Story by Michelle Hopkins
70 MILE HOUSE, BRITISH COLUMBIA — As we near the gates of Siwash Lake Ranch, the clouds dissipate and the sun is high in the blue sky. The gentle hills of the Marble Mountain Range stretch out like an undulated patchwork quilt of verdant meadows and rugged forest. As the truck passes the ranch’s 32 horses, they stamp their feet and nicker softly in their corrals as the lone wrangler waves. The air is heavy with the smells of horse and of the dew from the recent rainfall.
This rugged landscape takes me back to those long ago days in Princeton, a small town in southern British Columbia where I first learned how to horseback ride with my best friend, Joanne. Already, I feel the stress of the city leave me.
Lodging at Siwash Lake Ranch
The 7,000-square-foot main lodge is where you have your meals and it is also home to some of the luxurious suites. Built of spruce logs, the ranch house overlooks Siwash Lake and is surrounded by meadows and forests. Western artifacts, log furnishings, a grand stone wood-burning fireplace and patchwork quilts give the main home warmth and charm. Meals and snacks are included in most packages.
Besides the suites there are the private canvas cabins (think lavish African safari tents), and they are up on the Ridge overlooking Siwash Lake. Our ultra-cozy and rustic-chic cocoon offered us sweeping views of forest and open space. Some mornings were shared with horses grazing nearby.
You’ll find there’s plenty to do here and the guides and instructors make all of your activities, whether its skeet shooting, roping, hiking along the many trails or foraging for food in the lake, all the more enjoyable because they tailor each experience to your interest and ability.
Self-guided activities include kayaking, canoeing, swimming, mountain biking and bird watching.
After spending a day enjoying nature in the Cariboo region of the province, a massage in the outdoor tent overlooking the mountain range and lake is the best way to end the day.
Horseback Riding in British Columbia
The ranch, which is 415 kilometres (258 miles) northeast of Vancouver, is renowned for its horseback adventures. Every guest is matched with a horse according to size and personality. They do a great job of this, and every rider soon becomes best friends with their horse.
I was matched up with Soda, a gentle 16-year-old grey Appaloosa gelding. Mathew’s regal Percheron Appaloosa gelding, aptly named Lancelot, weighed in at 1,100 kilograms (2,425 pounds) of sheer brawn.
We were taught how to brush them down, feed them treats and properly place the saddle pad and saddle.
Head wrangler Sienna is extremely knowledgeable and takes guests through the wild and tells stories about how the many lakes and ranges got their moniker.
The Cuisine of the Cariboo
Each day starts with a basket left on your verandah. It is filled with fresh-brewed organic coffee and baked goods, such as mini blueberry scones. At breakfast, a chalkboard announces the lunch menu so you can inform your waitress as to your choice. Then, again at lunch, a board tantalizes you with the dinner carte du jour. I promise you, the cuisine is similar to what you’d find in a fine-dining establishment.
The executive chef here is Derek Bendig (formally of Toronto’s Pangaea) and he creates magic each and every day in that kitchen. Whatever wild food he forages that day will likely end up on your plate for dinner. One day on his morning walk, he harvested a whole basket full of spruce tips, which he made into jelly to serve with a local artisan cheese platter for the afternoon happy hour.
Another day, I joined him and went out on a horse with the head wrangler, waders in our saddle bags, and together we stopped off at one of the many bejewelled wilderness lakes on the range and gathered cattail hearts (like white asparagus). You guessed it, Bendig pickled them and they ended up in our salads that night, which also included baby greens, wild onion and wild violet blossoms from the ranch’s organic garden.
As owner Allyson Rogers notes about her intimate 16-guest ranch: “We work hard to create a memorable experience where you can get a glimpse into the old west in style while enjoying the beautiful Cariboo region and all the peace and quiet one could hope for.”
MORE ABOUT SIWASH LAKE RANCH
Location: Box 39, 70 Mile House, BC (see map below)
Nightly Rates: Low-season rates in 2014 (May 18-June 29 and August 31-September 30) start at $795 per person. Peak-season rates (June 29-August 31) start at $995 per person. Food and beverage is included in all packages. Guests can custom design their visit through choosing a range of activities. See the Rates page on the website for details.
Getting There: For us getting there was a wonderful adventure. After a 1.15-hour flight on Pacific Coastal Airlines, we were picked up for the scenic 2.5-hour drive to the remote ranch. It is located 32 kilometres (20 miles) east of 70 Mile House, on the historic Gold Rush Trail in the Cariboo.