HOME ON THE RANGE
Story by Jane Cassie
AT SIWASH LAKE RANCH
Photos by Brent Cassie
His cocoa brown eyes appear despondent, yet when glancing my way he blinks flirtatiously. He inches closer, gently nudging my side. There's an instant connection. "What's with the long face, Dude?" I ask, while brushing a wisp of silver hair away from his freckled brow. Although he doesn't reply, I know how to make him happy. And before long, I have him eating out of the palm of my hand.
Smoke, my new found friend, is my equestrian partner during our three day stint at Siwash Lake Ranch in BC's Cariboo. And while feeding him a couple of hay-blend biscuits, my feelings of trepidation begin to wane. Although my husband is ready to live out his elusive cowboy dream, I've arrived with some uncertainty about straddling any saddle.
"Don't worry, you'll feel comfortable before heading out," our wrangler, Derek Peters, says consolingly. "It all starts with learning about horsemanship." Although not sporting the typical chaps and spurs, this confident ranch-hand, could pass as a modern day Gene Autry in his plaid shirt and wide-brimmed Stetson.
He goes on to explain that Siwash offers one of the best riding programs around, and once confident, guests are free to venture out on their own. We soon discover that this 'venturing' is not a mere walk in the park.
"As well as the hundred and sixty Siwash-owned acres, we have access to trails that wind through the encompassing eighty thousand acres of crown land," Peters informs us, after providing step by step instruction that includes everything from hoof to hair care.
By the time I've climbed aboard my "Flee Bit Paint", every detail has been dealt with, right down to the final saddle cinch that will keep me strategically on top. I squirm into the supple leather saddle, and take a deep breath of fresh country air. In a matter of minutes I've been transformed from a city slicker to a Cariboo cowgirl who is ready to ride the range!
Over the next two hours, our well-trodden trails provide scenic vistas of the area's diverse topography. We plod through timbered forests where groves of trembling aspen quiver next to Douglas fir. We skirt shimmering lakes that host whirlybird dragon flies and reed-loving tadpoles, and stroll through sun-dappled grasslands where the cattle and deer love to graze. It's a wilderness setting of unparalleled beauty -untouched, peaceful and spectacular.
Part of Siwash Lake's splendor can be attributed to its pristine location. Although just a five and a half hour drive from Vancouver and 32 km (20 miles) east of 70 Mile House, the final twenty travel minutes is bridged by remote country roads. There's no distraction from TVs, and you can leave your Blackberry behind. Instead of a keyboard or remote, you'll have wilderness at your fingertips. Take it from me, you'll love this substitution!
The seven thousand square foot lodging is hewn from the land itself, and while perched on a grassy knoll, offers us postcard lake views, a posh suite and mouth-watering sensations that could rival the house of James Beard. Everything from the farm fresh breakfasts to innovative entrees is exquisitely presented. And discreetly delivered to our door each morning is a wake up tray, sporting a thermos of coffee and freshly made muffins-definitely not your typical ranch-style chow!
Although Allyson Rogers is the primary visionary of this four and a half star establishment, her partner, Roy Grinder (and real McCoy cowboy), also helps manage the reins. "We're a blend of the refined and the rustic," Rogers explains. "Roy has lived in the Cariboo all of his life and knows every fishing hole and adventure opportunity around. My niche is with the decorating and managing the business end of things." Her smile is vivacious and it's obvious that she's passionately focused on success. Jessica and Marshall, her two children, are also a big part of the operation. As well as mingling with guests, they're involved in chores that are essential in running the ranch. "Likewise, are the other staff," Rogers beams with pride. "By all being multi-taskers we can provide our guests with the personalized service that makes their experience so special."
And special it's been. As well as covering the countryside on Smoke's strong back, we've paddled shimmering Siwash Lake, hiked the interpretive Siwash trail and had hammock time in the grassy meadow. Mountain biking, four wheel drive safaris and reeling in a few trout will have to wait until next time. Or maybe we'll come in winter when dog sledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are the featured activities. That, I'm sure, will be another story!
IF YOU GO:
Siwash Lake Ranch
70 Mile House
Phone: 250-395-6541 (between 8:00am - 9:00pm)
Four and a half stars: Rated by Canada Select
Member of the Kilgore Luxury Group - Worldwide (Luxury division of Ranchweb)
Tourism British Columbia Approved Accommodation
British Columbia Guest Ranchers' Association
Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association
B.C. Wilderness Tourism Association
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1. Pausing for a photo moment above Black Jack Lake
2. Owner, Allyson, lends her knee to a young rider
3. On the trail again
4. Enjoying a paddle and Siwash Lake serenity