In 1846, Alexander Caulfield Anderson made two explorations across the mountains that separated Kamloops from Fort Langley. In his first exploration, he and his men followed Anderson and Seton Lakes west to Lillooet Lakes and finally to Harrison Lake, arriving safely at Fort Langley.
From Fort Langley the explorers set out in canoes, disembarking at the mouth of the Coquihalla River where Fort Hope later stood. Anderson's native guides led him up the banks of the river through a broad, thickly wooded valley. Where the Coquihalla turned sharply northward, another river -- the Nicolum -- flowed in from the southeast.
The explorers followed the course of the Nicolum River up its narrow valley, and walked over two heights of land to arrive on the shore of the lake Anderson later named Outram Lake. They continued to follow the river eastward, and where the stream joined another that flowed in from the south, they met a native hunter from Thompson's River who had crossed the mountains to hunt beaver. For the next two days, the man guided them eastward by a native track that followed the banks of the Sumallo River. Then he showed Anderson a well-marked trail that ascended the mountain from a grove of trees where the wild Rhododendrons bloomed. The stream that Anderson and his men followed to the top of the mountains was the Snass, and the red Rhododendrons that they saw still bloom at Manning Park's Rhododendron Flats -- one of the few spots in the province where the California Rhododendrons grow wild.
*Most people would picture the rhododendron growing in bright sunlight, but the California Rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum) likes shade and cool, dry environments. This plant grows under trees -- in California the rhododendron grows under the Redwoods; in British Columbia it likes our forests of Douglas fir, cedar or Ponderosa pine.
The California Rhododendron is an evergreen shrub that grows in thickets, and each plant grows 6 to 12 feet tall with branches that reach toward the light. The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long; the plant blooms in mid-June and its flowers are a bright, showy pink.
Manning Park's Rhododendron Flats is a quiet place -- peaceful and undisturbed. From the parking lot a trail leads through the trees and toward the river. It takes a couple of minutes for the walker to realize that the tall, straggling bushes that surround him is the Rhododendron he has come to find. They are everywhere, in thickets or standing alone, either reaching skyward or spreading their branches across the ground to find a sunny patch. The grove is still and quiet, and the last of flowers stick stubbornly to the branches of the rhododendrons. From amongst the trees, a tall, thin, man leads a cluster of chattering French-Canadians and a few heavily burdened natives through the flowering Rhododendrons, looking ahead to find the path that will lead him to the top of the mountains.