Harrison Hot Springs has been welcoming guests for 125 years, and the resort is holding its former glories in faltering liver spotted hands. In the Copper Room the band is playing standards, bygone tunes suitable for the ambience of a 1930’s Grand Dame of a restaurant or the soundtrack to Kubrick’s The Shining. Glancing over the menu, it is a time capsule from before gluten free, low carb, nouveau or other shocking modern cuisines to something as outré and new as an upper middle class. The offerings are deeply comforting, evoking the nostalgia of perfect 1950s nuclear family vacations. This is not faded glory, so much as fine dining trapped in amber.
In the urbane wilds of San Francisco Dining, the Copper Room with its retro meals and Savoy drinks, could find a meteoric rebirth in hipster dining irony and the embracement of food history. For marketing to the twirled mustache and classic 50’s cocktail set as a destination to take hold, the service would need to pick up the pace. Our table of press and a PR maestro tuck into well prepared meals, timeless cocktails and matched wines, even as the primary demographic of tour bus passengers glance at their watches impatiently.
The Copper Room has a hard act to follow. We lunched at Limbert Mountain Farms on a selection featuring fresh from the garden herbs and vegetables, accenting locally sourced meats and cheeses, all prepared at a table-side counter by chef Claude. Part of the Fraser Valley Circle Farm Tour, this in itself is an exercise in extremes, a juxtaposition of dinning experiences, the relaxed intimacy of Limbert Farms, to the hotel’s dining hall and industrial kitchen. From a menu that has never seen endive, to one where it’s the most populist element. At Limbert the food is so fresh you’re asked to “Please, don’t chase the chickens.” And to Limbert’s credit it lies at the end of a hardly two-lane squiggle of road — consider it an amuse-bouche for motorcyclists. Sadly, Limbert Mountain Farms only takes group bookings, making it a special planned outing rather than a simply swing by affair.
There’s other contrasts splashed about too. There are two rides in the area that end with you bobbing in pools of hot water. The ride along Highway 7, once free of the grind of suburban traffic, is a relaxed cruise ending at Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa whose man-made concrete pools de-nature the experience.
For those of a more intrepid persuasion, there is an opportunity for a combined outing; an evening of luxury at Harrison, followed by an adventure ride along the West Harrison Forest Service Road to Sloquet Hot Springs.
Skirting the west side of Harrison Lake, the road features a few novel “chewy sections” at its northern end. These are generally accompanied by relatively steep accents or descents, not hill climbs per se, but a good thrill for novice adventure riders or those on pure street tires. Depending on the season and amount of run-off a few minor water crossings should be expected. While these crossings are a fine way to cool off on a hot summers day, in spring the lake can overflow the road and streams run higher potentially closing the route, so a little road condition research is in order.
If Harrison represents the luxury-ization of natural resources for the masses, Sloquet’s river’s edge pools, built by hand from rocks and lined with tarpaulins, are the opposite. Operated by the Douglas First Nation, the camping here comes with few amenities beyond a couple of outhouses of the bring your own toilet paper variety, seven camp sites with fire pits and tables and the feature attraction — all the hot water you could hope for pouring from the rock wall bracketing the pools on one side and all the natural beauty you could hope for in a rushing river on the other.
A steep walk from the campsites down a track that’s been blocked by boulders to keep the 4x4s at bay, and you’re in an overgrown riverside sanctuary of steaming pools. Both Harrison and Sloquet feature pools of varying temperatures, in Sloquet’s case they are fed with varying amounts of river water and cool as you move away from the rock walls that trickle geo-thermally heated water. In one location though nature abides, while in the other mankind bundles the experience in a neat and tidy package for consumption.
There is an upside to that packaging; for one Harrison completely lacks the signs requesting people not the defecate near or in the hot springs which grace the Sloquet site. One suspects these signs are a sad commentary on the number of drunk-driving boorish louts from the local logging camps who showed up to the site, spread beer cans everywhere then slewed their vehicles off into the night. Acts all mysteriously set to some of the most emasculating dance music this side of a pride flag; proof that louder does not make the tunes any butcher. This sort of behavior is an all too common issue in BC’s campgrounds, luckily, as a motorcyclist you’re already traveling with earplugs . Oh for the pin-drop silence of the Harrison Resorts suites, overlooking the pools that are only haunted by shades and drunken moto-journalists by 10PM. At Sloquet the morning is a rare prize of peaceful tubs dappled by beams of sunlight slanting through the trees. The experience more than balances out the late night braying of “gronks”.
There’s much to recommend either hot springs at the end of a day’s ride, but Harrison edges out Sloquet in a major way for those engaged in light adventure. There is no European or Shiatsu massage at Sloquet to knead you into a relaxed, plasticine version of yourself. Nor is there anyone willing to serve up a variety of courses for your pleasure. Just don’t expect the band to take any modern requests… at either site.
Forest Service Road Conditions: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/dck/engineering/FSR_Conditions.htm
Sloquet Hot Springs (West Harrison) Camping Information: http://www.sitesandtrailsbc.ca/search/search-result.aspx?site=REC0023&type=Site
Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa: http://www.harrisonresort.com
Fraser Valley Circle Farm Tour: http://circlefarmtour.com