Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back in Time to Barkerville

I had barely got home from Alaska and two days later I found myself on a road trip with my 'sisters.' I knew this was coming but still felt like I needed a little time to catch my breath. No such luck! Every year I take a trip with my friends. We call ourselves the Seven Sisters though, sadly, there is rarely a time when all seven of us manage to get together anymore. Last year we went to Disneyland (incredible) and this year we thought we'd try for something completely different. Barkerville, British Columbia.

Billy Barker
In 1862, Billy Barker came down the Williams Creek valley from the town of Richfield in search of a rich strike. After digging through 42 feet of hard clay he found the richest strike to date in August of 1862. After spending the winter of that year in Victoria, Barker returned to his claim in the spring only to find that an entire town had been built around it and was named in his honour. Barkerville had been born!

The wonderful thing about Barkerville is that that same excitement (read 'gold fever') and historical accuracy have been painstakingly preserved to this day. Over 100 of the buildings are original and many are standing in the same spot they were built. Townspeople wander about, seemingly oblivious that you are from a completely different timeline. A hurdy-gurdy girl told us that contrary to what we had heard "she didn't do that sort of thing" and a wobbly lawyer weaved down the street in front of us after one too many visits to the "apothecary." At least he never forgot to tip his hat. To really enjoy Barkerville here's my advice. Just let yourself be transported back in time.

For those of us who live in the Fraser Valley, a trip to Barkerville means travelling up the Fraser Canyon. It is one of my favourite road trips. After you pass through the historic town of Yale you can almost feel a palpable change. Time slows down just a teensy bit and the history envelopes you as you travel along the same road that so many went on before, risking their lives for that one thing. Gold.

Now, almost 150 years later, we whiz along in the comfort of our automobile. It doesn't take long and you go through the first of seven tunnels. Do you know the names of the tunnels off by heart? Thanks to my father, the school teacher, I do. I've tried to make my friends memorize them but they don't seem very interested. Not sure why but since this is my blog I'm going to recite them for you. They are (from south to north)...Yale, Saddle Rock, Sailor Bar, Alexandra, Hell's Gate, Ferrabee and China Bar (the longest).

the 8th tunnel

It is at the Hell's Gate tunnel that we make one of our first stops. Did you know that there is an 8th tunnel? I didn't either until we went to look for GC29TEX - what a wonderful surprise that was! If you're travelling and caching up the Fraser Canyon this is one cache that I highly recommend.

The Sisters at the Kelly House

There are far too many wonderful spots to explore and caches to find along the Fraser Canyon to list in one blog entry so instead I will recommend two excellent books you should have for a trip like this... especially if you're a geocacher. The first one is Gold Country's "GeoTourism Adventures" and the 2nd is New Pathways to Gold's "Chasing the Golden Butterfly." We love them both, especially when someone reads them aloud to us while we're driving! 

When we arrive in Barkerville we are pretty excited because, months ago, we booked the "Kelly House" as our accomodation. A Bed & Breakfast right in the heart of Barkerville means that we can explore to our heart's content and go back whenever we want - to rest, to eat or for a glass of wine! Not only is it convenient but the back-in-time illusion continues with feather beds (honestly, the best sleep I've had in a long time), clawfoot tubs, no TVs & a Cariboo breakfast every morning. Because there was no TV we read aloud in the parlour every night from "Cariboo Runaway." Great story. 

We spent three days exploring Barkerville and yes, you can and you should spend at least that many days there. We took the Barkerville Cemetery tour, panned for gold, took the Barkerville town tour, took the Chinatown tour, visited with an archaeologist, hiked to the Richfield courthouse, rode on a stagecoach and of course, got our portrait taken at Louis A Blanc Photographic Gallery. We found all seven caches around Barkerville and they're all great and well done. My favourite though was GC12A7A because, in order to log this cache, you need to watch the Cornish Waterwheel show.. one of the best shows in Barkerville!

After a wonderful three days it was time to road-trip home. We drive south, through Spences Bridge, Lytton and Boston Bar and then, before we know it, the familiar Fraser Valley farmland stretches before us. We're home. It is good to be home again but we know that life is going to speed up any minute now. The illusion was wonderful while it lasted.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cachin' & Cruisin' Alaska Style

I've done a lot of geocaching & exploring in my life but nothing like this last trip!

On June 7th my daughter and my parents and I set sail on the Disney Wonder from Vancouver to Alaska. People told me that cruise ships are luxurious and that you are treated like royalty. Well that was an understatement. The moment we stepped on the Wonder we forgot that we were regular people! It was beyond our expectations.

I could tell you now all about our Disney experience but that's a topic for a different blog. What I'd like to share with you is our experiences in the towns of Alaska.... Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and the fjord of Tracy Arm.

I am a West Coast BC girl so to be honest with you Alaska is not a whole lot different from home. But still, as far as I'm concerned, there is no place like home! The coastlines of British Columbia and Alaska are breath taking and each port of call gave us something new to see and explore and, of course, caches to find!

My family & me in Tracy Arm Fjord
Our first Alaska experience was Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is approximately 48 km long. The cliff walls of the fjord loomed high above us as we made our way slowly towards Sawyer Glacier. We saw many seals with their pups and an eagle sitting on her nest. We scanned for mountain goats but unfortunately we didn't see any. As we got closer to the glacier the ice floes around us increased. Some of these chunks of ice were as big as a car. Suddenly we heard a loud boom, like two railway box cars banging together. The glacier was cracking! We didn't see any 'calving' (parts of the glacier falling into the sea) but even the sound of it was awesome. The forces of nature at work are pretty humbling. At this time I got to experience my first "cruise-friendly" cache. GC1DG1T is an awesome earthcache that you can complete from the deck of your ship. All you have to do is answer a few questions and have your picture taken with your GPS and the glacier behind you. Since our ship made sure that there were Park Rangers on deck available to answer all our questions as we passed through the fjord, this was the easiest cache I had done in a long time.

The White Pass Train
The next morning we awoke to find that we were already docked in the tiny town of Skagway. Skagway is one of those places that exudes history and there's not many things that I love more on this earth than history, especially when I can walk amongst it. This was the day that I had been looking forward to for months. Today we were going to ride on the Whitepass Historic Railway. The White Pass Railway was built in 1898 and has been declared an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. The 4 hour ride took us through tunnels, over trestles, past the cabin where the North West Mounted Police checked every miner entering the Yukon (to make sure they were carrying at least one ton of supplies with them) and into British Columbia. We were allowed to walk around inside our train car during the trip and we could even step outside onto the small decks at each end of our car to get some awesome photographs. If you're in Skagway I highly recommend this excursion.

Skagway had some fun caches. One, called Altoids Alaska, was an easy find and just steps from our cruise ship. I sure appreciated that. We found a great TB hotel not too far away as well but our favourite cache was a Virtual called "Camp Skagway No. 1" GCGJ2Q. If you're caching in Skagway this cool virtual should not be missed.

The Wonder from Mount Roberts
The next day we docked in Juneau. The captial city of Alaska is beautiful and has the distinction of being the only state capital that is not accessible by road.. the only way in and out of Juneau is by boat or plane. Before we disembarked we had breakfast on the ship while watching the floatplanes coming in and out of Gastineau Channel. We commented on how much it reminded us of Vancouver... a city surrounded by ocean & mountains. Once again we felt right at home. We had previously decided that we weren't going to do any other excursions during the week but, after we got off the ship, my dad took one look at the tram going up to Mount Roberts and said "I want to go on that!" Well my mom does not enjoy heights too much so Tess, Dad & I took the trip up. It was a great ride up (a little pricey) but it was beautiful at the top with views that were amazing. My advice if you're planning on visiting Juneau is to wait and see what kind of weather you have that day when you arrive. If it's cloudy I don't think it would be worth the cost of a ticket since you won't be able to take in the great view... and if it's nice you can easily buy your ticket after you dock.

All too soon it was time for our last stop... Ketchikan. Ketchikan, the "Salmon Capital of the World" was such a cute little town with most of the shops right beside the docks. We enjoyed walking the streets, dodging the jewellery merchants just a bit (lol) and, of course, finding a cache or two. Unfortunately there weren't too many to find right by the cruise ships and we didn't have much time at this stop but we did manage to find one micro GC2D1CH after a great walk along the pier.

And then, before we knew it, we were heading home, back to Vancouver.

What a vacation that was. We were spoiled beyond belief, ate like we had never eaten before and explored to our hearts' content. Alaska was just as welcoming, breathtaking and beautiful as I expected it to be. I'm sorry that our trip is over but the memories we take home with us will last us a life time.