Record snow-pack at the headwaters of the Fraser River, combined with above-normal temperatures for May 2018 in British Columbia, has led to a sudden rise in water levels all along the mighty Fraser. One of our favorite little airstrips has been hard-hit by the resultant flooding: the gravel runway at Rowena’s (Sandpiper Golf Course).
We’d planned to impress visitors with a dinner flight to the scenic riverside restaurant at Rowena’s. But as we flew east up the Fraser from Pitt Meadows, above mile after mile of flooded farmland in the Sumas/Chilliwack region, we realized that a backup plan may be in order.
Sure enough, as soon as we turned north up the Harrison River, our backup plan proved essential. It took a moment to even recognize Rowena’s because flooding so drastically altered the once-familiar terrain.
The boat dock on the southeast end of the golf course was a floating island, several meters away from land. And the runway? An airstrip for a pastoral Lost City of Atlantis.
Here’s a couple of photos that show the stark contrast between our usual final approach for runway 20 and “submerged runway” flyover of the same final approach:
Pre-flood final approach
Our thoughts go out to all the farmers and businesses affected by the flooding and evacuations.
It sounded as if we were to meet a wizard or elf, which seemed fitting, surrounded as we were by stately cedars and hemlocks on a secluded, sparsely populated island. But the volunteer driver who picked us up from the Texada airstrip carried no otherworldly staff, nor did he sport pointy elfin ears.
Retired from the Canadian military & originally hailing from Alberta, he did, however, have a generous nature. Ray not only drove us to theRavenous Raven Restaurantfor lunch, but he also toured us around the town of Gillies Bay in his car.
Ray knew Texada airport well, having taught for several years at theTexada AeroSpaceCamp. I wish I were 10 years old again, so could go to the camp! They have super-cool equipment & demos, such as a wind tunnel with computer driven sensors, a half-scale Sopwith Pup, and a working model rocket launching system, designed by Texada resident Sandra Sims (pictured above).
Just past the residential town of Gillies Bay, on the western shore of Texada Island, we stopped for a photo of Dick’s Island, which is only an island at high tide and is currently for sale at a cool $3 million.
Nearby Shelter Point Park is a gorgeous, forested area fronted with a beach-side view of the Georgia Strait. Ray informed us that the adjacentBella Maria Campgroundis extremely popular in the summer.
After our mini-tour, Ray dropped us off at the Ravenous Raven. We’d phoned in advance (604) 486-0471 and talked with Janet Bott, island inhabitant and one of the owners of the Raven. It was she who had provided phone numbers for “the fellowship”, several resident volunteers who drive visitors about for a donation.
There are a number of bicycles available at the airport for those who wish to ride into town, but we’d been uncertain of how steep the climb would be returning from town to airport. We can happily report that the quiet, pretty road into town from the airport is a gentle descent, and we’re determined to cycle it on our next visit.
The Raven’s entrance
The Raven, as seen from the road
Dessert menu & liquor
The congenial atmosphere at the Raven perfectly complemented the mouth-watering food. I had a home-made vegetarian bean burger & salad, and David went with a succulent and flaky halibut with chips. The heavenly chocolate orange cheesecake is made by Janet herself.
Afterwards, Janet showed us one of the delightful rooms available for rent above the Raven, which boasts a lovely balcony view of the Bay itself.
Filled to the brim with great food, we strolled along the Dr. Sanderson trail, which meanders beside the western shore of Gillies Bay. The little trail provides picturesque views of the beach, as well as glimpses into the inventive backyards of the locals.
For visiting pilots who’d like a more vigorous hike after lunch at the Raven, Paxton Lake is easily accessible from the airport (see my posthereon Paxton Lake), and an old, winding logging road from the airport leads down to a very secluded beach some distance west of Gillies Bay (see my posthere).
Logging road trail from airport to beach
For those who don’t have a plane, you can fly into Texada viaKD Air . If you’re not flying into Texada, you can reach the island by car by taking a 35 minute ferry ride from Westview in Powell River to Blubber Bay on Texada Island; check out the BC Ferry Schedulehere. If you’re coming from Vancouver, you’ll first have to take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons, then drive to Powell River.
Avgas is available at Texada/Gillies Bay airport (CYGB). The airport is camping-under-the-wing friendly & has a flush-able toilet and potable water.
“It’s coming straight for you! Don’t move!” the captain of our little tour boat called. Face-down in the water & shivering hard despite my wet-suit & snorkel gear, I froze in the “sea-star” float position. With slow, majestic grace, a 1,000 pound manatee glided inches underneath me, close enough that I could see each whisker on its ever-so-cute snout and trace every patch of algae on its comically rotund body. This was way better than shaking hands with an oversized mouse dressed in bloated white gloves! Located about 2 hours northeast of Orlando, Florida, Crystal River is home to about 400 manatees that migrate each winter from the cold Gulf waters to the relatively stable 72 degrees of the freshwater springs of Kings Bay. A few of these placid vegetarians remain in the bay all year, offering humans a year-long opportunity to view them in their natural habitat. A plethora of businesses in Crystal River offer paddle-boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, & boating tours to view the manatees, and local bed-&-breakfasts abound. Rather than join the Spring Break/Easter holiday crush of Disney World (an estimated 2.9 million visitors for spring 2018), we instead drove from Orlando to Crystal River for an unforgettable manatee-swim. We broke up the 120 minute drive by stopping en-route at Cooter Pond in Inverness, adjacent to Hwy 41. Apparently, the pond’s water-weeds shroud several sunken railroad cars, derailed in 1930. According to Albert Johnson of Inverness, quoted in an Ocala Star-Banner article, his grandfather saw a flat car and several box cars derail.
Turtles of Cooter Pond
Fish visible in the clear water
Loaded with canned hams and women’s apparel, “many town residents lined the banks and dove in”, hoping to salvage the items, but a large alligator scared them off. Was it the same alligator we saw from the boardwalk while we were stretching our legs?
A short drive after Cooter Pond, we arrived for our manatee-swimming tour at 1:30pm, at Fun 2 Dive , an eco-conscious tour-group that stresses that Crystal River is not an amusement park, that the manatees are here as a survival tactic, and that it is essential that we adhere to rules to limit disturbing them (such as freezing in place when they approach swimmers, and not chasing or touching them).
During the 3hr tour, we saw dozens of manatees, both while we were in the water & on the boat, and we were immensely pleased with the experience. Our Captain regaled us with fascinating facts about the manatees & amusing stories about manatee-human interactions, such as stories about “Charlie”, a rather amorous male manatee, or the baby manatee that was prone to hugging & snuggling swimmers one year.
Our Captain even provided a multitude of snacks & hot chocolate after our snorkel experience–which proved necessary, despite the sunshine, as there wasn’t a single one of us who wasn’t shivering hard after the swim!
Go early in the day!
Even if it means getting up at the crack of dawn to drive the distance from Orlando, the earlier the tour you’re on, the less traffic on the river. The waterways were packed with manatee-viewers by 1:30pm, and despite the quiet natural beauty of Three Sisters Springs and the sober presence of Rangers in kayaks monitoring the human activity, there was a lot of nonsense going on (tour boats blaring music as drunk tourists chugged beers, folks stomping through the water & stirring up silt instead of swimming, & even one tourist in a kayak impulsively cannon-balling into the water, just feet away from a roped off “manatee sanctuary quiet zone”).
Bring a towel & coat on the boat with you for afterwards! It’s cold after the swim!
Crystal River Airport – CGC (Captain Tom Davis Field) is located 3 miles southeast of Crystal River, and, according to the Airport Courtesy Car app, a courtesy car is available for visiting pilots.