For a Smart Person, You’re Really Dumb: Golden and Fairmont Hot Springs, July 17-19, 2016

Either with Mr Wayde Andrews or without, either with the horse or without, either with a dog in the car or without, I’ve driven through Golden, BC on epic east-west or west-east road trips something approaching a dozen times. Wayde and I once overnighted at the municipal campground (a nice, cheap little spot on the Kicking Horse River), but never spent any time exploring the area, which appeared, from the road, to be stunningly beautiful. When I left Running Reins Ranch, I had the thought of staying at Bear Corner Bed & Bales for a couple of nights, and spending at least a day riding trails in the area. Sadly, because of the last-minute nature of my planning, Bear Corner was (predictably) booked, but the owner gave me a hot tip about the local rodeo grounds offering overnight accommodation, and so that’s where we headed.

The rodeo grounds, operated by the Golden Light Horse Club, turned out to be a very convenient overnighting spot, and I suspect the grounds are well-used. We rolled in around six-thirty, and I set Pai up in a corner lush with grass, temporarily cordoned off by some e-tape. After dark, around ten-thirty, I figured we had the place to ourselves, and rather than jail her in a corral, I threw her into the aisleway where she could pick away at the sparser grass all night. At something past midnight, when I was still up, I heard her nicker, and popped outside to investigate who she might be greeting. Another rig had pulled in, en route to Quesnel from Calgary, and so I hustled her into her corral.



Sunset from the Golden rodeo grounds.



Despite not being able to lodge me, Bear Corner was willing to let me tag along on one of their guided rides the next day.

It’s easy to forget that what so many of us take for granted – being able to ride our horse in the wilderness, surrounded on all sides by beauty so spectacular you don’t know which way to look – is what other people only dream of doing. The little group I joined on Monday morning consisted of Julie, our guide; Ing and (crap, I forget her name), who were regulars to the area; myself; and Verrina, a young lady from Germany who was touring around BC and Alberta with her friend. Verrina has a horse of her own, and hacks out regularly, so it’s not like she was a novice to the joys of riding trails on horseback, but her dream was to ride in the mountains here in Canada. She’d contemplated doing a trail ride in Banff, but rejected the whole concept of twenty people riding nose-to-tail, and was prepared to give up her dream. When she found Bear Corner, which offers tours in small groups, she knew it was right. As we rode along in our group of five, I don’t think the grin left her face the entire time we were out.

We rode along river flats on the Blaeberry River, and then, on the way home, stopped off at a waterfall reminiscent of Ya Ha Tinda’s Hidden Falls.


Blaeberry River.



In tears over her dreadful ride.




River crossing.



Given more time, I’d have investigated local trail options more thoroughly, and have stayed longer. I am sure there must be a ton of  trails to explore – next time!

When I was tucked away in my camper the night I arrived in Golden, back in cell service and able to catch up on online business, I saw a comment from Anna Marie, at Hideaway Horse Camp in Oliver –  place I’d stayed last summer – suggesting we might ride together if I happened to pass her way. I’d intended to next go to Salmon Arm, and then home, but the invitation swayed me, and I checked out driving times on my GPS. And here’s where I just got plumb stupid. Driving time from Golden to Oliver was about  5 ½ hours, more than I felt like driving after a morning of riding finishing up after 1 pm.  Last time I’d ridden in Oliver, I’d gone via Fairmont Hot Springs, where I overnighted, and so I checked driving time to Fairmont. One and a half hours – perfect. That meant my next day’s drive would be a mere 4 hrs, right?  Piece of cake.

I checked with the stables at the Fairmont resort, and they were once again willing to house my hoss. I was pretty excited about the idea of a long, hot shower, and I figured I’d skip cooking that night, and eat out at the resort restaurant. It was going to be great. I wouldn’t even need to unhitch.

Except once I got Pai settled, and drove the 400m up the road to check in, it turned out they’d changed their policies and would not allow horse trailers in the campground.


They would not allow horse trailers or cargo trailers in the campground. I’m still trying to fathom why. Not tony enough? Because if that’s the case, I’ve seen a lot of truck top campers, RV’s. and trailers that are way more wrong-side-of-the-tracks than my little aluminum horse trailer.  Apparently, the above-mentioned crack whore rigs are A-Okay at Fairmont Hot Springs. But my trailer, nope.

Oooo, I was cranky.  Last year, I could walk to my horse. This year, they sent me down the road to their sister site, Spruce Grove, which is about 3 km away. I was cranky enough to not want to give them any of my money and just find some other place to stay, but it was getting late and I was tired and I didn’t want to hunt around, and so I caved. Turned out we got a lovely, roomy little site along the river, and so I recovered a little bit of my cheer.



The site that kept me from writing an immediate letter to the editor.


And then, at bedtime, I checked my GPS, just to verify my route. It told me my driving time to Oliver would be 6 hrs and 45 minutes.

I nearly kakked.

The GPS is pretty reliable, with a few predictable exceptions (gravel roads, mainly). What had happened to my 4 hour drive? I was baffled. The GPS must be wrong this time.

Somewhere in the night, it came to me. The original 5 ½ hour route was not via Fairmont. It was via Salmon Arm. I hadn’t checked the map. By going through Fairmont, I’d ADDED extra driving time.

I was so mad that I removed “morning shower” from my agenda, and just made myself a coffee and broke camp by 6:30 a.m.  By the time we rolled into Hideaway, including stops for gas and snacks, we’d been on the road for 8 hours.

It brings to mind one of the loving phrases Mr Wayde Andrews once tenderly said to me: “For a smart person, you’re really dumb.”

Words to treasure.


Camp and Trail Notes for Horsey Folk:

The Golden Rodeo Grounds offers overnight accommodation by donation. I called ahead (Shelley at 250-344-6798) to check that it would be OK (I worry about things like, “What if there’s a gymkhana or clinic or something and it’s full??”) but I get the impression people just turn up and drop a few buck s in the red box. They have about a dozen quite roomy pipe corrals and an adjacent outdoor arena. There’s a grassy area within the fence, so I don’t see why you couldn’t set up an e-fence corral, or tether or hobble if you so desired.

Bear Corner offers accommodation for you and your horse, and access to some pretty gorgeous trails.

Fairmont has unofficially put me up twice, through their trail riding operation, A Bar Z. They remembered me from last year and my super-casual arrangement with them was perfect. Pai had a spacious paddock with a bit of grass and a view. They charged $15 last time; price wasn’t discussed this time so I slipped a $20 under the door when I left in the morning because that’s what I had on me. There are a few campgrounds in the Fairmont area to choose from. The ones associated with the resort are about $35/night for non-powered. The girls at the barn last year also offered me the option to park at the corrals for free. I prolly shoulda done that this year, but I was keen to have a hot shower. (Which, thanks to aforementioned stupidity, I never wound up taking.)


Pai at Fairmont Hot Springs.






Come Sleep in a Tipi, They Said: Running Reins Ranch – July 15-17, 2016

“Come sleep in a tipi,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

On my X-Canada road trip with the gee-gee, in 2012, I met Ann Molina on the East-West leg of the journey when we were both camping in Kananaskis. We kept in touch, and three years later, we hooked up again for a ride when I was passing through her stomping grounds, just out of Calgary. This year, the timing worked out for us to get together again, this time on a girls’ weekend she had organized with her friends. It would be camping with horses at Running Reins Ranch, with the idea not of doing a bunch of demanding rides, but of toodling around on the trails, taking the horses swimming, and drinking copious quantities of wine.

And sleeping in a tipi.

When I left Ya Ha Tinda on Friday morning, the rain was relentless. (Well, I can’t quite  honestly say ‘relentless’. I did have exactly five minutes without rain, enough time – barely – to dismantle and towel off and pack away my awning. The rain then hammered down all the way to Sundre, where I stopped to pick up a few groceries, and from there all the way to Red Deer County. (It rained hard enough to wash the Ya Ha Tinda mud off every inch of my truck and trailer, as if I’d had them detailed. There’s always a silver lining.)

The weather did show some mercy and subsided to a light drizzle as I pulled in to the ranch and was greeted by the owners, Terry and his wife Janice. I was a couple hours ahead of the other girls, who were all leaving from work. The group had diminished from six ladies with horses to three with no horses – they’d agreed that there was little point in bringing their mounts given the threat of severe thunder showers, the horses’ unfamiliarity with e-fence paddocks (lightning storm, flat field, and potentially spooked horses did not seem like a good mix), plus the fact that Terry had advised them that the heavy rain had made the trails down to the river impassable, leaving only a handful of short trails up top to ride on.

I set Pai up in my own little personal e-fence corral (I figured she would laugh at the provided single-strand electric wire paddock as she walked right through it while wearing her winter coat, one that comes complete with neck cover: it’s like armour against electric wire), and when the rest of the posse arrived – Ann, Trina, and Kim – we spent the next half hour or so arranging and re-arranging our tarp set-up like a bunch of interior decorators plying with drapes on a reality TV show. Many ropes and bungees and guy-lines later, Ann’s big blue tarp, which was as massive as a circus tent, seemed like it might finally be showing some potential in terms of keeping the rain off us.


Pai and the neighbouring tipi.



spy and tipi

Spy and our abode. – Photo: Ann Molina.


After a lovely late dinner and some time by the campfire, we moved the coals inside like cavemen, into the tipi’s firepit, and socialized some more before bedtime. Kim had spent two summers living in a tipi, and so she knew the ins and outs of maneouvering the poles to change the flap size in the roof. And yet somehow (was it the wine?), we managed to fall asleep with a rather large gap still yawning in the roof.

Remember how I said I slept like a baby through a memorably loud  thunderstorm at Cypress Hills? Yes. Well, I also managed to slumber sweetly through three ladies getting up in the night, swearing a blue streak as the rain positively hosed down into the tipi through above-mentioned hole, Ann stomping off into the night to sleep in the truck but returning without ever getting there because the monsoon was so torrential, and everyone cussing some more as they crashed around outside trying to close the hole without drowning. I snoozed away.

I did have an inkling, though, at 5:30 when I stirred, and found that my sheets, mattress, down duvet, and wool blanket were all soaked.  I was so cranky about my sodden bedding that I turned over and went to sleep again.

“Come sleep in a tipi,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Astonishingly, despite a forecast to the contrary, the sun came out the next day, and we laid stuff out to dry like we were having a yard sale. I decided to take advantage of the break in the weather and go for a ride, with a request for my compatriots to beg Terry, when he came around with water, to take my duvet away and throw it in his dryer. (I was emboldened by his clarification to the girls when they arrived: “It’s not a campground. It’s a guest ranch.” There you go. Guest ranches definitely put the wringing-wet duvets of their guests in their personal dryer. Definitely. It’s in the handbook.)

There is a lot of wildlife around the ranch. On my first morning walk with Spy, we cameacross an elk. The following morning, we saw some deer, and also a couple of moose.

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Step away from the moose.


Kim is a trainer who focuses on centred riding. One of the things she does with her horses is play Frisbee on horseback, and so on Saturday evening she gave Pai and me a little tutorial. I got some pointers on bareback riding as well.

Sylva bareback

Just so you know, the helmet did go on a couple of seconds later. – Photo: Ann Molina.

With the good weather holding, we had a much drier evening, and, having mastered the tipi flap system, we had her closed up weather-tight that night. I had no need whatsoever to use the tarp my very caring tipi-mates had burritoed around my bed.

Kim & Trina in tipi

A much drier evening. – Photo: Ann Molina.

The only excitement that night was when, after a great deal of wine having been collectively imbibed, I went out to take a leak, and noticed I couldn’t see my horse’s head above the grass. “Aw,” I said to myself. “She’s lying down. She’s so cute when she lies down. I’m gonna go look at my cute horsie.” Except when I went over, she wasn’t there.

For the most part, Pai has one thought on her mind, and it is: How can I get more grass in my tummy? When she ducked under the fence, there was little chance that she was doing anything other than finding more to eat, and sure enough, when Ann and I marched out to look for her, she was only a hundred feet distant, munching away. Brat.

Sunday dawned sunny, and stayed that way all morning and into the early afternoon. Kim rented a horse from Terry and Janice, and she and I decided to tackle the trails down to the river, which were reportedly OK. After several attempts to descend by various paths, we ended up aborting – some of the trail was reasonable, but a lot of it was variably boggy or slick with wet clay mud. It was a shame, because the views we got from the top made it clear that the ride to the bottom would be gorgeous.


Kim on her trusty borrowed steed.

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View over the Red Deer River.



After our short (but very pretty) ride, we headed back to camp where Ann and Trina had finished packing up. Trina very generously sent me off with a table extender (basically, a wood panel) for her Coleman stove that I’d admired, and a bottle of homemade dill pickles (my fave).

For the record, sleeping in a tipi totally IS super fun.

Especially with this group of ladies, whom I hope to meet on the trail again someday.


Camp and Trail Notes for Horsey Folk:

Running Reins Ranch is in its first year of operation. It is located in Red Deer County, about 60 km east of Innisfail, along the Red Deer River.

You can sleep in a tipi (2, 4, or 6 person), or set up your own rig. There are electric wire corals provided, but setting up your own is also OK. There are outhouses; there’s a shower in a parked RV.  Prices vary by type of accommodation; our 6-person tipi ended up being around $80 a night. Some sites are fairly close together; others, like ours, are nicely tucked away.

The ranch has trails that descend to the river, but these become slick after heavy rain and are a bit of a nightmare to negotiate. There are also some top trails that are all-weather, but it doesn’t take more than half an hour to ride them, so if you want to go longer and can’t get  down to the river, there are the very quiet gravel roads to ride on. The rain we had was exceptional, but even if it’s been regular ol’ rain, it would probably be worth phoning ahead to check the conditions.


Terry comes by in the morning and night to refill water if you are too lazy to walk to the cisterns yourself. He will also deliver firewood (and, for us, start a stubbornly recalcitrant fire that refused to get hot after all that wet).



Home on the Range Deux: Return to Ya Ha Tinda – July 9-15, 2016

I left Donny Peterson’s ranch with Ya Ha Tinda as my destination, and with Brooks, AB as my way-point for overnighting. Just outside Brooks, the Silver Sage Community Corrals offers overnight accommodation for people traveling with horses.  When I phoned Darrell and asked how much notice he needed, the answer was “Next to none”.  Perfect.

On the road to Brooks, I saw that Shaunavon, SK was merely a hop  skip and a jump away. My sensible brain told me to just keep driving. The other side of my brain, the side that is in charge of getting me good food, said Woah, Nelly! So we made a little detour and got gas and rested the horse and I sat on the patio at Harvest Eatery and ate the world’s most delicious prawns. I texted a photo of my food (something I never do) to my blues musician friend David Gogo, the man who insisted last year that if I was anywhere near Shaunavon, I MUST stop there and eat. I did, and I was blown away. “Guess where I am?”  I texted. “Shaunavon??!” he asked. “Mmm hmm.”

I got kinda sorta lost looking for the Silver Sage facility, and between that and dining in Shaunavon and not taking gas stops into account in my estimated driving time, the sun was going down as we pulled in. No matter – there was still enough light to get Pai settled and me fed.  The centre is a superb place to stop for the night – Pai had a roomy outdoor paddock; there was potable water I could use to fill my tank, not to mention a very inviting ladies room in the arena, one which featured a shower. In the morning, Darrell swung by and we had a nice long chat as I broke camp and got ready to go.

Ya Ha Tinda was one of the three must-go places on this year’s trip (the other two being Cypress Hills and the Wood Mountain wagon train). Last year, I’d struck up a friendship with Ruth, who was looking after the camp on behalf of Tom Davidson, who pretty much runs the place, but who was home haying. Through Ruth, I met Rick and Jean, who are in charge of the ranch.  So coming back to Ya Ha Tinda was like another homecoming, with Ruth and Rick keeping an eye out for my arrival.

So yeah. About that rain.

I stopped in Sundre to gas up and do laundry and to pick up a few odds and ends. While I was getting gas, the most tremendous thunderstorm broke, with cracks of thunder so ear-splittingly loud that they made this storm-savvy Ontario girl jump. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard thunder that loud before.

It rained all freaking week.

I arrived on Saturday, and left on Friday. It rained every single day, sometimes torrentially.

I have my previous stay at Ya Ha Tinda to thank for making my most recent stay enjoyable. The memory of a couple of miserably cold, wet days made it imperative that this camping trip involve long underwear, an extra blanket for the bed, a drover’s coat, shitloads of firewood, and a canopy that lets me cook outside.  I also brought handwarmers and toe warmers for riding.  And bought myself a cheap cowboy hat to keep the rain off my neck. And was just generally prepared to the abysmal, wrist-slashing depression that camping in the rain usually engenders. I HATE being wet and cold. Indescribably so.

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A hat and a fire and Stanfields and rubber boots and a canopy make camping in the rain kinda sorta tolerable.

Upon my arrival, my camp set up, which usually occurs with military precision, was somewhat delayed by my fascination with my neighbours. They had two fine-looking mules, and the black one brayed almost constantly while I was getting organized. She cracked me up.  Apparently, she prefers to be ridden than to be packed, and one time made her opinion known by getting out of Dodge on a packing trip down in Lake Louise. She eventually turned up at Ya Ha Tinda.

My truck and trailer were covered in about a half inch of clay from the road. That, plus, when I went round back of the trailer to unload the steed, the door was already open. I’d lost my I-thought-was-utterly-redundant linchpin that secures the closure on my door cams, and hadn’t replaced it because the closure is so stiff I can barely open it most of the time. When I got to the ranch, the door was ajar. Presumably, my horse had been bouncing around inside, hoping for the best on the increadibly washboarded and potholed Ya Ha Tinda road, as the door swung around in front of her for god knows how long.

Rick, the ranch foreman, rounded me up for coffee on my first morning, and ferried me over to Tom’s tent. Tom is eighty years old and tough as nails, and is the de facto manager of the camps.  He was presented with an outfitters tent for his recent birthday, to replace the tarp house he called home for the summer. The new tent makes for a bright and roomy gathering place. And roomy it needs to be – one evening when I was visiting, there were thirty people in the tent, talking and singing and even dancing (thanks for the dance, Mr Davidson!). From what I gather, that is by no means a big crowd when it comes to get-togethers at Tom’s.

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Tom riding by my camp (bareback at eighty years old!), after watering his horses.

I spent quite a lot of time in that tent, listening to yarns told by men who had been riding and packing and hunting in those mountains for decades.  And I met newlyweds Dana and Kevin, who were camping and riding with their extended family and friends.

Our first ride, on Sunday, was out to James Falls, an easy three-hour ride we’d done before.



On Monday, they were gelding and freeze-branding colts up at the ranch, and so I popped up to check it out and lend any hand that might be needed.  Vet Mike Wilson, of Pioneer Veterinary Services, was running the show. As he made short work of a big job – seven colts to geld, extract wolf teeth, vaccinate and freeze brand – he regaled everyone with stories and opinions on politics.

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Rick, Dr Mike, and Rob.


Parks Canada is in the midst of reintroducing bison to their traditional ranges, and so there were a few youngsters hanging out at the ranch, so the horses could become acclimatized to them.


Bison at the ranch.


After riding alone my first two days, I was invited by an old roper named Marv to tag along with a group of friends and family (and another set of newlyweds, Jessie and Megan, who had gotten engaged at the falls two years prior) who were riding up to Hidden Falls. I’d done that trail last year, and it was well worth repeating – the falls are spectacular. Including me, we were a group of twelve – Marv, Brian, Ed, Joanie, Tim, Debbie, Diane, Jessie, Megan, and young fellas Lane and Seth.


Watering the horses before crossing the river.





Pictures can’t do it justice.


I hadn’t noticed, last year, the collection of flat stones on the west side of the creek, with names and dates of visitors scratched out on them. I added one for us.



The river was running fast and high, and the horses had a bit of a tough time holding their course across it. Jean told me last year about one time when she was crossing the river and her horse got turned ass over tea kettle, with her upside down in the water. Good times.

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In Tom’s tent that night, as Alf played his guitar and a group of cousins sang along and a great deal of alcohol was consumed, I very subtly hinted that I would like to ride with Jim and his friends the next day: “I WANT TO RIDE WITH YOU! CAN I RIDE WITH YOU?!”

Jim and his friend Al collected me the next day, and made sure I rode trails I’d not been on before, with prettiness being high on the list of criteria for choice of route. Our trail wound through cottonwoods with grass growing lush between the trees, and wildflowers everywhere.


Jim and Spy.



Jim and Al on the prettiest trail ever.


Jim went home the next day, but Al stuck around, and I rode with him and his friend LaRue, father of Dana the newlywed. Her husband Kevin rounded out the group. We rode a nice five-hour loop that took us to a lunch spot on a high point overlooking the valley.


Al and Kevin.



Scenery was kinda okay.


Looking towards Warden’s Rock.


We came across a small herd of elk, which Spy treated as if they were cows. They ran a little, but weren’t particularly concerned about the annoyance of a dog.

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By the time I was ready to go on Friday, headed to Red Deer to meet up with some girls for a camping weekend, I was so, so done with rain.  Most of the rides I’d done were mercifully dry, even though thunder storms and rain showers threatened in every direction, but  I was glad I’d experienced Ya Ha Tinda in sunshine the year before, else I’d have gone away with some pretty dismal impressions of the weather. Dana said they’d been coming this same week in July for fifteen years, and only one other time had it ever rained like this. My week there in July was like Vancouver Island winter: 10 degrees and raining.

But still. Camping with your horse in the rain still beats not camping with your horse.