I’ve realized, I think, the difference between a tourist and someone who visits because they truly love a place.
Tourists ask: “What is there to see?” They look, snap a digital pic or two, and leave. Someone who loves the place asks a more important question: “When should I see it?” And they come back again and again and again until they find the answer.
So many wild places around Kamloops push away tourists, and beg for those who would visit more than once.
Roll through the Knutsford grasslands in the summer and you’ll find hot dry winds and sun-baked grass. Cattle dot the hillsides. The dust in the air gets in your eyes and nose. It tastes like cattle. Still, the drive is pleasant enough — this is Kamloops, tourists think — but the visit casts a misleading impression.
The first time to see the grasslands is in late spring, in the evening, when the season’s intense rains have brought the fields alive with wildflowers. The lupines near Edith Lake are so thick it seems comical. Part the thick wet grass and you’ll find a carpet of western spring beauties, down deep, along the earth. There are deer everywhere — bucks with antlers in soft velvet and does hiding fawns and bears and coyotes, too, hunting for those spotted meals.
If you’re lucky you will be caught by a passing storm, which will shake the air with thunder.
Thick dark clouds will pass overhead so low they can almost be touched, and then the sun will burst through. The light will be so intense, you will put down your camera and think, “Screw it, I’ll never do this justice.”
The same grasslands must be seen again in the winter — in the dead cold frozen part of January. Hoar frost will cover the trees and grass like razor-edged fingers. The air will be hazy-white with a frozen mist. It is silent and serene and beautiful.
There are also the hoodoos near Kamloops Lake, spectacular and old, but their true character isn’t seen on Saturday afternoon drives in July.
They must be visited again and again, in different light and weather. I’ve walked the sage- and cactus-covered ranges and climbed the rocky hillsides there at different times of the day and year, and still don’t feel I know the hoodoos well. I’m still waiting, trying to find the right time to see them. Maybe one day those shy, solemn spirits will open up and show me what they are really about. Maybe if I show enough respect with lung-burning climbs and boot leather on sharp rock.
Likewise for any of the places we call special. Wells Gray country is wonderful from the road. It’s spectacular off of it, however, and even better when the trip is timed to a natural event, like the chinook salmon’s return to the Clearwater River. Sit and watch these kings rush the rapids and the tourist platform at Helmcken Falls down the road won’t seem so grand.
I feel a little sorry for the tourists sometimes. They miss so much. If only they would get out of the car, out of the campground. I think. That shuts off fast enough, however, as I realize most of these places aren’t made for groups anyway.
Selfish? Maybe a little. Do I regret it? Not even a bit.