Valemount to Sowchea Bay Park to Smithers
While I was sleeping, my hotel was taken over by German and Japanese tour groups. Busloads of them. Judging by the commotion the next morning, I may have been the only American in the place. I was tempted to ask the Japanese how that yen was faring, but I refrained. The Germans were amused that I was touring in a VW. The desk clerk was supposed to be there by 7. I waited around until 7:30 so that I could get my receipt, but no one showed up, so I took off.
West of McBride I drove through a lot of smoke. A few minutes later I passed the staging area for the fire workers. There wasn't a lot of activity, but there were helicopters buzzing around. I've been incredibly lucky so far in avoiding all of the forest fires. Someone told me that they had closed some of the roads heading south out of Valemount and that everyone was being rerouted. I was really happy that I was headed west.
I stopped and waded in the Goat River and looked at rocks. I like the ones that have lines on them, and that's about as far as my knowledge of rocks extends. I wouldn't know granite from cement if they hadn't started making countertops out of it. The rest stops on 16, between Jasper and Prince George, are just about all worth a stop. They are all nestled in next to rivers or have beautiful views. I was stopped at one of them and a Peregrine Falcon flew down and landed on a post about 15 feet away from me. About the time that I got ahold of my camera, he flew off. He was close enough that I could hear the fwoop fwoop fwoop of his wings.; what a magnificent bird. I have seen quite a few Osprey in B.C, but since I see them quite often at home I wasn't really paying much attention. Then, when I picked up the girl eco-tour hitchhiker, she saw one and made a big deal over it.
I stopped at Purden Lake for lunch and fervently debated with myself (see what too much alone time will do to you?) about whether to camp there for a few days or not. It, like all of the Provencial Parks that I have seen, was immaculate. British Columbia has more land dedicated to Provincial Parks than all of the U.S. state parks together (excepting Alaska and Hawaii). And that total doesn't include B.C.'s six national parks. The provincial parks are well managed and exceptionally well-maintained. At Purden Lake there was a guy meticulously raking the individual sites as I drove through the campground. Very zen. They had firewood chopped, split, and stacked (kindling, too!) by each campsite, and the excess firewood was cut and stacked and tarped. The campsites are pleasant, too; they sit in a pine forest, are relatively private, and most are rather spacious. Only about 15 sites were occupied out of 78. The lake has a nice beach, but there was a warning that swimming might result in "swimmer's itch." Ew. I'm not sure just what that is, but it sounds like it might be nasty. Must be a Canadian thing. It was still early in the day, so after much wringing of hands, I elected to cruise on.
I really liked the city of Prince George. It has kind of a funky feel to it, and the population (from what I saw) is extremely diverse. I stopped at a great health food/religious book store (feed the body, feed the soul?) named "Ave Maria", and stocked up on sea vegetables. They had an excellent selection. Then I snacked on spicy nori for the rest of the day and drank about 10 gallons of water.
My goal for the day was to make it into the vicinity of Fort St. James and find a decent place to camp. I stopped at Sowchea Bay on Stuart Lake and was thrilled with the lakefront camping sites. The sign on 16 said it was something like 40 kilometers to get back there, but I swear, the Canadians lie about the distances on their signs. I think that they're afraid that if they tell people how far it really is to get back to these places, no one will bother to visit them. There were 5, or maybe 6, vacant campsites out of 20-something. It's not the most visually exciting place that I've camped, but it was on a body of water! After I set up the tent and cleaned the car out, I walked the beach. It felt weird, kind of Floridian, and I was a little disoriented. I put the bed down in the EVC, attached the rear hatch screen, and laid in the back of the van and read for a couple of hours before dinner. It didn't get dark until about 10:45, and I fell asleep to the lull of waves lapping the beach.
I took a day and visited the town of Fort St. James, which is about 15 minutes north on Highway 27. The town is a very eclectic kind of place, and they have a wonderful national historic site, where I spent about 4 hours.
In 1806, Simon Fraser founded a fur trading post here, and it is the longest continuously inhabited white settlement west of the Rockies. It was a very important trading post for fur traders and Indians, like the Carriers, and became the headquarters for the New Caledonia District. The site has been restored to the way it was in 1896, right down to the vegetables growing in the garden. The docents were delightful. And they also have a little cafe, where they serve food native to that time period and place. Kind of. I ordered the daily special, which was cabbage rolls, salad, and bannock. I ate lunch with a man and a woman from Berlin. They had flown into Vancouver and rented a motor home, toured the Rockies, and were on their way back via Prince Rupert and the ferry. Their kids didn't want to travel with them, either. I just don't get it. When I was a kid, if my parents had said, "Hey! You want to go to B.C.? Alaska?" Wherever. My bags would've been packed, and I would've been waiting in the back seat of the car with a stack of comic books.
On the way back to the campground I spied a brilliant new green metal roof down a back road, so I went to investigate. It was a lodgepole log home that was under construction, so I walked in and introduced myself, and asked if I could look around. It was extremely nifty. Small, elegant, no power (YEEHAW!), composting toilet, the whole works. The owner was pretty fried, because he was trying to get it finished, and he was running out of time. He's from Toronto originally, lives in Tokyo, and spends two months every year here. In the winter! He said that it gets down to 40 below zero sometimes.
I R & R'ed at the lake for a few days, then I continued west on 16. It's a pretty boring drive between Vanderhoof and Smithers, and traffic was heavy at times. Actually, everything may have bored me because it was raining and grey and I have been spoiled by months of perfect weather. There was a bad accident outside of Burns Lake (first I've seen in months?) and in another place, there was a bear on the side of the road. He was standing on a ledge on a cutback, about 15 feet above the road, and it looked like he was stuck there. He looked kind of frantic, even. It was one of many occasions on this trip that I've been painfully aware of the uneasy balance between human intrusion and the natural order. No matter how lightly we step, every move we make displaces something. I had to refold my tent 3 times when I was packing up at the lake, because a pair of toads kept jumping in and getting lost in the folds.
One of the most dramatic examples (to me) of how we screw everything up is in Jasper. Everywhere you go, people are petting the sheep. Petting the sheep? These are not domestic animals, but little by little, we're turning them into pets. Stupid pets who are being trained to stop in the middle of the road, and their dwindling population count reflects this!
Anyway, I think that in a few years it will all be moot, because the sheer volume of the number of humans in the natural areas will either eradicate the animal populations or drive them so far back into the wilds that no one will ever see them (unless it's to hunt them down to stick a radio tag on their ear). Everywhere I go, there are cars stacked at trailheads, and I shudder at the thought of all of these people out there trouncing around. Each small town that I drive through is inundated with back country guides and heli-pads for back country touring. Along one stretch of 16, there were signs advertising riverside jet boat barbeques. I only hope that they were going to toast some jet boats!
The Carriers were named for their widows, who, when their husbands died, carried their cremated remains around on their backs until they could afford to have a Potlatch (Give-away party).