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By Jane Cassie
For Travel Writers' Tales

It's been a few years since I've straddled a saddle. And though my plump rump will likely survive the trot, I'm not sure about the rest of my aging body. Trepidation mounts as the horses charge up to the podium where I stand -or shake -in my boots. The only consolation is -the two other gal pals who are with me, are shaking even more.

We've come to Sun Mountain Lodge to revive, reconnect and recreate and this gem on the outskirts of Winthrop, Washington promises it all. Like a diamond in the rough, it glitters from its mountain-top home and provides every nuance of comfort known to man or womankind -posh accommodations, award-winning wine and cuisine, a spa to soothe those saddle sores, and thirty head of horses to create them.

Beads of sweat drip from my brow as the galloping group invades my comfort zone. But fortunately Kit Cramer, who could pass as The Horse Whisperer, comes to the rescue. Sporting chaps, spurs and twin braids that fall from her wide-brimmed Stetson, she's a cowgirl to the core. Even her western drawl sounds authentic. Thankfully it also calms the energized pack.

"Each one of these twelve-hundred pounds of horsepower has a brain the size of a walnut," she chuckles, "but they all provide a safe four-wheel drive ride." Her wrangling expertise is matched by a sense of humor and while sauntering along the rim of Sun Mountain's 915 metre (3,000 ft) high plateau, I'm hoping there's truth to her gesture.

Nestled in a valley far below is the western town of Winthrop, a popular tourist haunt where we'd spent the previous day. We'd strolled the creaky boardwalks, checked out emporiums, and uncovered past and present treasures. As with most mining towns, the gold rush boom in Winthrop was a colourful era. But once the resources dried up, so did the reasons to stay. It wasn't revived with its Wild West flavor until 1972, after the completion of the North Cascade Highway.

The elusive cowboy dream also lingers in the hearts of many who visit the lodge. How can it not? Its three thousand embracing acres are laced with enough trails, flower-choked meadows and jaw-dropping vistas to satisfy any Roy Roger wannabe.

The Northwest feel is incorporated into all ninety-six rooms. Although any one of them, whether in the main lodge, Gardner or Robinson buildings would of heightened our stay we had decided to go for more seclusion. We wanted to wine, dine and have diva downtime without any interruptions. And our fully equipped home-style cabin at nearby Patterson Lake was certainly filling the bill.

From our promontory trail we have a great view of this lake. Later, we'll catch up on zzz's, yack on our sun-splashed veranda, and sing along with John Denver. If we still have energy we can try fly fishing, river rafting, kayaking or check out the hiking and biking trails that weave over this terrain. But there's still more riding to do!

Our final point of interest is the Hough Homestead, is a landmark that dates back to the late 1800s. As well as a few relics from the past there are picnic tables ready for tonight's Cowboy Camp Dinner.

"Why not join us," Kit asks, when we get back to the ranch. "There'll be singing 'round the campfire and a fabulous spread of food." Although steak, baked beans and all the fixings sound finger-lickin' good, we have our hearts set on some award-winning fare for this final night. Above all though, comfort comes first. After prying our duffs off the saddles we make a bow-legged bee-line for the spa.

While Sue gets her dusty pinkies pedicured and Carol has her jostled spine massaged, I go for a treatment that's most needed these days -an anti-aging facial. With Kazia at the helm, my pores are cleansed, exfoliated, massaged and masked. I'm pretty sure her grand finale head massage produces a snore. An hour later we all emerge in Zen-like states.

Decadence continues in the restaurant where we later dine and wine. Accompanying Chef Bradshaw's artistically presented specialties is a wine list that would appease Henry VIII. With a 5,000 bottle cellar it's not surprising to hear that the Washington State Wine Commission rated Sun Mountain as the top wine restaurant in 2010. And while soaking in the lush Methow Valley view, and grazing on gastronomic goodies, we raise our glasses for one final toast. "Here's to revival, reconnection and recreation - and one great gal-loping getaway."

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If You Go:

Note: Although this year-round property offers the second best cross country ski trail system in the US, access to it via the Northern Cascade Highway is only possible from May to November.

Sun Mountain Lodge
P.O. Box 1000,
Winthrop, WA 98862
Toll Free 1-800-572-0493 or 509-996-2211
Fax: 509-996-3133

Photo Captions and Credits

#1 - Kit Cramer, our wrangler and cowgirl to the core - photo by Jane Cassie
#2 - Winthrop's Emporium -a great five and dime- photo by Jane Cassie
#3 - Sun Mountain Lodge -A diamond in the rough- photo by Jane Cassie
#4 - A yeehaw from the ladies - photo by Kit Cramer
#5 - Slow plod with view of Patterson Lake- photo by Kit Cramer
#6 - Setting a spell, veranda-style- photo by Jane Cassie
#7 - A final toast to Sun Mountain Lodge- photo by Jane Cassie

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit


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