The Road To Tulemeen

I admit it was impulsive.  One minute I was talking to a co-worker, the next I was looking for cabin rentals on-line.  I’d planned to visit the Tulemeen area ever since I read Gilean Douglas’ poem in honour of the river, but I thought it was something for “someday.”  Then I realized that “someday” could be “now,” if I wanted it to be.  And I did.  I’m tired of waiting.  Especially because I’m not sure what it is I’m waiting for.

I booked a river-side cabin in Princeton and was good to go.  I haven’t taken many overnight trips alone – the only other one I can think of was going to Lit Fest New West last April – but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  Truth is, I like driving alone.  If I feel the need to pull over to take a picture of a rock, I don’t have to feel guilty about it.  Santana doesn’t mind, but he was busy on the weekend, anyway.

My plan was to take the Summerland-Princeton Road from Summerland to Princeton, spend the night and take Coalmont Road from Princeton back to the Okanagan Connector and home.  If it rained.  I had a different route planned if it was dry.

What a great day to be on the road.  There was a storm coming, I could see it approach, and the dark clouds added drama to the skyline.

DSC_0011There were so many places to stop along the way.  The Summerland-Princeton Road is jam-packed with Recreational Sites, and they were being put to use.  Personally, I think BC is a little too free with its rec sites.  The high, constant whine of dirt bikes and quads drives away any wildlife that might be in the area.  But I do appreciate the opportunity to camp in those same areas, so maybe I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

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The flowers were spectacular, adding a kaleidoscope of colour to the landscape.  I especially love the silver-purple-green of new sage, and the bright orange of the tiny wild tiger lilies.

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Thirty-five kilometers of the Summerland-Princeton Road is gravel and in spite of the numerous people at the rec sites, the road was surprisingly quiet.

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The winds were high, and waves on the reservoir were creating curtains of water that fell to the streams below.  Even from my vantage point high on the other side of the valley, I could feel the mist.

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Wildlife was evasive.  I spotted a few mulie does, but couldn’t get my camera up fast enough, and even a big, fat, yellow-bellied marmot vanished from this stump as I clicked the shutter.

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Everywhere I looked, there was something new to see.

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I pulled into Princeton around 4:00 pm.  I’d managed to turn a two-hour drive into a five-hour excursion.  I was exhausted.  I found the River-side Cabins and checked in.  In spite of actually being next to the river, I couldn’t see the river, couldn’t hear the river, and didn’t have access to the river.  I suddenly understood why it was so inexpensive. It didn’t matter.  I didn’t need the river – I needed a nap.  As I pulled up to my cabin, I could see a playground at the end of the lane, and sitting right there was a big, fat, yellow-bellied marmot. I was too tired to go look.

I woke to grey, rainy skies.  I’d slept pretty well, though, and nothing was going to ruin this day.  As I pulled out of the lane, I looked over and yup, there was that big, fat, yellow-bellied marmot.  I reached for my camera.  Before I could even lift it, the damn marmot had scuttled his butt beneath a fence and was gone.

So the next time someone says to me, “Sally, you are slower than a big, fat yellow-bellied marmot,” I will grudgingly have to admit that yes, yes I am.  Two of them was no coincidence.

After maple sausages and two cups of very fine coffee at Billy’s Family Restaurant, I was back on the road.

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The road to Tulemeen is narrow and windy, with rapid ascents and steep declines.  Much of it is advertised “Avalanche Area” and judging by the scree on the side of the road, much of it is recent.  I often pull over to let other vehicles pass, as I know I’m slower and I don’t want anyone to make a risky move that could result in an accident.  It was on one of these “pull-overs” that I looked out my passenger window and locked eyes with a female grouse.  Surprisingly, she didn’t vanish like all the other wildlife and I was able to get a few shots in.  Maybe this was a sign of things to come!

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The scenery between Princeton and the village of Coalmont is indescribable.  At one point, I came around a corner and had I not been worried about being in a blind spot, I would have stopped the car in the middle of the road.  As it was, I had to convince myself to keep driving and not try to find a way to turn around.  This was the shot that wasn’t taken – the one that will be etched onto my memory for years to come.

I was high on a cliff.  Across the valley, the mountains stood framed in sunlight and storm clouds.  The lush valley below was every shade of green you’ve ever dreamed, and the Tulemeen River, wove its pale green self throughout.  I was made truly breathless at the sight.  I imagined what it must have been like for early explorers to come across that valley.  Would they have thought they’d stumbled upon Eden?  There were other spots to stop along the way, but nothing matched that one glimpse of paradise.

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Before long I reached Coalmont, and after that, Tulemeen. I stopped along the river where young anglers fished from the rocky shore.  The air smelled sweeter than anything I could have imagined.

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I stood there, inhaling deeply, until I became dizzy and had to get back in the car for fear of falling over.

The drive between Tulemeen and Aspen Grove, just before the Connector, was a delightful mix of flower-lined farmland, forest and alpine beauty.

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I spotted another doe – and this time got lucky!

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My luck held out. Shortly after spotting the doe, I found a young bear, frolicking in a field of tall grass and flowers.  I pulled over, just as he spotted me and headed for the cover of the treeline (and most likely mom!).  But this time, I didn’t bother trying to get into position.  I just aimed the camera through the windshield and was able to capture him before he vanished from sight.  Not a great photo, I admit, but I was thrilled just to have seen him.

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After that, everything looked like a bear.  Stumps, rocks, fence posts – all of them required that I slow down and take a closer look – just in case.

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By the time I reached Aspen Grove, I was ready to go home.

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The problem is, when you’ve been driving at 35-40 km an hour for two days, and you suddenly find yourself forced to go at least 110 while cars and trucks fly past, well… it was like being a kid on his very first grown-up carnival ride.  I was screaming out loud.

My screams turned to cries of “No, no, no, no no!” as a big, fat yellow-bellied marmot ran out onto the freeway in front of me.  He saw me, turned tail, and boogied back into the ditch.

Suddenly, I was very, very glad to be slower than a big, fat yellow-bellied marmot.

 

Author: Featherstone Creative

Sally Quon is a photographer and writer living in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. When not out enjoying the splendors of nature, she likes to spend time cooking, reading and painting. Her photography has appeared in Canadian Geographic Magazine and in Nature Alberta’s various birding brochures. Sally was recently awarded a Judge’s Choice Award in the Ontario Poetry Society’s Ultra Short Poem Competition and has an essay coming out in Chicken Soup for the Soul - The Forgiveness Fix. One of her photos was chosen for inclusion in the Photographer’s Forum “Best of 2018” Collection. She has two beautiful, almost grown children.

14 thoughts on “The Road To Tulemeen”

  1. Hey Sally thanks for the trip. It brought back a lot of memories. Used to go to the ph i. tulemeen … i must go back.
    That marmot is gonna show up in your dreams!

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      1. What?! omg….never! That sounds like a nightmare. Whaaaa…..I don’t want to be in your nightmares…make me a pretty kitty.

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  2. Hi Sally! This is fabulous. I was with you all the way. Thanks for the trip and things to see along the way. Great writing, fun ride and artistic photos. I’ve yet to do the Summerland / Princeton route. Not sure about Aspen Grove but I used to do the run from Princeton to Merritt. But I’m going to check it out. I look forward to your next adventure.

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