QC2BC14: To the Fraser Delta (2020/08/04)
After a leisurely and pleasant breakfast with Gary and Wilma, we rejoined Highway #1 West. We passed the small United Church which had served as the overnight stop for so many hitchhikers (including me) in the 60s, crossed the bridge, and climbed up the hill out of Sicamous. It is very clear that we are now into recreation and leisure country. On the left-hand side of the bridge, the river is filled with houseboat marinas, and on the right is beautiful Shuswap lake–filled with sailing and house boats and ringed with beaches and towering peaks.
Those peaks push the winds upward–creating perfect conditions for hang gliding enthusiasts who jump off the highest ones and ride the updrafts for hours before landing in the fields behind us.
The peaks also ensure there is plenty of precipitation to support the lush vegetation. Both evergreens and deciduous trees cover the hills–along with underbrush of ferns, berries, bushes, and stinging nettles. The large number of lumber trucks on the road affirm the abundance of the forest–and the logs are significantly larger than we see in Québec.
Shuswap Lake forms a huge H-shape that is equally famous for its recreation opportunities and the annual salmon runs that fill its tributaries. In a bountiful year the rivers fill with salmon that have struggled up the Fraser River and sought their birthplace in the shallow creeks. The river runs red with dying salmon once their spawning is done–attracting tourists, biologists, and a variety of wildlife from bears to eagles. It is no wonder that Indigenous Peoples gave a special place in their world view for the power and contributions, of the salmon.
As we moved west from Sicamous, the climate became drier and the hills more modest. Farms more often included irrigation equipment and pines become the predominant evergreen–with grasses and sagebrush covering the spaces between them. We are soon entered the drylands of the Kamloops region in the midst of the interior plateau.
We were torn in our decision about the route to take between Kamloops and Vancouver. We wanted to get there quickly but we also wished to follow an interesting route. We have found that the Coquihalla highway, although the most direct and fastest route, was one of the least interesting. Our preferences have been for the Fraser canyon or Manning Park.
Wilma had suggested taking route 5A from Kamloops as a reasonable compromise between speed and picturesque-ness so we decided to try it out this time. It was a great choice.
Unlike the Coquihalla, it’s a smaller two-way road that winds up several passes, skirts several small farms, sagebrush-covered hillsides, lovely blue lakes in the valleys between rolling hills, and even a few recreation areas. It finally descended into the town of Merritt and joined up with the Coquihalla for the final climb and descent to the coast.
The Coquihalla highway is a phenomenon in its own right. My experience with the construction and design of mountain roads through British Columbia mountains has always been one where the roads follow the ins and outs of the mountainsides–often hanging at the edges above deep cliffs and forcing the drivers to slow to a crawl as they make their way around blind corners and steep bends. I am even old enough to remember my father creeping along the wooden road built out over the Fraser canyon by the old Alexandra Bridge while my mother (and the rest of us) held our breath, kept our eyes away from the drop, and prayed that we did not meet another car coming the other way.
By contrast, the Coquihalla appears as if the engineers completely ignored the shape of the mountain cliffs and simply build the road straight up and over the mountains. As a result, it is a four-lane divided highway that winds up the first pass from Kelowna, drops down to Merritt, climbs again up to the second pass, then finally drops down to the Fraser Valley. The views are spectacular, of course, with the mountains towering above the roads, but there are very few signs of local settlement or even turnoffs from the highway for picnics, hiking, or other ways to enjoy the natural environment. Instead it’s a highway with a speed limit about 120 km/h, broad curves, and drivers speeding over as if it were an urban thoroughfare.
The only difference is the slowdown as trucks and RVs make their way up to the summits and the number of runaway lanes for those that get out of control on the way down. The other unique features are the avalanche sheds and artillery platforms that dot the narrow valleys. It is a major accomplishment in engineering but a questionable way to manage travel through natural environments for those of us who would like to enjoy it enroute.
We joined the speedsters at Merritt, climbed the hill to the final summit, then made the long descent into Hope as the afternoon sun was descending. At each stage we watched as the dry grasses and disbursed pines of the rain shadow country changed to the wet lush mixed forest of the rainy side of the mountain.
The Fraser Delta
After stopping for an ice cream and reminiscences, we headed off for the final leg of our journey. Like the Fraser River beside us, our progress slowed down as we entered the rich farmlands of the Fraser Delta and headed toward the sea. As the mountains opened up and the Delta grew more expansive, it was not lost on us that our destination this evening was the same as that of the fur traders following the Fraser: Fort Langley.
It was there that we received an excited and warm welcome from our son, his wife, and 4 children for our last night on the road.