25-Jul-2003 -- The intersection of 55°N and 120°W has a special place in my heart, and I was hoping I could be the first to visit it. I had even discussed the possibilities and the difficulties with Dave Patton, Canadian Coordinator for the DCP, in our only face-to-face meeting, last fall.
In the summer of 1977, my wife and I had passed very close to the confluence, within a kilometer, well before the Internet, the Global Positioning System, or the DCP had come into existence. At that time, we had a 1972 Toyota Hilux pickup with a camper mounted on it, and an eleven month-old son, Adam. My wife, Lynn, is from Beaverlodge, Alberta, and we had gone there to visit her mother. We decided to drive the rough roads to Kinuseo Falls, British Columbia, and leave Adam with his grandmother, the first time Lynn and Adam would be separated overnight.
We headed south and then west from Beaverlodge along the Elmworth Road, which continued past Elmworth across the interprovincial boundary and on to the falls. Kinuseo Falls was formed when the Murray River dropped 60 meters over an escarpment – higher than Niagara Falls, but not as wide. The interprovincial boundary follows the 120°W line of longitude, and, as it happens, the Elmworth road crosses it just a little south of 55°N. Oblivious to the existence of confluences, we drove over dusty, hilly, gravel and dirt roads about 100 kilometers to the falls, arriving there at dusk. We parked, took a quick look at the falls, and then retired for the night. Then it started to rain. It rained all night and was still raining the next morning. Knowing the results would be poor, I still took a picture of the falls before we started the drive back through the rain.
The downpour had made the road slippery, and I had barely enough traction to get the truck up some of the hills. Finally, a particularly steep hill defeated my efforts, and we were left unable to get out of the dip. Parking at the bottom, we set off on foot. Trudging three or four kilometers through the mud and rain, we reached the camp of a coal-prospecting crew. One of them generously offered to tow us out with his 4X4 full-size pickup truck. My wife rode in the tow vehicle while I stayed in the Toyota and steered through the mud flung up by the 4X4. Eventually, after unknowingly passing near the confluence one more time, we reached better surface on flatter ground and were able to continue on our own. Our truck was covered with about four inches of mud, and when we looked inside the camper, we discovered that the rough ride behind the 4X4 had torn the door of the camper fridge, spreading the contents over the floor and thoroughly mixing them together.
Needless to say, it was an experience we have never forgotten, and I’ve always wanted to go back to Kinuseo Falls to get better photos. When the DCP came along, and I realized I could combine the return visit with a confluence, I wanted to go back.
But you can’t always get what you want. With Lynn’s brother and sister-in-law living in Dawson Creek, only an hour’s drive from Beaverlodge, there was no way I could make the trip without including Lynn and a family visit. So I had to wait until everything fell into place.
The stars didn’t align properly until the fourth weekend in July, 2003. By then, Andrew Makepeace had made the first visit to the confluence. But I still felt the call, and on July 25 we set off from our home in Edmonton. Nearing Beaverlodge, we made a side trip to Saskatoon Mountain. While Lynn was growing up in Beaverlodge, the mountain was know as the airbase. More formally called Canadian Forces Station Beaverlodge, the mountaintop was the site of one of the 44 radar stations of the Pinetree Line. Less well-known than the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) in Arctic Canada, the Pinetree Line was also a relic of the Cold War, and CFS Beaverlodge was closed down in 1988. The top of the mountain became accessible to the general public without fear of being shot as a Soviet spy. While atop the mountain, we picked wild strawberries (the saskatoons we found were not ripe) and I took a photo looking toward the confluence, 50 kilometers away.
Once again we set off down the Elmworth Road, now Provincial Road 722 for much of its length, and before 6 p. m. we were watching the GPS receiver on my dashboard count down the distance to 55°N and 120°W. The misspelled boundary sign that Andrew saw seems to have been torn down, but the road leading due north just west of 120°W was unmissable. I drove along it until the distance to the confluence started to increase, turned around, returned to the minimum distance of 80 meters, and parked. To my surprise, Lynn wanted to join me in the excursion through the barbed-wire fence and into the bush to the confluence.
As Andrew reported, the forest is fairly dry and open, and with little difficulty we came to the point where the GPS receiver showed all zeroes. Just after I showed this display to Lynn, the reading moved on while we stood still. The mosquitoes had found us by then, so it was in hurry-up mode that I took the required photos, and didn’t care to dance long enough to restore the perfect display. There was a game trail where we had first got the reading, so we followed that back toward the road as the path of least resistance, and soon were back through the fence and at the car. I took a photo of the road looking in the opposite direction from Andrew’s photo, and another looking across the fence in the direction of the confluence 80 meters away.
Regaining the air-conditioned and mosquito-free comfort of the car, we celebrated the successful visit with an apple each. We headed south and rejoined the road we had followed 26 years before. This time, however, we didn’t continue on to Kinuseo Falls; we had arranged to make that trip the next day with Lynn’s brother and sister-in-law. After a brief stop at Hiding Creek, some 8 kilometers from the confluence, to take a more photogenic view of the terrain than the environs of the point could provide, we pushed on to the Heritage Highway, a gravel road running north back to the main highway between Beaverlodge and Dawson Creek. This road had not yet been built in 1977.
Although the confluence had been successfully visited, our adventures were not over. The next day, the four of us drove south 125 kilometers to Tumbler Ridge, a coal-mining town servicing the Quintette Mine. In the intervening years since our other visit to Kinuseo Falls, the town and mine and an electric rail line crossing the continental divide had been built at a capital cost of 2.6 billion dollars, the coal markets had collapsed, the mine had been shut down, and the town had made the transition from boom town to retirement community. The excellent paved roads were all new since our earlier trip.
Just before Tumbler Ridge we were thrilled to see a huge dark wolf cross the road about 100 meters in front of us. Wolves in the wild are rarely seen.
From Tumbler Ridge we drove past the mine onto the Kinuseo Falls road. The falls are now in Monkman Provincial Park, but they are still nearly the end of the road. After the mine, the road is gravel – apparently sharp gravel. A few kilometers along I heard a thumping sound, and pulled over to discover my left rear tire rapidly going flat. My brother-in-law assisting, we quickly changed the tire and drove on the parking lot for the falls viewpoints.
This time, it was bright, warm, dry and sunny, good weather for photography. The viewpoint is at the top of the falls, and I thought better photo ops awaited at the bottom. Leaving the others at the top, I headed down the rough trail to the river at the foot of the falls, and very soon felt a sharp pain in my left calf. Apparently I had pulled a muscle, but a minor one. Some experimenting showed that it only hurt in certain motions, and that if I moved carefully, I could proceed without aggravating it. Knowing I was unlikely to return any time soon, I gingerly made my way down the steep, root-strewn path to the river, and out onto some of the driftwood logs piled up there, taking numerous photos.
The return trip to the viewpoint was somewhat strenuous, but my main focus was on finding ways to move that didn’t make my leg hurt. This goal was largely achieved, and I joined the others at the top.
When we got back to the car, we were dismayed to discover that the right front tire of the car had gone flat. Like most motorists, I carry only one spare tire. Now we were in trouble. We were sixty kilometers over a rough road from Tumbler Ridge, the nearest place there might be repair facilities. There is no telephone or cellular coverage in Kinuseo Falls; in fact, there is no cell phone coverage in Tumbler Ridge, although it is scheduled to go into service soon.
Luckily, the fine weather had brought several other groups to the falls. One man offered to lend us his spare tire, but it didn’t fit. We made ourselves comfortable at a picnic table and had lunch while we waited for an opportunity. It wasn’t very long before we were able to persuade a friendly young couple, who happened to be from Beaverlodge, to take me and my two flat tires back to Tumbler Ridge in their Nissan pickup. I rode back sitting sideways in the tiny jumpseat, and in less than an hour we were at the only service station in town. Ordinarily it would have closed 20 minutes before we got there, but the mechanic had a few tire repairs come in at the last minute. He also was responsible for automobile club emergency road service, so he agreed to fix the tires and take me back to the falls.
The cramped return trip had caused my leg to stiffen up, so I limped around while waiting for my turn to come. Eventually, the other tasks were completed, an in-town towing job was done, my tires were repaired (revealing a separating sidewall on one) and we returned to Kinuseo Falls. We installed the better repaired tire and put the other in the spare-tire well. We wanted the tow truck behind us in case anything else happened, and the driver-mechanic, Danny, wanted to look at the falls, so we soon drove off. My companions remarked on the friendliness of the other people at the falls, who had offered food and other assistance during their long wait.
We got back to Dawson Creek without further incident except for sighting a large black bear crossing the road, but the next morning the repaired front tire had gone flat, and the worse tire, with separating sidewall, was pressed into service. As it was a Sunday, we had some difficulty getting any service, and the twice-flat tire was beyond repair. We were finally able to buy a new spare and get it mounted. The next day in Grande Prairie I bought a complete new set of tires.
I’ve concluded that Lynn and I have a curse on our visits to the falls, and we’ve vowed never to return.