More Than Just Cowboy Fun
By Chris and Don McBeath
I felt like Billy Crystal in the movie, City Slickers - squinting into the rising sun from below the brim of my baseball cap into the vast shadow of a man. I watched with some apprehension as he and his black gelding drew near because, like Crystal, I was about to play cowboy for a day. Only this was no movie. This "Curly" was the real McCoy.
"Mooornin'" he drawled, eyeing me from stirrup to stern. "Yo'all set for a day's ride?" It was barely 5 am so I mumbled some pleasantry and adjusted my weight in the saddle. It seemed like the authoritative thing to do except at this, my horse, Lady, started to pull on her bit, arch her neck and shift from foot to foot to foot. My mind galloped and I gripped the reins tighter - a silent way of saying 'whooooaaa there'. I prayed Lady got the message. "Curly" smiled knowingly, or was it with sympathy, adding "We could be ridin' for a good 40 or 50 miles before noon". He nodded to the sky. Then, with barely a flick of his wrist, he and his horse turned and trotted away.
"Curly" and his crew of five, were cowboy to the core. Each wore a dust laden Stetson, chaps worn to shiny patches, well chaffed boots with spurs glinting like diamond chips while colourful kerchiefs bound their necks, ready to soak up the sweat of their labours.
Here, in the Nicola Valley, cowboys have always been part of the landscape. Since the 1800s, ranchlands have stretched across the hills into the horizon and ranches such as Stump Lake formed part of the original community. And today, it remains one of the few authentic working ranches where you can still become a temporary member of a cattle carousing posse.
For the uninitiated, herding 1,000 heads can be hard on the buttocks which is why a ranch wrangler rides alongside, ready to escort you to easier pastures when the ridin' gets tough and the cowboys need to work through.
"Don't worry" said Marie, my escort, "most first-timers can't keep up the pace so just say the word and we'll head for the hot tub". After four hours in the saddle, it was a heaven-sent suggestion.
Although Stump Lake is one of the oldest working ranches in Canada, it's only recently that the turn-of-the-century buildings been converted into first class guest accommodations. They include romantic stand-alone cottages - originally barns, granaries and chicken coups; an imaginative Teepee Village, and delightful rooms in the main guest house where you're made to feel so welcome, you're immediately a part of the Stump Lake family. Before long, you're in and out of the country-kitchen, helping yourself to coffee, home-baked snacks and fresh fruit. And what a treat for young families. As comfortable as Stump Lake is, it is not pretentious and the special kids playroom is a bonus
While horses abound, you don't have to ride to enjoy what Stump Lake has to offer. The ranch boasts some of the premier trout-fishing lakes in the country; canoes and kayaks are ready for use across Stump Lake, all 2,000 acres of it, and wildlife is everywhere from deer and moose to eagles and bear. In summer, you can play pool on the large, outdoor patio beneath a blaze of shooting stars, gather to roast marshmallows around the open-air fire or let "Curly", alias the very congenial cow-boss, Rick Aeichele, cook up venison burgers over the BBQ. And in winter, there's always a roaring fire inside to cozy up to after cross country skiing or a visit to Sun Peaks Resort nearby.
Whatever the time of year, however, the horses are hard to resist and usually, even the most timid rider will find one to suit. For my husband, Don, it was Tres, a lazy, aging lad who much preferred to saunter through the sagebrush than spend the energy walking around it. Named for his three white socks, Tres became Don's trusted friend for the weekend, following the other novice riders through the rolling hills, beside hidden lakes lined with bullrushes and across fields of wildflowers where grasshoppers danced between the horses' hooves.
For some, the lure of Nicola valley is so captivating, they stay. Through a quiet development along the shores of Stump Lake, the ranch is sharing parcels of its 88,000 acres and homesteaders are moving in. As owners, these new settlers are able to use the ranch facilities, board their own horses and, most importantly, become co-stewards of the land, thus helping to preserve the heritage of Stump Lake and the surrounding grasslands for generations of cowboys - and city slickers - to come.
If You Go:
Stump Lake Ranch
Web site: www.stumplake.com
Ranch Manager: Laura Barnes
For Waterfront lots call:
From Vancouver, drive north on Highway 5 to Merritt
Take the very scenic Route 5a north, towards Kamloops
Stump Lake Ranch is located 25 minutes south of Kamloops
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