Exploring the Kootenays
The Kootenays is the name of the lush, mountainous region full of long, clear lakes in southeast British Columbia. This was where Aaron and I took off with our 100 pound “puppy,” Bear, in our 20 foot trailer mid September. We were excited, as we pulled away from our home, grateful for a short trip away from the never-ending work at home.
THREE VALLEY GAP GHOST TOWN
Bear was felled by a spooky spirit at Three Valley Gap's Heritage Ghost Town, our first stop. After one sniff in a corner as we started our tour, our huge pup flattened himself like a pancake and refused to move. What was he sensing? Very spooky.
The $16 entrance fee was well worth the visit, taking us for an hour into the past, into brothels with satin curtains, a tiny schoolhouse with rows of ink-stained desks, and through an awesome automobile museum full of shiny early-1900s Cadillacs.
Twenty kms further, we turned at Revelstoke, and went south down gravelled Highway 31 to Trout Lake. Here, we found an awesome by-donation municipal camp site below West Side Road and on a sandy beach.
The lake was crystal clear and Kokanees and Dolly Varden were jumping in the shallow waters offshore, taunting the fishermen out on the lake. Putting Bear on the back of my paddle board, I got about 20 feet before he capsized us. With a now-soaking t-shirt and shorts, I cursed the dog and ignored him as he tried to get on again, paddling away from him up a meandering, emerald green inlet. Though it took twenty minutes to go upstream (with Bear making a horrible racket as he crashed through the dense shoreline vegetation trying to keep up), it was an exhilarating ride back with the current.
The sunshine quickly dried me and we abandoned our crafts to take a more leisurely walk up the lakeshore. Past twisted driftwood and fallen trees we went, hopping back and forth from beach to shadowy forest. The beach was full of massive cedars with huge, intricate roots, and the forest with spongy moss that we couldn't help but roll around with our pup in.
At the south end of Trout Lake, where the historic Gerrard townsite used to sit in 1909, we found a gem of a campsite just before the bridge that, somehow, the folks camped on the other side of the bridge hadn't found.
We felt incredibly lucky having this small beach to ourself with a gorgeous view up the lake, and just across the highway from the trailhead to a lovely waterfall.
Flowing from the lake, the lovely green Lardeau River beckoned and so, Aaron and I (well, Aaron) unloaded the board and kayak.
Though the river seemed calm and perfect for a paddle, the current soon sped up. "What are those white flashes up ahead? Fish? I called to Aaron on his board. "Nope, they're rapids," he informed me. "We should turn back," I said. And as my heart got a burst of adrenaline, I followed up that suggestion with a loud "NOW!" As Bear saw me heading back upriver, he tried to turn, struggling in the fast flow. His eyes were suddenly desperate. Panic lurched in my chest. I took one hard stroke then another, focusing on the sandbank ahead, trying to push away my fear. Then...finally, Bear and I were safely perched on the bank, and my heart slowed to a normal speed. How quickly things can go wrong. Lifejackets...we should have worn them.
Heading out of Gerrard, we spotted the John Fenger Memorial Trail, just before the small ‘hamlet’ of Poplar Creek.
A great find. John was the area’s first forester and an astute one, we discovered. Noticing that the region’s massive cedars and hemlocks were quickly disappearing, John decided that he should do something about it.
And so he did. Aaron, Bear and I loved our cedar-scented meander through the giant thousand-year-old cedars that John, eighty years ago, successfully persuaded the provincial government to preserve.
Rain followed us down Highway 31 ‘til Kaslo where the sun broke out and lit the peaks of the mountain range behind the town.
We parked at the municipal campsite, growling a bit at having to pay to camp, but pleased to have wifi, showers, and to be right in town and beside a lakeside trail. We were early to the Saturday market, one not-to-be-missed. My savory tastebuds loved the spinach & feta croissants and the spicy, cauliflower samosas with mango chutney; Aaron's sweet tooth demanded the chocolate croissant and decadent peanut butter chocolate squares. We used great restraint to bypass other stalls and almost made it out with some of our money left. Almost. A pile of home-made Jamaican samosas laden with habanero peppers and pork and apple meat pies at the end of the street stopped us dead. "For lunch," we reasoned to each other.
New Denver was a little jewel with hundred-year-old houses, flower-filled gardens and a wonderful little historical site dedicated to the Nikkei people, the Japanese people who, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in WW2, were forcibly interned here and in other interior towns by the Canadian government.
Done with urban life, we went northwest, seeking the Wragge Beach Rec site on Slocan Lake. "An awesome campsite," a friend had told us. A left turn on to Bonanza Road then the Shannon FSR got us on our way and, a bumpy twelve kilometres later, we reached the free-in-September forest rec site. Despite the rattling our trailer went through, we were so glad we made the effort!
A gorgeous spot on the shore of Slocan Lake with barely anyone around to make us feel bad for taking the best site in the place (double site 4/5). Right on the beach, sunshine from morning ‘til night, with our firepit looking down the lake. On my paddleboard, I floated among the small. rocky islands offshore, mesmerized by the transparent water and the lakebed 20+ metres below me that I could see as clearly as if there were no water.
A long, meandering trail just beside the campsite took us through a mossy forest that smelled of the earth, dark and dank. Again, pup and I did some joyful rolling in the moss.
After three days of quiet, we were ready for Nelson. Horrified at the chock-a-block-filled-with-RV’s municipal campsite there, we drove in and out without slowing. 15 minutes east, we found the much quieter and well-treed Kokanee Provincial Park. To our delight, we were given senior rates. Half price! Do I like getting Senior rates? Of course I do! Too frugal to be proud, we are!
There was no shortage of activities and sights nearby.
We took long walks through the park's maintained forested trails, and spent a great half hour at a small but bursting-with info-and-super-cool-stuff nature centre. We were thrilled to discover that the Kokanee were in the Park's creek, on their way to their spawning grounds, a glorious sight to see as we watched the redfish hovering in still ponds, gathering their energy. I held my breath as I watched one flip its tail in the fast-moving current, throwing its body upward, struggling to get over the small waterfall in front of it. What a fighter!
Less than a kilometre north of the Park, the Kokanee Glacier FSR led us 12 kilometres up through the Park to the dog-friendly ‘Old Growth Trail’ (more ‘moderate’ than its rating of ‘easy/moderate’ with its steep start and finish). Thoroughly enjoying our two-hour wander through the canopy-darkened woods, the scent of dying things and of growing things filling my nose, I was awestruck at the giant cedars and hemlocks along the path.
Castlegar with its Doukhobor museum enthralled me with its displays of exquisite embroidered shawls worn by the females, homespun dolls, and much more. A fascinating minimalist culture steadfastly opposed to violence, one that I could have read about for much longer.
BETWEEN CASTLEGAR AND PENTICTON
Mud Lake Rec Site seemed to be the only rec site between Castlegar and PentictTon, in the middle of nowhere but promising, by its name, to be by a lake. Not so. What's this? Why does the sign say 'Paulson Rec Site?' So confusing. But then, with a little more exploration down the road, we found the Mud Lake Rec Site sign. So where's the lake? No lake. Just a single campsite by a creek. Do we want to stay here? I can hear the trucks roaring by on the highway we just left. Sigh... We decided to stay. It was too late to keep looking. So...we made a campfire, resigned to a noisy night. Then... as night fell, the highway noise quieted, and the stars came out. "It's not so bad," I mused to Aaron, smiling in contentment.
It got even better the next morning. Sunshine beamed through our thin curtain and we exited the trailer to find blue sky and and a nearby trail map. "Aaron! There are tons of trails around here!" I called. "We're on the Paulson X-Country Ski Trails. Let's go for a ride before we head out." Bear disappeared down the trail before we rode a hundred metres, excited to explore instead of hop in the truck for another long drive in the back seat. The forest was silent as we pedaled the wide now-snowless trails for 6 kilometres (though Bear must have done 10 with all his forest exploring). Green and gold poplars interspersed with evergreens and reddening shrubs reminded us that Autumn was on its way.
Bear slept like the dead after we hung up the bikes and got back on the highway for our final drive in the Kootenays.
We stopped in Midway to walk the streets and admire the townsite’s quaint, historic buildings, then in nearby Greenwood to fill our pack with cinnamon buns and espresso Nanaimo bars at the at the well-known (and not to be missed ) Deadwood Junction Café. Yum!
And then it was the end. Sort of. The end of the Kootenays anyways.
The lush hills of the Kootenays disappeared and the hot, dry grasslands of the Southern Interior appeared. We were on our way to wine country.
WINE COUNTRY WRITER'S FESTIVAL
Our rural holiday was almost at an end. We still had a couple of days before we had to get back home and back to our never-ending yard work, but I still had one adventure left before that happened.
I'd registered for the 'Wine Country Writer's Festival' in Penticton. My first writing conference. I was so excited. Wine and Writing in one place! I was going to meet real writers, publishers maybe. To talk about the book I'm STILL writing. Yep, I'm still writing it. It's the one I thought would take me a year, but that's taking more like six. So, yep, it's a journey. A journey I'm loving.
But that's another story.
Thanks for reading. Hope you liked the blog.
British Columbia is continually surprising us with its beauty and we can't wait to explore more of it. Check out my 4-Part series on Northern BC if you're planning a trip to that region:
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