A British Colombian Utopia / Dystopia

British Columbia was our favorite on the way out to Alaska last year. Driving through the tall stands of evergreen on the Stewart Cassir Highway allowed extra time for contemplation backdropped by the low hum of the tires on the rough road and the well paired vibrations of Sigur Rós. It was an epilogue to our journey: Yellowed aspen and birch, lone expanses of wilderness, snow tipped mountains and warm fall sunlight closed a journey and prepared us for a new northerly life.

July in British Columbia is equally as profound, this time a preface to our journey to come and an ending to the spaciousness of the north. More lush with still verdant flora and more abundant fauna it was a welcome change from the more dry, rough-and-tumble of the Yukon. Driving into the night we stopped, nearly on ‘E’, at the “Bell 2,” a surprisingly upscale lodge and heli-exploring company in the middle of a 100 mile stretch of nothing. After seeing at least 5 black bears on the sides of the road that night, we opted to sleep in the car again.

The brightest rainbow I'd ever seen. Mid-way down the Stewart Cassir Highway

Sleeping in the car hurt my back and I longed for less, so that I might have room to stretch out, legs tucked inside a more sparse trunk. It’s interesting how traveling with even a small accumulation of things creates both a desire to live with even less (that traveling might be that much easier), while also increasing your appreciation for the simple pleasures we often take for granted – a bed for example – or in my case, anything but an upright car seat.

At the end of the Cassir we drove through Hazelton, where, at the visitors center I entered the contest to name their taxidermic cougar: “Cougy Howser, B.C.,” I suggested. We then drove through familiar, yet disappointingly developed Prince George, with their boring streets and lack luster humans stopping only for internet to secure a Vancouver couch. The next day, turning down scenic route 99, we were surprised to reentered the heat of the Yukon, with the mountainous backdrop and dried grasses and shrubs I can only imagine await me in the U.S. southwest. A desert-like pocket in the Fraser Canyon.

Large chasm exposing volcanic layers carved out by ancient glacial melt river.

Lilooet lie at the crossing of two rivers and at the base of a large B.C. Hydro dam, one of many that power much of the province. We stopped in briefly at Fort Barren Winery (the first ever in the area), for a sampling before continuing through one of the most scenic and incredibly steep drives I have ever experienced. Grades over 15% and massive old growth Cedar-lined crystal-clear creek beds, and rustic one-laned wooden bridges appeared around every sweeping turn keeping us at or below 45 mph for a few hours before finally descending into lower lands outside of Whistler: grounds of the 2010 Olympics.

Hidden beneath a heavy, strangely unnatural coat of trees lie huge mountain lodges, restaurants, and shops. Rich youngster ‘trustafarians’ and their disengaged business-savvy parents wandered the streets on $2,000 mountain bikes and clean Patagonia jackets. It felt fake in a big way. Had their been but one large lodge and a scattering of older residential cabins or independent shops it may have been a pleasant gateway to adventure, but instead the instantaneous growth and remodeling brought by our planet’s most communal event had created a dystopia in utopian clothing.

We overnighted in a wooded abandon parking lot outside of Alice Provincial Park in the nearby First People-named and possibly influenced urban sprawl town of Squamish. My final verdict on this town is still out, but the informational plaques that lined the indigenously-labeled ‘Sea to Sky Highway’ which followed the town were far more culturally significant than the Mc-multiplex-shop-marts that lay in Squamish.


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