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BC Archives # I-22306, P.G.E. Rail & Tunnel in the Fraser Canyon near Lillooet
BC Archives # I-22306
BC Archives # PDP01784, Scene at Fountain Flats, c.1860
BC Archives # PDP01784 - from The London Illustrated News, c.1860

Fountain / Xax'lip
and the Great Bend of the Fraser

For a few years from the winter of 1858-9 to 1861 or so, before the Yale-Ashcroft-Clinton route for the "new" Cariboo Road was completed, Fountain - then known as the Upper Fountain - was nearly as famous and busy a staging ground for the Fraser Gold Rush as Lillooet or Yale.  It was known in those the times as "the Fountains",  today's Fountain being called "the Upper Fountain" - (the vanished town of Bridge River, at the Six Mile Rapids, was called "the Lower Fountain"); both fountain references are to the huge rapids in the river at these locations, the power and scale of which are only hinted at in the pictures on these pages, and to the fair-sized gush of Fountain Creek as it cuts through Fountain Flat in a deep gulch, headed for the Fraser below.  Upper Fountain was important in those days because to get to Lillooet (then Cayoosh Flat) or the rich placer goldfields of the lower Bridge River, travellers from Lytton (known until 1860 as "The Forks", or Fort Dallas) and Boston Bar (Quayome) had to part from the Fraser about twenty miles south of Lillooet and come up past the small fish-rich lakes of Fountain Valley to rejoin the Fraser at Fountain, a detour of many extra miles in the standards of those days.  This detour was necessary because of the forbidding and still-unstable "Big Slide" at the Ridge's southern end, which was then and remains today a major danger to road construction and unwary travellers.  At the Lower Fountain, today's Bridge River Fishing Grounds, also known as the Six Mile Rapids (in the local native language Sxetl) there was a toll-bridge across the Fraser to the then-town of Bridge River, which was on a large bench above the turbulent confluence of the two rivers; although Lillooet gets all the glory, Bridge River was actually the largest non-native town  in the area at the height of the Gold Rush (in terms of businesses, not population), and Upper Fountain was not much smaller.  The Fraser was not bridged nearer town until 1862, after the Lillooet area had mostly been bypassed by the busy traffic from Yale to Barkerville along the newer Cariboo Wagon Road via the Thompson Canyon and Cache Creek.  The older route to the Cariboo from Port Douglas via the Lakes to Lillooet fell into disuse by 1862-4 and was largely abandoned by 1870, although Fountain's prominence as a busy staging-ground and crossroads continued for many years as it remained the main route to Lillooet from Lytton and the lower Fraser Canyon, as well as to and from the Cariboo.  The old corrals and barns and businesses which once bustled on Fountain Flat are now long-gone, replaced by pasture and alfalfa fields, but the stunning setting in the midst of the Great Bend of the Fraser Canyon remains.   The last visible relic of the heyday of the Cariboo Wagon Road, a roadhouse at 12 Mile, just past Fountain Flats, burned down only a few years ago.  Fountain is today one of the larger communities of the Lillooet Nation, and the Fountain Lakes remain famous for their fly-fishing.

BC Archives # I-57581, Wagon Road to Pavilion near Lillooet (12 Mile Bluffs near Fountain), Sept. 2 1901, photo Frank C. Swannell
BC Archives # I-57581

12 Mile

Photo: Mike Cleven

This pair of photos are a good 95 years apart but are at nearly the same location, pretty well dead-centre of the picture at top left of this page.  The shored-up stretch of the Cariboo Wagon Road in 1901 at left was approximately where the last bit of today's Hwy 99 (Lillooet-Cache Creek Highway) is in the photo at right, which was taken in 1996.  A wider view of the photo at right can be found farther below

Part of 12 Mile Ranch, Fountain BC
Photo: Mike Cleven
Old Roadhouse at 12 Mile, near Fountain BC
Photo: Mike Cleven

These buildings, which stood by the side of the main highway were some of the oldest in the Lillooet Country until their destruction by fire a few years ago.  The one at right was the 12 Mile Roadhouse, one of the many combination hostelries and stables of Fountain's staging-ground heyday, providing food, lodging and shelter from the burning sun of the Canyon summers.  The building at left was, I think, a smithy and stable and may have been younger than the roadhouse.

Fountain Flats

BC Archives # I-22325, Farm Lands 10 miles north of Lillooet (Fountain)
BC Archives # I-22325
BC Archives # A-03543
BC Archives # A-03543

Photo: Mike Cleven, Upper Fountain Rapids and Fraser Canyon, looking north from Fountain
Photo: Mike Cleven
The view at left is north up the Fraser Canyon from the 12 Mile Roadhouse at Fountain.  It is one of the most evocative of the great scenic views of the Lillooet Country and instantly resonates as a classic image of "the Old West".   As these pictures can only suggest, this is one of the grandest stretches of the Fraser Canyon, and easily ranks as one of the most spectacular parts of central British Columbia (it's also one of the hottest!).  The picture is taken from the very edge of the original route of the Cariboo Wagon Road's path between Lillooet and Pavilion; the ruins of the 12 Mile Roadhouse are just to the right of the vantage point.  The view on the left greeted them as they descended to the Fraser from Fountain Flats; the view on the right is what they saw looking back towards Fountain from a few miles farther north (the picture at left is actually taken from about the left-centre edge in the picture at right).

BC Archives # I-57871, Fraser River at Fountain, 1949
BC Archives # I-57871
 A locally-sold colour-photo postscard by K. Buchanan taken from the same vantage-point is reproduced at right.  The picture at top-left of this page is taken from a spot a mile or so to the left of this vantage point, from atop the Gibbs Creek Trestle, once one of the world's largest wooden bridges.  Fountain Flats, where most of the barns and corrals (and saloons) of the Upper Fountain were, is marked at centre-left by the distinct horizontal division between the forests of Fountain Ridge and the deserts of the canyon below; the upper of the two benches visible is the site of the large native village of Fountain, properly known as Xaxl'ip in the St'at'imcets language.  Pictures farther below show close-ups of the Fraser's rapids visible in both pictures here, as well as of the Fraser's "Great Gate" at Fountain Canyon, immediately below Fountain but out of sight in the pictures so far (just around the bend in both right-hand pictures, and just to the left in the picture at above left). Fraser Canyon at Fountain, Photo: Basaraba
Photo: K. Buchanan

The western backside of Fountain Ridge, in the background here, forms the  spectacularly steep and jagged crags dominating the setting of the town of Lillooet, which is immediately behind the ridge as seen from here.  
BC Archives # A-03544, Fraser River near Lillooet (Fountain)
BC Archives # A-03544
The picture at left here is much older (1911) than the colour one (c.1993) from the same vantage point just above, in the area of the 12 Mile Roadhouse, but as you can see nothing much has changed.  This stretch of the Fraser was at one time planned to be flooded by a series of dams beginning at Lillooet Canyon (just above the old Royal Engineers' Bridge near town), another at Glen Fraser (just past the shadowed mountainside at left) and an extremely high one at Moran, about 18 miles north of Fountain.  Thankfully these plans have been shelved due to the importance of the Fraser salmon fishery, and are not likely to be revived.

Fountain Canyon
The Fraser's "Great Gate"

Photo: Mike Cleven

The rocky gorge walls at left are often featured in tourism ads for other parts of the Cariboo (!) and often show up in movies and also in stock promotional footage of the province, although the location is rarely credited.  As a result, despite the relative fame of this part of the Fraser, little benefit in the way of tourism or other spin-offs has come back to the area due to its obscurity in the minds of most British Columbians (including the bureaucrats and marketing people who have featured pictures of the area to sell hotel rooms in Williams Lake and Kamloops).  This shot is actually a close-up of the picture of the whole peak-to-river scope of the Fountain Gorge at left below (2nd row down); an even tighter closeup follows farther below.  The concrete ramparts at centre-top of the photo at left  are abutments for Highway 99 at the same spot as the 1901 picture of the old Cariboo Wagon Road at the start of the section on 12 Mile (above).

Traversing this gorge is one of the highlights of raft adventures on the Fraser today, but when Simon Fraser first came down the river the rapids through this stretch were impassable and had to be portaged, as was also the case with those at the Lower Fountain at Bridge River.  As is suggested by the desert vegetation seen in these pictures, summer heat in the area is profound even when it's windy, with this area sometimes hotter than Lillooet itself.

Photo: Mike Cleven, Fountain Canyon, Fraser River
Photo: Mike Cleven
What is not easily evident from any of the roadside views that are on this website so far is the depth and scale of the Fraser's gorge here, or how it enters a colossal bend to the, and then immediately to the left again, swinging around 180 degrees each time bringing it directly .  Each bend has a half-mile radius, such that a few miles downstream from this picture is only about a mile and a half from this spot - behind Fountain Ridge (in the background at left) although the river travels four miles or so from where it enters the Great Bend.  The Fraser's torrent turns due north within a one mile radius and then back, again in in a one-mile radius, forming a gigantic double horseshoe bend carved some thousands of feet deep into the mountain landscape. For reference click here for a topographic map and here for a hillshade rendering of the local topography.   Photo: Mike Cleven, close-up of Fountain Canyon, Fraser River
Photo: Mike Cleven

Photo: Mike Cleven
The canyon walls seen here or in the pictures above are really only the deepest level of a multi-tiered canyon that cascades down from alpine heights on either side, some 4-6000 feet of vertical above the river (elev. c.1000'), depending on which of the many summits around Fountain the measurement is taken.  The eastern flank of the canyon (at the foot of which both these images were taken) is actually a plateau edge of high, flat summits known as the Clear Range, the nearest of which is Chipuin Mountain (7114', at left).  From the highway the Clear Range appears to be a line of peaks, but is really more like the lip of the Hat Creek plateau, crowned by low, flat but still above treeline summmits; these may be fairly easily accessed by a mix of road and hiking from the Hat Creek Ranch or the south wall of Marble Canyon.   The snowy areas on Chipuin Mtn. shown here are not above tree line, but are open ground that is the evidence of a large forest fire here a few years ago.  A closeup of this snowed-up burn can be found farther below.
Photo: Mike Cleven
A black-and-white version of the same image at  left 
The right (north) wall at this point is a spearhead-shaped ridge that is the last abutment of the 80-mile Camelsfoot Range, named for camels brought in during the gold rush, which ran wild in the montane deserts for years after.  Camelsfoot Point, visible in BC Archives # I-22325 (above in the Fountain Flats section)  is the name of the 7000' summit immediately above the southward point of the Fraser's bend at Fountain, and is itself only the foreshoulder of 9000+ Camelsfoot Peak in behind.  There is an old fire lookout on the front summit of this range accessible from the West Pavilion Road that provides an impressive view up and down the canyon and across and beyond the ranges which converge on it.

Photo: Mike Cleven

Photo: Mike Cleven
These two images of the "Great Gate" are both closeups of photos farther above, and are taken from opposite directions; the one on the right is from downstream, that on the left from upstream.

Fountain Rapids
- "The Upper Fountain"

This view is taken directly from roadside immediately above part of the (Upper) Fountain Rapids; there is another rapid immediately downstream, which form the rest of the Upper Fountain, as the whole Fountain area was known until the early 20th Century.  From here down the river to Sxetl (modern spelling Sat'), the Bridge River Fishing Grounds, was concentrated the greatest salmon fishery of the pre-colonization Interior.  The Upper Fountain rapids don't look like much from the road, but don't be fooled - those are big rapids, even here when photographed at low water in mid-winter.  They're rough enough that Simon Fraser was forced to portage around them; modern rafting companies make the passage regularly, however.
Photo: Mike Cleven, Upper Fountain Rapids at Fountain
Photo: Mike Cleven

View of 12 Mile Bluff at Fountain w. Budd Car, Photo by Mike Cleven


Hillshade map of Lillooet-Fountain area, BC Govt Inview System

BC Archives
BC Archives # PDP02121


Photo: Mike Cleven

Photo: Mike Cleven

Photo: Mike Cleven

Fountain Valley
(Fountain Lakes)

BC Archives # I-22317, Fountain Lake, Fountain Valley, near Lillooet BC
BC Archives # I-22317

Barn on Fountain Indian Reserve, Fountain Valley Road, 1996
Photo: Mike Cleven