Laird Hot Springs, 10-hour drives and Hell’s Gate
Sept. 10, 2000
We gassed up at Swift River at 1:30 and started seeing wildlife, bears, coyotes, a moose and baby. Deer at Laird Hot Springs. We decided to stop and stretch our legs at the springs. One look at how inviting it was and decided to crawl into the “not-so hot” side of the pool. A few people were enjoying themselves.
I am not a swimming pool/water person, but I so enjoyed the hot mineral water of Laird Hot Springs. I enjoyed it so much, it left me like a weak wet noodle and I had to have Bob’s help getting out of the pool.
We drove a couple more miles and parked in a gravel pit to take a nice rest. That place was just plain spooky and neither one of us could sleep, so we climbed over the seats into the front and took off in the dark, looking, once again for a cup of coffee in hard driving rain and dark-darkness.
We came upon Toad River Lodge and had a good breakfast. Gassed up and on our way, finding snow at Baba Canyon. Lots of caribou on the road. Drove on through Fort Nelson and headed for Fort St. John on to Hudson’s Hope. Rain and snow combined — Bob called it “snrain.” We had been on the road 6 hours and it was only 9:30 in the morning. Straight road to the place called Shepard’s Inn. Bob had driven 629 miles. He had a roast beef sandwich and I had vegetable soup and a nice salad. We both had strawberry-rhubarb pie. So good! He had driven 10 hours and it was 1:30 in the afternoon. Nice roads and lots of pretty farms, winding roads.
We turned at Chatwyn and headed for Fort McLeod. We had planned staying there for the night. To our amazement, absolutely nothing there! Mostly abandoned buildings and old rusty cars and trucks. Not one soul did we see. We thought maybe we passed it by, so Bob just kept on driving, right back into the rain — lots of rain. He drove and drove and I was sure he was going to drive right into the next day or park in another gravel pit! We both were butt weary!
At Bear Lake, which was more like a lumber town, we found a motel with one room still open. We gladly took it. It was on the far end of the building. It was so small we almost had to walk in and back out! It was not so clean. We cranked up the heat in a up-right old rattling furnace in the kitchen and took a nice hot shower. I put some water in a tea kettle on the stove and it leaked out all over the stove. Well, shoot, we just crawled in bed. We had been 15 hours on the road. Do you think I could sleep? Nope!
The bed was sway-backed and sank in the middle so badly that only one person could sleep comfortable. Since Bob was sound asleep in minutes, I fixed a bed on the ‘kinda-like-couch’ in the kitchen piling on all our coats and a loan blanket. I tried to sleep! My head was up against the rattle of the big furnace. I just laid there glad we were not moving in the car or parked in a scary gravel pit!
Early in the morning we packed up and were ready to go find a cup of coffee in the early morning. Bob rated the motel on a scale of 1 to 10 a very low 2 minus — adding that the hot water was nice in the not-so-nice shower. Never found any coffee!
We drove on to Prince George on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 in the morning, going through towns named Red Rock, Woodpecker, and Cottonwood. Nice country, beautiful fruit trees and farms as we drove into Quesnel and inquired about our friends Ted and Val. We were told they were gone for the day. Darn it! Bob was disappointed and so was I.
Fruits stands were everywhere and I loaded up on 2 peaches, 2 apples and some cherries. We left Quesnel at 11:30 still Sept. 10, into the sage brush at Clinton. At 3:00, we drove right into Fraser River Canyon and Hell’s Gate without warning of what was to come!
We had NO idea what we were about to drive into! All of the sudden we were on a narrow two-lane highway, full of trucks, cars, vans, campers, motor homes, more trucks — big, big semis! Because we had no idea what was around the winding bend in the road, we were going slow, so were people in front of us! Bob looked in his rear view mirror and all he said was “HOLY COW!” Told me to look behind us. I uttered “Holy Cow” also — I think! There was the big-huge semi front bumper in our van rear window, with his high beams on, two inches (yup) from our van.
I looked two feet to the right, over the dented, bent guard rail and there was the deepest canyon I have ever seen with a little ribbon of a river at the bottom. In front of us were blinking warning signs: Tunnel — keep your lights On , Stay to the Right! Curve ahead signs and 10 percent grade signs, warning truckers to shift to lower gear … and so on and on. In the meantime, white knuckled Bob, chin stuck out, eyes glued to the road and glancing at the big semi’s bumper in our rear view mirror, uttering once every 4 minutes, “Holy Cow!” I was on the side of the big deep, deep canyon we soon learned was Frazer River Canyon. Hell’s Gate was a name on one of the signs. No kidding!
What seemed to be hours, I spotted a sign saying gas station, rest stop, food, as we came out of a tunnel. I pointed, motioned and said in a modulated voice, trying not to scream, “Turn off, turn off, turn off! Get that truck off your butt!” We missed the first driveway, as most of the other cars did and buzzed into the second. The big bumper semi whizzed on by! We just sat there!
“Boy! Was that exciting?” Bob looked at me with half a grin or maybe, possibly, pure terror on his face, uttering “BOY! Was that a scary, hair raising road? Wonder how much farther we have to go to get down to long straight road again?”
We got out of the car on very wobbly legs and I wondered around the little tiny shop that offered loaves of bread, out-dated milk, candy bars and small assortment of sodas. No coffee!
Getting brave enough to get back on the Hell’s Gate highway, Bob’s statement to me was, “Why did we go this way? That is rightly named Hell’s Canyon! Did you notice all the signs said gear down, 10 percent grade? Well, we are headed down grade now, we were so high we needed oxygen! Wonder where the big bumper semi is by now?”
He talked more than he had ever talked. Relieved, I am sure, that we were on our way out of Hell’s Canyon.
Finally out of the canyon and on to the Canadian-Washington state boarder. Bob was not so uptight about boarder crossing this time. They waved us off to the side. Bob got wild eyed! They took my lonely peach. We were on our way to Federal Way, Washington, United States of America! We had been on the road constantly for four days!
Continued: Bob’s driving in traffic was not over yet, as we drove into Washington on congested 4-6-8 lane highways!
■ ■ ■
This column is written by Ann Berg, a longtime resident of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org