Sun, Sand and Desert Single-Track: Bikepacking Arizona’s Superstition Mountains

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another (J. Muir, Our National Parks, 1901)

The desert is a landscape shaped by the destructive forces of water, wind, and  sun. Constantly in flux, never the same from one day to the next.  Yet its stunningly beautiful: from its coarse sedimentary rocks shaped like meringues, to its massive pillars of red stone and box canyons. Contrast is everywhere: blue sky with red rock,  green springs with  sand, cacti with rock, grey moonlight with yellow sun. Arizona’s Superstition Mountains and the hills that surround the Phoenix area are no exception. I recently spent ten days exploring the Superstitions and riding local trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Brown’s Ranch and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Pack your mountain bike, sun screen and plenty of water and head south.

Superstition Mountains

Located 65 kilometers east of Phoenix, the Superstition Mts. are a fantastic mountain biking, bike packing (touring), hiking and camping destination. If you’re riding a bike, stick to state land on the southern edge of the range. Hikers can enjoy the Wilderness area to the north.

Loaded and ready to ride
Sunset over the Superstitions
just northeast of Apache Junction
Looking southeast from the Lost Goldmine Trail.
A purple sky and black rock sunset.
The moon emerging in the east.
A Cholla cactus.
Another type of Cholla cactus.
A young Saguaro cactus.
A Palo Verde tree.
A Saguaro cactus standing tall.
After it rains, water collects in small rock pools. You can use a Lifestraw to hydrate yourself. This was the only water source that I could find along the entire length of this trail.

Hewitt Canyon

This multi-use recreation area is just east of  the historic  community of Queen Valley and can be accessed via. Highway #60.  Hewitt Canyon road winds its way north through gently rolling terrain and some great geo-features such as Hewitt and Roblas Canyon  as well as Hewitt Canyon Arch. This roads eventually summits Montana Mountain (5, 528 ft.), where it crosses the  Arizona Trail which can be ridden downslope to Hwy. #60.

A well-used gravel road winds it way up Hewitt Canyon, just north of Queen Valley.
Palo Verde trees provide some much-needed shade and a great campsite.
A Hewitt Canyon windmill.
A windmill filled tank is one of the few sources of water along Hewitt Canyon Road.
Looking north from Hewitt Canyon road.

Brown’s Ranch Single Track

Just thirty minutes north of Phoenix, this popular multi-use trail network is a favorite of local riders. With flowey single-track,  interesting geologic features and fantastic views of the Sonoran desert, Brown’s Ranch  is a must-ride area.

We see the world from our own perspective. Looking at things from another perspective, like the view from this rock pile, will make us better citizens.
There are large piles of eroded sandstone all over this area.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Just north of Apache Junction, this regional park has flat valley-bottom riding , some flowey toe-slope single-track and some tough rock-garden ascents and descents. Like all of the Superstition Mountains, the landscapes are stunning.

The sun rises overs Cat Peak trail.
The trail descends into a dry wash.
Sandy single-track along the valley floor.

Some rocky sections along the toe-slope of the mountain.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the Phoenix Canal System

Just a few minutes from downtown Phoenix, this multi-use urban park has some great beginners single-track that provides awesome views of the desert, hills and city. If you connect this park with the Arizona Canal Trail,  you can enjoy hours of leisurely urban trail riding. This 40 km canal system, runs northwest-southeast through the city. With flat, paved and unpaved trails, often going both directions, the canal is a fantastic ride especially for bikepackers who want an easy traffic-free ride out of the city. This trail system also provides access to many areas of the city including other parks, restaurants and even bike shops such as a the Trailhead Bike Cafe.

A typical un-paved section of the Arizona Canal Trail.
There are many interesting things to see along the canal.

 

 

Getting Steamy on Portage Mountain

Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia is well-known for its massive hydroelectric dam and Williston lake, however, this area also has some fantastic geographic features such as the Portage Mountain Steam Vents.  These naturally occurring vents are just outside of town and are accessible by mountain bike, foot or ATV. They also provide great views of the WAC Bennett dam and Williston and Dinosaur lakes. Add this adventure to your summer or winter bucket list: you won’t regret it!

Park at the trapper’s shack on Canyon drive, just west of Hudson’s Hope. Ride to the junction of the power lines and Canyon drive, then follow the lines until they head north. This upslope section is heavily eroded, so you make have to hike-a-bike for 500 meters or more. You will eventually emerge on the bottom slope of a small ski hill. Ride upslope to the lodge, then head east down the road.

Looking south down Williston lake
A liquid gold sunset

Two hundred meters past the ski lodge is a junction, take the narrow road heading east and follow it downslope to the power lines right-of-way. Head north, until the trail switchbacks around and over a small creek, then upslope to a level area. The trail head to the steam vents is just on the east side of the road.

This ATV width trail winds its way downslope along a pine and spruce covered ridge and emerges on the rim of the Dinosaur lake canyon. A short trail runs downslope through an aspen stand then emerges on a grassy slope.

The ATV width access trail to the steam vents

Dinosaur Lake

The steep trail down to the steam vents
The steam vents

Interestingly, these vents don’t smell like rotten eggs (sulphur) and my guess is that they are more prominent in winter when there is a major temperature differential. There is room for a small camp on the south side of the vents, but you are fully exposed to the elements and there is no water in the area.

These steam vents are the only terrestrial geothermal feature–that I am aware of–in northeastern British Columbia. They are well worth a visit. Furthermore, there are some interesting sand dunes on the northwest side of Portage Mountain. Check out my post about the dunes and the massive earth work Art Project that is located there: Hidden in the Sands.

Check out this link for more information about Hudson’s Hope. 

 

 

 

Tabor Mountain’s Trapper’s Shack

“8 trout-good fishing, also replaced stove pipe with larger ones 5”. No more smoke in cabin,” wrote Willie Kwiatkowski on December 28, 1977 in a tattered spiral-ring journal.”

This 39 year old journal can be found  in the cobweb covered rafters of an old backcountry cabin south of the Tabor Mountain fire tower, near the headwaters of Bowes creek. Called the “Old Trapper’s Shack,” this cabin is just one of the fantastic cultural features found in the Tabor Mountain Recreation Area , just fifteen  minutes east of Prince George. If your’e looking for some summer or winter adventure then this area is a must see!


Tabor Mountain Recreation Area Trail Map

You can access this historic cabin by mountain bike, walking, skis or ATV. Park at the junction of Giscome and Groveburn road, heading south to the junction of the Tower and VOR Forest Service Road. Its all uphill from here. Follow the VOR road east, until you reach the first switchback, where you can see the fire tower to the north. Take the narrow Frost Lake Multiuse Trail for about 1.8 kms, then head south down a narrow trail. This descent is heavily rutted and brushy. The trail eventually flattens out in treed wetland. The narrow trapper’s trail is covered with knee high grass, horsetail, balsam fir and spruce. Follow this trail, north along the edge of the wetland until you see the cabin.

You will have to cross a  makeshift bridge over  the creek that feeds the wetland. Proceed with caution.

This cabin is dry and drafty with a functioning wood stove. However, there is a a lot of mouse and squirrel waste, so I would not recommend sleeping in the cabin unless it is thoroughly swept out.

The old claw-foot stove.

While trapping may seem distasteful to some, it was a source of revenue for First Nations and immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, there is a small handful of people that still trap this region today.

The spiral-ringed journal from the 1970s found in the rafters.
Another Journals from the 1980s.

The wetland adjacent to the cabin.

Cultural features such as this trapper’s cabin are an important source of data on Tabor Mountain’s environmental history. I find it interesting that there were trout–or perhaps there still are–in this wetland, begging the question: how did they get there?

With hundreds of kilometers of multi-use trails, the Tabor Mountain Recreation Area is an outdoor adventure person’s paradise. For more info about riding this area, check out my other posts, Fatbiking Tabor Mountain and Tabor Mountain Recreation Area: Prince George’s Best Kept Mountain Biking Secret.

Front-Country Fatbiking in Jasper, Alberta

Scenic single-track, stunning views, wildlife and epic cross-country rides are just minutes away from downtown Jasper, Alberta. Even better: these trails are virtually empty in the late fall!  Three of my favorite trails include Pyramid to Katrine Lake, the Athabasca River trail (west and east) and the Valley of the Five Lakes network.  Check them out this fall or winter–you won’t be disappointed.

Valley of the Five Lakes Trailhead
Some double-track on the east side of the Athabasca river between Beauvert Lake and the northern most bridge
Single-track winding through pine grass and aspen
A Douglas fir stand near Pyramid lake
A stunning view of Jasper and the Athabasca river valley
Pyramid Mountain and lake
Looking north down the Athabasca river just adjacent to the Maligne river

The “googley-eyed” bear
A bighorn sheep grazing near the Valley of the Five Lakes trail

The view from the  Bear Paw Cafe in downtown Jasper

For more info about front-country mountain biking in Jasper National Park go to Jasper Travel. You will definitely want a map when exploring this huge network of trails. Download this map produced by Parks Canada. Remember: tell someone where your going, dress for the weather and always bring survival gear.

 

 

Free Five-Star Accommodations in Northern British Columbia

Northern British Columbia is well known for its accessible mountains, rivers, lakes and unlimited opportunities for adventure: It’s an outdoors person’s paradise! But did you know that the north also has some of the best free five-star accommodations anywhere? Next time you’re planning a backcountry adventure include a stay in one of these luxury cabins.

1. Morfee Mountain

This brand new backcountry cabin is located approximately 15 kilometers up the Morfee Mountain Forest Service Road, just outside Mackenzie, BC. Check out The Morfee Mountain Hop for more info.

 

2.  The “Old Trappers Cabin” 

It’s a tough ride into this almost all-inclusive cabin on Tabor Mountain. However, its well worth the effort. Its dry, has a cool wood stove and you get to spend some quality time with a family of mice and some squirrels. Apparently there are rainbow trout in the adjacent wetland. No outhouse included. Check out the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society for access and trail info.

3. The Troll Lake Cabin

This fantastic Tabor Mountain cabin has a great view of Troll Lake and is only a two kilometer ride or hike from Tower Road. While there is no outhouse or functioning wood stove, there is definitely a roof over your head and a door that closes. For access info download the  Tabor Mt. Recreation Society access map.

 

4. McBride Mountain Shelter

Windows and doors are not included in this mid-mountain shelter. However, the 180 degree view of Robson Valley view is second to none. Also included is an  outhouse, 50 meters down the road!  With a only a 7 kilometer ride, hike or drive up the unmaintained forest service road, you will want to add this chalet to your bucket list. For more info about McBride mountain click on McBride Mountain Madness.

5. McBride Mountain Fire Lookout

If the mid-mountain cabin is booked, then simply ride or hike another 8 kilometers to this alpine retreat. With windows, a door and a roof, what’s not to like about this retreat center?

6. Livingstone Springs Trapper’s Cabin

This heritage cabin is only a seven kilometer ride or hike from  Crooked River Provincial Park. With plenty of fresh water, squirrels and mice, you will want to book this accomadation asap.

7. Red (Grizzly Bear) Mountain Backcountry Cabin

All kidding aside, this is an all-inclusive subalpine cabin. Just bring your own food, clothes, and sleeping bag and you’re good-to-go. The cabin includes everything you need for a comfort-filled holiday; from a bbq to cookware, to plush foam mattresses. Grizzly bear, mule deer  and caribou frequent the area so you will have lots of company.  The outhouse has a  stellar view and there is fresh mountain spring water nearby. For more info or to book this cabin go to  the Prince George Backcountry Recreation Society.

8. Portage Mountain Trapper’s Cabin

Located approximately 20 kms west of Hudson’s Hope–near Portage Mountain–this streamlined cabin is apparently not open to the public. It’s nice to look at nonetheless.

9. Great West Life Mobility Park Cabin

This dilapidated yet rustic cabin is adjacent to the Prince George Snow Machine Club at the end of Scott Road. Watch out for the collapsing metal sheeting on the veranda and the broken glass inside. It will keep you dry in a pinch. Click here for more info about the Great West Life Mobility Park.

10. The Partially Completed Cranbrook Hill Cabin

This windowless, doorless and roofless cabin is only a short ride from UNBC. You will need a ladder and tarp if you’re spending the night in this unit.

The Morfee Mountain Hop

Looking for some alpine adventure with killer views and mountaintop accommodations? Then check out Morfee Mountain. Only two hours north of Prince George, this 5800 foot peak is easily accessed by mountain bike, off-road vehicle  or snow machine. With great views of the Rocky Mountains, Williston Lake and Mackenzie, British Columbia, you will definitely want to add this mountain to your bucket list.

The old snow machine club cabin at the Morfee Mt. staging/parking lot.

Access to this area is via Morfee Mt. Forest Service Road, only a few kms north of the community of Mackenzie off of Highway 39. There is a large gravel lot just off the road near the old blue cabin. You can park and ride from here or drive 15 kms to the subalpine cabin, and start from there. You can also drive all the way to the summit, park and explore the ridge lines.

Adventure mountain bikers and bikepackers will love the 17 km ascent that gains 3400 feet in elevation. This sandy, maintained road winds gradually upslope and has both flat and steep sections, especially in the alpine.

The Morfee Creek Crossing

The living wall
Looking southeast towards a rocky ridge line.

The Morfee Mt. cabin recently built for the local snowmachine club

There are ample places to set up camp  in the subalpine (approx. 4000 ft.) However, there is a brand new public cabin nearby that may be a better choice on a cold/wet day. This cabin also has a descent pit toilet and fantastic views of the rocky ridges and pristine forests to the east. If your’e lucky you might see some Southern Mountain Woodland Caribou.

Looking east from the cabiin
A great crop of blueberries
Looking south towards Mackenzie, BC and Williston Lake.
This ridge line runs northeast from Morfee Mt. and could be northern BC’s next epic ride
Morfee Mt. summit.
Looking north towards the Hart Range (Rocky Mts.)

Once on top, you can ride or hike the shale ridges running north and southwest. The wind blows hard at the top so remember to pack some warm clothing. For more info about Morfee Mountain check out Dougz’s ClubTread Post.

Hidden in the Sands: Northern BC’s “Peace Sanctuary”

The dunes emerge out of the landscape under the watchful eye of Portage Mountain

The hot summer sun was relentless. Portage Mountain’s bold ridge-line loomed in the distance. My anticipation built as I pushed up the gravel access road into one of British Columbia’s unique geographic features: the Portage Mt. Sand Dunes, near Hudson’s Hope. As I crested the hill and emerged on an open bench the wind blew hard off of Williston Lake bending the cottonwood saplings into submission.

Riding towards the eastern rim, I found a large 4×8 ft. sign lying on the ground. Its white background and multi-colored letters seemed incongruous to this desolate dune. It was made of thin aluminum sheeting on plywood. Lifting the sign and gingerly balancing it against a couple of sticks I snapped some pictures. Suddenly, a burst of wind snatched it from my grasp.

The abandoned sign

What was this? Why was it here? I was curious and slightly unnerved. Someone put serious effort into this sign. I looked around the dunes, but I was alone. The printing was clear in some places and fuzzy in others. A dark black tire mark crossed the center of the sign like a redactor’s slash. Quickly reading the text, ““Peace Sanctuary” by Canadian artist Deryk Houston.” I also noticed Iraq, children and rock. As I rode around the dunes I saw nothing but sand, an infinite number of tracks and a few rock piles.

Unbeknownst to me, beneath the sand in a depression  to the north, lay a massive landscape art project consisting of rings with paleolithic-like faces and symbols within the center. Called the “Peace Sanctuary,” this was the first major project of the artist Deryk Houston. While presently only visible from Google Earth, this massive design connects two different countries and cultures, raising awareness about the devastating effects of war in the hopes of creating lasting peace.

Portage Mountain Sand Dunes

A Google Earth image showing the sand dunes and access trails

Located 23 kilometers west of Hudson’s Hope and adjacent to the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, the Portage Mt. dunes are actually a massive Glacial Moraine. This geologic feature is a result of advancing ice sheets picking up and grinding rocks which are then exposed–on the edges, and at the end–as the ice retreats. Moraines are characterized by unsorted sands, gravels and stones. While this area is well-known to local ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts, I was hard pressed to find any who had actually been there. Fortunately, the local ATV club had posted a .gpx file of the trail network, on the internet, which I downloaded into Avenza Maps on my iPhone 6.

The gravel access road gradually ascends to to a bench which provides a great view of both the mountain and dunes. While easy climbing, the road can be tricky to negotiate due to the loose gravels and stones that cover the surface. It was perfect for a fatbike with four inch tires.

The Artist

Deryk Houston is a Victoria based Canadian-Scottish artist who has exhibited his work internationally. His farming background, love of working with his hands and a fascination with ancient art forms such as earthworks, spirals and labyrinths has influenced his large public pieces. Houston also paints. His works are characterized by a vibrant mixture of orange, red, blue and black lines, stars, waves, clouds, text, animals and primitive stick figures. He also has created some interesting 2-D paintings. Perhaps more importantly, he is a dogged advocate for peace and those impacted by war, especially Iraqis affected by the first Gulf War, subsequent conflicts and international sanctions.

In 2000 he visited Iraq and installed his “Sanctions Painting” at the Baghdad Arts Center and the following year a “Bomb Shelter” piece in a bombed out building that is now a memorial to those who died in a US attack. In 2002, he exhibited at the “Art for Mankind” show in Baghdad and supervised the construction of a 24 foot bronze sculpture in Iraq’s Peace Sanctuary. The same year he constructed the massive “Peace Sanctuary”  stating that his “intention was to help the Iraqi people and try to get the world to understand that bombing only causes other problems…At the same time, it helped to heal my own heart after witnessing some terrible things in Iraq.” The “Peace Sanctuary” garnered national attention: so much so that the National Film Board of Canada commissioned a film—“From Baghdad to Peace Country”—which premiered internationally in 2003. Houston feels that his work has made an impact on Canada’s geopolitical position towards Iraq and the Gulf War.

The Peace Sanctuary

The “Peace Sanctuary” (Photo Credit: W. Sawchuck, D. Houston)

Deryk’s trips to Iraq marked his soul. The crumbling buildings, open sewers, poverty and hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying were impossible for him to forget. Thus, he decided to create a landscape art project to raise awareness of the plight in Iraq. Wanting a remote location–so that people who have to put in effort and commitment to find it–he began researching a suitable location. He even called the famous Canadian author, Farley Mowat. Surprisingly, the provincial government was the most helpful suggesting the dunes near Hudson’s Hope. With support from the provincial and local government he began building in earnest.

With his nine year old son Samuel, a ball of twine, wooden stakes, a dirt bike and a D9 Cat operated by Phil Kirtzinger they laid out a design that was approximately 1000 feet across, containing 4 concentric rings with a mother (holding) child and dove motif at the center. While Deryk oversaw the operation from a high point, Phil roughed out the design by pushing and piling the sand–basically a massive sand sculpture. Deryk explained it to me this way:

“I love the ancient Nazca lines and their simplicity. I also love the mother and child image that we see so often throughout time. The central image is a simple circle of the mother’s head and the child’s head. The hand of the mother cradles the child’s head. There is also the shape of a dove. The outer circles are ripples. How we hope to effect change in our world.”

This costly project was funded out of Deryk’s pocket and took a few days to complete. Much later, he visited the site, but sadly ATV’s, dirt bikes and wind had pounded the earthwork into obscurity. However, like peace itself, this monument to the people of Iraq is not hidden: it can still be seen in Google Earth today!

The “Peace Sanctuary” by Deryk Houston. This image is from 2006.

Post Script: The “Peace Garden,” Woodwynn Farms

Houston continues to create thought-provoking and interactive landscape art. His latest piece is the “Woodwynn Farm Peace Garden,” near Victoria, BC. This stunning labyrinth is a collaborative effort of Houston, Elizabeth Wellburn (his wife) and Richard Leblanc, the farm director. Woodwynn Farm is a therapeutic community for the homeless and those struggling with mental health and addictions.

Woodwynn Farm Peace Garden (Photo Credit: D. Houston)

References

Personal correspondence and telephone conversation with Deryk Houston, July-August 2017.

“From Baghdad to Peace Country,” directed by Sherry LePage.  http://www.nfb.ca/film/from_baghdad_to_peace_country/.

Deryk Houston’s Art Gallery website: http://www.derykhouston.com/.

3 Reasons to Visit Valemount, BC

Kinbasket Lake

 

Nestled between the Rocky and Monashee Mountains, Valemount, British Columbia, has great outdoor adventure opportunities minus the crowds. You can camp, ride and paddle the endless shoreline of Kinbasket Lake, relax in a rustic cabin with great mountain views or fatbike and hike the Canoe River sand roads. If you want to get away from the National and Provincial Park crowds, then grab your gear and head to Valemount this summer!

1. Shorelines

Kinbasket Lake is a  massive reservoir on the Columbia river system that extends hundreds of kms south to Golden and Revelstoke.The northern tip is only 25 kms east of Valemount and can be accessed via Highway 5 South, Cedarside rd., and the Canoe River Forest Service rd. This latter road runs along the east side of the lake, providing access to numerous Forest Service Rec Sites such as Yellowjacket, Horse Creek and Canoe Reach Marina. The lake is flanked by the Monahee Mts. to the west and the Rockies to the east: needless to say the views are stunning. You can explore kms of shoreline on foot (where sturdy foot wear) or by mountain bike (fatbikes work best on the large gravels and stones that line the shore).

Camping at the Yellowjacket Creek Forest Service Rec Site
Kinbasket Lake
Exploring the Shoreline of Kinbasket Lake
Kinbasket lake
The mouth of Yellowjacket Creek
Yellowjacket Creek
The rocky banks of Yellowjacket Creek

2. Rustic Cabins

Valemount is small community with numerous hotels and rental cabins. We stayed at Twin Peaks Twin Peaks Resort, which arguably has the best view of the mountains. With super comfortable cabins, great “chill-out” decks and low rates, Twin Peaks Resort is a must visit locale.

Twin Peaks Resort
Looking southwest from Twin Peaks Resort through a smoke-filled atmosphere

3. Sand and Sun

If you love sand and sun then you will love Valemount. This area lies within the rain shadow of the Monashee Mts. and is hot and dry. More than that, the community sits on sand that washed out of a massive lake during the post-glacial melt. Explore the unique sand dune ecosystem at Jackman Flat Provincial Park or if you have a Fatbike you can ride numerous pure sand forest service roads that criss-cross the valley. Park at the end of Cranberry  Lake rd., riding south to the Upper Canoe Forest Service rd. Outside of Maui, this is the finest sand that I have ever seen.

Valemount’s endless shorelines, sandy roads and trails, rustic rental cabins and serious lack of crowds is a must-visit spot for those who like to explore off the beaten track. This community also has its own Three Ranges Brewing where you can get a pint or fill your growler for only $11 including tax. Wow! Downhill mountain bikers will love the up and coming Valemount Mountain Bike Park with its convenient shuttle service. Enjoy Valemount this summer.

 

Riding into History: The Telegraph Trail

 Just an hour west of Prince George is a fantastic ridgetop roller coaster ride through gnarly Douglas fir overlooking scenic lakes and wetlands called the Telegraph Trail. Built in 1865 by the Western Union Telegraph Company, this trail was supposed to connect North America to Russia  via thousands of kms of poles, copper wire and ceramic insulators. Abandoned in 1936, this route is now an ideal multi-use outdoor adventure trail.

A Telegraph Machine (Smithsonian Magazine)

History

In 1865, the Western Union Telegraph Company  began building a telegraph line that would connect  North America to Russia. Called the Collin’s Overland Telegraph, this  primitive electrical communication system would run from the United States, through British Columbia and Alaska, across the Behring Strait, terminating at the mouth of the Amoor River, in Eastern Russia where it would connect to St. Petersburg  via 7000 miles of  existing line.

Sadly, this ambitious project was abandoned not long after it started because in September 1866, WUTC’s competitor completed a Transatlantic Telegraph. North America could now speed dial Europe, but not on Collin’s line. Thousands of kilometers of poles, copper wire and insulators lay dormant until 1902 when the Yukon Telegraph Company took over the line. Radio communication ended the use of telegraphs in 1936.

Access

This trail can be accessed at the Hogsback Lake Forest Service Recreation Site, 20 km south of Vanderhoof. From Prince George follow HWY 16 West, turning west on Mapes rd., then southeast on the Blackwater rd. and lastly south on Hogsback Lake rd. Follow the gravel road east until the last campsite (with outhouse). The trailhead is just to the east of the picnic table.

Hogsback Lake Forest Service Rec Site
Telegraph Trail Marker
The Telegraph Trail

This trail runs along a steep sided ridge on the north and east side of Hogsback and McKay lakes. It is characterized by steep, short gravelly/sandy climbs and descents and flowy flat sections. There are great viewpoints looking south across the Nechako plateau towards the Telegraph Mt. range. Old Douglas fir, dead lodgepole pine and trembling aspen line the trail, clinging precariously to the steep slopes. Red stem feather moss, Kinickinic, juniper and birch leaved spirea cover the sandy forest floor.

A flowey flat section with fine sand
A super steep loose gravel ascent
McKay Lake

McKay lake has a great campsite that could easily fit several tents.

Image Courtesy of UNBC Archives

The Telegraph Route

Construction of the British Columbia section of the  telegraph, from  New Westminster to Quesnel, began in 1863. Two years later, a thirty-man survey team lead by  Major Frank L. Pope began surveying the Quesnel to Tatla Lake section travelling by foot, mule and canoe. The construction team, lead by Edward Conway, followed Pope’s crew brushing out the trail, selecting suitable trees for poles and hanging insulators and wire. Telegraph stations were constructed along the 365 mile line including one at Bobtail Lake, Blackwater Crossing and Bulkley House (Tatla Lake).

Pope estimated distances, measured elevations and angles along the entire route, producing elaborate reports and maps that were sent to Colonel Charles P. Bulkley, the Chief Engineer. He also recorded details about First Nations, animals and plants as well as geographic features. Pope recommended that the line be built alongside lakeshores when possible. He reasoned that these areas were more accessible, the trees more windfirm and the line easier to construct.

F.L. Pope’s 1866 report describing the Lake Babine area (UNBC Archives 1682_no4_03)
The Blackwater Crossing Telegraph Station (J.C. White, 1866)
A ceramic insulator c. 1866 or 1902

While many of the telegraph poles have fallen over and rotted, you can still find some artifacts such as this white ceramic insulator. Keep your eyes up, you may see a veteran Douglas fir with some copper wire still clinging to it.

The remains of a small forest fire overlooking a pasture
A flowy flat section with fine sand.
An interesting cattle guard
A small creek crossing just north of the Telegraph Trail.

If you looking for some two-wheeled or legged adventure then check out the Telegraph Trail at Hogsback Lake. Pack a lunch, plenty of water and be prepared for some short, tough climbs: the ridge top views are worth the effort!

If your a beginner mountain biker then check out these must-know tips from one of Canada’s top outdoor adventure bloggers, Leigh McAdam Mountain Bike Tips for Beginners.

“In wildness is the preservation of the World”

(H.D. Thoreau)

Cactus, Cattle and Cold Winds: Mountain Biking Dog Creek, BC

British Columbia is well-known for its forests, mountains and coastline, however, it also has extensive  grasslands and sage brush country that provides some fantastic mountain biking and bike packing. With plenty of cacti, cattle and  creek beds, these grasslands are your home for adventure by bike.

Dog Creek lies within the Fraser River Valley, approximately one hour south of William’s Lake. This area is characterized by rolling grass covered plateaus dotted with stunted, gnarly Douglas fir, juniper, sage brush and prickly pear cactus. The landscape is criss-crossed with steep walled gullies and dry creek beds. While portions of this area are owned by the Douglas Lake Cattle Ranch Company (owned by a US billionaire), it lies within the traditional territory of the Dog Creek/Canoe First Nation (Stswecem’c Xsat’tem ‘tn). Please respect their land by closing gates and heeding “no trespassing signs.”

Looking south towards the Fraser River Valley.

Some of the larger gullies have ATV tracks along the edges. This sage brush lined gully heads downslope to the Fraser River.

The larger gullies have small clearings that provide shelter from the wind and kindling for an evening fire. For an aromatic experience add a little fresh sage to your fire.

Looking west across the plateau.

The relentless wind, exposure to the cold and poor soils stunt the fir trees that dot the landscape.

Two firs fighting for survival. Even when half-dead, the one on the right provides perfect perches for raptors hunting field mice.

This young deer did not survive the winter or predators. The gullies are full of bone piles. A local rancher told me that many of these bones are from cattle that died years ago before they were routinely brought in for the winter. They used horses in those days, but now they use ATVs.

Prickly pear cacti cover the grasslands. I quickly learned that you should stick to the old roads and game/cattle trails. Once you go off trail you get into the cactus. I had to stop every one hundred meters or so to knock these sticky suckers off my tires. For longer trips, stick to well worn trails otherwise you will spend all your time fixing flats.

This spring has been cold, windy and wet. Every hour or so a cold wind would pick up, blowing a storm east across the plateau, then lightly rain on the upslope areas. The temperature dropped below zero at night: my winter sleeping bag was worth its weight!

Sunset over stormy mountains.

A lone horse greeted me on my return trip. These are not “petting farm” horses. They are wild and wary of dudes on bikes. Keep your distance.

For more information about mountain biking in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of British Columbia go to the Williams Lake Discovery Center Website. Next time you visit this community stop in at this unique visitor center and grab one of the many maps of the region. Also check out the fantastic all inclusive mountain bike tour of the south Chilcotin  offered by the Mountain Equipment CoOp. 

Mountain Biking North Nechako-Miworth

 

The iconic “cut banks” at the end of North Nechako road is your gateway to outdoor adventure. With miles of  roads and  trails, wildlife, scenic springs and ranches, and  a fascinating history, the North Nechako-Miworth area is an ideal Ride the Wild location!

You can start your adventure at two places;  the end of North Nechako road or from the McPhee/Chief Lake road junction. Once you pass the cut banks, North Nechako  becomes the Takla Forest Service Road, which heads north west, upslope, to McPhee  then north to Chief Lake road. A spur road runs south of Takla, just above the river, providing several access point to the Nechako river for the more adventurous (or those who like bush wacking).

Looking west down the cut banks

 

There is some great winter riding in this area.  Takla road is plowed up to the junction of the second access road on the left. Some  members of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation  live on-site at Clesbaoneecheck or Fort George Indian Reserve # 3. The Nechako river valley, as well as all of Prince George, lies within the traditional area of this First Nation. Please respect the land and those that live on it.

Some swans on Duck LAke

 

Local First Nations hunted for caribou, ducks and geese, as well as trapped and fished in this area. Indeed, as late as the 1900s there was a camp at Duck Lake where Lheidli T’enneh hunters lived. During the summer, Chief Louis also kept his horses here, so that they could graze on the grasses that covered the floodplain alongside of the river.

In the early 20th century,  settlers built a reaction ferry that could transport people across the river.  People could take the train from Prince George to Miworth (on the east side of the river) and for a few cents take  the ferry across. A reaction ferry consisted of two large connected pontoons that were attached to a cable system running from one side of the river to the other. The remains of this ferry can still be seen on the west shore of the big bend of the Nechako, opposite Wilkins Park.

Looking down McPhee Road

 

One of the ranches on McPhee Road

 

Looking east towards the bench land above the Nechako river valley

 

Some fallow pasture

 

McPhee creek is a small fish-bearing stream that descends to the Nechako river.  Just upstream of the second bridge are a series of springs. The warmer spring water prevents the river from freezing over during the winter.

Winter on the McPhee

McPhee creek crossing # 2

 

This area is rich in diversity. Eagles, kingfishers, ducks, swans, herons, moose, deer, bear (grizzly and black) and wolves all  inhabit the river valley and rich riparian areas. There is some great eagle viewing in the cottonwood trees just before and after the cut banks.

A winter wolf kill

This campsite provides great access to the Nechako river. First Nations and other locals often fish the Stuart River sockeye run at this spot. You can get to this camp by taking the spur road that runs south of Takla road, across the creek, then down the second trail on your left. This steep, short trail ends right at the river. Use flies or lures, casting from shore into the deep pools: you may catch a resident rainbow trout.

Are you interested in kicking your outdoor adventure up, a few notches? Then check out the University of Northern British Columbia’s Northern BC Adventures. From ghost towns to grizzly bears, these educational adventures get you into some of the most inaccessible places in northwest BC.