the sleeping streets of Kamloops

It’s early and I’m in Kamloops, enroute home from a wonderful few days with my new granddaughter Kelly. We drove for 10 hours yesterday, along the Yellowhead trail, through Jasper where a single bull elk was posing like Fabio for tourists, turning his muscular shoulders this way and that, his magnificent antlers framing the mountains.

Kamloops is one of my favourite small cities. One thing I love about it is that you can see beyond it. This morning I was lying in my bed watching the sun rise over the eastern hills just beyond the city and even now I can smell the Thompson River through my open window. We’re staying at the Plaza Hotel, built in 1928. We like its slow old elevator and the pretty rooms.


The Plaza is right downtown and it’s good to walk along Victoria Street where it’s easy to imagine the earlier city. In my first novel, Sisters of Grass (Goose Lane, 2000), the protagonist Margaret Stuart comes to Kamloops with her family in the spring of 1906. I spent a lot of time looking at archival photographs to get a sense of what she would have seen, how the streets were, the route she would have taken to attend a concert by the famed soprano Emma Albani (which did take place here in May of 1906).

Victoria Street West 1902_edited PPPLast night we walked down to the Brownstone Restaurant where we’ve eaten several times in the past and never been disappointed. It’s housed in a gracious building which was the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, built in 1904.

brownstoneWe ate rabbit marbella and drank a luscious Argentine malbec in a room with high ceilings and deep red walls. Sometimes when we’ve been there, we’ve watched trains pass and heard the long whistle but not last night.

This morning we’ll drive home over the Coquihalla highway and through the Fraser Valley, all haunted by memories of earlier trips with our children. It’s all part of us — the tang of sage in the air as we drive up out of the city, the soft sky fringed with pines, the sultry air near Hope. At least twenty five years ago we pointed out the shale on the Coquihalla Summit to Kelly’s father, a little boy of four or five, and he exclaimed, “Shale! I wish I was the land!”

viva, Las Vegas!

Yesterday we drove through a high pass (9.000 feet) in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, to Cimarron, New Mexico for lunch. John read in a guide book about its storied past, the hotel which housed various outlaws (Jesse James, Billy the Kid, etc.) and where Buffalo Bill convinced Calamity Jane to join his show. It was very quiet there, the outlaws all long gone (though some have bedrooms named for them in the St. James Hotel, built in 1872). And the hotel is beautiful — and quiet, yes, with just a few people eating in the dining room and a few more in an adjacent room, would-be bartenders  taking notes while a man walked them through the state liquour laws.


We left our little room in the Taos Inn this morning, driving through another high pass where my ears complained until we descended (but only a little) to Las Vegas, a town which feels a bit like time forgot it. It’s high desert here, and so beautiful. 6,424 feet above sea level…We found a room in the 1882 Plaza Hotel which hosted dentist Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Big Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Mysterious Dave Mather, Hoodoo Brown, and Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler in its day.


A friendly woman in a nearby shop wondered if I’d ever heard of the United World Colleges — which of course I have because son Forrest attended Lester Pearson College of the Pacific in the late 1990s… — because she said that the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West is in nearby Montezuma. So we drove out and although it’s not a day when one can tour the campus, the kind security guard let us drive up to take a photograph of the main building.

P1090970We ate our lunch on a patio overlooking Las Vegas’s spacious green plaza, overhung with huge cottonwoods. Who knew this place existed and that we would find it in time to enjoy the sun in the shade of its old buildings.