The last time I was on the Coquihalla Highway, you still had to stop at a toll booth. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was on the Coquihalla last month when I went to the Creative Ink Festival. But I wasn’t the one driving. In fact, I wasn’t the one driving thirty-some years ago either. I’ve never driven the Coquihalla – I’ve always been afraid to. Of course, that’s silly. It’s just a highway. And I did drive for a living as recently as 2017. But high speeds, unpredictable weather and accidents that always seem to involve multiple vehicles kind of scared me off. They say you’re most likely to be in an accident on a road you drive often. If I never drive it, I eliminate the potential for an accident at all. Seems like sound logic to me.
It was being a passenger last month that reminded me just how beautiful the Coquihalla is. Running through the Cascade Mountains, connecting the cities of Hope and Merritt, this section of the highway was built in 1986. At its peak, an elevation of 1244 m, it feels as if you’re rolling along at the top of the world.
The Coquihalla is the shortest route between the interior and the coast. People on it are usually there because they want to get from A to B as quickly as possible.
Except for those that don’t. Except for the people who, like me, like all those little side roads that are off the beaten path. I knew the only way I was ever going to see any of those side roads was if I sucked it up and drove myself. So, I did.
I was on my way to New Westminster for LitFest New West. I had driven the connector between Kelowna and Merritt before, and I had driven the Trans-Canada between Hope and Vancouver, so really, it was just that one little stretch – 115 km – that would be new to me. Nothing to be nervous about.
It was a spectacular start to the day. Traffic was light and the day was brilliant. I got so caught up in the beauty of it all that I forgot to be frightened. The panoramic views are stunning and water cascades into roadside falls from high above. But there aren’t a lot of places that it is safe to stop along the highway itself, so I didn’t try to take pictures. You’ll have to imagine the towering cliffs and mountaintops that stretch on into eternity.
I did, however, turn off the highway to explore a little bit along the way.
The Coquihalla River, BC
My first exit from the highway was on the Sowaqua Creek Road. Who can resist a fast running river in shades of blue and green? The air here was tangy with pine and moisture. The water clear and cold.
Crystal Clear Water of the Coquihall River
This road runs for a while along the Coquihalla River before it turns under the highway and becomes the Sowaqua Creek Forest Service Road. I wasn’t too sure about driving underneath a highway in what basically amounts to a culvert of corrugated steel. But the engineers must have had some idea what would work.
Sowaqua Creek Road, Coquihalla Highway, BC
A little further along the road is a sign warning that cell service is non-existent. As tempting as it was to follow the Forest Service Road as it wound up into the wilderness, I decided that it wouldn’t be the wisest thing to do. Now, if Santana had been with me, I would have gone for sure. When it comes to the possibility of getting stranded, two people are better than one.
The Sowaqua Creek Forest Service Road, BC
My next stop was Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. This road leads to the Othello Tunnels. The Othello Tunnels were once part of a rail line but have since been converted to walking trails. The Kettle Valley Railway was built in the early 1910’s, passing through the canyon and five tunnels. The tunnels are currently closed due to unstable conditions but are forecast to be open again near the end of May. This is definitely a trip for Santana! At only 1.8 km on relatively level ground, even I might be able to walk it. I’m certainly going to try.
While I didn’t do as much as I would have liked, just being back in the Lower Mainland was a treat. The area around Hope is close enough to the coast that the forest is not much different than the rainforest. Here are a few photos of the Canadian jungle.
Moss devours a fallen tree
New fern unfurling
Geranium robertianum, or Death Come Quickly
Cliff face with moss-filtered water falling.
The weekend was great. Although LitFest ended reasonably early on Saturday night, I didn’t come home until Sunday. Just as well. There was a blizzard on the Coquihalla Saturday night. I’m not sorry I missed it.