Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Caching in the BC Interior

ABOVE: Old truck we came across in Chilliwack

Had a week off from work and decided that the best way to spend it was to have a caching week. But what to do....hmmmm.....I know. Two of my brothers are retired, may be they would want to do a road trip!
And that's just what we did: from Vancouver to Kamloops, through to Vernon, on to Kelowna and back down to Vancouver, all done over the course of 4 days.

The complete set of pictures can be viewed here on my Flickr site

It was a "boy's" weekend away, no wives allowed! Just 3 addicted male cachers spending the entire day, and some of the night, driving and caching.

We left the Vancouver area late morning and drove up to the Agassiz area where we stopped occasionally to find caches in the area. Not a lot, just enough to wet our appetite for the drive up to Kamloops.ABOVE: Mile Marker 97

One of the more memorable caches we found was, well, memorable! It was a piece of history from the 30's or 40's, back when the main road east from Vancouver was not a main freeway, but a succession of roads where Mile Zero is at the main Vancouver Post Office in downtown Vancouver. Along Main street to Kingsway, then into Burnaby and over the old bridge to Surrey, then out along the Fraser Highway into the Fraser Valley.

100 Miles from Vancouver to Hope, and at every mile was a stone cairn with the mile number engraved on it. This time we were at Mile marker 97, it stands on what was a busy Old Yale Road which itself starts at the shore of the Fraser River in Surrey and runs all the way to Hope.

Now the road is covered over by other streets or in sections a mere shadow of what it once was; here on the outskirts of Hope, Old Yale Road is a quiet residential street and the cairn is on a neighbour's boulevard.

We quickly found the small container with the log book inside, signed the book, and enjoyed this little piece of history resting comfortably on the shoulders of an old highway companion.

Back in the truck we headed up the Coquihalla Highway picking up a drive up cache at a truck rest stop, then continued on to a threesome of caches along a road that acted as a byway around the toll booths.ABOVE: The start of the bypass road at the south end

This road is suited only for vehicles with high ground clearance like a truck; we did it in Al's pick up but even so we bottomed out in one area. As we were heading south to north, the road headed down into the valley north of the Coquihalla Summit. The road was rough and broken in places; south to north is the easy way. If I was coming from the north and had to climb the worn out section of forest road, I think I would want to have a 4X4 rather than a two wheel truck. But we made it, found all three caches; one at the south end, one in the middle, and one at the north end.

We pulled into Merritt and made the usual stop at Tim Hortons for a coffee and a quick snack; phone calls were made to the home fronts to let the loved ones know we were still alive and well, then we pushed on north through Merritt taking the old Hwy #5A out of town.

We were into a different part of BC; this was one of rolling hills, bunch grass, arid hills with barely a tree to be seen. We were now in cowboy country! Gone was the West Coast forest consisting of giant cedars and firs; we left that behind when we took the bypass around the Coquihalla Summit.

We had left the main highway in the Coquihalla Valley surrounded by lush vegetation supported by 110 inches of rain a year. Just 24K up the valley and beyond the bypass road, the rain shadow effect from the mountains kicked in. Now we where in a semi-arid biozone where the average rainfall was less than 30 inches.

As a matter of fact, much of our trip would be through this very same biozone; hot in summer, cold in winter, and little precipitation year round made for a land that only supported small trees and plants, at least compared to the coast.

ABOVE: Nicola Cemetery

We stopped at caches along Hwy 5A, the first exciting one being the old Nicola Cemetery on the south shores of Nicola Lake. We wandered around the old graves as we wondered what it was like in the early days.

The name "Nicola" was given to the famous chieftain Hwistesmetxque by the early fur traders, as they could not pronounce the chieftain's name properly. When they tried to say it phonetically it sounded like "Nicolas" or "Nicola", and the incorrect pronunciation became the name of the valley, the lake, and the surrounding area still used today.
ABOVE: Historic marker on Old Kamloops Road

Further along the highway we stopped on the east side of Stump Lake on the Old Kamloops Road for a cache placed at a historic marker. Just being on the Old Kamloops Road (the main road from Merritt to Kamloops long before the coming of the modern highway, and long before the 4 lane Highway #5 that now carries most of the traffic headed for points north) was cool enough, but this cache was placed at a point on the lake where one of the original Hudson Bay Brigade trails skirted the lake.

In use from 1849 to 1860, this trail was an important byway for the bringing of furs from Fort Kamloops to Fort Vancouver. The brigades consisted of over 400 horses and 100 men; each of the horses was laden with a bulging sacks filled with furs from animals trapped in the Interior.ABOVE: "Once the grass was as high as a horse's belly"

As we continued on the road we had excellent views of what were once rolling fields of grass as high as a horse's belly; this area was one of the places where ranches sprung up and the miners turned their eyes from gold in the form of nuggets to gold in the form of horses and cattle. Sad to say the grass is no where near what it was then, a result of over grazing.

We continued further up Hwy 5A and were surprised when we reached the far outskirts of Kamloops, only to see the the term "far outskirts" no longer applied. The city had expanded south up the hills away from the Kamloops Valley and was now claiming land in the form of sub divisions.

By now it was dinner time and we were behind our projected schedule, so we opted to cache until dark, then grab a motel to ensure a room for the night. Once that was secured, we went back out into the night and picked up another 8 caches, then grabbed a late dinner and went back to the motel to crash.

Up in the morning to a steady down pour.....ewww..doesn't sound too nice out there! But we were in luck; by the time we had finished breakfast and checked out of the room, the rain had all but stopped and the skies were brightening. The rest of the day we spent caching in the Kamloops area, working our way east out of town headed for the highway that would take us down through Falkland and Westwold as we aimed towards Vernon.ABOVE: East of Kamloops the ancient bench of the Thompson River is plainly evident

Many of the caches on this side of town were located high on the ancient benches of the Thompson River. 10,000 years ago, when the mighty glaciers were melting, the Thompson River was hundreds of feet deeper and reached the tops of the surrounding hills, and across the width of the valley. Many of the provinces rivers were giants compared to now, carving deep valleys as they scoured the earth beneath their waters, only to leave a river a fraction of their true size at the bottom of large valleys.

How big where the rivers 10,000 years ago as they carried away the frigid ice waters of the continental ice sheets? Picture this... stand at the top of Grouse Mountain on the North Shore of Burrard Inlet in Vancouver. Now get in your car, drive over the border, past Blaine, past Bellingham and stop on the highest peak in the moutain range south of Bellingham. You have just defined the north and south shores of Glacial Fraser River that carried such a volume of meltwater and suspended ground material that it layed down a layer of sediment 1 mile deep 100 miles inland from the ocean. This fertile land created from the sediment of what once was eroded mountains and scoured upland Interior plains is what we now know as the Fraser Valley. Try to imagine, that as you drive through Abbotsford and Chilliwack on your way to Hope, that the actual bed rock of the land is one mile beneath your feet!ABOVE: Old Chevy truck

We rolled through Monte Creek, Monte Lake, Westwold and into Falkland where we spotted a used car lot with many vintage cars. Most of these cars were restored to running shape but they still needed a lot of work to call them restored. We stopped in for a look see and ended up talking to the owner for a while. Al and Ken created a new customer for their business; they have a business called KAR Books and sell old car manuals, along with other type of repair manuals, online, at car swap meets, etc.

As they talked shop, I wandered around the lot snapping off pictures of a dozen or so old vehicles for sale. Not that I'm all that into vintage cars, but it's still nice to see them being saved all the same.ABOVE: Falkland Valley

Just out of Falkland, we turned up a side road and headed for a forest road that would take us up the side of a mountain for a cache that had been out for a month but only had two vistors. In the city, there would have been 20-30 visitors to the cache already We nearly tripled the number of visits to this cache just by the three of us signing the log book. The cache was located just off an old skid road about 7K up the main FSR; the cache location gave us an wonderful view of the Falkland Valley which emphasized the fact we had transitioned biozones again.

We had moved from the dry Interior zone to the Wet Interior zone; gone were the sweeping open lands of grass and rolling hills; instead we were now into mountains complete with forests and logging trucks.

But that wouldn't last long; as we travelled the highway we crested a mountain pass and began our descent down into the north part of the Okanagan Valley, down to the shores of Okanagan Lake. While we did this, we traversed back into the Dry Interior Zone and once again the forests were replaced by Ponderosa Pines and aspens. There were more trees here than the Merritt area, and more green areas, but it was still a dry environment.ABOVE: Okanagan Landing, site of the terminus of the CPR line and the terminus of the Okanagan Lake paddle wheeler service

Once again we did a last few caches as night fell, then went in search of a room for the night. After that, we made our way to the south side of Vernon to Okanagan Landing to visit our brother Wayne and his wife Inga. Okanagan Landing is an historic site in itself; is was the landing site for the stern wheelers that plied Okanagan Lake. Paddlewheel Park now occupies the site where the CPR had a ship building operation and a major terminus where steam ships met trains that took passengers further south on their voyage to places like Penticton. There the passengers could continue their train travels on the Kettle Valley Railway east to Midway or south to Kelowna.

The new day found us still in Vernon while we finshed up our list of caches; some of the interesting locations we found was the old BX ranch where they raised horses for the stage coach company that ran a route into the Caribou region and another from Priest's Valley (Vernon area) to Cache Creek and Okanagan Mission (present day Kelowna). Francis Barnard, founder of the B.C. Express and Stage Line, commonly known as the Barnard Express, sent his men to Mexico in 1868 and drove back 400 horses that he had bought as breeding stock for the stage lines. The ranch he founded 5 miles east of present day Vernon became known as the BX ranch.ABOVE: Plane on the roof of the Vernon legion

We also found a cache at the local legion; doesn't sound too interesting you say? Well, this legion has an old airplane mounted on it's roof! Now that's something you don't see every day...

The next day found us in Kelowna with still a whole whack of caches on our list; as usual I had printed off way more than we would be able to do. But by doing so I had ensured we would not run out of caches, plus if we had to change plans we had some spare caches to search for. Those that were not found would go back on the pile to be found next time we come this way.

In Kelowna one of the areas we spent some time in was the Mission Creek area; this is a linear park that follows Mission Creek as it flows through the suburbs of town. The park has something for every one; in areas there are playgrounds and open grass areas for playing on; another area has a small fish hatchery incorporated into the creek for the benefit of the local community to enjoy the wonders of the natural cycle of salmon.

Other areas are left in a more natural state and good walking trails take advantage of the stillness of the dry forest land. We found 7 or 8 caches all together along the length of the park, and we enjoyed each area we visited. ABOVE: Sibell Maude-Roxby Bird Sanctuary on the shores of Okanagan Lake in Kelowna

A few more caches in town brought us right to the heart of Kelowna on the shore of Okanagan Lake. One of the caches was in a bird sanctuary where an elevated boardwalk built over a marsh adjoining the lake let you enjoy the area with out disturbing the environment. Another cache brought us into a wet lands area a few hundred feet from the lake. The wetlands are no doubt affected by the rise and fall of the water table at the lake as the whole area is basically at lake level.

It was getting late in the day and we wanted to do a few more caches on the way home, so we skipped the other caches on the pile and started the long trek towards Vancouver. We did a couple of caches along the Connector that runs from Westbank to Merritt, but these were mostly stop and grab caches, nothing exciting here other than a chance to stretch your legs. ABOVE: Small family cemetery in Merritt

In Merritt we did a cache that turned into a combination rest stop and history lesson. This cache was at an old grave yard just on the eastern edge of town; the grave markers here were all made of wood which indicated that most of the people buried here were poor. It is a family cemetery were 6 or 7 of the Moses family are buried; they died during a smallpox epidemic.

After finding the cache we took a look around the small cemetery, so rich in history, and then piled into the truck for the long drive home.

We put approx 700K on the truck over the 4 days, and found approx 100 or so caches; we could have found a lot more in two days if we stayed in Vancouver, but there is so much history and beautiful land to see in B.C. that you do yourself an injustice by staying in town. Over the 4 days we did many caches that I did not mention, as that would be too ponderous for me to write and for you to read. I incorporated the ones that stood out from the others, the ones were the cache owners brought us to a beautiful view or shared a piece of history with us. For that we say thank you!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Driving the KVR With Scruffster Riding Shotgun

ABOVE: Engineers Road in Manning Park

Last Saturday I did one of my favourites drives in this corner of B.C., and as an added bonus I had Scruffster (Stu) along riding in the shotgun seat.

Stu is basically a city boy who doesn't often get the chance to experience the wonders that B.C. has to offer, so it was with great pleasure that I was able to offer him a ride for the day to enjoy the scenery.

The goal today was to follow the route of the old Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) from Princeton north through the Otter Valley, then hang a left approx 30 miles up the valley and head west to the old railway stop of Brooksmere.

The four part video may be viewed on my YouTube channel here. Look for the videos titled "Princeton-Coalmont-Tulameen With Scruffster" and start with Part One

We started off in Maple Ridge at 7.00 AM where Stu dropped off his car and climbed into the Jeep with just a bit of a buzz happening with the expectation of things to come. Stu had been out just the other weekend with me as we did the Harrison West FSR Geocaching tour, so he had some idea of the sights we would be seeing and the roads we would be travelling. Even so I think by the end of the day he was awed by the scenery, and just a wee bit over whelmed by the amount of territory we covered.

We drove the 90 minutes to Hope with no stops along the way as we wanted to keep to the agenda, knowing that the day would be turning dark on us at some point earlier then we wanted it to.

Our first stop was just east of Hope on Hwy#3 at a camping spot called Nicola River Campsite. It was a campsite that I had used way back in 1980 with my brand new truck and camper as a shake down sleep over. While the rain poured down, I was having a cup of tea reading the local newspaper while the furnace kept it nice and toasty in the camper. This was a far cry from the days of sleeping in a sleeping bag out in the open at Garibaldi Lake and waking up to ice on the sleeping bag.

ABOVE: The Hope Slide

Next up were 3 caches at the Hope Slide further east on Hwy#3. The Hope Slide is one of the biggest slides in to happen in Canada; it was triggered by rain water loosening the slopes which first created a minor mud slide that blocked the highway. Then, approx three hours later, a minor earthquake triggered the larger slide that broke away half the mountain. This happened on Jan 9, 1965 and 2 people in two cars are still missing. Four people in all were killed.

At the slide the 3 caches consisted of 2 real caches and one Earth cache; the Earth cache is a virtual cache where you go to a location and find out some information about the unusual earth fomation, in this case the slide. Real caches found and the necessary information collected for the virtual cache, we moved on down the road.

ABOVE: Westgate of Manning Park

The next 8 caches were all inside Manning Park; the caches highlighted some of the natural beauty of the area. The cache locations took us from the old Dewdney Trail to it's succesor, the Engineer's Road, from rare large rhodendrons to swift flowing creeks, with highlights of beaver and mule deer environments thrown in for good measure.

Manning Park consists of over 70,844 hectares of rugged forest-clad mountains, deep valleys, alpine meadows, lakes and rivers. There are numerous campsites in the park, most drive in along with some alpine areas. There is a downhill ski area, a lodge, a full service cafeteria and store and public washrooms for the weary road travellers.

Manning Park also straddles several bioclimate zones; at it's western entrance the park is west coast rain forest with green trees and plants every where you look. Creeks, rivers, and waterfalls are the norm on this side of the park. As you move towards the centre of the park you climb into Allison Pass and lose the west coast feel; it is replaced with smaller trees and less ground cover due to the harsher winter environment.

By the time you get to the lodge and store area, you are in the midst of a high altitude environment; the winters bring heavy snow and it is reflected in the types of structures here. All of the buildings have steep pitch roof lines to minimize snow build up and you notice that many of the signs are placed at a height where they will still be visible even when the winter's snows come.

Moving east you cross from the west coast zone to the dryer Interior climate zone. Here the ground is dryer and the trees have changed from firs and evergreens to lodgepole pines and birch. Dry brownish grazing grass fills the voids between the trees and the deer population explodes in the area. Where you had to be lucky to see a deer to the west, now when you drive this section at night you have to be lucky not to hit a deer.

We exited the east side of the park, got half a mile away when Stu noticed a moose at the river's edge. "A moose"? I said, here in the dry semi-arid Interior? Well, yes there was one right there!

Moose generally prefer wet marsh areas to arid environments, so we could only surmise that this moose was at the edge of it's territory.

On we went towards Princeton picking up a couple of caches along the way. By now we were fully into the dry lands, and sage brush grew in the fields instead of shrubs; we also noticed in this environment every plant seemed to have thorns or prickles that clung to your clothing as you walked past.

Into Princeton we went searching out the caches planted in this small city; an added bonus was grabbing an FTF in the Tulameen Turtles region. The Turtles are very dedicated cachers who think nothing of driving all night down forest roads searching for an FTF at a distant cache. Their fleet includes 4X4's and ATVs, augmented with a quaff of the finest wines avilable to geocachers on low budgets. To get the jump on them is tough to do; to do so in their own back yard was particularly sweet!

ABOVE: Old building in Granite City

Out of Princeton we went to Coalmont, where the treat for the day was the old ghost town of Granite City. History buff Stu had a field day here, savoring every nuance of the old buildings and the open area that was once a town of two thousand people and two hundred buildings, of which 13 were saloons.

We wandered around the old city for a while, then went up the hill to look at the old Granite City cemetery with head stones so old some of them were unreadable.

Back on the road to the town of Tulameen and home of the Tulameen Turtles which we hoped to surprise. But alas our timing was off as Mrs. Turtles had dropped by my house with some CDs of a recent trip we were on, and found out that I was headed to their territory. Mr Turtles was not home either, but had left a note for us to make our selves at home.

We wandered around the yard for a few minutes thinking how lucky they were to have the cabin to escape to on the weekends.

ABOVE: Old Kettle Valley Railroad trestle at the south end of Otter Lake

We did a few more caches in the Tulameen area, the best of which was the old train trestle from the days of the KVR. The trestle is at the southern end of Otter Lake and you have an excellent views of the lake from the old train bed and the bridge.

ABOVE: Old barn in the Otter Valley

Back on the road we headed north up the Otter Valley stopping at many viewpoints to admire the view and capture it on film and video. We had also changed bioclimate zones again; we had left the dry Interior area and where now in a wetter grass lands area as we travelled the valley bottom. Tracts of cattle ranches were the norm now as we climbed into onto the Nicola Plateau. This was home to historical ranch names like the Nicola Ranch and the Douglas Lake Ranch; these ranches made their fortune on feeding the hungry men who laid the steel rails of the railways and selling horses in Western Canada to the growing population.

By now it was early evening and we were beginning to run out of light; we made the run up the Otter Valley as far as the turn off for the Brookmere Road, which took us west towards the old railway town of Brookmere near the Coquihalla Highway. As we cruised along the old rail bed turned-back road we couldn't help but think of the old whistle stops along here and the pioneer men and women who lived on isolated ranches far from one another; the only way to town was a very long and bumpy wagon ride, or the luxury of the KVR trains.

Our last stop was at Brookmere, where a cache was placed at the only remaining water tower still standing from the KVR line. These water towers were unique in that they were multi-sided and not round like the other train lines built.

We exited the KVR route back onto the Coquihalla Highway and once again we were in another bioclimate zone. Now we were back into the high passes of the mountains were winter comes early, stays late, and dares you to drive the highway any time of the year. This is one of those mountain highways were it's not unheard of to have snow in August!

By now we were in the dark, we were way past our allotted day light hours, and we made the drive back to Vancouver in the dark accompanied by a steady mountain downpour. We had managed to miss the rains that enveloped the coast during the day by the fact we were on the other side of the Coast Mountain Range. Once we reached the Coquihalla Summit and started down the mountain pass, we ran smack dab into the bad weather that Vancouver had been experiencing in our abscence.

We arrived back in Maple Ridge at Stu's car around 10.00 PM, meaning we had been on the road for 15 hours, all of which flew by in what seemed like minutes.

Stu headed home to crash, I headed home to clean up the Jeep and pack for a 4 day geocaching road trip that started at 6.00 AM the next morning!

Thanks Stu for riding shotgun for the day and being such good company!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Caching Along Harrison Lake West FSR

On Saturday Sept 13 I had the pleasure of hosting a geocaching event for some of the local members of the BCGA. I lead a group of people in five 4X4s as we cached north along the west side of Harrison Lake.

We met at the Tim Hortons in Mission in the central Fraser Valley where we all enjoyed a large morning cup of coffee to help wake us up; the breakfast sandwiches were pretty good too!

After ensuring we were all the folks that were going to show up, we picked a rendezvous point at Weaver Creek Fish Hatchery where we would drop off some of the cars, move the ride alongs over to the 4X4s, and find our first cache!

A total of 14 caches were found on the trip today that stretched more than 50 miles from Harrison Mills in the south, to the Tipella logging camp at the north end of Harrison Lake. By my total we were on gravel roads for approx 110 miles; roads that were at times good graded gravel that you could only curse due to the dust, to no road at all as the road was washed away by the water running down the old road bed. At times we struggled to see over the hoods as the front end was pointed decidedly uphill towards the sky!

Rather than go into all the caches we found explaining their names, locations, etc, I can show you! This time out I took my new cam corder for it's inaugural outing, and I put it to good use. I shot off 45 minutes of film, which I have edited down to about 30 minutes.

You can view the videos here on YouTube; look for the three part Harrison Lake FSR Tour videos. Or you can search Youtube for tjguy98 to find my channel.

Start with Part 1 (of course), then Part 2 and Part 3 to keep the story line in order.

Enjoy the videos and hope it makes you feel like you were right there with us......minus the dust....and the heat.....and the bumping around in the washed out sections of road.....and the crashing through the bush to find the caches getting all scratched up with what I'm sure is poison ivy!!!!!

Other than those little differences, you'll feel like you were there!

PS For those of you who really wanted to come along but didn't, read the write up right after you have dumped the bag from the vacuum cleaner all over your hair. THEN you'll get the idea of how we felt at the end of those 110 miles of FSR travelling.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Messing About in Maple Ridge

ABOVE: Trailhead for the Canyon Trail in Kanaka Creek Park

I made time for myself this week end to get out and do a little caching.; only the second time in months that I've been out playing.

As usual I fired off a few pictures, (you're lucky this time, only 20 or so) and I've put them up on my Flickr page to view. Click here to be magically swept away to Eddie's World.....