiest to just lick Bella’s dripping muzzle after she’d just had a big one.

Murray's rescue dogs Tucker and Bella
I’ve never been able to stand driving a dirty bus! Was it ever hot – probably high 20s C (mid 80s F).

Washing my RV at Farwell Canyon, BC
Bella discovered cactus the hard way. In her foot, then tried to get it off with her mouth, and I got a few pokes helping her. I hadn’t seen any – there was just one little piece that must have gotten knocked off a big one like this that I found a few minutes later, overlooking the river.

Cactus overlooking BC's Chilcotin River
The long-abandoned homestead of Gordon “Mike” Farwell is a big part of the magic of Farwell Canyon for me. Mike bought the place in the early 1900s from the original settler, Louis Vedan. Farwell named the place “the Pothole Ranch”, and in 1912, teamed up with Gerald Blenkinsop. The both married and brought the wives to the Pothole Ranch – and their wives’ fragrant lilacs still bloom to evoke a gentler part of life out here.

Lilacs at Pothole Ranch, Farwell Canyon, BC
Some sort of bugs put in quite a show that evening as the sun was going down. I don’t know what these bugs were, but they didn’t bite or even bother me.

It was quite a surprise to hear logging trucks start going by at 03:30 on Monday morning. Now you might think that would be annoying given my peaceful location, but I really like trucks, and especially logging trucks, so it was mostly a new series of photo ops 🙂

Logging trucks in BC at night
As dawn started to break, the photo ops changed, but I ended up with a lot of photos of logging trucks during my Farwell Canyon stay.

Logging truck on the Farwell Canyon Road in BC

Logging truck on the Farwell Canyon Road in BC
Sunday night and Monday morning were so incredibly beautiful that I don’t even have words for it. The light was gorgeous, and gave a different look to everything than the afternoon light had. This is the Pothole Ranch fromm the bench I was camped on.

Pothole Ranch, Farwell Canyon, BC
The kids and I went for a fairly long walk, down a steep trail to the river downstream of the ranch. The hoodoos are possibly even more dramatic from river level. By the time we got back to the motorhome just after 09:30 it was already getting hot, so I decided to leave Bella and Tucker there while I went to explore the sand dunes visible above the canyon.

Farwell Canyon, BC
The unofficial trail to the dunes starts a couple of miles back up the Farwell Road towards the highway. It begins by going across this ravine, and cattle have used the trail a lot as well as creating their own.

The trail to the Farwell Canyon dunes, BC
I didn’t understand why cows would go down these fairly steep trails until I came to this shaded little creek – one of two. This would be quite an oasis for them, though I can’t imagine that water would be running for much longer as Spring turns into Summer.

A shaded little creek in Cariboo cattle country
Awesome hiking – probably high 70s already at just after 10:00, no bugs, and no people around for many miles.

Hiking in cattle country above Farwell Canyon, BC
Wow, what a place! The Pothole Ranch can be seen in the triangle at centre right.

The Chilcotin River at Farwell Canyon, BC
I was a bit surprised to find that “the desert” is just a single dune, though a large and very cool dune. More of the dune system to the north has grown over, but this one is still very active – the footprints of the people I’d seen on the trail Sunday had been almost erased by the wind already.

Sand dune above Farwell Canyon, BC
This view of a possible return route from the dune made me think that I need to tell you some day about BC’s legendary animal the Sidehill Gouger…

Tracks og BC's Sidehill Gouger
This is my Farwell Canyon version of the “beach toes” photos that are such a standard feature of travel photo albums now 🙂

'Beach toes' at Farwell Canyon, BC
A bit of dune trekking.

I had been rather reluctant to leave the dune, and I’m not really sure what told me to get back, but not 10 minutes after I’d gotten back to the RV, my friend Sharon who had introduced me to this wonderful place, appeared at my door! She’d seen a Facebook post that Farwell Canyon was my next camping spot, and wanted to show it to a couple of other visitors as well.

The plan for Tuesday was a 6-hour circle drive through the Gang Ranch.

To Prince George: Huble Homestead and Railway Museum

Saturday was going to be a really easy day. The only solid plan was to have a good look at the Railway & Forestry Museum in Prince George, but I was open to other options as they were presented.

The Crooked River Rest Area was empty when we arrived, and stayed quiet all night. There was little traffic on the highway, and a semi and an RV had joined us for the overnight (they had both left by the time I shot this photo). It was going to be a gorgeous day to explore! The forecast was calling for a high of 22°C (72&deg:F).

Crooked River Rest Area, BC
The kids’ mornings usually look pretty much like this 🙂

My cat and dogs having a peaceful morning in the RV
Until I saw that the parks were gated, I had planned to overnight at the Crooked River Provincial Park, but closed or not, the description sounded like a good place for a long walk with Bella and Tucker – their options for walks might be quite limited today.

Crooked River Provincial Park, BC
Yes, of course the dogs are on leash 🙂 You know, as much as I keep wishing that I could have them off-leash, the outcome with the bear at Tumbler Ridge might have been very different if they hadn’t been on short leashes. My walks would certainly be more fun without leashes, but their safety is the only thing that counts.

Crooked River Provincial Park, BC
The park is as beautiful as the description led me to believe. Many of the picnic tables are being rebuilt, it appears. This is the day-use picnic area overlooking Bear Lake. There are 3 very large parking lots for day-users – it must get very crowded on a warm weekend.

Picnic area at Crooked River Provincial Park, BC
The sandy beach is very nice, and there are even 2 showers to get the sand off.

Bear Lake beach at Crooked River Provincial Park, BC
Bear Lake looks like an entirely different lake from the campground side. This is the natural look of most lakes in this region – not very swimming-friendly.

Bear Lake at Crooked River Provincial Park, BC
The campground is particulary nice. There are 64 large forested campsites, 16 of them lakefront. The park also has 9 km (5.1 mi) of hiking trails.

Campground Crooked River Provincial Park, BC
A sign for the historic Huble Homestead caught my eye. Another of the many places that, although of interest, I’ve never made the side-trip to before. This gravel road leads 6 km from the highway to the farm.

The gravel road to Huble Homestead historic farm, BC
New and old fences along the road. This area has been farmed since BC’s earliest days as a colony.

New and old fences along the road to Huble Homestead historic farm, BC
I found it very interesting that the parking lot for the historic site requires a 600 meter/yard walk to the property (though disabled people can be dropped off at the gate). The walk down a shady road is well worth while. The farm – both the location on the Fraser River and the buildings – is very nice, a tribute to the skills that went into building it.

Huble Homestead historic farm, BC
Back in the day, the home would no doubt have had a sweeping view of the Fraser River, but trees have been allowed to grow. If I was park manager, the historic view would have been maintained 🙂

Huble Homestead historic farm, BC
I took Bella and Tucker back to the motorhome, then went back down with my drone. It seemed like the perfect time and spot for a lunch, but as I was getting set up, a gusty wind arrived, so the launch was scrubbed.

Launching a drone to film the Huble Homestead historic farm, BC
One more shot of one of the pieces of equipment around the farm, and it was time to get to the railway museum in Prince George.

The mandate of the Central British Columbia Railway and Forest Industry Museum Society is “to preserve and interpret the history of the railway, forestry and other industries and culture that grew around them.” The property is large, the collection is enormous, from steam engines and models to logging trucks and phone books. All of the buildings and many of the locomotives and railcars are open for viewing, and anyone with an interest in old “stuff” should not plan on just a quick look!

Central British Columbia Railway and Forest Industry Museum
Steam locomotive 2520, a 4-6-0 from 1906, was used in Ontario until the 1950s. I don’t know how it ended up in Prince George – it there’s an interpretive sign, I missed it (there are many, that give much more information than the Self-Guided Tour brochure).

Steam locomotive 2520, a 4-6-0 from 1906
The waiting room in the restored Penny Station, a Type-E Grand Trunk Pacific station which was built at Lindup in 1914. With the decline of Lindup, it was moved by flatcar to Penny in 1947, and when it was slated for demolition in 1987, the fledgling museum moved it by truck on an ice bridge and then 100 km on roads to its current location.

Penny Station, a Type-E Grand Trunk Pacific station
Built in 1913, the Nechako was originally a tourist sleeper car. After a fire gutted it in 1915, it was rebuilt as a business car and was used across Canada until 1974 when it was sold to te Great Slave Lake Railway, who never used it. It was moved to Vancouver and converted to a reception centre. During Expo ’86, it was the VIP reception centre.

Nechako, a luxury railcar
BCOL 6001 was one of 7 electric locomotives built for the Tumbler Ridge line, where they were used from 1983 until 2001. The line was electrified because power was close and abundant, and long tunnels made the use of diesel locomotives problematic. By 2001, however, diesel locomotives were running much cleaner, and the electric ones were replaced. The other 6 were sold for scrap.

BCOL 6001 was one of 7 electric locomotives built for the Tumbler Ridge line
When I was young, beehive burners, used for burning scrap wood, were seen at sawmills all over BC. In 1997 they were banned because attempts to make them burn cleaner had not been effective enough. Only a handful remain now, most abandoned but some repurposed as buildings. At the railway museum, the little train that takes passengers around the property runs through the burner.

Beehive burner and model railway
This is the first automatic telephone switcher – invented by mortician Almon Strowger in 1891, “The Strowger” made telephone operators unnecessary. Visitors can use 2 telephones there to watch the amazing machine in operation. I have no idea how it works, but it’s very cool to watch it doing whatever it is that it’s doing!

The Strowger automatic telephone switcher, 1892
My Head Researcher (Cathy) is assisting with the trip – she pointed me to Blue Cedars Campground a few miles west of Prince George off Highway 16. It gets mediocre reviews but though that it had potential. It was perfect, with a large pull-through site and strong wi-fi.

Blue Cedars Campground a few miles west of Prince George off Highway 16
A huge bonus was the 25 km of walking trails right at the park entrance.

Greenway Hiking Trail in Prince George, BC

The next stop would be 2 nights boondocking at spectacular Farwell Canyon west of Williams Lake. Since a local friend took me to the canyon last Fall, I’m been anxious to get back with the motorhome.

Discovering the Wonders of Tumbler Ridge, BC

As I write this post on Sunday, May 1st, I’m camped in the wilderness an hour west of Williams Lake, with no cell, no Internet – not even any radio stations. I won’t have Internet access to post this until I reach Bella Coola on Tuesday or Wednesday (I’m now posting it at 03:30 on Wednesday).

It’s been an amazing trip so far, and this is only Day 8! The 28 hours or so in Tumbler Ridge was both surprising and overwhelming – surprising because I hadn’t done any research, but neither do I recall hearing any news reports about the dinosaur-related finds in the area that resulted in the creation of the world-class Tumbler Ridge World Geopark. A geopark is an area with geologic heritage of international significance, designated by the Global Geoparks Network and supported by UNESCO. Tumbler Ridge is one of only 2 in North America.

We pulled away from Dawson Creek at about 9:30 on Thursday. Tumbler Ridge is only 117 km (72 mi) away via Highways 97 and 52, and I thought that a full day and the following morning would give me a good look at the area (then came the surprise!). The scenery along Highway 52 is very pretty, and there are lots of ups and downs as it crosses valleys and ridges. The retaining wall in the right foreground is supporting a grave.

BC Highway 52 between Dawson Creek and Tumbler Ridge
I was in no hurry so when I saw a sign for the Murray Canyon Overlook, I made the turn. With a rig that’s 51 feet long that can get you into trouble, and the little gravel road I turned onto had that potential. But there was a big turnaround at the end (a gravel pit), so no problem. The side road to the trailhead was too small, though, so I parked and the dogs and I walked the 700 or so meters/yards to it. A brochure at the trailhead said that it was a 5.5-km, 2-hour hike, and I wasn’t into that at this point, but it was a very nice walk.

Access road to the Murray Canyon Overlook trail
First surprise – a wind farm, larger than the one at Dawson Creek, with perhaps 60 turbines, though smaller than those at Bear Mountain. I had no information about them – they’re not even mentioned in the tourism brochure – but now that I have Internet access, I see that it’s the Meikle Wind Farm, with 61 turbines.

Wind turbines near Tumbler Ridge, BC
I had a hell of a time finding the Visitor Information Centre in Tumber Ridge – there’s no sign on the building, and the little “i” flag was hidden behind some road construction trucks that blocked access to the parking lot as well. This is the view from the centre to the Town Hall.

Town Hall at Tumbler Ridge, BC
This is where the big surprise arrived – there are 47 marked hiking trails (250 km of them), there are 30 waterfalls of note, and the geopark has 43 sites! Okay, so one day won’t be enough 🙂

Hiking trail brochures at the Visitor Information Centre in Tumber Ridge
The first order of business was to get a camping spot and unhook the Tracker to go exploring. The woman at the Visitor Information Centre sent me to the Lions Flatbed Campground, and, seen below, it was perfect. I got all set up and then went looking for the manager. No luck, but I did find a guy working with a Bobcat, and he said that the campground was closed for a couple of weeks yet, and he would have locked the gate when he left! There’s a full-service campground run by the town but I didn’t need services, so I hooked the Tracker up again and moved to the large trailhead parking lot for the trail to the dinosaur trackway.

Tumbler Ridge, BC
All set up now, I headed for Kinuseo Falls, the largest waterfall in the area. It’s 65 km from town, starting on Hwy 52E, the Monkman Pass Memorial Driving Route. It runs to Beaverlodge, Alberta, and isn’t even shown on most maps. Looks like a fabulous drive for the next trip. The intersection in the next photo is 12.8 km from the access road from the highway into town.

Hwy 52E near Tumbler Ridge, BC
This panoramic shot shows the massive Quintette Coal operation, which is now in “maintenance mode” – closed until world prices improve. Coal was discovered in the late 1970s, Tumbler Ridge was founded, and in 1983 the Quintette and Bullmoose mines started shipping. The population of Tumbler Ridge peaked then at about 5,000.

Quintett Coal operation at Tumbler Ridge, BC
The road, the Murray River Forest Service Road, goes through two tunnels under coal-haul roads.

Tumbler Ridge, BC
The route to Kinuseo Falls is well marked, but several other waterfalls try to catch your attention. “Kinuseo” is “fish” in the Cree language.

The route to Kinuseo Falls near Tumbler Ridge, BC
There are some very impressive mountains in the backcountry, some of which is protected by Monkman Provincial Park.

Peaks near Tumbler Ridge, BC
From the parking lot, it’s a short walk (150 meters/yards) to the lip of the falls, which gives this view down the Murray River valley.

 Kinuseo Falls near Tumbler Ridge, BC
The main viewpoint offers this view. I met 3 people from Alberta there, one of whom was about to launch his drone to shoot the falls – yes, a superb spot for that.

Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park, BC
We continued on the trail another kilometer or so, to the river. At lower water levels, a full view of the falls can be seen.

Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park, BC
Before heading back to town, I detoured for a look at the Monkman Campground. It’s quite nice, but seems to get very little use. There are 22 sites, with 5 pull-throughs, which are quite funny, as they’re about 200 feet long!

Campground in Monkman Provincial Park, BC
Our camping spot for Thursday night.

Dinosaur trackway trailhead at Tumbler Ridge, BC
On Friday morning, we started off on our first hike, on a network of trails that included waterfalls, pools, and the dinosaur trackway. It starts off on the most impressive esker I’ve ever seen – that’s about a 50-meter drop on the right side.

Flatbed Creek hiking trail at Tumbler Ridge, BC
The dinosaur trackway on Flatbed Creek is pretty amazing. The first trackway discovery, just downstream from here, was made in 2000 by a couple of local boys floating down the creek on inner tubes, and several others have now been made. The prints of theropods, ornithopods, and anklyosaurs are all visible.

Dinosaur trackway near Tumbler Ridge, BC
Bella and Tucker were having a ball!

Tumbler Ridge, BC
A particularly fine theropod print, with a dewclaw as well as the three toes.

Theropod dinosaur print near Tumbler Ridge, BC
Back up on the ridge, we took a detour around Pool Loop. Overhanging Rock Pool looks like it would be a fabulous spot on a hot summer day. There’s a trail down to one of the sandstone ledges that’s obviously for jumping into the creek.

Overhanging Rock Pool at Tumbler Ridge, BC
The sandy beach at Overhanging Rock Pool was also the perfect place to “unleash the hounds”, and they went crazy, tearing around like maniacs until I called several minutes later and they obligingly got leashed again.

Playing with the dogs at Overhanging Rock Pool at Tumbler Ridge, BC
Mini Falls may be tiny but it’s a beautiful spot, with a huge overhanging sandstone slab on the far side.

Mini Falls near Tumbler Ridge, BC
Looking back down the trail as we were heading back to the motorhome to consider our next hike. Just 3-4 minutes later, though, the day got much more interesting than any of us would have liked.

Tumbler Ridge, BC

I saw a black bear about 100 yards ahead, well off the trail and walking away from it. I shortened the dogs’ leashes up and backed up about 50 feet so we were behind a low rise, out of sight of the bear, to wait a few minutes until he/she had moved on. I took my bear spray out of my pocket, though, and slid off the trigger guard. A few seconds later, the bear came over the low rise and all my yelling and the dogs’ barking had no effect on its approach except possibly to speed it up. I fired the pepper spray, and when the bear hit that cloud a fraction of a second later, changed his mind, wheeled around and ran back up the trail.

What the hell??? The bear had doubled back and come down the trail to find us. No warning noise, just an attack. That is not normal black bear behaviour (I’ve been bluff-charging by black bears – in southern BC – twice before). Fifty-plus years hiking in bear country, and that’s the first time I’ve ever had to use bear spray.

Continuing our walk, Bella was nervous, but Tucker was traumatized. A squirrel ran across the trail a few minutes later – Tucker screamed (that’s the only term that fits the noise he made), ran as far back down the trail as his leash would allow, and that was it, his hike was over!! I thought I was going to have to carry him back to the rig, but I knelt down, cuddled and comforted him for a couple of minutes, and life was okay again.

Okay, back to Tumbler Ridge, to tell the woman at the Visitor Information Centre that the sign at the trailhead was correct – there is indeed a bear in the area, and he/she is in a really dirty mood. She asked me to tell the manager at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, where I was going next, and this photo of a particularly nice residential are was shot on the way.

Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, Tumbler Ridge, BC
The Dinosaur Discovery Gallery is excellent – truly a must-see to help you understand what you’re seeing out on some of the trails. This is the armoured polacanthin anklyosaur that made many of the tracks 110 million years ago.

Anklyosaur at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, Tumbler Ridge, BC
The theropods are smaller than I expected from the prints. That’s Acrocanthasaurus, rather a small Tyrannosaurus Rex, in the back.

Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, Tumbler Ridge, BC
The beautiful doors were removed from the administration building at the Quintette mine in 2001 (that’s the black-glass building towards the right of the panorama near the start of this article). They ended up in a museum in southern BC, but in 2013, were repatriated to Tumbler Ridge and are now in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.

Quintette Mine office doors at the Tumbler Ridge, BC

Before I left the gallery, the manager had phoned a friend who phoned me and then the regional Conservation Officer in Dawson Creek, who then called me for much more information about the bear conflict. He said that he’d be driving to Tumbler Ridge to check it out. While non-committal, I think that he too felt that it was predatory, and so a serious problem.

We left Tumbler Ridge just after 2:00 pm, and by 5 were in Pine Pass, seen below, now planning to camp somewhere north of Prince George rather than at an RV park in town as had been the draft plan. After seeing that the area’s provincial parks were not only closed but gated, I stopped at the huge and empty Crooked River Rest Area, right beside the Crooked River about an hour north of Prince George.

Tumbler Ridge, BC

Creating an “Explore Dawson Creek” Driving Route

It’s been a busy couple of days in Dawson Creek, and I could easily stay another day. But, Tumbler Ridge beckons, so we’ll be on the road this morning.

I mainly want to tell you about the driving route that I created after noticing that there are none for Dawson Creek among the 64 driving routes that Destination BC promotes. But first, there’s a wonderful walking trail that runs 4.5 kilometers through the wetlands along Dawson Creek. We only walked about 1/4 of it due to the very warm temperature and a shortage of time. The north access that we used is behind the Peace River Regional District offices. After about half a km on a road, the trail entrance is marked.

Dawson Trail, Dawson Creek, BC
We didn’t meet any other people during the hour or so we spent walking, but apparently the southern sections of the trail get more use.

Dawson Trail, Dawson Creek, BC
Bella and Tucker thoroughly enjoyed the outing – lots of new sniffs for them to check out, and they’ve figured out how to have a good tussle while on the extended leashes.

Dogs on the Dawson Trail, Dawson Creek, BC
While Bella and Tucker were our exploring with me, Molly was on guard-cat duty, keeping a close eye out for intruders 🙂

Molly the cat loves RVing
I left the kids in the RV for a nap while I went downtown to join a friend for lunch. Joyce suggest the Alcan Smokehouse, and it was perfect – unique, with excellent and all locally-sourced meals, and great service.

Alcan Smokehouse, Dawson Creek
There are 2 floors in the restored heritage building , and Joyce asked for a table upstairs. It’s smaller and has more character as well as a good view.

Alcan Smokehouse, Dawson Creek

Alcan Smokehouse, Dawson Creek
Joyce had their “Alcan Meatless Burger”, which is smoked portabello mushroom topped with mozza and other good stuff, while I went for the Bison Burger: “Locally-sourced and house-seasoned bison patty, grilled and topped with smoked gouda, garlic aioli, pickles, lettuce, and tomato. Served on a potato scallion bun”, and added “blasted potatoes”. It was wonderful! Truly a unique taste unlike any other burger I’ve had.

Alcan Smokehouse, Dawson Creek

Now to the driving route, the need for which got confirmed during lunch. This is an all-day trip – 186 km long, covering much of the Dawson Creek region, with a wide variety of natural and historic attractions that could easily make it even more than one day. This is the draft version which will get fleshed out when I get home, as I need to add a map or two, and more photos that are on an external hard drive that I had meant to bring on the trip. The odometer reading is followed by the directions or attractions at that point.

Km 0.0: Alaska Highway Mile 0, Visitor Information Centre, Art Gallery, Northern Alberta Railway Museum. This spot could keep you busy for a while.

Alaska Highway Mile 0

Dawson Creek grain elevator art gallery
Km 0.3: The downtown Alaska Highway Mile 0 post, and Alaska Highway House, where you can learn about the highway’s history, and can pick up a historic walking tour brochure.

Km 0.8: City hall and a historic church.

Km 2.8: Walter Wright Pioneer Village, and access to the Dawson Trail.

Km 33.8: Old Kiskatinaw Bridge – the right turn off the new Alaska Highway onto the old highway is at Km 28.9. This curved wooden bridge, still in use, is the most famous artifact from the original highway.

Old Kiskatinaw Bridge

Km 34.2: Old Kiskatinaw Bridge interpretive signs.

Km 34.7: Large pullout with a great view of the bridge and valley.

Old Kiskatinaw Bridge

Km 39.0: Turn left to rejoin the new Alaska Highway.

Km 41.5: New Kiskatinaw Bridge, opened in 1978. A rest area with outhouses gives limited viewing due to a screen of trees.

New Kiskatinaw Bridge
Km 53.5: Turn right onto Road 237M, Mason Road. This is a little-known shortcut between the Hart and Alaska Highways.

Road 237M, Mason Road

Km 68.7: Turn lef onto Highway 97N, the Hart Highway (Highway 97 is the longest numbered highway in BC, and various sections have different names – the BC section of the Alaska Highway is also 97).

Km 82.3: Turn right onto the Dangerous Goods truck route, following the sign pointing to Pouce Coupe.

Km 85.7: Turn right onto Adams Road.

Km 87.4: Turn left onto 223 Avenue, where I found a field full of cows and lots of brand-new calves. People from areas where there are plenty of cows (would that be almost everywhere except the Yukon?) must just shake their heads at me taking pictures of them 🙂

Km 90.0: gravel road begins.

Km 93.5: Bear Mountain nordic ski trails.

Km 98.3: Take a sharp right to enter Bear Mountain Wind Park.

Km 100.5: Turbine #34 and the start of the ridge road. A trail also runs along the ridge, with excellent access at many points, but at Turbine #10 in particular.

Bear Mountain Wind Park turbine
Km 107.2: Turbine #1 – enjoy the views, then make a U-turn and retrace your route back to the Dangerous Goods truck route.

View from Bear Mountain Wind Park

Km 128.8: Turn right onto the Dangerous Goods truck route.

Km 132.2: Turn right onto Highway 2, towards Pouce Coupe. The Dawson Creek airport will be on your left halfway to “Pouce”.

Km 139.6: Turn right onto the mostly-gravel truck route (Elevator Road) just before the railways tracks as you enter Pouce Coupe.

Km 140.9: Park on the shoulder (this spot isn’t very vehicle-friendly), and walk about 200 meters/yards to a massive, long-abandoned railway trestle. Built by the Northern Alberta Railway in 1931, the only report I can find says that it’s 150 yards long, but it seems much longer than that.

Km 144.7: From the trestle, retrace your route back to and along Highway 2, then turn right onto Rolla Road, which begins with a steep, winding drop into and climb back out of a large ravine.

Km 146.3: Cross over Highway 49.

Km 151.3: Turn left for McQueen Slough.

Km 163.3: The tiny community of Rolla, with the Rolla Pub and a large and particularly photogenic old garage.

Rolla Pub, BC

Historic garage at Rolla, BC

Km 180.7: U-turn and retrace your route back to Highway 49, where you turn right.

Km 186.1: Back to your starting point, at Alaska Highway Mile 0.

For us, it was back to the motorhome to feed the kids, enjoy a roast that I’d put in the crockpot in the morning, and kick back with my favourite Yukon beer.

Now, it’s 06:30, and time to get breakfast going for the gang, and get ready to explore the route to Tumbler Ridge.

Starting a 2-month Road Trip: Alaska Highway

As I start writing this, it’s the morning of our third day on the road, and I’m parked along the Alaska Highway in the middle of nowhere south of Fort Nelson, BC. It feels like it’s been longer than that – which I think is a good sign that the trip is going well. We’ll be travelling around BC and western Alberta for the next 8 weeks. For the first 3, it’s just me and the fur-family, then Cathy is flying to Kelowna to meet us.

Getting the motorhome ready has been a financial “ouch”. The biggest hit, almost $4,000, was replacing both windshields, which were smashed by a guy with a handful of rocks at Kitwanga last Fall. Because it was vandalism, not road damage, most was covered by insurance.

New windshields in the motorhome
I finally bit the bullet and replaced the levelling jack that collapsed last year due to a combination of problems and conditions. Another $1,200, though that was less than half of the local quote I got. Strangely, I actually rather enjoyed doing this work, as heavy as it was. The rig really is quite easy to work on.

New levelling jack on the motorhome
The weather was looking pretty decent for the 5 days I had planned between Whitehorse and Dawson Creek. That’s not at all the way it played out, though! 🙂

Weather forecasts along the Alaska Highway in late April
On Sunday just before 11:00, we were well on the road and feeling good, at Jake’s Corner.

The Alaska Highway near Jake's Corner
Having dogs is a great way to slow a trip down, although I know that they could do marathon miles if need be. Our first stop was at a viewpoint on Teslin Lake, less than 2 hours from home. They’re not going to be off-leash except in very controlled situations due to recent bad behaviour by both Tucker and Bella 🙁

Dogs at Teslin Lake viewpoint
I was determined on this drive down the highway to find a cenotaph for a man killed during the construction of the highway. The access road for the Morley Lake Recreation Site is at Km 1202.1, and is very easy to miss – there is no signage announcing that it’s ahead and competing signage distracts attention from this road. As I had no idea what the road was like, I parked on the fairly wide shoulder of the highway – that turned out to be a very good decision.

Morley Lake Recreation Site
There was lots of ice along the road, and up to 6 inches of snow. One truck had recently made an unsuccessful attempt to reach the lake.

Morley Lake Recreation Site
Even in this weather, the site is gorgeous! There are a half-dozen rustic campsites along the shore, best suited to truck-and-camper type RVs. There are several well-defined trails leading to points unknown. Signs of a WWII camp are said to be in the forest, but I saw nothing on this quick look around.

Morley Lake Recreation Site
This lovely cenotaph is what I was looking for. It’s on the beach at the furthest-east part of the site. It honours William H. Whitfield, Staff Sergeant with the 340th Engineers, who died near here on December 18, 1942, of unstated causes.

Cenotaph honouring William H. Whitfield, Staff Sergeant with the 340th Engineers
I fueled up at Watson Lake, and a few minutes later made the “official” crossing into British Columbia, though by that point the highway has wandered in and out of BC half a dozen times. The large signs just down the highway warn of bison on the highway all the way from Muncho Lake to the Yukon – the expansion of their range in recent years has been quite amazing.

Welcome to British Columbia, southbound on te Alaska Highway
About 10 minutes later, there were indeed bison on the highway, as advertised. They move off the road whenever they feel so inclined – these ones moved off in just a minute 🙂

Bison on the Alaska Highway
A couple from Alberta tried to get the Fireside Lodge going again, but when I saw an unsuccessful crowdfunding request a few months ago to buy a new generator, I expected to find it closed, and that, sadly, is the situation. It takes deep pockets, a good knowledge of the business, and infinite patience to get into that business.

Fireside Lodge, BC - closed again
The ice on the Liard River was piled up in very impressive ways at a few locations – it looks like it hasn’t been open for many days.

Spring ice on the Liard River, BC
I really like this distinctive spot on the highway because I know that Liard River Hotsprings is only 20 minutes or so ahead. This was the longest driving day of the trip, at 628 km – I prefer to stay under 250 km.

The Alaska Highway and Liard River
Our campsite in Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park Campground. It’s beautiful, for $16 off-season (the summer rate is $26). The park attendant who came around to collect the fee said that the previous night the campground was half full, with lots of tourists headed for Alaska. This night, there were only a dozen or so RVs, half from the Yukon and most of the others with Alaska plates.

Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park Campground
Ahhhhhh – the hot springs are such a wonderful way to end a day. A couple from Germany, on a short whirlwind tour from Vancouver, got lots of advice from me and other Yukoners in the pool about where to go next, but in the end, they were pretty much out of time and probably wouldn’t even reach Whitehorse 🙂

Liard River Hotsprings
The next morning was exploring day, as I only planned on driving 166 km to Summit Lake, where I wanted to go hiking or snowshoeing for a day or two. First, while on a dog-walk, we found a road just east of the campground that proved to be the perfect dog-walk road. I don’t know yet where it leads, though I expect that it’s from highway construction days.

A dog-walk road at Liard River Hotsprings park
We then went back and got the Tracker to do some more distant exploring, specifically around the Liard River Bridge.

Liard River Bridge, Alaska Highway
Walking out onto the bridge, I saw an old truck that I’ve been looking for, and it appeared to be easy to access. Sure enough, there was a rough road right to it.

1940s truck below the Liard River Bridge, Alaska Highway
The beach there proved to be a great place for the kids to play off-leash. The beach is just a few feet outside the park so “leash only” rules don’t apply. They had a ball, in and out of the river, and got back in the car very wet and dirty 🙂

Dogs playing on the Liard River beach
This is the last suspension bridge left on the Alaska Highway – truly one of the iconic structures along the highway now.

Liard River Bridge, Alaska Highway
I went up to the Liard River Lodge site, but with the historic lodge having burned last year, there’s not much to see anymore.

Liard River Bridge from the historic lodge site
We were back on the road with the motorhome by about 11:00, and encountered several more groups of bison over the next few kilometers.

Bison along the Alaska Highway
The bison have just started to drop their calves. I’d only seen one up to this point, and these ones appeared to be not more than a day or two old.

Bison along the Alaska Highway
More curves are being removed along the highway every year, on sections about 5-10 km long at a time. I have lots of photos of this curve, because there were often Stone sheep on the road there.

Construction along the Alaska Highway
Last year’s curve-removal project, at Km 743, is ready for paving as soon as the weather allows.

A new section of the Alaska Highway, at Km 743
At a stop along Muncho Lake, where bitter cold and light rain removed thoughts of a hike from my mind, looking very closely was rewarded by seeing these tiny flowers – the entire group perhaps 3 inches across.

Flowers along Muncho Lake, BC
Muncho Lake is still completely frozen, and you can just get a hint of the gorgeous colour through the thin ice along the shore.

Muncho Lake, BC, frozen
Caribou just east of Muncho Lake.

Caribou just east of Muncho Lake
The rain had started to be accompanied by snow at Muncho Lake, and as I climbed “The Cut” up to Summit Lake, it turned to all snow, and started to stick on the road. This would be a really bad place to spin out with a “toad” (a towed vehicle) that makes it all but impossible to back up (the front wheels of the toad immediately go sideways).

Snow on the Alaska Highway near Summit Lake
The view from my proposed camping spot and hiking base at Summit Lake. After lunch, an afternoon nap seemed like a good idea, and it turned into 3 hours!

Snowing in April at Summit Lake, BC
Before leaving Summit Lake for some place with better weather, I took the dogs for a walk around the campground, and was pleased to see that the pussywillows are arguing with Father Winter that it is indeed Spring.

Pussywillows at Summit Lake on the Alaska Highway
Climbing up to Steamboat Summit. The notorious, very windy old road – the one that I drove many times – can be seen in many places along this stretch.

Climbing up to Steamboat Summit on the Alaska Highway
I stopped in Fort Nelson to make dinner, fuel up, and let Cathy know what I’m doing, then continued on to this pullout at Km 374. During the night, a semi and another RV joined me, but it was a pretty quiet night. The temperature dropped close to freezing, but the highway looks good now as I finish writing just before 07:00. It’s time to get breakfasts made, then Dawson Creek is the next stop, a bit less than 4 hours away. I’m still up and down about whether Dawson Creek will be a one-night or two-night stop.

Sun, Rain & Snow on a Drive to Skagway

I needed to go to Skagway yesterday to pick up a part that I had flown in for my RV, and it turned out to be a wildly varied day. It was -1°C (30°F) when I left home at 09:00.

One of the first signs that Winter is really over is when the lakes open up. Many of the people on cruise ships have been asking about Emerald Lake – the ice is very rotten and a good wind now will probably clear it. I shot this photo on Wednesday when I took the motorcycle for a 160-km spin, but it looked about the same yesterday.

Frozen Emerald Lake, Yukon
The light at Windy Arm was wonderful, conducive to creating this mild HDR image of the scene to make it “pop” – click on it to enlarge it in a new window. There were just a few bits of open water along the shore.

Spring along Windy Arm, Yukon
I had Bella and Tucker with me so stopped at Tutshi Lake for a run. We’ve come to realize that Monty had a stronger influence on the pack than we knew – since his death, Bella has become quite disobedient, to the point where leash-free walks off our property have to come to an end except where there’s no possibility of getting into trouble. Tucker, as can be expected from a puppy, follows her bad lead. The ice piled up along the shore by the wind was beautiful.

Ice piled up along the shore of Tutshi Lake, BC, by the wind
Heading into the White Pass, with the temperature right at freezing, it began to snow, though it didn’t stick on the road.

The “Welcome to Alaska” sign at the border has been re-installed for the summer.

Welcome to Alaska sign
The unique William Moore Bridge is about to be replaced by an ugly concrete “dam” thing. It will be to the right of the bridge in this photo, and the rock bluff there will be blasted away to remove the fairly tight curve at that end of the current bridge. Construction will be starting soon.

William Moore Bridge
With the first cruise ship arriving in less than 2 weeks (the Crystal Serenity on April 29th), the shelves were being stocked in this new building across from the train station. It was a dreary, wet day, so I just took care of business and headed home.

A dreary Spring day in Skagway
The curve ahead is the one that will be blasted straight by the new bridge project.

William Moore Bridge, Skagway
The WP&YR rail line has been cleared as far as Fraser, and there’s so little snow that I expect that they’ll let Mother Nature take care of most of the rest of it all the way to Carcross.

Fraser, BC
One of my favourite spots on the highway stopped me again for a minute. Now back in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains, the skies started to clear and the temperature climbed to 8°C (46°F) 🙂

Spring along the South Klondike Highway
A reflection on a lead of open water along Windy Arm.

Spring reflection along Windy Arm, Yukon
I never tire of this drive. Several of the mountain routes are already hike-able, though I won’t be able to get into the high country until getting back from the big trip, in late June.

Spring along the South Klondike Highway
That’s Tutshi Lake and the beach where I run the dogs.

Tutshi Lake, BC
My initial look at the new campground at Conrad left me with a very negative opinion of it, so I decided to have a really good look around now that the snow is gone.

Campground at Conrad, Yukon
My summary now is that I have absolutely nothing good to say about the campground. It’s planning, engineering and construction are all hugely flawed. Only 2 of the campsites are even close to being level, and many are sloped in two directions. What kind of equipment operator can’t build a level pad?? What kind of supervisor would allow it to be left that way??

Campground at Conrad, Yukon
Yes, the location and views are wonderful, and deserved a well-built campground. There isn’t even any beach access, much less a boat launch – the superb and endless gravel beach is a couple of hundred feet through brush below these campsites.

Campground at Conrad, Yukon
Even the tables are very poorly built, and I expect some will be broken during the first season. The group camping site is an old gravel pit, and has lost none of that character.

Campground at Conrad, Yukon
Tucker and Bella don’t mind the retractable leashes, and it’s a minor nuisance to me to keep them safe.

Dogs at Conrad, Yukon
The tramway terminus ruins and mining company dock a few hundred yards from the campground. I expect that the old townsite and beach will continue to get plenty of campers because it’s a far better setup than the campground is, though our rig is too big to safely get in and out of there. Oh well, Conrad had potential, but we certainly won’t be going there.

Mining tramway wreckage at Conrad, Yukon
Okay, that's enough about the campground, which I will never mention again - < /rant >

I had been extremely happy with the service I got from Fleetwood to get the new levelling jack for the RV to me quickly, but despite a lengthy discussion with the clerk there about the clear error in their catalogue, it turned out to be the wrong part! It looked like I was going to have a rig I needed to level with wood blocks (yes, roughing it!), but I figured out a fix with part of the one they sent. I leave in 8 days 🙂

Greeting Spring in the South Okanagan

The plan for Saturday had been to go cruising backroads with Dad, but he wasn’t feeling well so I went out for a while looking for the first Spring blossoms. Once I was on the road, I just kept on going, and checked out places to go when we’re down with the motorhome for a week in May.

I expected the Kettle Valley Steam Railway to be closed, and it was. It’s the top-rated thing to do in Summerland on TripAdvisor, and opens May 8th this year.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway
I haven’t been on this train since 2007 when Dad and I went on it, and am really looking forward to getting back for a ride, with Cathy this time, as she loves trains, too.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway
I went looking for the large bridge that the railway now ends at, and on the way saw the first really photogenic blossoms.

Spring blossoms at Summerland, BC
Almost at the end of the 10-mile line – the Trout Creek Bridge is a few hundred meters behind me.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway - Summerland, BC
Canyonview station.

Canyonview station, Kettle Valley Steam Railway
The Trout Creek Bridge is 238 feet above the floor of the very impressive canyon.

Trout Creek Bridge, Kettle Valley Steam Railway
The end of the line – from there, the line is a hiking path, part of the Trans Canada Trail.

End of the line, Kettle Valley Steam Railway, Summerland, BC
The view down to an orchard, from the bridge approach.

Spring in an orchard along the Kettle Valley Steam Railway, Summerland, BC

I decided to keep going right to Osoyoos, where Cathy and I spend a couple of nights in May. The first stop was the Visitor Information Centre. I asked about a winery with a cafe, and the very helpful young man instead gave me a couple of unique cafes in town. He also pointed to the model railway which I wanted to see.

The Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad is in a small industrial area just up Highway 3 a mile or so from town.

Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad
The Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad is in this warehouse – the 4,000-square-foot railway layout covers the upper floor of the building.

Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad
This is about half of the layout. The control centre is at the right, where one of the creators, Poul Pedersen, was on hand to answer questions. His wife, Ulla, who painted most of the 18,000 tiny people in the layout, handled admissions and the gift shop.

Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad
One of the 45 trains speeds past a quarry operation. The detail is quite overwhelming – an hour gives a basic look at it.

Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad
A bergbahn (mountain train) waits for passengers at an alpine village.

Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad
The layout goes into night view for a minute or so about every 15 minutes. This Harley shop gives an idea of the detail. There is plenty of movement beyond the trains – buses move, a car wash door opens and closes, police car lights flash…

Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad
For lunch, I went to doLci sociaLhaus, and it was perfect. I got a bar seat at an open window looking over the sidewalk to the City Hall with its fountain and flowering trees.

doLci sociaLhaus, Osoyoos, BC
And the soup-and-sandwich special for $11, with a glass of local Hester Creek pino gris, was exactly what I was looking for. It occurred to me as I was sitting there that it had been 35 years since I last visited Osoyoos. While there are a lot of changes, and it was still pre-summer quiet, the town has a wonderful feel to it.

doLci sociaLhaus, Osoyoos, BC
After lunch, I went across the street to get a photo of doLci, and to see the sculpture in the City Hall garden. I quickly realized that the sculpture is a wind chime, though it would take quite a wind to get any music from it.

Wind chime sculpture at Osoyoos City Hall, BC
Out wandering along Osoyoos Lake.

Osoyoos Lake, BC
The final stop in Osoyoos was the Nk’Mip RV Park, where Cathy and I will be spending a couple of nights.

Nk'Mip RV Park, Osoyoos, BC
Recent reviews at TripAdvisor are mostly poor, and one of the complaints is that the sites are small. It looks great to me, so we’ll definitely be coming.

Nk'Mip RV Park, Osoyoos, BC
The temperature had climbed to 22°C (72°F), and the fruit trees were celebrating – the difference in the blossoms in 2 hours was quite incredible. It was pretty cool to be in the Okanagan on the exact day that Spring arrived 🙂

Spring blossoms in Osoyoos, BC
Heading north on Highway 97 at Vaseux Lake, back to Kelowna.

BC Highway 97 at Vaseux Lake
A lovely rest area overlooking Skaha Lake at Penticton. The Penticton airport can be seen at the far left.

Rest area overlooking Skaha Lake at Penticton, BC
I made a brief stop at Sun_Oka Beach Provincial Park. This beach won’t be empty for many more weeks.

A carpet of flowers at Sun_Oka Beach.

One final stop to check out the car museum at Summerland (Nixdorf Classic Cars). It was closed, but the $20 admission probably would have stopped me anyway. Looking at the photos on TripAdvisor, the showroom/museum is far too crowded to really see the cars the way I want to. Now their wine tours in a classic Cadillac convertible – that we just may do.

Dad and I had a nice quiet evening together, and I had high hopes for Sunday.

Sunday turned out to be great. Dad was feeling good, so we hit the road right after breakfast. Westside Road is a beautiful drive with lots of variety, and gets little traffic this time of year, so would be the perfect place to spend a couple of hours.

California bighorn sheep are commonly seen along Westside Road, but finding a group of 6 rams isn’t.

California bighorn sheep are commonly seen along Westside Road
As of 2013, a new regional park on land donated by a local forestry company has protected habitat for these sheep.

California bighorn sheep on Westside Road, Kelowna, BC
We went as far as Fintry Provincial Park, where the last polygonal dairy barn in BC can be found. There are 101 campsites in the park, and as nice as Bear Creek park is, Fintry is much better. For the visiting and touring we want to do, though, the extra 30-40 minute drive each way makes Fintry a poor choice for our stay.

Once back in Kelowna, Dad and I had a particularly nice social afternoon – meeting friends at Whiski-Jack’s pub for lunch again, then over to the Legion for their music afternoon. What a surprise to see my friend John Cole from Whitehorse playing there! When his wife Sheila came in a while later, I shocked her when I came up behind her and gave her a hug 🙂 John even played a special Yukon song by Jim Vautour for me.

John Cole playing guitar at the Westbank Legion

Sunday night, I was on the 8:00 pm Air North flight home. With a stop in Vancouver, I was being greeted by 2 excited dogs and a cat trying to force her way in for a hug – oh, and Cathy patiently waiting in the background! It was a short trip, but a particularly good one.

Flying to Kelowna for 3 Days

I’m home now, but I spent 3 days over the past weekend with my Dad in Kelowna. Direct flights on Air North (with a short stop in Vancouver each direction) make the trip extremely easy now.

Climbing out over the Yukon River just after our takeoff at 5:10. With the incredible Spring we’re having in Whitehorse, it seemed a shame to leave, but I needed to see Dad, and it was even nicer in Kelowna. And hey, any excuse to go flying! 🙂

Flying over the Yukon River south of Whitehorse
At 5:25, we were over Surprise Lake at Atlin.

Surprise Lake at Atlin, BC
At 5:44, we flew directly over Mount Edziza, one of Canada’s highest volcanoes at 2,780 meters (9,121 feet), though from this angle you really don’t get any idea of how impressive it is. I had a close look at Edziza when I brought my Cessna up in 1985 – the perfect cinder cone known as Eve Cone is seen at the lower right of the next photo, and is enlarged below that one.

Flying over Mount Edziza, BC

Eve Cone, Mount Edziza, BC
Four minutes later, we were over Kinaskan Lake and the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.

Kinaskan Lake and the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Looking down on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver at 7:05. During its construction, on June 17, 1958, several spans collapsed and 18 workers were killed. I was 7 years old and living in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey when it happened, and still remember it fairly well.

Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver, BC
The Port Mann Bridge, a 10-lane cable-stayed bridge that carries Highway 1 across the Fraser River, opened in 2012. It is the second longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, and at 65 meters (213 feet) wide, was the widest bridge in the world until the opening of the new Bay Bridge in California in 2013.

Port Mann Bridge
At 8:15 were taxiing out for the short hop to Kelowna.

YVR at night
Spectacular colours as we climbed out over the Gulf of Georgia at 8:20.

Spectacular evening colours over the Gulf of Georgia

I had rented a car from Budget – a full-size for ease of getting Dad in and out with his walker and oxygen tanks. I was offered a Buick Regal, but they had a brand-new Cadillac ATS for an extra $20 per day. After some thought, I declined the Cadillac, but when I went out to the parking lot, the Cadillac was sitting beside my Buick. I almost went back in and changed cars – it’s gorgeous!

Dad would be in bed long before I arrived in Kelowna, so I had arranged to stay with my sister and brother-in-law the first night. Chatting, drinking good local wine and snuggling with their wonderful Miniature Australian Shepherd was a great way to start the weekend.

On the way to Dad’s on Friday morning, I decided to have a look at Bear Creek Provincial Park, where I’ll be parked with the motorhome for several nights in mid-May.

Westside Road used to be a major logging access road – although the logging trucks are gone, you still go past this booming yard. The lumber mill is across the lake, at the north end of downtown Kelowna.

Log booms in Okanagan Lake at Kelowna, BC
I was very impressed by Bear Creek. It just opened for the year on March 24th.

Bear Creek Provincial Park
Bear Creek, from the bridge between the two sections of the campground, which has a total of 122 sites.

Bear Creek Provincial Park
The nicest part of the campground – this section is still closed. There were about 20 RVs in the campground, mostly trailers.

Bear Creek Provincial Park campground, BC
This is what families will consider the best part of the park, with lots of room to play.

Bear Creek Provincial Park campground, BC

I was at Dad’s by about 11:00, and soon after, we went over to his favourite pub, Whiski-Jack’s, for lunch, and met a couple of his best friends there. Dad worked hard all his life, and now at 93, despite some health issues, has a great set-up for enjoying life. The plan for Saturday was to go cruising backroads as we did so often 50 years ago, and maybe find the first Spring blossoms.