Posted by: cherylyoung | February 23, 2012

Take the Road Less Traveled

Take the Road Less Traveled

By Daniel Wood with special thanks to Beautiful British Columbia Magazine

The thin parallel lines  on my British Columbia map, the ones the legend indicates as dirt roads, have led me to this remote intersection midway between nowhere and nowhere.  The route behind me left Highway 97 near Chasm and headed northwest upward through forest devastated by mountain pine beetles, until it broke into the open near meadow Lake and the bunchgrass prairie of the Fraser Plateau.

This was-and, to a certain extent, still is-a land of cowboys and aboriginals people who have learned to make accommodations to each other, and to the isolating nature of the region itself. Derelict cattle corrals, half collapsed Russell fences, and the occasional maundering log cabin testify to the efforts of early ranchers to make a living amid the salt ponds, aspen groves, and bitter winters of south-central B.C

About 20 Kilometres back, the sign at a somnolent native reserve read: “Stswecem’c: Pop.+/-108.”  I liked the plus or minus, as if the inhabitants of the few dozen houses in Canoe creek were acknowledging the tenuousness of their presence.

That is part of the attraction of back roads: they connect, almost by definition, places most have left, and few plan to visit.  Yet what remains is far more noteworthy than the strip malls and franchise restaurants that curse the landscape along our highways.  There are no mysteries there.  No surprises.

But here on virtually uninhabited rangeland with grass stretching away in every direction, I’m alone with the wind and find it easy to connect with myth

The road sign where I’ve stopped indicates two options:”Gang Ranch” a vertiginous Cliffside gravel track down to a distant steel bridge across the Fraser River; or “alkali/ LakeWilliams Lake 95,” an equally steep uphill track to the right.  From my vantage point, perhaps 500 metres above the river-unhurried, unaccompanied-I have the time to amuse myself with that old poet’s dilemma of which path to take.  In time, I will in fact, take both.

I can smell sage nearby and the wind carries hints of fresh-raked hay from the irrigated benchlands that I’ve been driving past on my descent from Canoe Creek.  As I survey the riverside slopes, the hillsides prominently marked with horizontal ruts, I realize I’ve wandered into a Cariboo enclave of the most elusive of creatures-cousin to the Sasquaatch and Okanagan Lake’s Ogopogo- the fabled sidehill gouger.

Wherever there are hillsides and herbivores, various subspecies of this fantastic, long-horned animal wander, its two right legs significantly longer it’s two left legs(or vice versa if it happens to be a lefty sidehill gouger) its horn ploughing the adjacent slope as it grazes.  I don’t spend a lot of time looking for the creature: I am aware that, given my location, imagination tends to fill the emptiness of travels through nowhere.

I take the track downhill, cross the incongruous suspension bridge over the Fraser, and climb upward amid pastures studded with round hay bales until I reach a farm gate that reads: “Gang Ranch Since 1865.”  Bisected by the public gravel road ahead of me, the cattle ranch is, at 4,000 square kilometres, one of the largest on Earth.  Established at the time of B.C.’s Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860’s the cottonwood-surrounded ranch still contains the original cookhouse and horse barn from more than a century ago.

Freshly painted in red and white, the Gang Ranch today looks more like a Hollywood set than the working farm it is.   As it turns out, the ranch’s eight cowboys are away today at scattered cow camps along with 2,400 head of black Angus. But the Gang Ranch’s Camilla Koster, 28 a fourth generation resident of cattle country is willing to explain the appeal of a life on one of Canada’s last remaining frontiers.

It’s so remote here, she says you seldom see other people.  I go out with my horse, Emma and ride to the top of Clyde Mountain.  You can see for miles.  My father’s done that. My grandfather, My great-grandfather.  You realize this country’s part of you.

This evocation of solitude and the romance of wandering is what often lures me along dirt roads where discouvery, not distance, are the hallmarks of a good journey.  I re-cross the bridge over the Fraser climbing steeply to the turn north toward. Alkali Lake, and continue climbing through fire-scarred ponderosa until the river disappears into its canyon and I reach again the skyscraper of yellowing grassland.  At deserted log cabins and salt-rimmed ponds I stop to walk and to feel existential amid the wheatgrass and wind.

Driving on, I plug in a John Prine CD and revel in the long views, both real and metaphysical, that prairies provide.  In the canyon somewhere to my left, Simon Fraser passed 200 years ago on his journey toward the Pacific.  And to my right, vague road cuts are reminders of the 19th Century Cariboo Trail along which generations of Barkerville bound gold seekers headed.  Some grew rich: others lost more than they could have imagined.

A few houses away from Alkali Lake’s blue and white St. Theresa’s Catholic church I stop to talk with Willard dick, a 77 year old Esketemc native who reflects on the invasion of white settlers and missionaries that followed the discovery of Cariboo gold.

“they took our land” he tells me “they took our culture, they took our language, They took our children, They took away everything.” And he sighs audibly at what’s been lost.

By the time I hit pavement again north of springhouse on dog Creek Road, eight hours have passed.  My socks are pincushions of barbed needle and thread grass seeds, and I’ve lost count of the number of bluebird nesting boxes I’ve seen affixed to roadside fence posts.  The wind had died down and signs of civilization reappear: power liens, vehicles, men fly-fishing on mirror-smooth lakes, mown lawns, teenagers on ATVs.  On this road less travelled, it is as if I’d made a transit from the 19th to the 21st century in a single day www.landwithoutlimits.

I would like to introduce someon who will be carrying the Olympic torch








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