August 19, 2015

Driving the Cariboo Highway

By: Rob Lowe

Featured Picture

Leaving Williams Lake, we were surprised to see two large cranes with the booms stretched upwards at a town called 100 Mile House. As we approached we realized that these cranes were being used to construct large log buildings (similar to the Tourism Discovery Centre).   It looked like they were in the process of fitting together a large multi-roomed building, possibly a house. We read in The Milepost book that we use as a guide, that 100 Mile House is the ‘hand-crafted log home capital of North America’. We noticed on large billboards coming into the area that we could order ‘our log home’ and have it shipped anywhere in the world. That is a pretty bold statement however it does happen. We saw many log homes of various styles in and around this town together with many local businesses which were housed in log buildings. It is unique to this area.

In addition to the log building industry there are two lumber mills and an Oriented Strand Board (OSB) plant in town. The lumber industry is facing stress from the mountain pine beetle that prefer the BC interior’s mature (+80 year old) lodge pole pine trees. With warmer winters and better fire-fighting techniques, more of the larvae of this beetle are surviving the fires and winter. They are destroying these trees. Apparently the lodge pole pine trees make up about 25% of the BC forest land and about 2/3rds of province is forested.  Techniques to quickly remove infested trees and harvesting still useable wood is helping to control the problem.

You may have noticed the name of this highway is Cariboo. That is the correct spelling and it is a short form derived from the Cariboo Waggon Road that this highway follows. 100 Mile House was a post on the way to the goldfields, which, as we have learned along this trip, pulled a lot of prospectors north and drove development in the early part of the 1900’s. There are towns along this route with names that include a ‘number’ and ‘Mile House’ with the number decreasing as you travel south.

The vegetation and look of the wide river valleys and plateaus changed as we headed south. As Slide 1 shows the vegetation became scarce and the rock formations more prominent. Where there was flat land, hundreds of animals were grazing. This included beef cattle, horses and goats. Slide 2 shows a large pasture with the rolling hills as a backdrop. As we continued south along the Cariboo, the fields were irrigated with huge "pipes on wheels” irrigation systems that contained strategically placed sprinkler heads on them and moved slowly across the pasture land. Other pastures were irrigated just as if they were large lawns (which they are) with large sized tubing spread out in a pattern to ensure coverage laying on a field and sprinkler heads regularly spaced to ensure complete coverage. Where there were sprinklers, the fields were bright green, otherwise they were brown.  The patchwork looked like a live quilt as we ascended and descended the rolling hills along this route. As we drove the contrast between the two was attention grabbing. We saw fields where the fields were being irrigated with livestock in the field. Unfortunately this was hilly terrain and the turnouts were few and far between and we could not get a photo. Slide 3 shows how brown the fields became without irrigation as well as hills that were lightly dotted with small pockets of growth. The brown areas were dead grasses. Slide 4 shows the folded rock formations and the lush growth near the river. Many of the smaller rivers and creeks flow into the Fraser River at this point. The rivers supply the irrigation systems with the water required. Slide 5 is a picture I took because it showed a panorama so different from any we had seen on this trip. You would think we were in the US near a desert not simply miles away from large green pine forests. The scrub brush and bare land is such a contrast to everything we had seen up to this point. Slide 6 emphasizes the beauty of the rock formations and the bare hillsides, with life giving water at the base. An interesting picture of life don’t you think?

Slide 7 shows that we returned to the mountainous route with sharp drop-offs, steep hills leading to the (Fraser) River valley. The road was winding as it climbed up and went down. It was an intense drive and a beautiful backdrop to what we were going to see as we approached the TransCanada Highway (#1) and headed to Chilliwack, BC. 

Sometimes the people you meet, make the experience. Here is a story (without photosJ) we hope you will enjoy.

We were heading to the end of this highway at Cache Creek but could not get there by days end, so we stopped at a small campground right on the highway in Clinton, BC. Jane spotted an ad in the Milepost for a campground (Gold Trail Campground) on our route for $14.95 a night. She called and they had 30 amp full service, pull-through sites for $20 with a Passport America card. We arrived and what an adventure. Could not find the office although there was a crudely covered open outdoor patio out in front of a building which also contained the washrooms. I walked around it and in the meantime Jane had to move the coach to allow 2 other rigs to enter. I finally, along with the two other arrivals, found an entrance that we thought would lead to the office inside the covered patio. There, just inside was a large man in a chef’s apron, preparing food over a large BBQ grille and he said he could take our money: $25 for non Passport America members, which the others paid, then I paid $20.

Outside we marched, following him still in his apron. He had to see our coach so he could tell where to put us. So I drove it around to where he could see it. Then he proceeded to direct each of us into our spots. It wasn’t just ‘park in that site’, he literally was the person directing us exactly how to park. An experience, I can tell you. Then after he completed ‘parking us’, he proceeded to tell all of us that there is an "All You Can Eat Buffet” with your choice of meat from his order board, cooked to order. Prices were $9.95 and up. When sitting in your site, the smell of freshly cooked food wafts over towards your coach and before long you’re thinking maybe we should go check this out. With a lot of friendly but digging wisecracks, he takes your order and you sit under the canopy (with about 10 various size and shaped tables), select and self serve your soft drink while he barbeques your meat selection. All the while other RVs arrive and you can see them do the same dance: "Where in the world, do we register?” they walk in and if he is out directing another RV where to park, they walk out saying: "This is the restaurant”, until one of us says: "Just wait, he’s out parking a RV, he’ll be back shortly”. How he gets them parked, while cooking dinner and prepares everything is beyond me. Now I forgot to tell you that he has a fruit and vegetable stand where the locals and tourists come to get their produce.  So he "darts” off (remember he is a Big Man) to serve them!

When your order is ready, he screams out what you and your party ordered and is now cooked and if you don’t jump up fast enough or don’t realize that it is your dinner order he is calling then he says: "Get your ass up here to get your dinner, I ain’t serving you!” In the meantime you serve yourself from the buffet, following strict instructions to put the serving spoons back in their side bowls, not in the food item. If you mess up, he calls you to account since he need only turnaround from the grille. He tries to get you to buy his desert which is Black Cherry ice cream served on a seven fruit compote he makes from local fruit served warm over a biscuit, and it is served with two spoons and enough for two. Only want one? Sorry, that’s the way it comes, he emphatically states! He banters with you at dinner; actually the food is pretty good, it just takes a while to get into the (his) swing of it. When you go to pay, he asks what you had, item by item, plugs it into a cash register that is buried under stuff (the place is full of stuff!!!) and says: "Forget the pennies and change, it is (say) $40”. You pay with a Credit Card using Square on his cell phone or with cash.

I guaranty you, that you have never had such an experience at a campground, or even a restaurant, like this. The next morning someone came to his vegetable stand and asked him something and his reply somewhat sarcastically and gruffly was: ”We’re not open, what do you want?” Notwithstanding, that two illuminated "Open” signs, together with a painted "Open” sign hung down from the patio upper canopy!

We decided to stay another day and the park almost emptied out, however the transients coming down the highway, especially the RV renters, sure seem to know where this place is as it fills up by day’s end. We went in the that night seeking a dessert. I asked if we could have the same dessert as we had last night? His reply: "No, you ate it last night!” We got our dessert and when I went to pay he gave me back a penny from $10. Now for those that are unaware, Canada has done away with the penny so $9.99 is actually $10.00. He gave me back a penny. I thought: What am I going to do with a penny? We talked to a lady author about her RVing books which were set up beside his grille. I decided to leave the penny and added a Loonie ($1 coin) on his grille. He came in from his garden saw the penny and loonie and said: What’s this?” while looking at me. I said: "I returned his penny 100 fold”, to which he cracked: ”101 fold actually”. He said no one has ever done that before.  Micheal (that’s how he spells his name) was quite a character. The next morning, he drove by as we were getting ready to leave, honked the horn, wished us a safe trip and thanked us. After my first experience with him during our parking episode, I thought ‘I’m out of here’. Now I’d say the experience was a memorable one, one which I am sure, I’ll tell many others about him and his park, (which he is trying to sell). So there you have it — another adventure with Rob and Jane.


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