Harrison Hot Spring (Photo: Crai Bower)
BRITISH COLUMBIA, March 9, 2011 — Hot springs, any hot springs, are mythical. Many of us have crawled by headlamp along some forest path to a secret pool, or wandered from the hot pool to the really hot pool in a clothing-optional, funky environment.
British Columbia’s Harrison Hot Springs isn’t funky and you won’t need a headlamp to navigate, it does offer the same, essential environment to ease one’s aches, slow one’s mind and, if you’re lucky, disappear for a bit.
The mythical draw of naturally clen water heated by geothermal alchemy serves as enticement enough to suggest each of us take a March visit north of the border for a weekend soak.
I’ve been eager for years to check out Harrison Hot Springs and there’s no better time then when the winds (and the snow) doth blow. However, unlike most locations, that I research endlessly, I didn’t want to know too much about this destination, as I had visions of tracing a snail’s course among cedar kiosks covering a pod of natural pools nestled among the river stones.
I was wrong. Harrison offers three traditionally tiled pools outside and two indoors. It feels like another mid-level resort, except for the water, that glorious water.
The Coast Salish nation made regular migrations here to take advantage of the “healing place.” The first Europeans to “discover” the hot springs were gold-diggers panning along the Douglas Trail 160-years ago.
In the rush to find British Columbian gold (a different, less flaky leaf, than many associate with the “BC Gold” of today), the 49ers discovered Kwals, the aboriginal’s name meaning boiling water. (The two main springs produce water exceeding 135 degrees Fahrenheit.) European settlers didn’t establish a community here until 1858; the healing baths were constructed 27 years later.
Pausing at Harrison offers a great opportunity to slow down from our usual frenetic, “stake-our-claim” pace. Today, the Springs feel more akin to an Arkansas ‘healing place’ than Northern California’s holistic Harbin Hot Springs or Orcas’ Doe Bay. The vista of the 46-mile long Harrison Lake, an unspoiled, sparsely developed indigo gem, and the surrounding Coast Range Mountains is sadly lost on the soakers due to the surrounding buildings, the price paid for privacy.
Still, walks along the snowy beach beneath the peaks prove almost as soothing as the soaks. (A bracing, prespring plunge may also have the power to unblock some chakras.) A stroll west along the beach leads to the hot springs source.
The outdoor waters are nestled in among tall cedars, the depths just deep enough for full-body immersion. A bamboo bridge separates the adults-only pool from the larger family water. The fact the air temperature was below freezing hardly mattered. I traveled to each pool, breathing in the steam and working on locating my oft-elusive center.
The resort recognizes the popularity of the springs, so pools stay open until well past midnight; the covered pool and spa close later than many Seattle taverns. At Harrison, late night soaking can mean simultaneous star gazing too. One luminous evening immersed in hot, healing water, I spotted among others, Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, and Pegasus.The stars brought me back to a midnight soak I took years ago in Western Colorado. Wandering down through the sagebrush one July after a relaxing dip, I picked my way along a trail by the full moon’s silver radiance. The memory remains a precious snapshot of my insouciant days. Until, that is, I lost my way and stepped on a cactus.
Whether in Colorado, California or British Columbia, hot springs should simmer to steady one’s tempo, but I was still surprised to hear Aodhan and Malcolm, ages seven and four, whispering, a decibel level usually reserved for covert operations like looting chocolate chips or closet reconnaissance to avoid donning pajamas.
I would love to think their murmurs had something to do with respect for the adults, contently sequestered beyond a gentle waterfall in their private environs, but these lads are Seattle-raised extroverts.
I believe their whispers were natural accompaniments to the vapor-veiled adagio, in misty harmony with the Kwals. Though developed as a full service resort in what is now a kind of kitschy resort town, I could easily envision the Coast Salish families taking in the springs a millennium ago, their children playing quietly, their view of the glacial peaks, and of Pegasus, undisturbed by the presence of others.
Award winning travel writer Crai S. Bower contributes over 100 articles a year for more than 20 publications and online sources and can be heard on NPR-affiliate KUOW and American Forces Radio. Follow Crai on Twitter and at his web site Flowing Stream Writing.
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