Somewhere between the town of Hope, where one of the biggest landslides in Canadian history occurred, and Merritt, we ended up at a tourist attraction where you actually panned for gold. It wasn’t in a creek but in one of those sluice jobbies where they add river dirt on a regular basis and teach you how to pan for nuggets. We drank in the tales of the surrounding ghost mining towns and listened to stories of recent finds. One of the biggest panning rivers lay to the south where it was still possible to find nuggets washed down from the mountains. Armed with official gold pans and guide books, we headed south to Granite City.
I’m not sure how it is today, but back then the road was a narrow path that hugged the mountain with a sheer drop off one side. I couldn’t find any of my old photos to back this up, but this photo is of the Dewdney Trail which overlooked the Tulameen Valley back in the 1880's. At the time, it was the only way to get to Granite Creek.
I remember sitting in the RV, at the table, and looking out the big window – way down to the river below. The road was so narrow, it was only possible for one vehicle to go at a time. At one point, we saw a vehicle up ahead and literally panicked. What to do? By the time Nelson slowed the RV, an opportune sign (or Divine hand) designated a passing zone just ahead. We reached it in time for the car to pass slowly by before continuing on. After another bunch of hair-raising minutes, we reached Coalmont, in the Tulameen Valley.
We crossed the old wooden bridge and I couldn’t believe it. The landscape matched the photo of Granite City in 1890 just like in the book, Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns. Well, not exactly because the photo in the book had tents and cabins as it was taken 100 yrs previous and all that was now left was one derelict log cabin.
Nelson parked the RV and took a breather. I figured out where the RV was standing and made a notation in my book, but even the broken buildings in the photo had ceased to exist. When I stepped outside, a deep sense of history pervaded my being. I stood in the silence of today, hearing the sounds of yesterday. Men yelling. Mules braying. Miners sloshing through the river. Even now as I write this, I’m taken back to that moment in time when I felt like I’d transcended the ages.
Nelson and Crystal emerged from the RV and we headed down to the river to pan for gold. (The photo isn't ours, but it's pretty close to what happened there.) I really don’t know if we were allowed to pan there, but the guy who sold us the books and pans seemed to think it was okay. We panned for an hour or so, enjoying the solitude. When dusk drew near and Crystal grew tired of throwing rocks into the water, we emptied our pans and shook off the drops. Panning is hard, back-breaking work and it takes time to get the feel of decent sluicing. For all I know, we let granules of gold slosh out while trying to get the rhythm down.
It didn’t matter, our history quest had been satisfied. Hours would pass before we felt foolish for following a dream where thousands upon thousands had failed to succeed.
Gold Panning - www.explorealaskabyrv.com
Man & Child - www.aurorasunset.co.nz
Horse on Dewdney Trail - The Guide to Gold Panning in British Columbia by N.L. Barlee
Granite City (2) - Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns by N.L. Barlee
The above 3photos along with the Similkameen map and Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns book cover are scans from the actual books with the notations I made at the time of our visit.