A Jeep and a GPS, they go together like kids and candy.
And they stand as symbols of two of my favorite past times; exploring the back roads in south-western BC, and geocaching!
It's on these pages I've brought together trip reports I've written while back roading, and stories when out geocaching.
Hope you enjoy the stories.....
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Meandering Around Merritt
ABOVE: The Quilchena Hotel established 1908
Videos and my GPS tracks at the end of the trip report.........
Stu and I decided to take advantage of one of the last remaining good weekends of the year and set our sites on the Merritt area. It would be one of those long day trips where we would log 764KMs, 13.5 hours in the saddle and only 10 caches to show for it, but we got a months worth of enjoyment on the day.
Stu (geocaching name "Scruffster") and I (geocaching name "tjguy98") met up in Maple Ridge, just outside of Vancouver BC, loaded up the Jeep with the necessary survival items (2 GPS, a sandwich and a credit card) and took off down the road at 6.00 AM, lots of time for a day of caching and back road driving.
I wanted to drive a few roads in the Merritt area that I liked so much one more time before the weather changed for the worse; Stu was quite happy to come along and see some of the historic areas around Merritt, and of course we had to throw in a few caches here and there just to keep up the pace.
Our first stop was at Bridal Falls Provincial Park, just east of Chilliwack. The sixth highest falls in Canada drain the north slope of Mt. Cheam, which rises almost 7,000 feet above the Fraser Valley. In the park were two caches we planned to find; one was a cache placed last year in conjunction with B.C. Parks, this one was called "BC Parks GeoRush 2008 - Bridal Falls". The second cache we had in mind was part of this years version of the BC Parks program to encourage people to come visit the parks; this one was called "Bluesky - Bridal Falls Provincial Park". The term BlueSky is in reference to the Parks Ministry encouraging the public to think about "going green" in how they get to a cache location, as well as going green in their every day life.
Caches found, we jumped back in the Jeep and continued our eastward trek, turning north just after Hope as we followed the Coquihalla Highway, provincial hwy #5. As soon as we did this, we were on a historic path; we were now following the path of the old railway known as the Kettle Valley Railway. The railway originally ran from Hope up the Coquihalla Canyon to Brookmere, then through the Interior to Kelowna, then headed south crossing the border at Midway.
Our next stop was along the KVR rail bed just west of Brookmere; the rail bed is now part of the Trans Canada Trails system and in some parts is driveable or rideable on quads and motor bikes. This section was for quads only, as a nearby old train trestle was blocked by a post not allowing cars any further. As it was, we did not need to go any further either, the cache being located along side a quiet section of the the Coldwater River. "BlueSky - Coldwater River "S" Bend" cache was tucked away just down the trail in a picturesque location.
The railbed ran straight through this section, and you could see where the cliff was sliced to allow the tracks to pass. The river itself was a great area where small pools formed in the "S" shape of the river, making me think some fisherman would have good luck here.
From the Coldwater River we we shot north on the Coquihalla Highway through the Great Bear Shed and on past Zopkios Ridge, which is made up of huge granite slabs and soars bare of trees high above the highway. We went as far north as Merritt, and turned east along highway 97C for a few miles till we reached a roadside information kiosk explaining all about the surrounding grasslands. "Grasslands" you say? Why yes, we had left the Pacific West Coast bio zone, transited the Alpine area of the Coquihalla Summit, and were now in the Interior Dry Lands of south central BC.
The kiosk and the surrounding park area was dedicated to Laurie Guichon, a member of the pioneer farming family of the Merritt area. Laurie Guichon spent much of his life as a guardian of the grasslands and gave back to the community in many ways. The park was a way of recognizing his contributions, and to help pull in people to the area was a cache placed here as part of the Gold Country series. This series highlights historical areas near 6 communities in the southern interior of the province; this series is also funded by the BC government through its community funds to help revive the economies of hard hit cities.
This cache was also the start of what we would be exposed to most of the day; wide open spaces where your vision can stretch for miles or only as far as the next gentle rolling hill. A big change for us city folks from the West Coast where forests of cedars are the norm.
Our next cache was on the outskirts of Merritt, at the edge of the Merritt airport. "Ranchlands Cache" was accessed by a dirt road that ran along the airport, then turned the corner at the end of the runway and dead ended into a small parking area. From here were were treated to a view that extended in all directions; we could see the dry grasslands across the valley, we could watch the flow of traffic heading north along Hwy #5 to Kamloops, or another stream of traffic heading north-east along Hwy# 5A also towards Kamloops. Hwy# 5A was the main road to Kamloops before the new 4 lane super-highway opened, taking over the title of Hwy #5.
Back in the Jeep we also took the older route of Hwy 5A on our way to our next destination, the Quilchena Hotel. The hotel was built in 1908 in hopes that the KVR would be built through Merrit, traversing the east side of Nicola Lake and then up to Kamloops. Well, that didn't happen, instead the KVR only came as far north as Brookmere in the Coquihalla Valley, then turned south to Hope. The Guichon family (remember that name from the earlier Guichon Grasslands cache?) missed out on the railway traffic, but were able to capitilize on the stage coach traffic, and the tourist trade, as Nicola Lake was a popular destination. Poor economic times forced the hotel to close in 1917, but re-opened again in 1958 much to the delight of generations to come. You can read about the Quilchena Hotel here.
Time to take a step backwards a few miles as I almost forgot to mention the town of Upper Nicola.
Before the ranching town of Merritt came into being, the First Nations people in the area lived in two communities, Upper Nicola and Lower Nicola, the names coined from where the villages were located on the Nicola River.
Our first stop in Upper Nicola was at the historic Nicola Cemetery; framed by a lovely old fashioned entrance, the gate to the cemetery was chained shut. Rather than just jump the fence, we respected the communities wishes and viewed the old grave and their tombstones from the outside.
Just up the road was Upper Nicola itself, a small town that at one time was the capital of the valley. The area consisted of a sizeable population, as evidenced by the court house that still stands today. Just next door is historic Murrary United Church, built in 1876. As with many small town churches, there is an old grave yard on the church property. Here we found many graves dating from the late 1800's. The church itself was beautiful in its plainness, a small working ranch land church serving a blue collar congregation. Small wooden doors were chosen to secure the threshold, and a large bell in the belfry still had it's rope attached that the minister would pull to summon the congregation to worship.
OK folks, stay with me, we're jumping forward again a ways up the road.....
At this point we switched gears, so to speak. We moved from a caching mindset, to a more wordly mindset of looking at the land with an historical eye. We put away the caching papers, and headed north to Douglas Lake Road, a dirt road that would take us into the heart of cattle country. And you can't get much closer to cattle country than this - The Douglas Lake Ranch. The ranch is the largest working cattle ranch in BC; in it's past it supplied all the beef for the workers who built the CPR across Canada. We toured the local ranch "town" which consisted of a couple of dirt roads and employee housing. I call it a "town"as it really was a town unto itself. For the hundreds of staff and their families, this was the town they came to; the town contained a school, a church, a general store, and even had it's own Canada post office! You can see a web cam of the ranch here and read about the history of the ranch as it works through it's second century of operations, 120 years and counting.
From the Douglas Lake Ranch we retraced our steps along Douglas Lake Road until we came to a small First Nations settlement. Officially the area is known as "Douglas Lake Indian Reserve #3", the local natives know this area as "Spahomin", the word to describe the reeds in Douglas Lake that the natives used for weaving to make baskets to carry their goods.
This was also the location of the intersection of Minnie Lake Road and Douglas Lake Road; this time we were headed south along Minnie Lake Road. The new road was picturesque in its own way; instead of giving us views of wide open valleys, we were now on a bit of a roller coaster ride as we went over hill and through the dales as the road wend its way through the old bed of what once was a glacial lake. The entire area known as the Douglas Plateau, gets it's topography as a result of glaciers that flowed north to south through the valley, creating the long shallow Douglas Lake surrounded by glacial features that an amateur geologist would love. Lateral morraines, end morraines, terminal morraines, drumlins, eskers, kettle lakes and glacial erratics were all evident in our drive through the open country side.
We wound our way south as far as Minnie Lake, where we intersected with the Pennask Lake Road and followed it westward towards Nicola Lake and Hwy 5A. Try as we might, we could not make good time through here as we were continually stopping to get out and enjoy the vista that surrounded us. From the occasional cattle guard to the open range pen stocks, everything let us know we were in cowboy country, where real life was played out on the open range lands.
Eventually we made it back to Hwy 5A, leaving us on the edge of Nicola Lake. We headed back south to the town of Merritt and, switching back to caching mode, did a few in-town caches. The one we liked the best was another Gold Country cache called "Merritt View Point", and that's exactly what this one was. Located high atop a hill on the north-east corner of Merritt, a short scramble up from the parking lot gave you an eagle eye view of the city of Merritt.
The golf course was directly below us, the city lay at our feet, across the valley the open range lands started their run north back up Nicola Lake towards the vast holdings of the Douglas Lake Ranch, to the south-east the 4 lane super highway known as the Coquihalla started its run south to the alpine area of the Coquihalla Summit before it plunged down to Hope, and to the east was the green land of a well irrigated farmer's field that seemed to be have one foot in the grasslands bio zone and one foot in the montaine terraine bio zone. Quite the view point indeed; from this one sight we could view 3 different climates that help shape the BC landscape into what it is today.
Back down the hill, we turned west out of Merritt along Hwy #8 as we headed for Lower Nicola, one of the older townsites that existed before Merritt came into its own. Here we stopped at a small country intersection for an easy micro cache; but more importantly, we were back on the pathway of the old KVR at a small whistle stop known as Coyle. Today there is nothing here to advise that there was once a mighty train that came through here on its way to tackle the rugged mountains on its journey to the far end of the line. Too bad really, it would be neat if all these small forgotten places has historical signs to remind us of what once was.
We shot up Hwy 97C for a few miles as we went in search of another Gold Country cache called "Craigmont Mines". This cache was placed across the road from Craigmont Mines, a large producer of copper in its prime. It has all but ceased operations, the only activity being the recovery of media grade magnetite from the mine tailings to be used in the creation of steel or as an abrasive added to cleaning products.
Cache found, stickers retrieved for our Gold Country book to mark which caches we have found, we headed back down Hwy# 97C to Hwy #8, turned west again, and went up the next road heading for the top of Promontory Mountain, a wind swept bare peak at 7,000 feet high.
The black top road quickly turned into a forest service road, complete with uneven gravel, the occasional trench dug cross ways on the road to minimize water damage, and even a downed tree or two edging you off the FSR and making you squeeze past them. 6K later, after many switch backs, we arrived at the top of the mountain to find ourselves back in winter. Down on the Coast, my wife was enjoying a nice sunny day in out backyard in 18 degree sunshine; Here on top of the mountain, we were in a cold wind, temperature down to 6 degrees C or so, and patches of snow on the ground. Even the picnic table had snow on it, with one large icicle melting and dripping it's liquid life blood onto the cold ground.
What made up for the trip up the mountain road and the cold, wind was a cache, of course, and a great view back down the Nicola Valley to the town of Merritt some 10 K away. The cache we came for was another Gold Country cache highlighting the significant geological and biological nature of the area. Some of the flora on the mountain have specifically adapted to grow in the harsh mountain climate, and are rarely found else where.
The geological foundation of the mountain stretches back to the Upper Triassic period with intrusions dating from the Lower Jurrasic period. Many formations and rock types associated with volcanic activity can also be found on the mountain; buried amongst the rock formations are marine fossils from when the mountain top was once part of an ocean floor. That type of vision is hard to wrap your head around; how could the bottom of an ocean, thousands of feet beneath the sea, become the top of a 7,000 foot mountain? Our small human minds have difficulty grasping the enormity of our world.
Cache found, pictures taken, back in the Jeep we go to warm up and start our descent back down to the floor of the Nicola Valley. The trip down always seems so much quicker than the trip up for some reason.
This was the last cache of the day, as we were running out of daylight and nearby caches. We headed into Merritt to gas up the Jeep and gas up our tummys for the long haul back to the Lower Mainland.
We only found 10 caches on the day, but as much as we enjoyed the caching, the history and the views of the Merritt area far outweighed the caching fun.
My thanks to Stu for being such a fun shotgun partner, and for his excellent "live" video shooting taken from a bouncy Jeep on grass land roads.
My Merritt trip on EveryTrail.com; download my route to retrace my path or click on the map to zoom in on the trip.