Spending time in heaven on earth
Part 3 of 3
The drive over started late. I didn’t leave town until nearly noon, then got stuck in a several mile back up on the freeway. It was a long drive. The dogs did well, though Dinah was a bit nervous about the whole idea. We stopped at Fort Okanogan so I could let them out to stretch their legs, go to the bathroom, and have a drink of water. I did the same. It was like stepping into a convection oven, with warm wind blowing my hair around. I would have loved to explore a bit more (there was a museum open and not another soul around) but it was way too warm to leave them in the car, so we just continued on. As I headed farther north, we ran into some clouds, with a few raindrops too. Rain had to be good, then I realized they were thunderheads–lightning is not so good in this country. Hopefully it was mild and wouldn’t be a problem.
I rolled into Oroville around 5:30, and headed east toward the ranch. There was a big sign I remembered from last year, telling me the ranch was 10 miles ahead. I headed up the road, the deceptive incline forcing me to downshift, and remembered this from last year, and the time in the mid-80s. The road heads into rangeland, with steep gullys, canyons and gulches, and is basically dry, rocky sagebrush country. There are a few trees, some evergreen, some not, and all looking rough and worn. It’s very misleading, considering what’s ahead. After several miles of “eh,” it seems you come around a curve into country that’s as beautiful as you can imagine. Rolling grassy hills dotted with evergreens — pine and doug fir — and the country is expansive and open, with lots of sky and views that seem to go on forever. It’s almost too much to take in all at once.
I turned down the road to Eden Valley Ranch, a well groomed dirt road, then to their long driveway to the lodge house. I pulled up to the main lodge and got out, rolling the windows down for the dogs but leaving them in the car. The first thing you notice is the quiet. It’s delicious. I walked into the lodge and was greeted by Tabitha, who said Robin was out and hadn’t had a chance to prepare my packet. She gave me a key to my cabin (I had prepaid on the phone when I called, and was given a 10% discount) and I drove to it and moved in.
Eden Valley Guest Ranch is a working cattle ranch. When I’d called the weekend before, Robin had been out baling hay. It is 900 acres of Okanogan beauty, and as I unpacked the car and settled the dogs (Dinah was a bit of a nervous nellie, so I set up the crate for her safe house), I opened the windows and left the door to the cabin wide open to enjoy the view across the valley. It’s an aptly named ranch.
The cabins are tucked up against the bosom of a rolling hillside, with an expansive view across the valley. They’re fully equipped with kitchenette, wood stove, all cutlery, dishware and pots and pans, coffee maker, and a full size refrigerator, as well as a full bathroom and separate bedroom. All you do is bring your own food and you’re all set. They even have wi-fi, if you’re so inclined (though no TV or telephone in the cabins). I didn’t bring a laptop so was blissfully free of electronics the whole weekend.
As I was getting settled, Robin drove up in an older sedan, apologizing for not having my packet ready or being here to greet me when I arrived–she’d been out with the local volunteer crews putting out the spot fires from lightning strikes. I assured her there was no need to apologize–we settled in just fine.
She told me a bit about the ranch, then went back to the lodge and came back with brochures and a map of the ranch. She explained about the numerous trails, and the cows I might run into (be sure to close the gate), as well as other things to do in the area and lakes that would be good ones to bring the dogs. Farley could run free, but there were deer in the area. She also, sweetly, brought a few of her personal books for me (“With three dogs I knew you must be a dog lover.”)—dog behavior books and an excellent article in National Geographic about animal intelligence. She’s the proud owner of a young Border Collie, so she knows a wee bit about dog/animal intelligence.
It turned out to be a perfect little weekend getaway. The weather stayed a bit tumultuous all weekend, with a wicked loud thunderstorm on the second night, but the days were mostly sunny and warm. The sweet clean breezes across the valley smelled of hay and earth, and kept the cabin from getting too stuffy. My bird dog was in his element, running through the field in front of the cabin and looking like photo art in a gun dog magazine. I was careful to keep him on leash or tied in the morning and evening hours when the deer were active (he wouldn’t hesitate to give chase). We took several slow walks on the trails close to the cabin—Cutter keeping up gamely as the other two engaged in the excitement of cornering chipmunks in a brush pile and catching sight and scent of the whitetail deer in the distance. Fortunately Dinah’s of an age where chasing deer is contemplated long enough that I can talk her out of it with a firm “leave it.” Farley just tried to dislocate my shoulder when he caught sight of them. At night it was pitch dark, with just a two or three lights dotting the hills a few miles away. A chorus of coyotes howled up from the draw across the field on the second evening, serenading us on the dark, cloudy night.
I drove around the area both days, looking at the country and birdwatching (and cattle watching—it’s range country, so cattle are more numerous than humans). I passed only a few cars on the Chesaw, Hungry Hollow, and Havillah roads, most of the other drivers lifting a hand in a wave as we passed each other. Were they responding to the goofy smile I found myself wearing as I drove around in this beauty, or are they just that neighborly? I went to look at a couple properties I’d had my eye on (from Internet realty sites). Both were very nice 40 acre (be still my heart) homesteads but both were on roads that could only be called such by default. Washed out dirt driveway is what I would have called it, and was very glad I didn’t meet any oncoming cars. It was rough and pitted, with a good-sized washout in several places, and the dogs bounced around in the back of the car like balls as I crept along. Too bad. A mile of bad road to get in or out just isn’t in my visual of ideal homesteads. Good to know.
I left the ranch reluctantly after two days. I considered staying an extra day, and Robin offered me the discounted three night rate prorated if I decided I wanted to spend another day. I was tempted. She had come up to the cabin on her ATV to bid me goodbye that morning. She was getting ready for a trail ride with a party of six and went out of her way to be sure my needs were taken care of before she left. She’s the quintessential hostess and made me feel welcome and as if I were truly her guest, not merely a paying customer. As I packed up to leave and straightened up the cabin, I took a break to have a cup of coffee on the cabin steps in the morning sun. The trail ride group was heading across the field out front toward the trails. Robin raised an arm in a big wave, calling “Hi, Maureen!” across to me. She was shadowing a horse with a tiny rider in the rear of the group, while Tabitha led them. I waved back and called a greeting back to her, smiling. As I watched them head out I blinked back a few tears, not for the first time that weekend. The beauty of the area makes you appreciate being alive like no place I know. And I think it just might be the location of my future lavender farm/goat ranch/draft horse sanctuary/?.