Great Gal-loping Getaway

By Jane Cassie

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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 so sure about the rest of my boomer-aged body. Do I still have enough core power to ride the range? Can I hang on tight when my steed picks up speed? My trepidation mounts (pardon the pun) as the herd of horses is corralled into the ring. With hoofs pounding and mud flying, they stampede through the gate and charge closer to the raised podium where I stand - or shake - in my boots. The only consolation is that the other two women who have joined me on this weekend retreat are shaking even more.

At different stages in our nursing careers - retired, pre-retired and just plain tired – we’ve come to Sun Mountain Lodge to revive, reconnect and reclaim a little western spirit. This getaway gem on the outskirts of Winthrop, Washington promises all of the above and more. Like a diamond in the rough, it glitters from its mountaintop home and provides every nuance of comfort known to man or womankind: posh accommodations, award-winning wine and cuisine, a pampering spa to soothe those saddle sores, and 30 head of horses creating them.

Beads of sweat drip from my brow as the galloping group invades my comfort zone. But fortunately, help accompanies these well-behaved beasts. Kit Cramer could pose as The Horse Whisperer. 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 seems to mesmerize the energized pack for, in unison, they obey her every command. In minutes, she has us perfectly pegged and paired with our equine companion. And, before we know it, we’re ready to giddy up and go!

“Each one of these 1,200 pounds of horsepower has a brain the size of a walnut,” Kit chuckles, “but they all provide a safe four-wheel drive ride.” Her wrangling expertise is matched by a witty sense of humour and, while sauntering nose-to-tail along the rim of Sun Mountain’s 915-metre-high plateau, I’m hoping there’s truth to this gesture.

Nestled in a lush valley far below is the western town of Winthrop, a popular tourist haunt where we spent the previous day strolling the creaky boardwalks, checking out emporiums, and uncovering 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. We discovered it wasn’t revived again until 1972, after the completion of the North Cascade Highway. And thanks to the financial support from local lumber baron, Kathryn Wagner, it took on this new Wild West flavour.

The elusive cowboy dream also lingers in the hearts of many who visit the lodge. Its 3,000 embracing acres are laced with enough trails, flower-choked meadows and jaw-dropping vistas to satisfy any Roy Rogers wannabe.

“It’s a great place to experience life as it used to be,” Kit proudly says, as she guides us through a grove of trembling aspens. She should know. Her family has lived in the Methow Valley for generations and she has pretty much grown up on the backside of a horse. She also co-authored *Bound for the Methow*, a coffee table favourite that traces the region’s rich history.

We mosey along a trail just below the main lodge and find out it too has well established roots. In 1965, visionary Jack Barron, was so moved by this magnificent countryside, he wanted to share it with others. He chose this plot because it provided a 360-degree view of the mountains and valleys, and constructed his dream property out of local materials, so it would blend in with the landscape. Three years later, the original Sun Mountain Lodge was open for business.

Although it’s had major upgrades since those early days, the Northwest feel is still incorporated into this AAA Four Diamond retreat. Ninety-six regionally-inspired rooms are housed centrally and any one of them, whether in the main lodge, Gardner or Robinson buildings would enhance our getaway. But on this trip, we decided to go for even more seclusion. We wanted to wine, dine and enjoy our 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. A couple of canoes dot the glistening surface and hugging up to one edge is a grassy shoreline that hosts our home away from home. Later, we’ll catch up on lost sleep, yack on our sun-splashed veranda, and sing along with John Denver. If we still have energy, we can try another adventure. How ‘bout fly-fishing, river rafting or kayaking? Tennis or swimming anyone? The courts and two pools sure look inviting. A hundred miles of hiking and biking trails also weave over this terrain. But for now, there’s still more riding to do!

Our mid-point is the Hough Homestead, a landmark that dates back to the late 1800s. A log-hewn structure and weather-beaten wagon are remnants of the past and close by are a few picnic tables for tonight’s Cowboy Camp Dinners.

“Why not join us later,” Kit asks, when we get back to the ranch. “There’ll be singing ‘round the campfire and a fabulous spread of food.” Although steak, country-fried potatoes and baked beans sounds finger-lickin’ good, we have our hearts set on some award-winning fare for this final night. Above all, though, comfort comes first. After finally prying our duffs off the saddles, we make a bowlegged beeline for the spa.

Sue gets her pinkies dusted off and pedicured, Carol has every kink massaged out of her spine and 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, masked and toned. 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 we soak in the lush Methow Valley view and graze on goodies like wild antelope, diver scallops and wild mushroom strudel, we naturally fill our glasses and raise them for one final toast. “Here’s to revival, reconnection and retirement - and, of course, one great gal-loping getaway.”



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

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