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Books in my Cariboo Backpack

Whenever I go on my travels through the BC Cariboo and Gold Country, these three books I always make sure to pack along with me:


Fraser & Thompson River CanyonsPublished by Heritage House, this little 126-page book is an absolute treasure trove of historical facts despite being dated from 1986. After all, history really should not change over time whether it is being told now or from in the past. The book details every stop of interest and local characteristic along the Trans-Canada Highway #1 route from Vancouver to Kamloops by mileage waypoints in distance (in miles and kilometres) from Vancouver and Kamloops.

There are many black and white photographs included and it is rather interesting to compare location descriptions and observations from ca.1986 with what one now sees along the route today. With the construction of the Coquihalla Highway #5 in the same year as publication, the book also provides a final snapshot of the Trans-Canada canyon route while it was still in its glory as the only route between Hope and Kamloops.

In the time since its publication, many towns and local business geared to the highway tourist industry have suffered severely from loss of traffic to the Coquihalla. Perhaps the starkest evidence of this can be found in and around Spences Bridge – which of all the towns between Hope and Kamloops appears to have suffered the most in the last 25-30 years. Closed-down accommodations and campgrounds, abandoned fruit stands, and ghosts of gas stations litter along the highway between Lytton and Spences Bridge. And where residents and businesses can still be found hanging on and eking out an existence, often there is a “for sale” sign to be found nearby.

What I have enjoyed most about this book is the detail and lore it has brought to life with many of these obscure locales and to be able to drive by such and such creek or a now-boarded up resort stop and know its significance in regards to the locale’s history and sometimes even the rest of the province – such as Nicomen Creek and its possible spark leading to the 1858 gold rush – it helps reconnect one to the past.

If you have any interest in the history of the Fraser River or Thompson River and you are fortunate enough to find a copy of this book still available or sold second-hand, do not hesitate to snap it up! This book is best enjoyed while being read as a passanger and paced as you progress from points of interest along the highway.

Most of the historical content was researched by C.P. “Chess” Lyons and his work appeared in print during the 1950s as Milestones on the Mighty Fraser. The existing 1986 volume was based around Lyons’s earlier work but updated with relevant information and photographs for the times.

Lyons will re-appear below when I discuss his groundbreaking field-guide Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in Washington and British Columbia.


Published locally by Altitude SuperGuides and written by Meredith and Ron Woodward, this is the best travel guide currently available that covers Gold Country and the Cariboo region – along with the rest of the southern-half of the province east of Hope. The copy I have is the 2003 edition and it is starting to show its age a little – however by and large it is still a very useful and informative book.

A highlight feature of the book is its “While You Are in… Top 10” or “Top 5” info boxes which list off must-see tourist attractions and popular activities in that particular town or locale. Interspersed throughout its glossy pages chock-full of interesting and gorgeous colour photographs are history sidebars and the book starts off with an overview chapter that describes the local economy, general history, ecosystems, and outdoor recreation.

The two chapters I generally focus on are the Trans-Canada Highway (which covers from Hope to Field – with sidetrip to Lillooet) and Central Interior (which covers northwards from Cache Creek to Quesnel and Barkerville – as well as the North Thompson stretch of the Yellowhead Highway #5 north of Kamloops).

Unfortunately the guide does not detail such topics as accommodation and food establishments. The only guide book (apart from government-issued tourism brochures) I have come across that lists anything related to finding places to rest for the night or eat one’s fill is the Lonely Planet book for British Columbia – however due to its scope it glosses over the region in passing without much worthwhile detail. You would do much better to simply stop at one of the BC Tourism visitor infomation centres. The most useful ones in the Cariboo-Gold Country are located in Hope, Merritt, Cache Creek, and 100 Mile House – with smaller, more-localised offices in Yale, Lytton, and Lillooet.


Published by Lone Pine Publishing and written by C.P. “Chess” Lyons and Bill Merilees, Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in Washington and British Columbia is hands-down the best field guide book of any sort – flora or fauna – I have ever come across.

Its brilliance is found with the cross-referencing organization, as each of the dozen or so ecosystems is broken down with location descriptions and then a list of trees and flowers (grouped by petal colour) one would expect to come across within that particular ecosystem. There are colour photograph plates of various flowers – again grouped by colour for easy comparison and charts for blooming months of various flowers. Combine these photos with the various ecosystem lists, and you can usually find and confidently identify what you are looking at.

As well, the book includes two incredibly useful charts: one which lists the trees and flowers grouped by four different terrain elevations; and, a second chart which is alone worth the price of the book: a leaf comparison chart for broadleaf trees and a flow chart for identifying evergreen trees by needle count and structure.

What makes this book so valuable is, along with the detail of the individual entries, is its organization and charts make it so you are able to quickly locate what you are looking at and not therefore waste one’s time thumbing through any irrelevant sections. The evergreen identification chart is something so ingenious that I’ve never seen it in any other tree book – but is useful beyond any number of photographs other books try to utilise for comparisons. Lastly, the tree identification chart layout makes it fairly easy to memorize after some practice.

As the book relates specifically to the Cariboo, it includes a description of the ‘Cariboo Parklands’ ecosystem. While not ‘officially’ recognized as one of British Columbia’s distinct ecosystems, there is nevertheless an obviously unique ecosystem in the region which the book decides to take the liberty to acknowledge. Anyone who has driven from Clinton to Quesnel will notice that the region – with its gently rolling hills, hay-farms, and prominence of spruce and aspen trees – is quite distinct from the Ponderosa Pine and Sagebrush regions to the immediate south and the mountain forest which surrounds the region and one begins to notice as they make their way northwards to Prince George.


My introduction to the BC Interior

My love affair with the Cariboo region of British Columbia began on August 23, 2007. But before explaining the how’s and why’s, we need to back up by two years…

Every second or third weekend in August starting in 2005, I would drive up to Prince George with my lacrosse team (the Vancouver Burrards in the West Central League) to compete in the annual Alcan Cup tournament. For the first two years, we would depart the Lower Mainland in the dark expanse of night, at around midnight, rendezvous at someone’s house, and our convoy of half a dozen cars would then make the drive up through the Fraser and Thompson Canyons in complete darkness.

Usually by the time we reached the highlands around Mount Begbie, just south of 100 Mile House, the sun would start to peek above the horizon and we’d finally see some daylight emerge during the following hour. By half past six o’clock in the morning, we would have reached Williams Lake, daylight, and a greasy yet most-welcomed breakfast pit-stop at Denny’s.

On these first two trips north, in 2005 and 2006, I thought little about the trip and its sights and scenery – after all, half the journey was done at night – and focused more about simply getting there.

Preparing for these road-trips was a lot like anticipating Christmas morning when you were a little kid – where adrenaline and excitement kept us awake, and one hoped that all that adrenaline (paired with coffee) would keep you awake long enough until daylight and arrival in the Spruce City. Most of us had only a few hours of sleep at best before leaving. Typically I would work a full day, come home and then spend the evening doing laundry and packing. I’d be lucky if I got a two-hour nap in before I had to load up the car and hit the road.

My teammate Jeremy rode shotgun these first two years – and while I drove, it was his job to entertain and keep me awake with his conversation as well as play DJ with my car’s CD deck. He would bring with him a home-made CD he burned especially for the trip. One year it was half an hour of epic “morale speeches” from sports and movies, things like Vince Lombardi Super Bowl quotes and soundbites from Full Metal Jacket to get us pumped up for game time.

But along with the official trip CD, Jeremy would also entertain me with his impressive knowledge of the Fraser Canyon. We’d drive through this-or-that tunnel north of Yale, and he could recount the history of it and any interesting historical tid-bits. In later years, the history buff I am would buy an out-dated travel book to the Fraser Canyon – and realise Jeremy actually could relate a lot of accurate knowledge about our driving route.

Then in 2007, less of us were driving and more flying north. Admittedly the 800-kilometres drive had now worn out more than a few souls. So our road trip convoys became a thing of the past as only a handful of us drove up as a group that year. Jeremy couldn’t make the trip, so this time around my teammate Cam and myself were car-pooling together.

Not committed to leaving and sticking with the convoy, Cam and I decided on a sudden whim to leave town a few hours later so that we reached Hope right around dawn at 5:00am and then didn’t have to drive as much in the pitch black. In previous years, six hours or so of driving along the un-lit Trans-Canada #1 and Cariboo #97 highways took a toll on one’s eyes as you strained to concentrate on the winding road and avoid any wildlife which may happen to wander on to the otherwise dark highway.

So with us now entering the Canyon in the early morning light, for the first time on our road-trips north were we able to actually take in and appreciate the scenery passing by us. Towns, settlements, buildings, and business signs which we had only known previously as lonesome dots of lights in the vast darkness of night, or on our road map, their identity now became apparent. It’s amazing how different places can look and your bearings change when you don’t drive the long distances in the pitch black.

But it wasn’t until we began the stretch of highway from Lytton to Cache Creek – the Thompson River canyon – that the location’s beauty really struck home with me. Already in awe of the stark rawness of the mountain scenery and scrubland which begins as soon as you leave Lytton and head along the Thompson River, I was coming around a bend on the Trans-Canada, somewhere north of Spences Bridge when suddenly the whole valley was illuminated by the bright dawn of the sun in a cloudless sky. It was, quite frankly, the most incredibly beautiful sunrise I have witnessed. It was a zen moment bathed in glorious, peaceful light – and the sometimes spiritual side of me would probably say that God himself was looking down from one of those mountains that morning.

In subsequent trips north, I would often try to time and co-ordinate my route so that dawn would occur at the same time and location – but I have yet been able to replicate what I saw that early morning of August 23, 2007. That was the day that the lure of the British Columbia Interior, the Cariboo, and the beauty of my province, would start to draw me in.

You, mighty Thompson River, had me at ‘sunrise’…