Bring on the bighorns

Herds of headbangers head for the hills

by Tanya Laing Gahr
Adult bighorn males relax in the pre-rut season. Soon, they’ll have tremendous headaches to nurse. — Photo by Tanya Laing Gahr

The Columbia Valley in southeastern B.C. has four distinct seasons—and I’m not referring to the standard spring, summer, fall and winter. Instead, the seasons are warm and kind of busy, hot and really busy, cool and not very busy, and cold and crazy busy. As you might expect, late October in Radium is cool and not very busy.

I like visiting popular attractions when the crowds have moved to warmer climes, particularly in the fall when the colours are vivid, the air is crisp and the people who live there have time to sit and chat a bit. When Rusty and I were invited to spend a weekend in Radium, courtesy of Bighorn Meadows Resort, we had the chance to slow our own pace a bit.

The resort itself is lovely; it is situated on the Radium Springs Golf Course, which was closed for the season. That said, there was plenty of activity, primarily from the namesake of the resort. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep frequent the area throughout the year, but when the golf course slows down for golfers, the bighorn take over.

A tourist’s dream

November marks the peak of the sheep’s rutting season when the spectacular headbanging takes place. On the weekend we visited, however, the rams were behaving like perfect gentlemen. They were congenial enough to have formed an exclusive members-only club of full-horned elders, with younger males hanging on the outskirts.

The sheep are obviously used to tourists; Rusty and I were able to get close enough for a few cautious pictures without much spooking of either the photographers or the subjects.

While in Radium Hot Springs, we had to take in the raison d’etre of the community—the eponymous hot waters. The springs are set in one of the most dramatic settings of any of southeastern B.C.’s hot springs. Cut into a sheer rock wall, Radium Hot Springs are an ideal way to spend a chilly late autumn afternoon. We spent two hours stewing in the warm waters, looking up at the swath of colours and juvenile bighorn sheep picking their way down the steep incline.

Food and relaxation

Twenty minutes south of Radium is Fairmont Hot Springs. It’s one of my favourite places to visit for the outdoor adventures and the wine festival, but this was one of the few times I was able to go during the cool and not very busy season. Rusty and I took an easy half-hour stroll along the base of the hoodoos. The dramatic rock formations have fascinated people for millennia and they continue to be a draw for tourists. There are several trails that access the hoodoos either from above or below.

Rusty and I were invited to the Hoodoo Grill & Lounge. Rory Sinclair, whose business card describes him as both the manager and the head dishwasher, served us the restaurant’s specialty—dill pickle soup. Rusty, who has the ability to raise one eyebrow quizzically, (I don’t, and I’m forever envious of those who can do this), did so. Our fears were ungrounded. This is a fantastic dish and Rory has promised the recipe that I may be convinced to pass on to our readers. Until then, I recommend you stop in and sample the original. Tell Rory I sent you. He’s a good guy. He may even give you an extra slice of pickle.

On the drive home, we saw Columbia Lake—the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River, stretching out before us. It’s always a breathtaking sight but was that much better this time with the slower pace and the changing season.

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