Trees + bears + freaky highways = magic

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
September 7th, 2010


One of my great aunts from the UK came to visit my family when I was a kid. My mom, whose aunt it was, packed us all into our small car for various little trips around the area, and during one of those excursions my aunt exclaimed, ‘My, there are so many trees here!’ As a six or seven year old, that seemed like a pretty bizarre statement for someone to make, and I clearly recall the awe in her voice as she said it, too.

I hadn’t become a world traveller yet, and so I assumed everyone had trees and forests. And isn’t that where most fairy tales take place, anyways? It wasn’t until I was 16 and went to the UK for the first time that I realized what my aunt had been talking about: yeah, there weren’t too many trees there at all.

My aunt’s astonished words had a lasting effect on me. I have never forgotten them, and they have made me wonder in recent years what other people in my life who have never been here before think of this small mountain town and the surrounding area.  

Take my friend Bob (not his real name), for instance, who came for a few days last month from Vancouver. A transplant from southern Ontario, Bob hasn’t actually seen too much of BC apart from the coast, so he was excited to come out here and see where I was living. The first thing he said when he arrived here was, ‘Man, that highway totally freaked me out!’. When I asked which highway he was referring to, I found out that it was the Strawberry Pass, between Nancy Greene Lake and Red Mountain. “I mean, there was a huge cliff right there!” He was talking about the sections of the highway where there were no barriers between the highway and a steep drop off to his right.

Again, this gave me pause. The second driving lesson I ever had was on the Nancy Greene highway, in the winter, and I got stuck in a snowbank after braking too hard. I learned to drive on the highways here and there is nothing intimidating about them to me. While I had warned Bob that there would be steep mountain passes and a lot of winding roads for him to drive along between here and Vancouver, I hadn’t thought they’d be anything frightening. And lack of barriers? Big deal!

Mind you, I do have a friend in Calgary who sometimes drives through the Rockies to see her daughter, who goes to school in Vancouver, and she has often said how mountain driving freaks her out, because, I guess, when you are used to Prairie driving, BC is pretty challenging.

But apart from trying to adjust to the driving, Bob was very impressed with Rossland and thought it was very pretty and very relaxing (didn’t have too many positive things to say about Trail, however), and more than anything, I wanted him to experience some of the magic we have here, namely a major wildlife sighting.  Specifically a bear sighting. Even a moose would do. Because, seriously, how much more dramatic an event could you wish for an out-of-town visitor?

Of course, whenever you want a bear to show up in your yard, you get…nothing, even though you live on a bear thoroughfare and you can see them at any old time when you really don’t want to.  I lamented that Rossland no longer has a garbage dump, where, when we were very young, my parents would drive us to every so often to safely see bears.  

We were rewarded on the last day of Bob’s visit, though, just when I was losing hope.  Driving up from Trail and coming into town just below Railway Street, we came around the corner and there was a huge brown bear just sauntering across the highway as if he had all the time in the world.  Bob stopped the car and gasped and gaped.  I was doing the yippy skippy dance – as much as you can do when you’re in a car – and watched Bob’s face. He was amazed. “It’s just…walking across the highway,” he mused. As the bear went up the bank into the bushes, Bob said the only time he’d ever seen a bear before was when he saw one run for its life across a six lane highway in Coquitlam.

And therein lies the magic of Rossland, and the Koots. We have forest as far as the eye can see that inspire awe in someone who has never seen such vast wilderness before, and an amazing wildlife sighting for someone whose city experience of wildlife was less than stellar. And a one of a kind driving experience you just can’t get anywhere else. Skiing as a tourist draw? Who needs it! 

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