Our time in the mountains was coming to an end. Now, we had only to make the 6 1/2 hour drive home.
We chose to take the ‘long way’ home (the quick route would have taken us to Kamloops and down). Not for any particular reason, just to make our trip last a bit longer.
This takes us from a desert environment, into snowy mountains and down through the fertile, green farming valley.
Pictured above is the residential farmland of the Shuswap region. The area experiences mild winters with little snowfall and warm (sometimes HOT) summers that last a bit longer than average.
With at least 1900 hours of sun per year, that gives you enough daylight hours to enjoy all that is on offer.
It is around this area that the region starts to desert-ify. The trees get shorter, and the landscape is only green for a short time before browning, as it dries and burns in the hot summer sun.
You can already see the beginnings of this process, though we arrived early in the season.
Okanagan Lake is one of the the primary recreation regions in the area.
As you drive by, the long views of the rolling desert-like landscape are incredible.
The highway gives you a great overview of Merritt, as you approach.
Merritt’s motto is ‘flourish under the sun’, and for good reason. I have never passed by when the city was under cloud cover. It gets more than 2000 hours of daylight per year.
Additionally, I have never stopped in for gas and found myself in a rainstorm.
Sure, it rains here, but not very often – annual rainfall is about 22mm – compare that with the average 1154.7mm of rain that falls every year where I live (near Vancouver), and you can see why there is not a whole lot of ground cover.
Though I couldn’t live here (I would instantly melt in the heat and the sun), I do enjoy visiting the otherworldly like landscape. Compared to where I live, this place looks like the moon.
Continuing down Highway 5, it is not long before you hit the climb up the Coquihalla highway.
The landscape becomes more dense and mountainous, and very quickly signs of regular rainfall are apparent.
Highway 5 winds high up and down, providing you with incredible distance views of mountain tops that (without a helicopter, or major climbing skill) you would otherwise not experience.
The Coquihalla summit is about 1210 metres. There are a few great rest stop look outs, a place or two to camp, some picnicking sites, and even some old fashioned pay phones along the way.
The drive can be quite dangerous in the winter, particularly for truck drivers. I have actually seen a trucker or two make use of the runaway lanes in my years of Coquihalla travel. Imagine how frightening that would be.
Speeding out of control down a mountain pass, making the decision to careen off the highway onto a rough, elevated path – it would almost be like crashing – but NOT, which is the point.
It was scary enough for me being a passenger and seeing the out of control truck behind us – well, we heard it first, as he was madly honking at us to get the heck out of his way.
This was once a toll highway (the old booth is pictured below).
Hefty tolls were taken for much longer than originally anticipated (about a decade longer, actually), but (most) everyone accepted this cost, believing the tolls were well ‘worth it’.
Not only does this route dramatically shorten the drive into BC’s interior, but it is also obvious that the cost involved in creating and maintaining this high mountain pass, is extreme.
Avalanche tunnels litter the route, protecting drivers from regular, suffocating downfalls.
There are many signs of former slides. Trees lay fallen where they were crushed, large boulders (chunks of mountain) sit beside the highway.
Again, I have to remark about going from blazing summer temperatures to snowy winter-ish weather in just a few turns.
One of my favourite approaches happens just before the town of Hope.
The mountains converge before opening to the valley. Though the town itself has seen better days (I assume!), there is nothing quite like standing in the centre of Hope on a clear day.
You are entirely surrounded in all directions by dense, tree’d green, snow-capped summits. It almost triggers claustrophobia – awesome nature induced claustrophobia.
On this day, the sun beamed warmly through the clouds, creating the ‘fingers of God’ phenomenon (when the beams make obvious rays from the sky). Beautiful.
And just on the other side of this lies the Fraser Valley.
Only about an hour from home, the Fraser Valley has always appealed to me. The old floodplains have some of the most fertile agricultural land in BC.
Not that I want to farm, but I sure like the way it looks. I love to imagine myself with my morning coffee, heading to the back porch to take in the view.
Bright green fields, shouldered by the Coast Mountains on one side, and the Cascade range on the other.
Unfortunately, because of its geography, the Fraser Valley gets a lot of summer smog pollution from downtown Vancouver, and the rest of the GVRD.
Without decreasing overall polluting emissions, there is no foreseeable solution to this issue.
A summer drive through the gorgeous farms of the valley, will inevitably bring you familiar yellow smog skies and fantastic, colourful pollution sunsets (that being the only benefit).
From no-see-um filled mountains, through the blazing desert, and into the lush smoggy valley – our Mountain tour has come to its conclusion.
Finally, I can say I have experienced the interior of this incredible province.
Many additional photos in the slideshow.
- Okanagan (Wikipedia)
- Coquihalla Highway (th.gov.bc.ca)
- Fraser Valley (Wikipedia)
- Fraser Valley (britishcolumbia.com)