A day ago, we got the urge to run away. Itchy feet and Spring fever combined to set us plotting our day-long getaway and before long, we were heading down the road leading north.
Our road-less-travelled for this day was the one passing through the purported half-million acre Douglas Ranch in the Nicola region.
Before we reached Merritt, we took the turnoff into Kentucky Alleyne campground just past Shropshire corner. It was quiet that day, quiet enough for a solitary black bear to be comfortable sitting on its haunches and enjoying the view of the lake. Perhaps he was sharing the music being composed on guitar and mouth-organ by a solitary young man who had been camped for seven days. He was aware of the bear and they shared the campground amicably. We chatted for a bit and then left him (and the bear) to his reverie and inspirational experience.
Soon we were descending the long drop into Merritt, past the fast food restaurants and out onto Highway 5A heading north past Quilchena. We turned right at Douglas Lake Ranch Road and almost immediately, we were driving through rolling hills inhabited by hundreds and hundreds of cattle with as many newborn calves. We’ve driven this way several times but couldn’t recall ever seeing so many cattle. After we passed an enormous electrical substation, incongruous in that environment, we travelled several more kilometres through the Nicola Indian Band reserves and finally reached the little village at the Home Ranch of the Douglas Lake Ranch. We stopped to admire the windows in the church built for staff by “Chunky” Woodward, one of the previous owners of the ranch.
We had never taken the rest of the gravel road that ends by joining Highway 97 at the little town of Westwold. Well, this was the day! We checked the map to make sure that the road went all the way and we were off.
Once we passed the huge main house on the hill and the landing strip with the two orange windsocks, we felt like we had stepped back one hundred and fifty years in time.
It was absolutely splendid! The rolling hills were studded with cows, calves and the occasional mare with a foal at her side. There were “Cattle at Large” signs and many Texas gates but few fences. Lakes, roadside marshes with ducks and geese and heaven only knows what else were busy preparing for the next generation. Throughout the first 25 kilometres we saw few ranch houses and fewer vehicles. We marveled at the land formations with deep, flat valleys situated with hills on either side.
Eventually we passed a fishing camp and then soon we were descending by a road which in places clung to the side of a mountain and in others, travelled side-by-side with a flooding stream with many rapids. Fallen trees made bridges for the intrepid explorer.
The last 25 kilometres were dark and mysterious. The road was deeply pocked and we were forced to a crawl. However, our trusty Matrix held up very well and in the end, we were soon on another descent, this time into the broad, sunny valley where the road meets Highway 97 and the tiny town of Westwold. From there it was back to 2014 and paved roads dotted with Tim Hortons stores and internet connections. We traveled through Falkland, Vernon and then on home to Princeton.
This is the kind of journey that a painter can feed on for months afterward! I’m challenged to recreate the colors, sense of time and space and the implications of such a place existing. I imagine how it must feel to be a steward of this land. And all this because we had a case of itchy feet and Spring fever!