On his latest adventure, Vancouver-based photographer Grant Harder originally planned on the Coast Mountain Circle Route, a scenic route through British Columbia’s diverse mountain landscapes, starting and ending in Vancouver. Instead, he went back to the atlas to reimagine an itinerary that would take him across the Fraser River to a remote gravel road. We caught up with him to learn more about capturing this road trip in photos.
MILES TRAVELED: 476
WILDSAM: We’d love to hear about your itinerary; we know there were a few iterations of your vision for this trip. Where did it land?
GRANT HARDER: My starting point was Vancouver, followed by the towns of Hope, Yale and Lytton. In Lytton I took the Lytton reaction ferry across the Fraser River which accesses a gravel road (Spencer Road North) that follows the river all the way to the town of Lillooet. From Lillooet, I drove Hwy 99 past Pavilion Lake and Marble Canyon Provincial Park which leads to the junction at Hwy 97. At this point I drove south through Cache Creek to link up with the Trans-Canada Highway, past Elephant Hill Provincial Park, Spences Bridge and eventually completed a circle route at Lytton and then south, backtracking my way to Hope and ending in Vancouver.
We know there are very distinct biomes in this landscape–how did you experience this along the way?
The route begins and ends at the coast, with the most dramatically different zone being the semi-desert climate of the Cache Creek area, complete with cactus and sage-brush (which happens to be my favorite feature of the area.) This zone is the most exciting–cactus feels so foreign to my eye–like it should only be only in other countries and not Canada.
Have you done this drive before?
I’ve driven this part of the Fraser Canyon route–Hope, Yale, Lytton–many, many times. Every time I see something new and look forward to past spots being seen with fresh eyes. The Fraser River carves through the rock to create powerful and majestic views. I often think about the history–of the indigenous people, the Gold Rush and the building of the railroad. The river flows on, connecting us to the past. Interesting fact: In 2021 Lytton recorded the highest temperature ever in Canada at 49.6 degrees and the next day a wildfire destroyed the majority of the village, most of which still has not been rebuilt. Lillooet is a kind of rough and tumble town located at the confluence of the Fraser and Bridge River.
What was your most-loved pit stop?
I will go for a dip any chance I can get–I feel rejuvenated every single time. Pavilion Lake was a beautiful lake to swim in. The water was crystal clear and I was completely alone at the spot I stopped at.
Do you have a favorite road snack or camp breakfast?
Cashews, apples, bananas! Also–I am a sucker for baked goods. The best bakery in a small town is pretty easy to sniff out. In Lillooet, it was Abundance Artisan Bakery. For breakfast, it’s usually oatmeal with nuts, berries, hemp hearts and peanut butter mixed in and coffee from an AeroPress.
What was it like to be in some of the more occupied spaces along this route?
The occupied places had a ghostly quality; most of the signage I photographed belonged to businesses that are no longer in operation or places that are not all that inviting, to be perfectly honest. All of these details, however, weave themselves together to make up the fabric of the journey: perhaps the signs are a nod to past dreams, a hazy history of humans trying to carve a life out of areas that are not all that forgiving.
We’d love to hear about the unique challenges you remember about shooting this work and being out there—running parallel, what were some gifts of this trip?
A challenge can be trusting the process of finding photographs. For me it requires flipping over a lot of stones–I don’t know where or when a photo will present itself but if I keep looking and attempt to put myself in situations at the right time of day, something will come up–perhaps it’s a photo, maybe a life lesson or interesting encounter–or it’ll just be a reason to turn around and view everything I just saw in reverse. If I’m not in the right headspace it can feel like dead end after dead end–when actually, if my mind is open, there are no dead ends–there is only unlimited potential.
The gift is in being able to go on a solo road trip–taking time away from my family, courtesy of my wife. I am well aware of the challenges my wife has solo parenting two young kids and holding a household together while I am away. I am very grateful for her, as well as these opportunities, and at the same time, I miss them every breath of the way.
While you’re immersed in your journey and solo time, do you turn to music, books, podcast, instruments–or of course, silence?
So much music. Some examples on this trip: El Michels Affair (C.R.E.A.M.), The Makers (Don’t Challenge Me), Bad Bunny (Si Veo a Tu Mamá), Caribou (Home), Shabazz Palaces (Forerunner Foray); for books, Outsider: An Old Man, a Mountain and the Search for a Hidden Past by Brian Popplewell and The Fourth Hand by John Irving. I do listen to podcasts like Tetragrammaton, and I’ve been learning to play the ukulele for the past couple of years, it was a fantastic companion on this trip.
Yes to silence: no sirens, no cars, no other humans. Just wind blowing through the sagebrush.