heep River Valley
Zosia Zgolak and I cycled the seasonally-closed section of Highway 546 in Alberta's Sheep River Provincial Park on 29 April 2023.  This section of highway is annually closed to public motorized vehicles from December 1 thru May 14.  Like most of the other seasonal highways in Alberta's Kananaskis Country, cyclists flock here in spring to take advantage of riding on snow-free pavement before the re-opening of the highway to motorized traffic.

Starting from the seasonal gate on Highway 546 (20.0 kilometres west of the intersection with Main Street in Turner Valley), Zosia and I cycled westward for 18 kilometres to the end of pavement at a parking loop which is the trailhead for Sheep River Trail.  At one point, the highway drops down to cross Gorge Creek, and I definitely felt the lactic acid build up in my legs as we grinded slowly up the monster hill on the other side.  Otherwise, the majority of the ride was generally enjoyable and remarkably scenic even though we had driven this highway countless times before.  We also benefited from calm conditions on this day and never had to fight against any serious head winds.  After circling the parking loop, we started riding back the same way but stopped at Sheep River Falls for a very nice lunch break.  These falls are usually teeming with tourists during summer and fall, and it felt wonderfully strange to eat lunch there in quiet solitude.

During our return ride, Zosia and I stopped and chatted at length with one of several researchers who were studying wildlife in the area.  Of course, there was plenty of discussion about the resident sheep population, but I was more than a little incredulous to learn that the researchers were also investigating the daily habits of Columbian ground squirrels.  I did not think that there was much more to learn about these ubiquitous critters, but the more baffling question for me was how funding was even secured for this type of research.  This question persisted in my mind long after we completed our uneventful ride back to the seasonal gate with a round-trip time of 3 hours 51 minutes.
Motorcyclists could easily get around that gate... Zosia rides toward the seasonal gate on Highway 546.
Imagine doing Bluerock Mountain as a bike & hike!

Zosia enters Sheep River Provincial Park with Bluerock Mountain visible on the horizon.

Looks pretty dry! Windy Point Ridge dominates the view along this stretch of the highway.
We'll see more of them later!

Zosia spots a herd of sheep in this large meadow.

Might be nice to hike above the bluff one of these days... Zosia stops below a striking bluff to check out an interpretive plaque describing the life of Fred Nash, a local cowboy who emigrated from England and fought in World War I as a cavalry soldier.  Nash also worked at Bar U Ranch and was a forest service ranger from 1921 to 1947.
The most strenuous part of the ride both ways! Zosia begins a long uphill climb after crossing Gorge Creek.
Don't worry; that's just me huffing and puffing after a brutal uphill climb!

After a long climb, Sonny is pleasantly surprised to see a sheep lounging beside the highway.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

A fantastic photo by Zosia! The east peak of Gibraltar Mountain looms in the background.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Almost time for lunch!

After circling the loop at the end of the highway, Zosia begins the return trip.  The mountain behind her is Shunga-la-she


It was amazing to be here without the usual hordes of tourists!

Zosia and Sonny stop for lunch at Sheep River Falls.

How do you get funding to do research on ground squirrels?

On the return ride, Sonny passes another herd of sheep grazing beside the highway.  The parked vehicle belongs to some researchers who are studying the sheep as well as Columbian ground squirrels.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak


Sheep may safely graze. Sonny rides past yet another herd of sheep.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

I guess we're no longer in Sheep River Provincial Park! Zosia rides past some deer itching to cross the highway.