After making my way through the Crows Nest Pass in the Southern Canadian Rockies, I headed due north to Golden, British Columbia.
Lying just west of the Rockies, Golden was conveniently nestled among about 6 world-class national parks – and I heard there was whitewater rafting available. It sounded like a pretty good place to make camp for a few days while exploring the national parks nearby.
Before I left, my sister-in-law gave me a book on the hot springs of Western Canada. She had made the same type of trip that I am making many years before and had used the book to find out-of-the way places. She enjoyed it so much, that she got me a copy. I had read through the book, and the hot springs listed were not just a “bit” out of the way. Many were nearly completely inaccessible, and most of them required really long hikes to reach. If I were alone and traveling in a jeep or some other such 4 wheel drive small vehicle, I likely would have endeavored to reach every last one of them. However, I was driving a rig that was as big as a semi truck and had two elderly dogs, one of whom could not walk very well.
After a couple of nights of reading this book, I found one spring that was along the way to Golden. I was determined to visit one of the hot springs from the book, and this looked like it would be the only feasible one.
Rule #1: Don’t Trust the Guidebook,
No Matter What it Promises
Lussier Spring, was maybe 2-3 hours south of my destination of Golden, which meant it was about halfway to Golden from Pincher Creek, the town just on the western side of the Rockies. Perfect! That meant I could drive 3 hours, quickly visit the spring and then be on my way to Golden. In addition to being on the way, Lussier Spring was listed as having “roads easily accessible with ‘any type’ of vehicle.” Even better!
I diligently watched for the turnoff and was pretty sure I had found it when I spotted a fairly large dirt road which appeared to be used for logging. Of course, it was an extremely sharp curve back to my right, which was difficult to see from the RV. I had slowed down significantly, and would be able to make the turn (barely), but I couldn’t really make out the signs because they were facing oncoming traffic instead of my direction.
The thing with driving a 31’ RV with a “toad” (a towed vehicle), means that you are nearly as long a semi truck but with significantly less maneuverability. Therefore, you ABSOLUTELY MUST know you have a good turnaround or a visible “in” AND “out” path before committing to a turn onto a road or into a parking lot. In this case, not only was I lacking every last one of those things, but I did not even have a clear view of the road.
Along regular paved roads that wind through the valleys between mountains, one occasionally spots businesses, but due to the lack of flat terrain, their parking lots are very small so you can’t pull into them to turn around. Furthermore, what few side roads might exist generally are not suited at all for “making the block” to turn around. So, if you miss your turn somewhere, you might just have to give it a miss and continue on with your journey. It may be hours before you find somewhere large enough to turn around which makes for an expensive miscalculation in navigation, as fuel for an RV is not cheap.
Committing to the Turn
I felt like I owed it to my sister-in-law for giving me the book to at least do my best to try to hit a spring or two along the way. After this section of my journey, the springs would become pretty sparse.
With that in mind, being fairly certain of the turn I should make, and remembering the “roads easily accessible with ‘any type’ of vehicle” description in the guidebook, I committed to the turn onto the logging road.
What befell my eyes about half-way into the tricky right-hand turn was a large dirt road that split off into another smaller road. I paused for a moment to examine my options, hoping that there would be no traffic coming around the blind corner from behind me on the main road – or for that matter, on-coming traffic from either road. I had to swing far into the left-hand lane in order to execute the roughly 120 degree turn. The large dirt road that lay before me was marked with a prominent sign. It indicated that the road was a very active logging road that operated all days of the week. It went on to say that the logging vehicles had the right of way in all cases and to take particular care if traveling it. It also mentioned that the logging trucks were in communication by radio in the area. I didn’t understand at the time why this was important. The other, smaller road was unmarked.
I was looking for a forestry road and had apparently found one in the spot where I expected to find it, but where was the sign for the hot spring? Crap. Did I pick the wrong turn? I realized that there wasn’t really another option but to continue since I was half in and half out of the turn. Backing up such a rig is not an option due to the number of pivot points. You can eek out a couple of feet if you are very careful and can maybe get yourself out of a very tight pinch, but practically speaking, there is no such thing as “backing up.”
Did I Make a Wrong Turn?
With no other option but forward, I gingerly pulled onto the larger of the two dirt roads which quickly began ascending a hill. Had I really screwed up? What if this road was in such serious disrepair that I either A) could not make it through, B) could not find a turnaround, or C) got myself into serious trouble for being on a very active private lumber road? It wasn’t exactly like I could “blend in” and look like one of the locals in a 31’ Class C RV named “Eddie” while towing a Prius. Worse yet – what if I had to try to turn around and got stuck and while unhooking the Prius only to be turned into a grease spot by a logging truck?
Some of these fears were put to rest about 50’ ahead where I saw a very cheery looking blue sign indicating the spring was, indeed, down this road. Whew! At least I was headed in the right direction.
The sign seemed to say to me that I could do it, and to not worry my pretty little head over such matters. With a sigh of relief, I depressed the gas pedal and began slowly to climb the hill.
“Two Hours, Tops”
The sign had indicated that it was about 24 kilometers to the spring, but that was only about, what?, say 15 miles or so? I estimated that would be about half an hour’s travel on a dirt road of this quality. No big deal. I’d be in and out in an hour and a half. Half an hour traveling in, half an hour at the spring, and half an hour coming back out. “Two hours, tops,” I had told myself.
What manifested itself was not that plan. After a short distance, I noticed that the very wide two-lane road I had been traveling began to get narrower. “No worries,” I thought. “There are still two good full lanes and it’s not like it’s a busy road.” The two full lanes then became a lane and a half, which was extremely nerve-racking. The terrain had become more hilly and was starting to get pretty bumpy.
The first time a fully loaded logging truck came barreling past me at what was – and I swear I’m not exaggerating this – 70 mph, I was scared stiff. Holy Shit! When I quickly darted into a widened area in the road to avoid said logging truck, I realized that the turnout was barely large enough to fit the length of Eddie and the Prius as the logging truck passed us at 70 mph (did I mention yet it was going about 70 mph?).
I threw on my brakes to halt our forward progress as there was no more road ahead of me. Eddie came screeching to a halt – sort of – as the wheels then did the equivalent of hydroplaning on water (except this was gravel and dirt), and the entire RV surged forward about 15 feet further than I expected. With all of the dust created by the passing logging truck, visibility had dropped to mere inches.
When the dust settled, I could see that we had stopped just short of the edge of the turnout, narrowly avoiding catastrophe. Man, that was a long way down that hill! I was already going pretty slowly down this road, but I resolved to slow down even further. It may take me a few more minutes to get there and back, but I figured it was a fair trade for our survival.
The lane and a half soon became more like a lane and a quarter with fewer and fewer turnouts. It was starting to make more sense why having radio communication was so valuable on this road. The logging trucks knew when to pause at a turnout and wait for an oncoming vehicle. I did not have that luxury.
If that were not enough, the “rather steep hills” transitioned into sheer cliff drops – I don’t even know how far down. I never got a chance to really look – not that it mattered, since the distance of 200’ or 500’ all equaled “dead” should I care to find out firsthand. The gradual turns became hairpin turns of a single lane and there was no way to see around them. At this point, I was pretty sure that I was going to die. I had seen no other vehicles besides me and the on-coming logging trucks.
Before leaving for my trip as part of my renovation of Eddie (my RV), I installed a backup camera that would allow me to see my Prius being towed behind me. I felt that this was an important upgrade because it would let me see, for example, if the Prius had a flat and was being dragged and throwing sparks. The installation was a pain because I went with a fully wired camera instead of a wireless one. (Wired connections are just more reliable.) On this particular side trip, the backup camera was rendered completely useless. The dust was so severe, that I could see literally nothing behind me.
Eventually – maybe an hour or so from beginning my trek down this path to certain death, I arrived at Lussier Hot Springs. It was a widened area of the road which turned out to be a makeshift parking lot along the side of the gravel logging road. And, lo and behold, there were about 7 vehicles there.
There would be room here to turn around if I unhooked the car and tow dolly. This was good news. It was a pretty good sized area, but I knew from an experience this would be insufficient to make a turn with the Prius in tow – especially since there were logging trucks blazing through as if it were an interstate.
The road actually continued past the hot springs, and I thought for some time about my situation. What else undiscovered territory lay ahead? Was there something else out here to be seen? Growing up, one of the songs from childhood with which I most identified was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” If there is something else up ahead – even if it’s just “the other side of the mountain,” I’m probably gonna go check it out – because for no other reason than it’s there.
I was unwilling to proceed down the road any further with Eddie unless I knew for certain there was a turn around. Unhooking the car was unavoidable, so I went ahead and did it. Then I went on a short drive by myself to scout, leaving the RV running with the AC on and locked so the Poos (what I collectively call my “puppies) would not roast. It was hot in Canada. Who knew?
Sure enough, there was a turnaround down the road a bit near some campground. Campground? Out here? Seriously? People regularly risked their lives to come to this place? Maybe Canada puts out some publication telling people not to come here in RV’s and I missed that memo. I had checked, and there were no signs prohibiting them when I turned onto the gravel road. Clearly, other people knew things that I did not.
The Top of the World Beckons
I chose not to investigate said campground because I had already made reservations in Golden and this little side trip into the middle of nowhere was turning out to be quite a bit longer than a 2 hour detour. As I was about to turn around and head back to Eddie and the Poos, something else did catch my eye.
Just ahead lay another cheery little blue sign indicating hiking and sightseeing at “The Top of the World”. It was only another 30 km, and I’d be doing it in the Adventure Prius instead of Eddie. Piece of cake. The road looked good and wide again…what could go wrong?
I drove back to Eddie and loaded up the Poos. Within a few minutes we arrived at the turnoff to the Top of the World, and I turned onto the road with much gusto. We were off to see the Top of the World. What could be better? I bet there aren’t many people who had actually been down this road. This would make for a great story, and I bet the views would be spectacular.
The road quickly went from pretty well maintained gravel to occasional potholes and bumps. That eventually gave way to deep ruts on one side of the road and that, in turn, became potholes with occasional sections of not so god awful road in between. Although I am a pretty decent driver on crappy roads, the odds were not in our favor – even in the Adventure Prius. Most people see the Prius as a city vehicle. The Adventure Prius, however, has taken a number of off-road trips. If you take your time and are pretty careful, you’d be surprised what you can do in a Prius.
After about 30 minutes of continuously worsening roads, I realized that we had not seen a single vehicle since we turned onto this road – not even a logging truck. At this point it occurred to me that my best tools for changing a tire were in Eddie and that there was no cell service out here. Hmmmmmm… The Poos had also grown restless with all of the bumps, so reluctantly, I made the decision to turn back.
According to the odometer, we had made it roughly halfway to the Top of the World. Not what we set out to do, but it would have to suffice. If we really had a problem, we might be there for days. Had the circumstances have been different – say, a 4WD vehicle, provisions (all of mine save a bottle of water were in Eddie), and a tent, I would have definitely kept going.
Headed Back to the Hot Springs
We very carefully made our way back to Eddie and the hot springs. Safely back at home base, I fired up the engine in Eddie and the AC for the Poos, got into my bathing suit and climbed down the hill to partake in the hot springs.
The afternoon had grown terribly hot, so the thought of climbing into hot water did not really sound all that appealing any more. That being said, I had gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to get here, so I was going to at least take a few minutes for a soak.
The first thing I noticed was that the spring itself was about as big as a common hot tub. It was pretty, but not terribly exciting. The second thing I noticed was the odor of sulphur. Wow, was it strong! There were a few people scattered about, most of them just hanging out on the rocks since the water and the afternoon were so hot.
I set down my towel and carefully lowered myself into the scalding water. Man, was it stinky! I could only stand being in it for a few minutes before crawling out. I noticed some people playing around the edge of the water of the river a few feet away, so I thought I’d go cool off there. Nope! It was freezing cold. Too cold even for a quick dip. All this extra driving and near death experience to get to stinky scalding hot water or frigid less stinky water. Apparently, the spring was draining into the river, but it didn’t help with the temperature.
Being uncomfortable in either water source, and smelling thoroughly like sulphur, I decided to do as the other people were doing and relax on the rocks for a bit. I chatted briefly with a few folks and then made my way back to Eddie and the Poos. In total, I had spent maybe 20 minutes at the spring, but I was done and ready to make camp for the night.
Heading Back to the Highway
After changing back into my clothes, still reeking to high heaven of sulphur, I turned Eddie around, and pulled the tow dolly around and hooked it and the Prius up for travel. Then, we began our trek back to the main road. I thought that this would be less scary since I would be traveling along the side of the road next to the cliff that went up instead of the side with the drop-off. What I didn’t realize is that there were still a few surprises in store for me before this little adventure would be over.
All things considered, things were going pretty smoothly and I had made it safely back to the part of the road that was no longer bordered by cliffs. To be sure, it was still bumpy and dusty, and the logging trucks were passing me at regular intervals, but I was out of the woods – or, so I thought.
As I rounded a curve, I came to a fork in the road. “?!?!?!!?,” I thought to myself. This road was straight coming in and I didn’t see any forks, or I would have made a mental note. As far as I could tell, there was only one road leading into the springs, except for when I first turned off the main road and I was certainly not there yet.
My best guess as to why I didn’t see this fork in the road on my way to the hot spring was because a logging truck had likely passed me and the dust had obscured it as I drove past. I had to make a decision, and quickly, lest I be standing still when a logging truck rounded the curve. I knew I needed to head north, which was to my right.
I checked my position on the GPS. It told me I should go right, but the road to my left felt like the direction from which I came. I have a sixth sense of direction and I never, ever get lost – even in situations like this. I examined the GPS further and it looked like going right would also get me back to the main highway and as best I could tell I would be a few miles up the highway going in the right direction.
To further add to the confusion, the logging road actually had a name. I had used it to help find where to turn off of the main highway on my way to the springs. The GPS insisted that if I turned right at this fork, I would be taking that same road back out. I was pretty sure that the GPS was wrong. However, being the woman of adventure that I am, I opted for the road on my right. I was pretty sure this was a different way out and that there may be new challenges ahead.
Caution: Road Narrows
I drove for about ten minutes and was sure that this was a different path. Nothing at all looked familiar. I mean, it was all a bunch of woods with a logging road going down the middle of it, but I was almost certain I had not come this way, no matter what the GPS said.
The driving was getting easier for the most part and the road had widened back to a comfortable lane and a half for me and the logging trucks, which seemed to be strangely absent since the fork in the road. I had picked up a bit of speed as a result (read: maybe 20 mph as opposed to 10 mph). Then, suddenly, as I was descending a hill, a sign appeared indicating that the road would be getting narrow, and did it ever.
Within a few seconds (thanks for the super advanced warning), my 1.5 lane boulevard narrowed to about a 3/4-width lane narrow bridge with a huge cutout area running down the middle of it. The picture truly doesn’t do it justice. This drop from the area where my tires should be to the bottom of the bridge was like 8-10 inches. If I were to miscalculate and gauge the position of one of the wheels of the tow dolly or Adventure Prius wrong, there would be extremely serious consequences. Visions of the undercarriage of the Adventure Prius being ripped to shreds flashed before my eyes.
I tried glancing up at the backup camera monitor, but it was of no use. The caked on dust showed me a vague dark object behind me, but I couldn’t see any details. I would be gauging their position blind.
I’m pretty sure that I didn’t breathe the entire time I was driving across the bridge which bounced and rattled loudly underneath the strain of Eddie and the Adventure Prius. Was the reason that I hadn’t seen logging trucks come this way due to the fact that this bridge was no longer in a state of repair to support them? Would I make it safely across? I could only go forward and find out.
Eons passed as we traversed the Bridge of Impending Doom, but finally we had all 12 tires safely on the other side. Gathering what was left of my wits, we pushed onward. I knew this wasn’t the way we had come in – stupid GPS.
We continued for another half hour or so on a road that was relatively good and wide. We passed some rivers and our elevation kept dropping. This was a good sign since we had gained quite a bit of elevation on our way to the hot spring.
The GPS showed us nearing a small town along the main highway. This was also good. However, when I zoomed in to see what route we would be taking into town, there were three hairpin turns that we would have to make as it was the only road into town. Not so good. To turn Eddie and the Adventure Prius around in town, it’s best to make a full city block. These turns were clearly in areas not meant for rigs of this size and I was almost dead sure that I wouldn’t be able to make one of them, let alone three!
Fortunately, I figured out there was an unmarked road on the GPS if I went straight at the first the turns. In total desperation I went down the road to avoid the turns ahead. I had no idea if it would dead-end on me which would have been bad. The unmarked road led to a logging yard and I thought I would have to go into it and turn around and attempt the hairpin turns after all.
Fortunately, right before the gates to the logging yard, a small, single lane side street appeared on my right, so I took it. Again, I didn’t know where it would take me, but in a block or two I was able to get onto regular roads. Within a few more blocks, I was at the highway.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Eddie, the Adventure Prius, the Poos, and I (still reeking of sulphur) all turned onto the main highway and headed north to the municipal campground in Golden.
Golden, British Columbia
When we arrived several hours later, had parked, and set up camp, I set off to take a shower at the campgrounds. Although Eddie has a shower and water heater on board, heating the water uses propane which isn’t always readily available, and it takes an hour to heat up. I had dust particles in my nose, in my ears, and my eyes were crusty. I had driven with the windows up, but the fine dust had worked its way into Eddie.
It turned out that the showers were timed and cost a couple of Canadian dollars for only a few minutes. Even though it was expensive and brief, it was one of the better showers I have ever had.
Only when I woke up the next morning did I realize the extent to which the fine dust particles had penetrated Eddie. They had come up through the back end and had gotten all in my night stand drawers. Likewise, they had easily found their way through the cracks in the cargo bins underneath. Literally everywhere that air could pass, there was dust. I don’t think I will ever get rid of it all. (Edit to add: This dust was only a precursor of what was to come on the still-yet-to-come Alaskan Highway adventure.)