The Globe and Mail
March 15th 1997
Resist speed on the Freedom Highway
Locals named their extraordinary road through B.C.’s central coast mountains The Freedom Highway because it finally accessed the pacific coast and the outside world. But the roads name just as aptly sums up the sense of a high, wide-open and empty place of stunning beauty and almost infinite vastness, which greets a first-time visitor arriving on the Chilcotin Plateau. With the B.C. Mid Coast Ferry, it also opens up an area previously only reachable by nearly 1,000 kilometres of driving.
In the almost 450 kilometres from the western precipice to the city of Williams Lake in the center of British Columbia, the Freedom Highway traverses sweet-smelling forests of lodge-pole pine, rolling range land, arid stretches of sage and sun-bleached hills, and lush, irrigated valleys. It also wends between ochre-coloured mountains and lakes with rare white pelicans, and skirt canyons with wind-sculpted sandstone columns called hoodoos and the northern-most herds of California bighorns.
Finally paved for all but the first 140 kilometres heading east and without a single traffic light, the temptation to breeze through can and should be resisted. The Anahim Lake-Nimpo Lake area offers a spectacular rodeo in July, a dozen lodges, charter float-plane operators and guest ranches, and rustic comfort and a charming personality at Jack Madsen’s Anahim Lake Resort. And superb smoked salmon.
Or, for a taste of fine European cuisine, cosmopo-litan dinner company set in a spacious log home overlooking a lake and a mountain, there is Clearwater Lodge at Kleena Kleene. Hosts Bernward and Gisela Kalbhenn have fully renovated the lodge with traditional German accents, and offer guided riding, hiking, canoeing, fishing and winter activities. Because the draw repeat visits by their former countryman who come for the real western experience, in a relaxing atmosphere, reservations are essential.
At Hanceville, a diversion 40 km south to Farwell Canyon is essential. The glacially-green Chilcotin River carves its way through a deep canyon that sits inside a two-kilometre-wide valley, exposing distinct layers of geological time and the spectacular effects of erosion on the terrain. On sunny afternoons, a herd of rare bighorn sheep graze imperturbably alongside the gravel road on the canyon’s north slope.
The Cariboo-Chilcotin Tourism Association, at (800) 663 5885, is the best resource for information and recommended speed limits.