Welcome to Chapter 14 of our ‘On the Road Series.’ Our travels have taken us across the Southwest, and nearly back again, via the trusty transport of Beatrix, our 2022 Toyota and Marion, our 1979 Trillium Trailer.
Visiting the natural places of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and now, British Columbia, we have learned to trust our instincts and move on if a place does not feel right. This tale tells of our five days’ stay at the Nelson BC City Campground. As it is in most of the places we visited, Nelson is besieged by high housing costs and a lack of workforce housing. At the Nelson City Campground, we met a woman in her fifties, evicted from her rental unit so that her landlord could live there. Forced to camp in a tent with her partner, she told us she was too old to be camping in a tent and hoped to find housing soon so she didn’t have to continually keep up with cleaning mud and damp from her camping gear and bed linens. She had stayed more than the limit of 14 days, and was continually shuttled to other available sites.
In its eagerness to accommodate too many camping requests, the city campground has become a willy-nilly chaos of too many people with substandard bathroom resources to accommodate them. In less than 24 hours’ time, two separate people we talked with told us they would never camp at Nelson’s City Campground ever again. This blog is an open letter to the City of Nelson, in its prosperity, to upgrade and improve the over-crowded campground and treat better its overworked staff.
At the moment I am in the city of Hope, BC, at its public library. Stopping at the town laundromat, we parked next to a sweaty and bare chested beer belly of a man with a truck whose camper hatch was open to reveal six large dogs, devotedly loyal to him. His bumper sticker read F*ck Trudeau. Ah, the shadow is nearly everywhere. Fortunately, we have hope that there are mainly progressive thinking people that we’ve met along the way. We return home July 14. The road goes ever on and on…—Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate
After leaving Bruce and Jenn Van Hoorn’s idyllic lakeside property in Hauser ID, July 4, we drove to the northeastern corner of Washington state, where we would camp for the night before crossing the border into British Columbia at Nelway.
While we had booked a site at the East Sullivan campground at the north end of Sullivan Lake, our site was flooded and surrounded by sickly looking conifers. Driving south we found a pleasant site at Noisy Creek Campground on southern Sullivan Lake outside the town of Iona. We recommend NOT camping at East Sullivan Loop Campground. It is in bad repair with little maintenance done.
At Bruce and Jenn’s we downloaded the ArriveCan app. There we entered our passport numbers and submitted photos of proof of our COVID vaccines. We were to meet at the border at 11:15 a.m. July 5. We spent a sleepless night wondering if we would be having to take a COVID test and be quarantined, as the website said we might. Hate language was also banned and we were told our cellphones and laptops could be seized and checked for a history of searching for violent propaganda and child pornography. As it turned out, I woke up with a sore throat July 5. Bill found a COVID test kit we bought when staying in Arizona. My test was negative. Relief!
Crossing the pleasant border at Nelway, our agent was friendly and we were there four minutes. He looked at our passports. Eggs and some meats were forbidden, along with some fruits. We told him we threw away our eggs and open meat products. Our wrapped pork sausage was OK. We had no cannabis to declare, nor were we planning on selling merchandise while in BC. We were in Canada! I downloaded offline maps before we left Washington of Nelson and EC Manning Provincial Park to guide us while we were in airplane mode with our cellphones.
At the border our Google map narrator, who we have named Helen—after my no nonsense mama in heaven—switched to narrating distances in kilometers and meters. For instance, “In 400 meters,” turn left, Helen told us.
Reaching the Nelson City campground, we tuned into Nelson’s co-op radio station, 93.5, and listened to various styles of music, according to the volunteer hosts’ taste, and learned about local news. For instance, Howard Been, 68, has been on a hunger strike since April, protesting the cutting down of old-growth trees. Maintaining old growth trees is important in sustaining human life, along with the Earth’s well-being, says Forest Ecologist Suzanne Simard, who gave a compelling TED talk about preserving old-growth forests in 2016.
On Wednesday July 6 we visited the Nelson Waldorf School, here 34 years on a former ski lodge site. Faculty were repainting classrooms and getting them ready for the upcoming school year. I spoke with an elven-like fellow, Matthew Fry, the school’s director of marketing and communications, here 17 years. He told me the school will expand its reach into downtown Nelson, and provide childcare.
We stopped at the Yellow Deli. It is run by an international intentional community called the Twelve Tribes, which formed in Tenessee in the 1970’s. Being attuned to good food, I felt nourished by my toasted GF sandwich of beef and cheese, served with fresh veggies in a delicious vinaigrette. The Twelve Tribes own a farm nearby, Sentinel Farm, whose farmstead sells fruit, veggies, and local baked goods. The people reminded me of a Waldorf or Amish community, and I felt quite at home in their presence.
Afterwards, we drove north along the Slocan River and Slocan Lake, about 100 miles north of Nelson, toward Nakusp Hot Springs, and enjoyed our hot springs soak in the healing waters of its 98° pool.
Heading south that afternoon after a picnic and walk in the woods, Bill wanted to visit a mine in the nearby ghost town of Sandon, where his Grandad John Poss once owned a claim to one of the town’s silver mines. It was Grandad who inspired us to travel and adventure with his stories of the road that he and his wife Maree took. For a while they recorded history/geography logs and made slideshows for an educational company in Chicago that were distributed to schools nationwide.
Grandad and Maree pulled their 30-foot trailer along the rugged road to Sandon back in the mid 1900’s. A storm had sprung up in the Kootenay mountains and, as Grandad writes in his memoir, he and Maree narrowly escaped to the main road before the Sandon bridge collapsed and wiped out the town. There is an ongoing silver mining operation in Sandon and we saw a few people walking around. I counted 10 decomposing gray tour buses with pantographs attached to their roof. Pantographs are the poles which are attached to electrical lines. Once the busses were used to bring tourists in. Carpenter Creek, here is a still-fierce adversary, evidenced by her tossing stones every which way along her braided channel. I don’t think man can ever tame her.
In the mean time, while we sat on lounge chairs earlier in the day at Nakusp Hot Springs, a local aging rockstar guy with waist-long blond hair told us to check out the great tacos at Flaca’s Bakery & Bistro in Slocan, on Hwy 6 on our way home. He recalled the old days of hosting folk and bluegrass festivals, and bemoaned CBC radio’s current decline in good programming.
The Slocan community reminded us of the Bohemian community in Bolenas, CA in Marin County. Murals abounded on the community buildings. The smell of marijuana smoke generously perfumed the air. Our food was healthy and delicious.
Friday July 8 was a day to take naps and stay close to Nelson. I did some holiday shopping at Cartolina, on Baker Street, the main downtown artery. It sells cool maps and botanically inspired functional art.
We ate lunch again at the Yellow Deli. A server, closer to our age, responded to my saying I felt at home in the place. He said he found his home, his wife and his daughters within the Twelve Tribes community after a driftless life. He invited us to join the group for their weekly dance and dinner each Friday night. Bill was less enthused than me, so we did not go.
Instead we went walking along the Nelson Waterfront Pathway, a resurrected-from industrial-use public walkway along the west arm of Kootenay Lake. At 7:46 pm we looked up at the beautiful cloud formations out over the high Selkirk mountain range surrounding the lake. Reflections from moored boats seemed more like a painting than the reality we were seeing.
We noticed the subtle differences of traveling in Canada. A distinctive BC accent, terms referring to restrooms as washrooms, canned milk is tinned milk. At first we thought Nelson’s campground typical of Canadian campgrounds. Privacy was minimal. At our campsite, our neighbor’s picnic table faced not far from our front door. Walk in campsites had campers walking through our site. The walk-in campers’ picnic table was just a few feet behind our neighbor’s RV.
We felt a growing uneasiness with the chaos increasing as the campground became more busy. One morning I got up in the dark early morning hours to find a couple sitting on the table of our kitchen/laundry/restroom building. The boy wore red pajama bottoms and had his face painted like a cat’s. A fragile emotioned woman was with him. She asked me the bathroom code number and I held the door for her, sensing her disconnect with reality. The following morning the couple were still sitting in the covered kitchen area. I sensed they were homeless and had spent the night there. Once again the young woman had asked the bathroom code number from the office attendant, and could not decipher her writing. I told her the code again and she felt embarrassed that she could not process the information. I worried for her well-being. The campground attracted people living in battered noisy RVs, along with international travelers in better financial situations.
On Saturday, July 9, we boarded the Osprey 2000 Ferry, a free, 35 minute cruise across Kootenay Lake from nearby Balfour to the eastern side of the lake. We had taken the trip earlier on our visit, stopping only for about 20 minutes to visit North Woven Broom in the nearby art town of Crawford Bay. Broom crafters here design beautiful brooms. Crafters made 800 brooms, which were featured in promoting J.K. Rowling’s books Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 2003, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, throughout Canada. While I did not buy a Nimbus 2000 copy, I did buy a broom with a cherrywood handle, which I look forward to using.
After exiting the ferry this time, we drove south along the lake, visiting the orchard town of Creston, near the U.S. border, and picking up some gifts at its farmer’s market. We picnicked at Bridal Lake among narrow armed conifers at Stagleap Provincial Park at 5,820 feet elevation. We decided to walk around the lake and hike upward on a nearby trail.
Before our hike, though, we were engaged in a monologue with, who we nicknamed Bitter Richard, a man about our age, who lives in nearby Fruitvale BC. A factory man working at a smelter in the town of Trail during the 1980s, work was lost to other countries, he lamented. Nowadays he blames rich folk from Alberta for driving up local home prices. He said he would never camp at the Nelson City campground.
While we hiked, we hoped to see caribou or wolverines, that were said to roam here, but we did not. We did enjoy the vistas of the Selkirk mountains, still wearing shawls of snow.
After our hike we hoped to eat in the town of Salmo, south of Nelson. However the only availability was a pub at the hotel filled with sweating beer-glazed grizzled men, whose watery eyes stared at us strangers when we walked in the door. We decided to continue on to Nelson.
Stopping at 198 Baker Street at Busaba Thai Cafe, in the Savoy Hotel complex, we enjoyed delicious shrimp coconut curry for me, and chicken/rice/veggies for Bill. A quick downpour sent the outside diners running for cover inside.
Back at the Nelson City Campground, the best of the camp’s office folks, Ava, was beside herself. The showers were flooding the women’s bathroom. It was Saturday night and she could not locate a plumber. She mopped the floor and while I waited, she said the drains had cleared. I showered at 9:30 that night and the drain again was plugged, filling the shower basin to my ankles. Using a paper towel, I pulled out a thick plug of hair from the drain. Bill had a similar experience in the men’s room with water to his ankles. Ava posted signs afterward saying the showers were closed. I wrote a note of appreciation to the City of Nelson for Ava’s heroic efforts, praising her continually cleaning the common area, and watering the plants, while maintaining a friendly and caring attitude. I hope she gets a great promotion. That night Bill and I each had trouble sleeping, with chattering depressing thoughts racing through our minds. We each puzzled why we had that experience.
Meanwhile the following morning, the women’s toilet was clogged. Wade the office man then, posted signs saying the stall was closed. We prepared to leave camp, heading for the Kettle River Recreation Area at Rock Creek, a few hours away. We said goodbye to the sweet daughter of our walk in camp neighbors and left camp.
While camping at the well-maintained and spaced Kettle River campground, our neighbors told us they too experienced a bad time camping at Nelson City Campground, wrote to the mayor, and received a refund for their troubles.
Now, we’re camping at the E.C. Manning Provincial Park, north of Bellingham. We traded our baking in the sun reserved campsite #67 at Hampton Campground, for a much better site, #23 at the Coldspring Campground down the road. Our site is along the Similkameen River, whose voice comforts us outside our window. We were lucky to find this first come, first-served site. Our Aussie-born campground operator cheerfully made the switch for us.
We notice that the places we visit here in BC note that they occupy unceded land of the First Nations’ people who lived here before. We are glad to see homage long overdue being paid to Canada’s indigenous people. I learned that 95% of British Columbia occupies land that was never legally signed away to England or Canada by First Nation people.
Time to finish this story. Chapter 15 will find us home in Langley once again with our orange Ollie cat, our own toilet and shower, and running water. We are so grateful to Rachel, Shayna and Lily, for caring for our home the past 15 weeks. Being on the road has taught us to be flexible and present. Now I’m ready for some home and community time once again. Adios from Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate