Taking the Road Less Travelled Reveals a Cariboo Treasure
By Chris McBeath

Thrusting the gears into four-wheel drive, my husband squared his shoulders, tightened his grip on the steering wheel and ventured forward. The heavy rains had pitted the dirt track with water-bound potholes, and trenches of mud loomed up against our hubcaps like battalions trying to thwart our every turn.

But we were not to be outdone. The promise of what lay ahead at Siwash Lake Ranch pulled us forward. Besides, I could see that my husband was imagining himself as some hot-shot rally driver, and this road was the exception to the norm.

Usually, the gravel and dirt track is far easier to navigate, and sufficiently graded for the tamest urban vehicle. All you really need is a modicum of faith that the route - a 40 or so kilometer off-road jaunt through some of the Cariboo's most remote country - actually has a destination. But keep the faith, and the rewards at Siwash Lake Ranch are akin to finding the Promised Land.

Lying at the edge of Siwash Lake, the ranch is surrounded by 160 acres of wild meadows, rangeland and stands of trembling aspen, beyond which lie a further10,000 acres of prime cattle country, forests, hidden lakes and rivers. Wild strawberries run along the ground beside dog-tooth violets; loons and black terns brush their wings over the wetland grasses, and blue-winged dragonflies dance haphazardly across still-waters filled with lily pads and bulrushes. When you walk, swallows swoop into your path with their free-falling designs, cows follow your steps with a nonchalant gaze, and beavers and muskrats scurry about their business.

To describe Siwash Lake as a dude ranch is somewhat of a misnomer. It is really the 6,000 sq ft dream home of owner-manager Allyson Rogers Fremlin, a West Vancouverite turned Cariboo Cowgirl who opened for business in 2001.

I's an unlikely career path for an ex-debutante, but what she's created is a superb getaway that offers a rare combination: a small, high-end, wilderness ranch that's as much an adult oriented escape as it is a family vacation. That's not an oxymoron. With only six guest rooms, Siwash Lake can customize its services to cater to romantics in search of privacy and seclusion, as well as to larger gatherings where activities are geared to adults and children of all ages, including complimentary child-care. Few places offer such all-inclusive, personalized attention.

Each of its guest bedrooms is beautifully decorated, featuring the finest Egyptian linens, eiderdown duvets and private bathrooms. The rustically elegant living room, with its cathedral ceiling, overstuffed furniture, and country antiques is made all the more welcoming at the end of the day when there's always a fire crackling in the 30-foot high river rock fireplace.

And the library area, with its scores of books, makes for a wonderful cosy nook. As with most homes, the country-style kitchen is the hub of activity and at Siwash Lake, it's where Chef Allan prepares and serves most meals, ranging from hearty breakfasts to lavishly prepared dinners. Barbecues, fireside fondues and even an intimate table a deux at the edge of the meadow, are all on the menu.

As for the horses, they are safe, responsive and a far cry from the 'dude' steeds you find on so many other ranches, where horses trail lethargically one behind the other. Siwash Lake horses are chosen for their gentleness and experience, which means that guests can ride whenever they like, as much as they like, and with or without a guide. They can even groom their horses, watch the farrier at work, and join the wrangler in the early morning round up.

For children, the opportunities to explore nature are endless. Since Allyson's own children are aged 4 and 6, the folks at Siwash know how to provide youngsters with a Huckleberry Finn type of experience that includes everything from animal tracking (moose droppings and bear scat are common sights), orienteering, scavenger hunts and nature walks, to fort building, story times in a teepee, and crafts. Then there are bunnies to see, the pigs to feed, the chicken eggs to collect, the vegetables to be picked, wild strawberries to eat, a canoe to paddle, and a lakeshore that's ideal for scouting out toads and shrimp.

Surprisingly, the highlight of the trip was not the adventure of our arrival, nor the spectacular country through which we rode, or the magic of the night when Siwash Lake fills the darkness with a symphony of nocturnal sounds. Rather, it was the gradual realization that we were participants in a very special dream; a pioneer quest of sorts albeit it firmly rooted in the 21st century.

In between tending the horses, caretaking the land, and growing the business, Allyson home-schools both her children, year round, is a polished professional in the kitchen on chef's days off, and can often be seen at the helm of the ex-highways Champion 740 road grader, earning her the nickname "Grader Mom". Armed with chaps, a leatherman (a cowboy's equivalent of a Swiss Army knife), and business savvy (some might call it horse-sense), Allyson's determination and vision make Siwash Lake a remarkable story, and a very special experience.

If You Go:

Siwash Lake Ranch
Box 39
70 Mile House BC V0K 2K0
Tel/fax: 250/395-6541
Web site: www.siwashlakeranch.com

Rates range from CA$240-$310 per person per day, and include all meals and non alcoholic beverages, all riding, all other activities, and childc are as requested. Children 5 and under are free if they share your room and don't ride. For children 6 through 12, multiply above rates by .65. Contact ranch for special rates for private groups of 12 or less.

By Car: Drive Hwy 97 to 70 Mile House, 5.5 hours north of Vancouver, and about 45 minutes to the ranch. Turn east along Green Lake Bonaparte Road, until it becomes a forestry road. Siwash Lake lies at the end of a graded dirt track off this gravel road; phone the Ranch for specific directions.

By Plane:Fly to Kamloops from Vancouver, and arrange for a four-wheel drive at Kamloops Airport, or for a transfer by the ranch at a flat rate of $300/one way; maximum 8 people. Drive time from Kamloops to Siwash Lake is 2.5 hours. Or, fly to 100-Mile House. Siwash Lake will provide complimentary pick up. Drive time to Siwash Lake is 1.5 hours Or, take a float plane from Vancouver to nearby Green Lake; Siwash Lake will provide complimentary pick up. Drive time is 40 minutes.

© Travelink Publishing - All Rights Reserved