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On the Road in British Columbia
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On the Road in British Columbia
  British Columbia Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton

bc_bridal_falls.jpg When I reflect on my years in British Columbia, I'm tempted to break out in Hank Snow's famous ditty " I've been everywhere."

Over 27,530 miles of highways cover B.C.. Highways that creep across desert plains, hurdle rocky mountains, curve past glaciers and plow through cattle ranges; highways that stretch by fruit orchards, rush along ocean beaches, plunge down canyons and cut deep into rain forests; highways that span rivers, disappear inside tunnels and cross over oceans. Somehow, for one reason or another, I've been on most of them. Three are vividly etched in my mind. The Big Bend Highway, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway and the Queen Charlotte Islands Highway.

The Big Bend through the Rocky Mountains was just a dirt road between Banff and Revelstoke in 1954 when we piled into an old jalopy and headed west for the mild coast of B.C. I'll never forget the precarious wooden one-way bridges, the sharp curves that had us hanging over the edge of cliffs, or the giant mosquitoes that were ready to pounce on us every time we stopped for fuel. ( The gas attendants wore masks! ) No wonder I didn't pay much attention to the bears or the deer, or the ragged mountain peaks; my eyes stayed shut most of the time. Now, it's merely a popular section of Trans Canada Highway through famous Glacier National Park and Rogers Pass, albeit, a section that took six years to build. ( 1956-1962 )

" Take an axe or a power saw! ", everyone warned us, before we entered the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Luckily, we didn't need to use either. A construction crew traveling in a bus just ahead of us cleared the road of fallen trees, abandoned cars and snowslides. But, other than these occasional obstacles, the dirt and gravel road was trouble free. In fact, the packed snow and ice made it smooth like concrete. It was here that I caught sight of my first glacier -- Bear Glacier. I was thoroughly dazzled by the powerful mountain of ice that sparkled with the bluest blue imaginable and shouted back at us when we yelled hello. It was here, too, that I caught sight of my first herd of caribou. They were grazing in a snowy meadow oblivious to the blizzard winds.

That was in the early 70's. Today much of Stewart-Cassiar Highway is still dirt and gravel and not on the priority list of most tourists; however, rumors of its spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife are spreading.

vancouver_totem.jpg Finally, the Queen Charlotte Islands Highway. The beautiful Haida Gwaii islands, from whence I, inspired, sang, "Where trees grow so tall . . . reaching up to heaven; and the daylight existing 'way past eleven." I remember one evening we stumbled upon an old burial ground on a dirt road through thick and gnarled bush not far from Masset. The setting sun cast an spooky shadow on the moss-covered tombstones; silky web hung from the twisted limbs of ancient trees. To be sure, the abandoned cemetery demanded reverence.

And then another evening comes to mind: While driving to Queen Charlotte City from Port Clements we counted 75 deer! And how could I ever forget the morning we went digging for razor clams at the edge of the road on a hard-packed sand beach? I haven't had such a feast since.

Not much has changed on the Queen Charlotte Islands except now they are called the Haida Gwaii. They are still as isolated and unique as ever, but not completely out of reach. The B.C. Ferry sails three to five times weekly from Prince Rupert depending on the season.

Of course I've been moved by other highways in B.C. I've been moved by the steep inclines of the Fraser Canyon highway, however, the swirling water of Hells Gate loses its startling effect when you've seen it a dozen times. Although, I'll never get used to the sight of the golden rapeseed fields bordering the John Hart highway. As for the Coquihalla, it makes me feel like I'm on top of the world.

gulf_islands.jpg Upon further reflection of my vagabond existence in B.C. I think of the cities, the towns and the villages. Prim and proper Victoria or wild and woolly Barkerville. I think of the museums, the parks, the lakes. . .

In the upcoming weeks, I'll tell you what I think of B.C. Should I run out of ideas, I'll hum Willie Nelson's song and quickly get back " On the road again. "

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