Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - British Columbia - story by Cindy Phillips and Gor­don Baron

Have you ever wanted to go back in time to get a glimpse of what the ndWild West was re­ally like? To see cat­tle roam the range, watch cow­boys and cow­girls round up the herd, visit home­steads, barns and equip­ment from early days, stay at a road­house, or watch wildlife in their nat­u­ral habi­tat? We did all this and more in the re­gion known as the “Chilcotin”.

The Chilcotin starts 24 km west of Wil­liams Lake on High­way 20, af­ter cross­ing the Fraser River on the Sheep Creek Bridge.

The high­way winds up to rolling hills and grass­lands of the Chilcotin plateau.

Al­though the high­way has many names, from Chilcotin Wagon Road, Chilcotin High­way, Free­dom High­way, Alexan­der Macken­zie High­way to High­way 20, they all are the same road. In 1953, the last leg of the high­way was com­pleted by the lo­cal peo­ple, which gave them a road to free­dom from the se­cluded coastal vil­lage of Bella Coola. This change ex­tended the length of the high­way to 457 km from Wil­liams Lake (Bri­tish Columbia’s third out­let to the Pa­cific Ocean).

In the 1860’s, Euro­pean im­mi­grants started set­tling on the west side of the Fraser River to be­gin ranch­ing and rais­ing beef to feed the min­ers work­ing in the Cari­boo Gold Fields. Even though the gold rush was short-lived and many min­ers left, the peo­ple that stayed are now sixth gen­er­a­tion ranch­ers.

High­way 20 is dot­ted with home­steads, barns, equip­ment and old fence lines from those early days.

The lit­tle com­mu­ni­ties of Riske Creek, Hanceville (Lee’s Cor­ner), Alexis Creek, and Anahim Lake are ei­ther named af­ter First Na­tions’ Chiefs or the first cat­tle pi­o­neers to live in the area.

Ev­ery year, start­ing in the spring, cows are moved from the cat­tle ranches to their sum­mer graz­ing mead­ows. Some use Hwy 20, and it is not un­com­mon to watch cat­tle pass­ing by your win­dow, or see cows and horses graz­ing on the edge of the high­way. When Septem­ber comes around, work­ers are out in their fields, cut­ting, rak­ing and bail­ing hay to feed their cows over the long win­ter months, just as they did over a cen­tury ago. Ev­ery ranch has their own bone yard (pri­vate re­tire­ment place for old equip­ment) and is loaded with an­tiques used by their fore­fa­thers.

The His­toric Vil­lage of Alexis Creek (112 km from Wil­liams Lake) was a must stop for us. The Chilcotin Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre is man­aged by re­tired rancher Val Telford; all the staff are vol­un­teers, and very proud of their his­tory. While hav­ing a cup of cof­fee, we got the lowdown on the ranch­ers, their fam­ily his­tory and im­por­tant sites to visit in the Chilcotin. The log hospi­tal across the street was built by lo­cal ranch­ers in 1914, and is still used to­day.

Driv­ing west from Alexis Creek on High­way 20, we en­tered an area known as “Bull Canyon” (6 km from Alexis Creek).

The area is bor­dered with rock cliffs on the right and the Chilcotin River on the left; mak­ing it a nat­u­ral rest­ing place for cows dur­ing cat­tle drives to BC’s in­te­rior - hence the name “Bull Canyon”.

Bull Canyon Pro­vin­cial Park has 20 camp­sites with an in­ter­pre­tive walk­ing trail that fol­lows the Chilcotin River. The sites and trail are very well main­tained. Across the high­way from the camp­site are a se­ries of small caves worth ex­plor­ing.

Trav­el­ing west on Hwy 20, we took a de­tour off the main road to Si­wash Bridge and watched the First Na­tions peo­ple dip net­ting for salmon on the Chilco River. For gen­er­a­tions, they have been com­ing back to this spot, catch­ing fish to feed their fam­i­lies for the win­ter.

The torques glacier water of the Chilco River orig­i­nates from the deep Chilco Lake, 72 km up stream. The river’s run of sock­eye is the third largest in Bri­tish Columbia.

Just be­low Si­wash Bridge, about two kms, the Chilco joins the Chilcotin River. At the con­flu­ence of the two rivers, the Hud­son Bay Com­pany built a fur trad­ing post in 1829.

There are nine eater­ies and six gas sta­tions spaced out on the 235 km sec­tion of high­way known as the Chilcotin. Af­ter driv­ing through rolling hills and grass­lands, his­toric build­ings, ho­tels and restau­rants, we came to a mod­ern, state-of-the-art, small vil­lage. Red­stone, 36 km west of Alexis Creek, is home to the Kinikinik Restau­rant. Own­ers Felix and Jas­mine Schel­len­berg have done a re­mark­able job, build­ing the prop­erty up from graz­ing land and wire fences.

The restau­rant serves cer­ti­fied or­ganic meat, poul­try and veg­eta­bles from their own ranch. The Schel­len­berg’s also have nice cab­ins for rent. It was a great place to sit back, re­lax, and plan the last leg of our his­toric ad­ven­ture through time.

Our next stop was Tatla Lake at the his­toric Gra­ham Inn, built in 1930 by Bob Gra­ham. The Gra­hams have lived in the Chilcotin since 1880’s. The Inn is now un­der new own­er­ship; they spe­cial­ize in home-cooked meals with dif­fer­ent din­ner themes through­out the week. Ac­com­mo­da­tions and a gas sta­tion are right next door.

We ar­rived just be­fore sun­set and the lake­front prop­erty at the Inn was teem­ing with wildlife. With the snow-capped moun­tains in the dis­tance, we could have not have asked for a bet­ter end­ing to our his­toric jour­ney.

“The Chilcotin is where the pi­o­neer­ing spirit lives on and leg­ends are born”. We will be back.

The Chilcotin is where the pi­o­neer­ing spirit lives on and leg­ends are born

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