Rocky Mountain Road Trip: Part 1

When the phone rang in seemingly the dead of night at the Lake Louise Inn, my brother and Kim both moaned, “ask for a late check-out.” (*I should mention that my brother was in a separate bed—but we were sharing a hotel room).

It wasn’t front desk phoning. And it wasn’t the dead of night. It was just after 9am and we were still in a wine-induced fog from my sister’s wedding the night previous. It was my dad summoning us to the group breakfast at the hotel. Luckily my dad can deliver a steady monologue that doesn’t involve participation—and we merely had to nod, occasionally, still sleeping, staring into our muddy coffee while he made buffet suggestions and offered pastry and pancake bites.

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Hours later, rejuvenated by that crystalline Rocky Mountain air, Kim and I sat (still semi-trance like) on the benches facing Lake Louise, marvelling at the liquid emerald body. Of my ten visits or so to visit my sister in Banff, I’d never seen Lake Louise unfrozen (this year it was still covered in ice on June 4th). Whiskey jacks hollered and bounced along ponderosa pine branches, displaying much bird bravado. They are the biggest loud-mouths of the avian world.

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We decided to splash out and take to the patio at the Fairmont hotel. Wild boar bacon pizza with fontina and pints of Rutting Elk red in undiluted sunshine made for a welcome surprise after a week of fretting about the dismal, snow-heavy Alberta forecast.

When we landed in Calgary just two days before, the rental car indicated that it was three degrees. Wet snow whipped at us all along the Trans Canada and turned into pissing rain near Banff. The fields were blanketed in snow from the big dump just two days before. Our wedding outfits were not mountain-friendly. Our route to Osooyos, BC and back to Banff (in six days and counting), would not be as smooth as pudding with snowy summits, slushy passes and spontaneous wildlife in the mix.

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However, BC was promising a barometer of 27 degrees for the third week of September. Conveniently, my parents had booked a floating time share at the Marble Canyon Resort in Fairmont Hot Springs, BC. The 3,000 square foot “estate” was right on a golf fairway—which if you know my dad and Kim, is the stuff that dreams are made of.

After a lazy Lake Louise afternoon we cruised to Marble Canyon where my mother had elk burgers at the ready. “Can Kim do the barbecue part?” My parents have an unnatural fear of propane barbecues and spontaneous combustion. The resort condo had eight bedrooms I think—it would house the Kardashians and then some. There were two fireplaces and a wrap-around deck that we lounged on until dark.

Asian Pine Beetle Devastation

Asian Pine Beetle Devastation

Though tempted to stay at the canyon castle with my parents, we had a serious driving itinerary to tend to. After the mountain goat flash mobs of Radium Hot Springs and the ghostly apocalyptic passage through Kootenay National Park (where the Asian pine beetle have ravaged the forests for endless miles), we were eager to get to the “pocket desert” in Osooyos, BC.

The larch trees were just beginning to spin gold. Road signs warned of elk, caribou, deer and mountain goats. We passed log home hewing sites and tiny communities comprised of a dozen homes like Ta Ta Creek. Homemade signs advertising candied and smoked salmon dotted the highway.

The pine-infused air was like driving into the world’s longest and biggest air freshener.

Funny intermission: After filling the tank at a Husky station, I double-checked with a middle-aged bedraggled woman sucking on a Slurpee that we were heading in the right direction for Kimberley.

“Yup. You go there and there (madly pointing) and keep on honkin’ to Marysville. You’ll see it. No question.”

(For the remainder of the trip we kept honkin’ to whatever that day’s destination was. That woman has no idea how much she influenced us).

Kimberley

If you blink your eyes twice, you move instantly from anywhere, BC, to Bavariaville. The Kimberley strip is a curious passage into a traditional platzl complete with schnitzel stands, fondue spots and $3 apple strudel.

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It’s also oddly a metaphysical rock/gem wonderland and the patchouli is cranked out of the stores in fighting force with the frying breaded schnitzel. North America’s largest free-standing cuckoo clock is located here.

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For $1 you can have the cuckoo come out to play (if you are visiting off the hour). We had a few quarters and a toonie and missed out on the full impact of the landmark’s wonder. The platzl also had an outdoor ping pong set and an oversized chess set to cover all interests I suppose. I was more captivated by our hunt for the Old Bauernhaus.

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The 350-year-old structure had been transported from Bavaria, Germany and resurrected in Kimberley in 1989. We hoped to have a pint there (and maybe some of the venison geschnetzeltes and spatzle with sour cherry sauce that I had read about on their online menu, but, it was only 11am and the barn wasn’t open until 5pm). Instead we craned our necks and peered in the windows. To think, we bitch about trying to assemble Ikea bookcases. Imagine an entire farmhouse and barn arriving in two shipping containers with no instructions—not even in German? Ugh.

Creston: The Valley of the Swans (though we didn’t see any)

Creston hasn’t observed daylight savings since 1918. I’m still perplexed as to how this all works in the grand scheme of things. Due to the town’s proximity to the US border, many businesses accept American currency. Similarly, Porthill, the US border town, accepts Canadian bucks at the pumps. British Columbia’s last remaining population of the Northern Leopard Frog are found here (not by us) and Creston boasts the latest cherries grown in the Northern hemisphere. I know, wow. Such juxtapositions.

Our Creston experience involved crispy cod fish tacos with kicked-up chipotle aioli at Jimmy’s Pub and Grill, an add-on to a tired hotel on the main drag (the kind that advertises it’s cleanliness and hot water!). We skipped the nearby Kokanee beer factory tour (though I did kinda want to see the big Sasquatch monument there and experience first-hand what they described as a “family-friendly”brewery tour) and drank Jimmy’s Kokanee amber without the beer lesson (enjoying the reality show-like banter between the various day drinkers instead).

Sometimes it’s just time-savvy to read the blurbs from the tourist brochures and glance out the window at 80km/hr. I was turning into an audio book for Kim, giving her the highlights of each place we drove through.

The Labatt owned Kokanee brewery was involved in movie-making? Playing on the company’s slogan “It’s The Beer Out Here” they so cleverly named the movie “It’s The Movie Out Here.” Touted as a Canadian buddy comedy, it debuted at the Whistler Film Fest and had a limited run at theatres in Western Canada. Characters from Kokanee’s past campaigns starred in the film, but it tanked due to “an over-reliance on lewd content and product placement.”

Wiki has volumes on the Kokanee Sasquatch mascot storyboard that reads very much like a soap-opera. The Sasquatch hunter of earlier commercials was even killed off. Beer drama! The trailer for It’s The Movie Out Here# looks 100% terrible, even if you were skunked on Kokanee.

Wynndel, BC: population 900

Gas stations were fast becoming my favourite spots. In these wayward interior “towns” the stations are the go-to for current events and Duck Dynasty-style fleece wear. Kim had to pull me out of a few stations after I straggled in the aisles, mesmerized by the fancy lures, rifles, fresh huckleberries ($10/pound) and assortment of jerky. The bulletin boards outside of Fas Gas (no, not FAST, just Fas Gas) were a constant source of entertainment from the heritage pigs for sale ads to the glossy pics of a swimming Red Roan mare for $1,200 (one week trial offered) to tai chi groups, turkey shoots, funeral notices and ‘hempcrete’ (yes, concrete made out of hemp, somehow). There was even an advert posted by a 10-year-old who promised “to play with your children while you work or read a book” for $3/hour. But, she could only work for three hours max. Smart kid.

Huckleberry-less, we had to remain focused as the free ferry (the world’s longest free ferry—a 35 minute crossing of Kootenay Lake) to Balfour was departing at 2:50 (the next was slated for two hours after that) and I was keen on seeing the Creston Glass House en route. We planned to snake up along Kootenay Lake and ferry over to Nelson for the scenic vistas, and indeed, there was a solid dose of oohs and ahhs on the windy road.

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The Creston Glass House was built in 1952 by a genius mortician. David H. Brown decided to repurpose over 500,000 square discarded embalming fluid bottles and construct a two level house with them. He didn’t stop there—he also built a watchtower and bridge. The 1,200 square foot house is quirky and creepy—but, for $10, a worthy roadside attraction.

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HGTV’s Sarah Richardson would have a heyday in this joint. The southern lake view is uninterrupted and it made Kim and I wonder what we could build out of beer bottles.

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As we queued up for the ferry to Nelson we began to re-think our ambitious journey. The driving times with those pesky BC mountains meant for a lot of long harrowing hauls. Yes, we had tackled 1,000km routes before (across the desert to the Siwa Oasis from Cairo and south to Luxor), and we made it around the Ring Road in Iceland intact (with hurricane winds, a blizzard and a sandstorm to contend with) in nine days. But, did we want to be crushing the miles and bypassing woodsy trails and cutesy cafes just to get to the next spot? We had already given up the likes of Sasquatch, a family-friendly beer tour and a taxidermy museum because of precious time. But, now if we were cutting out the traverse to Vernon and Kelowna, we’d be missing out on the kangaroo sanctuary, the Myra Canyon part of the Kettle Valley Trail with 18 train trestles to bike across, the fried chicken and waffle sandwiches at Doc Willoughby’s Public House, the Pulp Fiction Coffee House and an artisan goat cheese cellar that served up goat’s milk gelato. Sigh.

I pulled out my makeshift green crayon highlighter and concluded that a re-route could afford us more time in the desert looking for burrowing owls and increased quaffing time wine country. Duh. We could leave the kangaroos for Australia and surely Toronto will catch on to the fried chicken and waffle sandwich craze in a month or so.

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Scratch Vernon and Kelowna. Hello Penticton and Naramata Bench. We would keep on honkin’ on a less-taxing route.

Stay tuned.

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