The Striking Mucho Lake, Big Bison, and a Sign Forest… The Alaska Highway Series

Muncho Lake 6

Striking hardly describes Muncho Lake in British Columbia with its striking topaz waters and reflections of the surrounding mountains. The lake reaches a depth of  732 feet (223 m).

 

My Wednesday photographic essay will continue to take us up the fabled Alaska Highway. Last Wednesday we travelled from Dawson Creek to Toad River. I featured views along the way, the building of the highway during World War II, Stone Mountain Sheep, and some very busy beavers. Today we will travel from Toad River to Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory, a distance of 201 miles (324 K). Along the way we will visit the striking Mucho Lake, check out the large woodland bison that hang out beside the road, and view a few of the 70,000 town and city signs that have made their way to Watson Lake’s huge sign forest.

Toad River

After leaving Toad River Lodge and our visit with the busy beavers, we were treated to a view of the Toad River that parallels the road.

View along Alaska Highway in BC

And this view.

Muncho Lake north

We would stop to admire Muncho Lake both on our journey north to Alaska and on our trip back south. We were heading north when we caught this photo. (Note: all photographs in this series are taken by Peggy and me.)

Muncho Lake in British Columbia

We captured this view on our return trip down the Alaska Highway.

Muncho Lake on the Alaska Highway

As well as this photo.

Road construction, Alaska Highway, BC

Here’s a common sight along the highway: road construction. Tough winters and permafrost pretty much guarantee employment for road workers.

Road Construction along Alaska Highway

And here we go again, making our way through yet another construction project. Chipped windshields and damaged tires are common. We experienced both. We saw a bear somewhere in here. It may be the black spot on the left (or not).

Dall sheep ram on Alaska Highway

We also found this handsome fellow, another Stone Mountain sheep. What really got us excited, however…

Bison warning sign on Alaska Highway

Was this sign. We had entered the territory of the wood bison, also know as wood or mountain buffalo— as opposed to their cousins, the plains buffalo.

Woodland Bison and wallow in BC

And they begin to appear shortly afterwards. This one has made himself a convenient wallow, that he will wallow around in to get rid of bugs.

Woodland bison bull

These guys are big, with massive shoulders. They can weigh up to 2000 pounds (900 kilos), which make them the biggest land mammals in North America.

Herd of wood bison along Alaska Highway

We saw them both alone and in herds. They seem to like the edge of the highway for both its grazing opportunity and ease of travel.

Woodland bison calves

A pair of youngsters…

Welcome to the Yukon sign

Here’s a sign to thrill the heart of the most jaded of travelers. Canada’s Yukon Territory is almost synonymous with remote and wild. I grew up listening to daring tales of Sargent Preston of the Yukon and his faithful dog King. “On King! On you huskies, on!”

Watson Lake sign forest 5

Not far up the road from the Yukon border we came to Watson Lake with its Sign Forest of 77,000 signs from all over the world. If you wander around long enough, you might very well find a sign that was liberated from your hometown and placed here by someone traveling up the Alaska Highway.

Watson Lake sign forest

The tradition was started during the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942 when a soldier, Carl K. Lindley was asked by his commanding officer to erect directional signposts. While at the job, he added a sign for his own town of Danville, Illinois. The rest is history!

Watson Lake sign forest 4

The signs go on and on…

Peggy Mekemson at Watson Lake Sign Forest

I’ll close today’s post with a photo of Peggy to provide perspective on the height of the Sign Forest.

FRIDAY’S POST: A chapter from The Bush Devil Ate Sam, my book about my Peace Corps experience in the jungles of West Africa.

MONDAY’S POST: We continue our journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

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Dogs and Dragons in British Columbia… The Alaska Highway Series

Fraser River at Hope, BC

The small town of Hope in southern British Columbia features this view of the Fraser River.

Adventure travel and the 1400-mile Alaska Highway go together like biscuits and gravy. I’ve driven it five times, once by myself in 1986 when I left Alaska to return to California and two round trips with Peggy since. The last time we traveled with our friends Bob and Linda Bray. Peggy and I were on our way up to visit our son and his family on Kodiak Island where Tony was working as a helicopter pilot flying rescue missions for the Coast Guard. Bob and Linda were going to join a nephew fishing for halibut.

Bob Bray

Bob Bray and I have been friends since he looked like this…

While driving the highway isn’t the challenge  that it once was, it still gives  travelers a taste of the Far North. Over the next few weeks I’ll take you over the highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Anchorage Alaska as part of my Wednesday photo essays. Today, however, we have to get to Dawson Creek. There are various ways to reach the starting point but out last trip took us from Hope, British Columbia up through Prince George, which is the route we will follow today.

Alexandra Suspension Bridge across Fraser River

We followed Canada’s Highway 1/97 out of Hope following the Fraser River. One of our first stops was to admire the old Alexandra Suspension Bridge across the river. It’s a beauty that is no longer used.

Alexandra Suspension Bridge, BC

Another perspective on the Alexandra Bridge.

Grates on Alexzandra Bridge, BC

Looking down through the grates at the Fraser River!

World's largest cross country skis, 100 mile house, BC

The Visitor Information Center at the 100-mile house featured the world’s largest cross-country skis! Communities throughout Canada use such fun gimmicks to capture the attention of tourists.

William's Lake Visitor's Center, BC

I am a fan of tourist information centers in British Columbia. In addition to being chock-full of information and friendly people, they are often beautifully done, like this example in William’s Lake.

William's Lake Visitors Center

This car in the William’s Lake Visitor Center was a spoof on how much stuff tourists load on top of their cars.

Hanging basket petunias closeup, BC

Hanging baskets of petunias were featured outside. While such baskets are common now, I first became familiar with them on a trip to British Columbia in the late 60s.

Peggy kayaking on Dragon Lake, Quesnel, BC

We stopped at an attractive campground on Dragon Lake in Quesnel where Peggy went kayaking to celebrate her birthday.

Peggy Mekemson Kayaking in Quesnel

A closer look.

Ducklings on Dragon Lake near Quesnel, BC

Peggy’s Birthday Parade

Weaving dog agility trials in Quesnel, BC

The next morning, we found the campground had gone to the dogs. We were in the middle of dog agility competition. This little fellow was weaving between posts.

Dog agility trials, jumping in Quesnel, BC

Size didn’t matter in the trials. These bars were lowered for the little fellow shown above.

Dog agility trials in Quesnel, BC tunnel

Dogs are required to maneuver through a number of different obstacles including tunnels. The clock is ticking.

Dog agility trials, across bridge in Quesnel, BC

Watching the owners was as fun as watching the dogs. The woman in pink is urging her dog along. The man running along behind is the judge.

Fraser River Valley

The country changes as you move into the interior of British Columbia, becoming drier.

Train tracks along Fraser River

Rivers have always served as access to the interior, first for river travel and then for building railroads and roads along.

Wood carving of Praying Mantis at Chetwyn, BC

We were in for a real treat when we came to the town of Chetwynd, which is close to Dawson Creek. Wood carvers had been at work in an international competition. This praying mantis had taken first prize but it had a lot of competition!

Pumpkin scarecrow wood carving at Chetwynd

Such as this scary pumpkin head scare crow…

Drangon carving at Chetwyn, BC

And this dragon with an attitude. Or…

Dragon slayer Chetwynd woodcarving

…a bas-relief of St. George slaying a dragon.

Carving at Chetwynd, BC

Or this old gold miner apparently telling you to stay out of his claim.

Scary carving at Chetwynd

I am not sure what this fellow is up to but I wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark night— or in the middle of the day.

Mile zero of the Alaska Highway

And then we made it to Dawson Creek and mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Bob, Linda and Sister.

Sign at Beginning of Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek

Peggy and I. Next Wednesday, we begin our trip up the Alaska Highway.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: Another in the MisAdventures series. I abandon the Graveyard for the Pond.

MONDAY’S POST: Rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We begin our journey up the Alaska Highway.

 

 

 

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Who Needs A Barber When You Have a Starfish? British Columbia Sea Kayak Adventure: Part 3

Starfish pedicellariae can clip the hair off an arm. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Quy bent the starfish over my wrist, and it clipped hair off my arm while I took a selfie of the process.

I’ve never been much of a with-it type guy. When there is a fad, I try to do the opposite. But I confess I’ve tried a selfie or two. And I just had to take a picture of the starfish clipping hair off of my arm. When Quy picked up a starfish on our six-day, British Columbia sea kayak adventure and offered to demonstrate pedicellariae at work, I was the first to volunteer. Pedicellariae what, you say?

While you are probably stumbling over the word like I did, I’ll explain how it works. Starfish have a defense mechanism for destroying tiny parasites that land on their skin. They have tiny claws that cut the bad guys in half. If you put these claws under a microscope, they look like your worst nightmare. (Check this out.)

Quy, however, assured us that while the pedicellariae would define our hairs as enemy invaders and clip them off, there would only be a slight pulling sensation with no harm done to us. Easy for him to say, right. But that’s what happened. Quy bent the arm of the starfish over my wrist and I felt the pulling sensation. When he removed the starfish, my arm was bare. Peggy was up next.

Here is the starfish happily at home in Johnstone Strait before Quy picked him up to clip hair.

Here is the innocent starfish, happily at home in Johnstone Strait before Quy picked him up to clip hair.

And here, the starfish goes to work on Peggy. Is that a smile or a grimace on her face?

And here, the starfish goes to work on Peggy. Is that a smile or a grimace on her face?

I expected whales and striking scenery on our Sea Kayak Adventures’ trip, but hair-removing starfish, no way. The pedicellariae were only a small part of our second day, however. We kayaked from our campsite on Hanson Island to Compton Island on Blackfish Sound. Along the way we watched humpback whales and were once again awed by the beauty of the region. At Compton Island, we got to play with our food….

Sea Kayak Adventures provides a hearty breakfast to its sea kayakers.

Coffee would be waiting when we got up each morning— to be followed by a hefty breakfast. Here, our guide, Nick, whips up French toast in the make-shift kitchen.

Fishing boat in Johnstone Strait off of Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

After breakfast, we had time to go for a brief walk. A fishing boat moves between islands on  Johnstone Strait looking for salmon.

Limpets and snails are exposed by low tide on Hanson Island British Columbia off of Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Low tide exposed theses limpets and snails.

Green waters of a small bay on Hanson Island on Johnstone Strait off of Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We peered in to the green waters of the small bay we were camped on.

Sunlight illuminates a very green forest on Hanson Island in British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And were dazzled by the sun illuminated green of the forest.

Sea Kayak Adventure group works its way around Hanson Island, British Columbia in the fog.

Morning fog greeted us as we worked our way around Hanson Island and into Blackfish Sound. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Seals and seagulls on an island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia.

We checked out these seals and seagulls on a small island. Or were they checking us out? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

By the time we had worked our way around the end of Hanson Island, the sun was beginning to peak through. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

By the time we had worked our way around the end of Hanson Island, the sun was beginning to peak through. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventure kayaks roped together in small inlet on Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I took this picture of our kayaks at lunch. They were roped together so they wouldn’t stray.

After lunch, we followed out trip leader, Julia, out into Blackfish Sound. As you will note, most of our on-water photos are taken by Peggy. I was busy paddling. (grin) (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

After lunch, we followed out trip leader, Julia, out into Blackfish Sound. As you will note, most of our on-water photos were taken by Peggy. I was busy paddling. (grin) (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A whooshing sound caused us to stop and search for whales. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A whooshing sound caused us to stop and search for whales. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy Mekemson prepared to photograph whales in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I took this photo of Peggy poised to capture a picture of the whale with her telephoto.

Thar she blows! We spot the tell-tale spume of a humpback whale as it surfaces. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Thar she blows! We spot the tell-tale spume of a humpback whale as it surfaces. That’s a kayak paddle on the right.(Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The humpback, brought in closer by Peggy's telephoto, dives back under the water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The humpback, brought in closer by Peggy’s telephoto, dives back under the water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I liked the watch the waves distorted the reflection of Quy in the water. Edie and Dave look on. The other kayakers are watching the approach of a cruise ship. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I liked the way the waves distorted the reflection of Quy in the water. Edie and Dave look on. The other kayakers are watching the approach of a cruise ship. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The cruise ship. You can imagine how big the ship seems from the perspective of a kayak. You do not want to get in the way. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The cruise ship. You can imagine how big the ship seems from the perspective of a kayak. You do not want to get in the way. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventures group relaxes on beach at campsite on Compton Island, British Columbia.

Our group, having safely navigated through the whales and the cruise ships, relaxes at cocktail hour in our campsite on Compton Island. It was right about then that a fishing boat approached the beach.

"Would you like a salmon?" he asked— and to our enthusiastic  yes, threw it overboard.

“Would you like a salmon?” he called out— and to our enthusiastic, yes!, threw it overboard.

Coho salmon caught in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The ever energetic and vivacious Lindy retrieved the salmon and handed it off to Quy.

Quy was happy to pose with the salmon, until...

Quy was happy to pose with the salmon, until…

Sea Kayak Adventures guide reacts to wiggling salmon he thought was dead.

… it wiggled.

The true hero of the day was Dennis who now lives in Idaho but has fished extensively off of Alaska. He offered to fillet the fish.

The true hero of the day was Dennis, who now lives in Idaho but has fished extensively off of Alaska. He offered to fillet the fish.

Here, Dennis goes to work.

Here, Dennis goes to work.

A filleted coho salmon displaying roe. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And displays the rich red meat, roe, and innards of the salmon. The salmon made a delicious lunch the next day, easily feeding all of us.

Photo of barnacles off of Compton Island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

It was after all of the salmon excitement that we discovered the starfish, and these barnacles.

Members of our group enjoy a quiet moment at the end of the day, hoping for a whale to appear. Next blog: we kayak to Berry Island and hear a tale about Bigfoot.

Members of our group enjoy a quiet moment at the end of the day, hoping for a whale to appear. Next blog: we kayak to Berry Island and hear a strange tale about Bigfoot.

A Gorgeous Sunset and a Breaching Killer Whale… British Columbia Sea Kayak Adventure: Part 2

Sunset at Sea Kayak Adventure's campsite on Hanson Island in Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

As the day ends, one of our kayakers takes a moment to enjoy the sunset from our campsite on Hanson Island.

A post-card-glorious sunset marked the end of Monday, our first day of kayaking on Johnstone Strait off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. Morning seemed long ago and far away— and my body spoke to just how long ago and far away that was. It had passed 71 earlier in the year and was wondering when the fabled golden years were going to start. “They are here,” I told it with a grin. It grumped. My mind and body aren’t always in agreement.

The guides and group, including Peggy and I, were in high spirits. We had successfully completed our first day of kayaking, seen stunning scenery, and watched an orca breach. We were in a beautiful setting. Our guides had just fed us a gourmet meal, and our tents were set up, promising a good night’s sleep. What was there to complain about?

We had all met for the first time on Sunday night. The session had started with the usual meet and greet. “Tell us something about yourselves.” We half listened as we composed whatever we were going to say. There were the Canadian guides, a contingent from Idaho, three mid-westerners, one Californian, and our friends David and Edie from Alaska. Peggy and I are from Oregon. We also had a family of Asians until they figured out they had come to the wrong meeting. Everyone had at least some kayak experience. David and I, along with our child brides, were the elders.

Our guides gave us an overview of the journey and then distributed dry bags and rubber boots. I debated between size 13 and 14. The 14s were a little loose, the 13s a little snug. I went with snug and wondered how my large feet would work in the tight confines of the kayak. Carefully, I presumed. Peggy and I retired to our rooms and begin the packing process— what to take and what to leave. Sea Kayak Adventures had recommended a lot and our guides had suggested less. Everything had to fit in the boats. There were important decisions to make.

Rubber boots issued by Sea Kayak Adventures.

My size 13 boots, clearly marked for all to see. I wondered how they would relate to the small rudder pedals in the Kayak.

The next morning we were up early, went through our gear for the umpteenth time, had a quick bite, and caught the taxi hired to take us to Telegraph Cove. It was time to break out the cameras.

Telegraph Cove started life as a lumber mill. Nowadays it is an eco tourism center. A couple of hundred thousand people visit in the summer for whale watching, kayaking, fishing and checking out grizzlies. In the winter, its population drops to 20. The town has done a great job of preserving historical buildings from its past.

This sign, featuring an Orca, grizzly and salmon welcomes visitors to Telegraph Cove.

This sign, featuring an orca, grizzly and salmon, welcomes visitors to Telegraph Cove. Also note the impressive drift wood. We were to find some on our trip. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Old Dodge Truck at Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Part of the appeal of Telegraph Cove is its preservation of the past, as with this old Dodge truck. I think the truck was confused about where its lights should be. Or maybe it was so old it needed bifocals.

Telegraph Cove is all about water as this photo suggests. Here we see the Whale Interpretive Center, a fishing boat, and kayakers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Telegraph Cove is all about water as this photo suggests. Here we see the Whale Interpretive Center, a fishing/tour boat, and kayakers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Empty docks at Telegraph Cove suggests all of the tours and fishing expeditions are already out on Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The empty boat docks tell a tale. We would not be the first to leave Telegraph Cove that morning for the Johnstone Strait. Our route took us right down the row and made a right at the Whale Interpretive Center.

Once our taxis dropped us off at Telegraph Cove, it was time to get busy. There were kayaks to pick, gear to load, life vests to fit, and last-minute instructions, such as which side of our paddle was up.

Sea kayaks wait for the next Sea Kayak Adventure tour group in Telegraph Cove.

Our guides, Julia, Nick and Quy, had been up  before dawn getting ready for us. Kayaks, life vests, and sleeping pads were waiting. Group gear had already been packed. Our first chore was to pick out our kayaks. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The white boats are more stable, the guides told us. Being the oldest, David, Edie, Peggy and I decided we could use the most stability. What the guides failed to mention in the fine print was that the white kayaks were also the largest, the heaviest, and could carry more of the group gear.Translation: they would be slower and harder to move.

The white boats are more stable, the guides told us. Being the oldest, David, Edie, Peggy and I decided we could use the most stability. What we failed to think through was that the white kayaks were also the largest, the heaviest, and carried more of the group gear.Translation: they would be slower and harder to row.

Kayaks are placed in the water at Telegraph Cove. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And then the moment arrived. It was time to put our kayaks in the water and start paddling. Put in and take out were always a group effort.

Heavy fog hung over Johnstone Strait and along the shore. We moved slowly, keeping each other in sight and waiting for the fog to clear. Large boats, including cruise ships, use the Strait. You want to be damn sure you can see them— and that they can see you. At one point, Nick, who was on rear guard duty, decided my seat needed adjusting. I was too laid back. By the time the adjustments were made, the other kayakers had disappeared into the fog. They waited patiently. We stopped and had a leisurely lunch. Then the sky turned a bright blue and we were off across the Strait. Orcas were waiting.

Kayakers work their way through kelp beds and fog in the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia.

Kelp beds and fog slowed us down. Here, we maneuvered our way through the kelp. Some of our group had almost disappeared into the mist— and they weren’t that far away. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Vancouver Island cast on Johnstone Strait near Telegraph Cove. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Working our way along Vancouver Island, Julia decided to stop for lunch and wait the fog out. The bright sun was already creating a patch of blue.

Sun illuminates forest during kayak trip on Johnstone Strait, BC. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Everywhere we went, the beauty of the forests matched the beauty of the waterways.

Lunch on Sea Kayak Adventures tour on the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia.

“Come and get it.” Julia and Nick announced that lunch was ready. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy Mekemson searches for Killer Whales while kayaking across Johnstone Strait off of Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

With lunch over and the fog lifted, we made our way across Johnstone Strait. Peggy searched the water for orcas/killer whales.

Kayakers with Kayak Adventure Tours raft up on Johnstone Strait in British Columbia when seeing a Killer Whale.

The distinctive whoosh made by a whale when it surfaced and blew caused our group to raft up, where we held on to each other’s kayaks. Edie gave us a smile while we waited, hoping to catch sight of the whale. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Orca breaches in the Johnstone Strait.

And were rewarded by one breaching in the distance. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventures campsite on Hanson Island in the Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

Having also been slowed down by a pod of dolphins, we finally made it to our first night’s campsite on Hanson Island. The camp is to the right of the rocks, back in the cove.

Sea Kayak Adventures leases its sites from a First Nation tribe. Each site is chosen for its beauty and its natural setting.  Camps are pre-set up with tents, a cooking area, and a primitive but comfortable and private open-air restroom. We carried our kayaks up into the camping area, selected tents, packed away gear, and then went for a hike. Afterwards it was time for cocktail hour and dinner. We finished off our evening watching the sunset— and a gorgeous sunset it was.

Sea Kayak Tours sets up comfortable tents for  guests to use while on their tours.

Peggy and I stand next to our home in the woods for the night.

Sky and clouds meet forest on Hanson Island in the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Our walk provided this fun photo where the sky and clouds met the forest…

Urchin shell found on Hanson Island in Johnson Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We found this jewel of an urchin shell…

And this rather odd shell/skeleton that our experts debated over. Considering this post is going up on October 30th, I am going with Happy Halloween.

And this rather odd shell/skeleton that our experts debated over. Check out the buck teeth. This guy would put a beaver to shame. Considering this post is going up on October 30th, Peggy, the creature, and I would like to wish all of you a Happy Halloween.

Back in camp, I got a happy, toothy grin from Dennis...

Back in camp, I got a happy, toothy grin from David…

And a shy smile from Julia.

And a shy smile from Julia.

Sunset over Johnstone Striait off of Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We finished off the day by watching the sunset over Johnstone Strait. Next blog: We kayak onward to our next island.

The Murals that Saved Chemainus… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Homeowner and muralist Dan Sawatzky painted this 3D steam engine chugging out of his house/studio in Chemainus on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Number 3 engine was used for hauling logs and is symbolic of the town’s historic lumber industry.

This is another reposting of an earlier Vancouver Island blog. Again, Peggy and I still involved in our kayak trip among the Orcas. I know many of my followers enjoy murals and Chemainus has some great ones. I’ll catch up on comments when Peggy and I get back home– before we zip off to Burning Man. –Curt

“You have to visit Chemainus and see its murals,” the woman from Qualicum Beach urged. We were on the Black Ball Ferry between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. While I hunkered down and read, Peggy made new friends. Fortunately, one of us is much more social than the other.

Qualicum Beach is next to Parksville, which was our destination. A thirty-minute conversation generated a long list of restaurants to visit and places to see. I was yanked out of my book to take notes.

Chemainus is an excellent recommendation. This thriving community is located in the Chemainus Valley on the east coast of Vancouver Island about an hour north of Victoria. In 1983 it came close to dying. The primary place of employment, a lumber mill, shut down. 700 of the town’s 4000 residents were thrown out of work.

This is the point where most communities give up. Business and political leaders spend their energy assigning blame instead of seeking solutions. Not so with Chemainus.

“Let’s cover the walls of our town with historic murals,” Karl Schultz urged. It would capture the community’s history, develop local pride, and hopefully encourage tourism. As always, there were naysayers, but Karl’s enthusiasm won out. Today Chemainus is world-famous for its murals and tens of thousands of tourists visit the town annually.

Since it was on our way and we had the time, Peggy and I decided to stop. Good decision. First, I love the story of the small community that has adopted the motto of  “The Little Town that Did.” Second, I really like murals. Following are some our favorites out of the 39 (and increasing). For a complete tour visit www.chemainus.com/arts/murals/Chemainusmurals.htm.

A colorful 1948 view of Chemainus looking down Mill Street toward the bay.

Hong Hing arrived in Chemainus in 1915 and opened his waterfront store. Over time his store would serve as a laundry, grocery store, second-hand store, bootlegging establishment and gambling den. Declining business led him to close his store in 1950 and return to China where he married a younger woman and produced an heir. Black Cat, by the way, is an extinct brand of British/Canadian tobacco.

This mural captures the Chemainus Hospital in 1904 along with two nurses and the hospital cook.

What’s not to love about a band concert?

I’ve included this mural because of its history. In 1939 Chemainus celebrated its 50th anniversary. The float entered by the local Japanese-Canadian Community won first prize. By 1942 all of the community’s Japanese had been removed to Internment Camps. It is one of the darker pages of Canadian (and US) history.

Tent houses provided quick, inexpensive housing for the early loggers, fishermen and miners of Chemainus. When I was growing up in Diamond Springs California, one of my mother’s friends lived in a tent house. As a seven-year old, I was jealous.

This big guy’s face captures both the simplicity and the power of the mural art in Chemainus.

Dressed in their Sunday best, these early residents of Chemainus reflect a time when horses competed with ‘horseless’ carriages as the primary mode of transportation.

This Chemainus mural of First Nation people captures both the original inhabitants of Vancouver Island and their renaissance today. Peggy and I were both impressed and moved by the quality and quantity of First Nation Art during our visit to British Columbia. 

The Delicate Art of Chainsaw Wood Carving: Part 2… North to Alaska

Peggy, who had just been kayaking on Dragon Lake in Quesnel, BC was immediately attracted to this dragon wood carving in Chetwynd.

Peggy, who had just been kayaking on Dragon Lake in Quesnel, BC, was immediately attracted to this dragon wood carving in Chetwynd. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson)

On Monday I provided an introduction to the art of wood carving with a chainsaw in Hope, British Columbia. Today we will see what Chetwynd, BC has to offer. As I mentioned earlier, Chetwynd holds an annual contest in June that attracts wood carvers from around the world. We quickly found that the number and variety of carvings was even greater than we had found in Hope. I was amazed at what could be accomplished in 36 hours. it made me think about the months and even years, sculptures spend working on a block of marble.

Chainsaw wood carving at Chetwynd, BC

I was more entranced by this scary pumpkin scarecrow.

Chainsaw wood carving at Chetwynd, BC

A close up of the head. How would you like to meet up with this guy on a dark night?

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

The complete sculpture. Like Scarecrow in Oz, he had straw stuffing trying to escape.

A close up of the head on Peggy's dragon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A close up of the head on Peggy’s dragon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Chainsaw woodcarving at Chetwynd, BC

Was this crusty gold miner saying “Don’t take my photo”?

Chainswa wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A close up of the miner’s face in Chetwynd, BC.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

I found the perspective on this bear totem pole interesting.

Chainsaw carving in Chetwynd, BC

Deer totem pole.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

An eagle lands to feed its chick. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson)

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A bear tries to raid an eagle’s nest. The eagle objects.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

The Thinker? (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson)

Chainsaw woodcarving in Chetwynd, BC

Another perspective. This ram had quite a set of horns.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A Samurai warrior.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A carved relief on the side of the Chetwynd, BC Visitor Center of St. George slaying the dragon.

It seems appropriate to end this blog on Chetwynd, BC chainsaw wood carving with a moose.

It seems appropriate to end this blog on Chetwynd, BC chainsaw wood carving with a moose.

Chainsaw carving in Chetwynd, BC

Another photo of the moose.

Next Blog: The busy beavers of the Toad River.

Beautiful Victoria BC… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Anybody who has ever been to Victoria BC on Vancouver Island comments about the grand Empress Hotel overlooking the Inner Harbor.

The sun came out for us in Victoria. The city wanted to show off its treasures: its beautiful harbor, the grand old Empress Hotel, Parliament Building, flowers, interesting architecture, British flavor and First Nation art.

I’ve been to British Columbia’s Capitol several times over the years and am always eager to come back. This time, Peggy and I were able to share our experience with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake from California. It was the last day of our Vancouver Island adventure and an appropriate way to end the trip.

Catching the Black Ball Ferry back to Port Angeles limited our time so we focused on the Inner Harbor. I will let the photographs that Peggy and I took speak for our experience.

There are those who say Victoria BC is more British than Britain. To check out the theory, we visited the Sticky Wicket Pub for a pint, or two. Cricket, anyone?

 

The architecture of this Victoria BC building reminded me of London.

 

Two strange-looking trees dominated the grounds in front of the Empress Hotel. I thought they looked like droopy dogs.

 

The atrium of Victoria Conference Center, located behind the Empress Hotel (and connected to it), is definitely worth a visit.

 

Close up of Victoria Conference Center totem pole. Frog legs for dinner...

 

Large First Nation mask-like sculpture in Victoria Conference Center, Victoria BC. Peggy considered it her favorite among the masks we saw on Vancouver Island.

 

One of my all time favorite memories of Victoria and Vancouver Island is of flowers and magnificent gardens. We were a little early this year and we didn't make it to Butchart Gardens so these perky fellows will have to represent the flowers of Victoria.

 

Like in many historic communities, carriage rides are offered as a way to tour the city. I like the matched black horse, black carriage, and black clothes.

 

Parliament Building. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia.

 

Victoria BC's unique art-deco visitor center was once a gas station. It gives new meaning to the word recycling.

 

Yachts, sport fishing boats, and sail boats rest on the blue water of Victoria's Inner Harbor.

 

I can't resist putting in a final First Nation totem pole as I wrap up our Vancouver Island adventure. This guy rests on the edge of Inner Harbor and is surrounded by flowers, a suggestion that spring is finally arriving.

Leslie and Peggy hold hands with a bear dressed up as a Mountie. I grew up listening to Sergeant Preston of the RCMP on the radio. It was my introduction to Canada. Sergeant Preston and his faithful dog, King, always caught the bad guy. "On King, on you huskies!"

 

 

 

Port Alberni, a Seaport in the Middle of an Island… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Serious fishing boats are a reminder that the town of Port Alberni located in the middle of Vancouver Island, British Columbia is connected to the Pacific Ocean via Alberni Sound.

It felt strange to find a seaport in the middle of Vancouver Island. Our original goal had been to visit the Pacific Rim National Park but time and weather discouraged the trip. So we stopped half way at Port Alberni.

The town has a different feel to it than the Vancouver Island BC communities we visited on the east coast, more down to earth and less resort like. Saw and pulp mills once dominated the city’s economy but today the timber industry prefers to ship its logs off to China.

The good news here is that with the demise of the pulp mill the salmon returned and today, Port Alberni is the center of a major sports fishing industry. Like Campbell River, it bills itself the ‘Salmon Capitol of the World.” I suspect there are some interesting politics at work here.

The surrounding mountains, lakes and wilderness have also made the Alberni Valley a growing center of ecotourism.

We stopped at the visitor’s bureau to pick up tips on what we should see. And here it is time for an editorial comment. Canada’s neighbor to the south could really learn something from British Columbia about the promotion of tourism. Not only do most communities have information centers, they are normally very attractive, staffed with friendly, knowledgeable staff, and filled with information.

British Columbia and its communities do an excellent job or providing attractive, information packed, visitor bureaus. This bear welcomes visitors to Port Alberni BC.

These doors into the Port Alberni Visitor's Center feature a First Nation theme and are another example of how attractive and welcoming the centers are. The US could learn a lesson from BC and Canada about the promotion of tourism.

“You have to visit Harbor Quay,” was the recommendation for the short time we had. So we did. The Quay provided a beautiful view of the Alberni Inlet that makes its way out to the Pacific Ocean and provides Port Alberni with its seaport status. The presence of fishing boats reminded us of another major Vancouver Island industry.

After lunch, Peggy and Ken took advantage of a carved Thunderbird and eagle for photo ops. We visited small shops and downed some of the best cake donuts we’ve ever eaten. It was then time to head back to Parksville. Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley definitely deserved more time.

Alberni Sound leads out to the Pacific Ocean. Clouds and rain limited our view.

 

My friend Ken Lake bravely sits beneath the grasping talons of a plunging eagle at Port Alberni.

 

Peggy prefers to play peekaboo from beneath the wings and all-seeing eyes of a First Nation Thunderbird. The Thunderbird makes thunder by flapping his wings together while the eyes shoot out lightning.

Road Trip to Campbell River BC… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Once again, we were impressed with the First Nation art of British Columbia. I photographed this carved face of a First Nation man in Campbell River BC on Vancouver Island.

We stopped the car and dashed for the restroom. Our day had started with a 16-ounce cup of Serious Coffee and we had serious business to attend to. (Serious Coffee is Vancouver Island’s Starbuck equivalent, plus. We were impressed.)

16 ounces of serious coffee called for a serious stop on the road to Campbell River, Vancouver Island BC.

It was only after we reemerged into the world that we noticed the gorgeous view our much-needed stop provided. We were on a road trip following Highway 19 A from Parksville on our way north to Campbell River along the East Coast of Vancouver Island BC. Our eyes (and cameras) were drawn to the towering coastal mountains of mainland British Columbia, which were set off by the dazzling blue of the Georgia Strait.

One glacier carved mountain was particularly dramatic. Its side had been sheered off by ice and reminded me of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California where I have roamed for 40 years. Possibly one of my Canadian readers can provide a name for the mountain.

The dramatic coastal mountains of British Columbia as see from Vancouver Island across the Georgia Strait on Highway 19 A. The sheer face of the glacially carved mountain captured our interest.

Campbell River has adopted the name ‘Salmon Capital of the World.’ Sports fishermen, including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, have been making pilgrimages to the area for decades.

We didn’t see any salmon but we did enjoy more First Nation art and visit the very impressive Museum at Campbell River (http://www.crmuseum.ca/).

This First Nation totem pole gazes out toward the water in Campbell River BC.

 

I found this carving amusing. Not sure the First Nation folks would agree but Ringling Brothers came to my mind.

 

Ken Lake poses on an old logging truck in the Museum at Campbell River. The museum features native masks and local history including logging and sports fishing. It is well worth a visit.

 

Cathedral Gove: Green and Sacred… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Looking up at the towering canopy of trees, one easily understands how Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island in British Columbia received its name. There is both beauty and a sense of the sacred.

An Episcopal Minister once asked my daughter why I wasn’t in church.

“Oh, he’s out wandering in the woods,” she replied. “He considers it a sacred experience.”

“You can’t get absolution from a tree!” had been his angry retort.

I suspect the man had never hiked in the wilderness and experienced the sense of peace and healing such an experience can bring. Maybe he should have checked in with St. Francis. As for me, I go along with John Muir who said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

I find any natural area, even a tree on a busy urban street, worthy of appreciation. But some areas deserve special attention. I’ve wandered the world to find them.

Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island in British Columbia is one such place. Ancient giants of the tree world call it home. This is a land of Red Cedars and Douglas Firs, some reaching 250 feet in height and dating back 800 years. It’s known as an old growth forest, which means it’s a rarity, one of the few forests to escape the relentless chainsaw.

This springboard tree attests to the fact that even a beautiful area like Cathedral Grove was subject to the woodsman's axe. Loggers cut the holes in the tree so they could put in planks to serve as a base for cutting the tree down. The bouncy nature of the plank gave it the name springboard.

Gradually we are learning to value and protect wilderness areas but it is a race against time. Driven by the desire to maximize profits and acting under the guise of job creation, timber interests continue to value forests primarily in terms of board feet produced.

As Peggy, Ken, Leslie and I hiked along the trails, we were struck by the beauty and greenness of the Grove. Hopefully my photographs below capture what we experienced. I found that http://www.cathedralgrove.eu/ provides a good overview on the Grove and the issues relating to protecting such areas.

An inviting path led into the green forest.

 

Ken and Leslie Lake, along with Peggy qualify as Tree Huggers.

 

Roots of a Cathedral Grove forest giant tower behind Leslie and Peggy. A sign at the entry warned that trees fall during wind storms and that visitors should vacate the premises. Sounds like good advice.

 

Reaching toward the sky, Cathedral Grove trees can reach a height of 250 feet.

 

Typical of Pacific Coast rain forests, moss covers everything, providing another definition to 'being green.'

 

Beyond the greenness, I also found the twisted shape of limbs interesting.

 

No imagination was required to turn this moss-covered limb into a forest sprite. Or maybe it was a forest sprite...

 

Speaking of sprites, it appears that Ken might be shape shifting into one in this photo of him along with Peggy and Leslie in a giant tree hollow.