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Missoula, MT to Nelson & Valhalla Provincial Park, BC, Canada  07/29-31/06 (Day 95-97)

Get Lost

Somewhere between Missoula and the Canadian border, a mere three months into the trip, we pass the 14,000 mile mark. It doesn’t take a genius to see that our original estimate of 70,000 miles total for the whole three year journey may be just a tad conservative. Then again, it didn’t take a genius to come up with that mileage number in the first place. Nope. One night we just opened up the National Geographic Atlas of the World, took out a long length of string, squiggled it around North, Central and South America until it looked like a pile of spaghetti on the page, measured the length of string used, then calculated the mileage based on the atlas’s legend.

Busy clocking even more miles through Idaho, we pause in Coeur d'Alene long enough to grab a delicious lunch at the jam-packed counter of Hudson’s Hamburgers. Then we continue north and, around Hayden Lake, a very strange thing happens.

Every few miles what can only be described as hippy hawkers pop up on the side of the road. There, just a few miles away from ground zero for many of the most intolerant, hate-filled proponents of racial, moral and ideological homogony on the planet, stand scores of dreadlocked, skirt-wearing (both sexes), love-festing, peace-mongering hippies of all colors selling tie-dyed tee-shirts, sheets, blankets and other trappings. We can’t explain it, but it tickles us to think about the area’s racist X*&%<%&S driving past and being equally mystified.

If the real Boulder, Colorado is too much like the next Aspen or the wannabe Telluride for your tastes, then Nelson, British Columbia may be for you. It’s right in the middle of tons of great outdoors to play in and full of people to play with. There’s good food (including great coffee and an organic market). Plenty of dads on parent duty. And there’s even a legitimately buzz-worthy art and artisan scene in the form of local furniture designers and makers. For now, let’s just file it under “Canada’s Boulder”—and try not to tell just anyone about it….

On our way out of Nelson and into nearby Valhalla Provincial Park we turn off the main road in Slocan Park, 20 miles shy of Slocan City where we should have turned. After driving quite a few miles down a dirt road that just doesn’t feel right, the reality of our error sets in. Right about then we begin to notice women’s swimsuits attached to power poles along the side of the road.  As we drive on we can see that some of the suits are even stuffed to give the impression of curves and many are captioned (a lovely one-piece simply says “Paradise” while a lone pair of bikini bottoms is labeled “Topless”).

We eventually figure out our mistake, find the correct turn and get ourselves to the Gimli Ridge trailhead(a highly recommended walk, by the way) in Valhalla Provincial Park. But because we spent an hour getting “lost” on the “wrong” road, we pull up just as a ferocious rain and lightening storm descends. We sit it out, warm and dry in our Silverado, while those who arrived earlier got drenched on the trail (and missed out on the free swimsuit art installation). Moral of the story? Getting lost is sometimes good.

No wonder the locals we meet on the trail (and everyone was a local except for us) count this area, and this unsung park, as some of their favorite ground in the entire country, if not the world.

One particularly enthusiastic and knowledgeable woman tips us off to a free five-site campground just a few miles further down the road. After we’ve returned from the hike we go check it out and discover a secluded circle of sites just up the bank from a huge, glassy lake. And not a soul in sight. We have the place to ourselves!

As we settle into a site right on the lake, a red squirrel in a nearby tree begins its species’ usual camper welcome ritual by screaming and throwing anything at hand down at us. As the temperature dips, Eric builds a roaring fire and we scrape some dinner together from found objects and leftovers in the truck. We are tucked into our Coleman flannelly-warm two-person sleeping bag by 9:00, which is  good thing since we are woken at 6:00 am by the rumble and roar of logging trucks flying down the dirt road that cuts through the park (logging companies built the road, actually) to their logging areas deep in the hills.

Some say the relationship between logging companies and parks is a symbiotic one: the loggers get their trees and the parks system gets some much needed revenue and some infrastructure (like the only roads into and through Valhalla Provincial Park, including the one we took to get to the Gimli Ridge trailhead.) Others believe it’s a one-way street with all the real benefit going to the logging interests.

All we know for sure is that it’s no fun following a slow-moving, dust-churning logging truck driven by a man who flat out refuses to pull over and let you pass for the entire 20+ mile journey out from your campsite to the nearest town at 7:00 am.

A heaping, delicious breakfast at the Harold Street Café in Slocan City puts us in a better mood, and give us a revealing glimpse of the dichotomy of this place. On the one hand: so much natural beauty and so many tree-hugging residents with the splinters to prove it. On the other hand: so many fully-loaded logging trucks.

Perhaps out of necessity (or at least pragmatism), the Harold Street Café brings together both hands. Instead of signed headshots of Woody Allen or White Snake or Charo, the popular café is decorated with pictures of local logging truck drivers along with details like where each was born. Yet the coffee they serve is organically grown.

Properly fueled up, we push on to Yoho National Park and arrive so late that the only campground with any sites left is Monarch Campground which is practically on the Trans-Canadian Highway. No matter. We’ve got a brand new park to explore in the morning.
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