Throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall, with its highly-rated layouts, The Retreat & Links at Silvies Valley Ranch in eastern Oregon is a must-play destination for golf buddies (Golf Digest recognized the Hankins and Craddock courses as two of the top-four best new courses of 2018), however, come Winter, those players can soothe any lingering feelings of guilt by bringing out their families and enjoy together a snowy wonderland filled with memorable activities for everybody.
About a three-hour drive due west from Boise and a five-hour drive southeast from Portland (and a private air strip on the premises helps a certain portion of the clientele visit more easily), the natural setting here overall fits like a hand to a glove for those vacationers looking for a winter nature respite from their crowded urban environment, especially in a world coping with a prolonged pandemic.
The rugged dreamscape, owned by Dr. Scott Campbell, a retired veterinarian and his wife Sandy, Silvies is a working ranch, a 218 square-mile home to several thousand cattle and goats (along with countless species of plants and wildlife).
It is that seclusion that the husband-and-wife proprietors feel is one of the appeals of their place.
“We are remote, which is nice. Takes a while to get here, but it is not crowded as we purposely keep it intimate,” said Mrs. Campbell, “I think it offers a lot of time to reflect while enjoying the scenery, (the) lovely winter landscape.”
And guests enjoy that “vast intimacy”.
To provide some perspective, general manager Brooks Bradbury said, “It is about the size of Chicago with 32 luxury log cabins.”
Both local history as well as resources (most of those logs for the cabins came from the property) play a large part in providing that Old West ambiance here.
“This is the West,” stated Bradbury. “I think the Campbells have created a very comfortable place for guests who appreciate our celebration of the American West culture here. From the Pendleton fabrics, swinging door saloon, stage coach, old tools and wagons you see, I think when you are here there is an amazing sense of place.”
Eastern Oregon was homesteaded in the early 1700s and the ranch itself was a sort of conglomeration of several homesteads and over time they came together and it became one ranch.
“There’s so much history here, that you can be cross-country skiing or snow shoeing, and you’ll be going on the same trails as many pioneers did,” added Mrs. Campbell. “The same ones that old trappers and cowboys rode their horses on. Or homesteaders drove their wagons on. When you’re out there, one gets a sense of how big the country is and how old the history is.”
In addition to cross-country skiing and snow shoeing, winter offers a bounty of activities like ice fishing, a shooting range, ATV tours and the owners are also interested in lining up snowmobile touring for guests through an outside contractor.
Being a working ranch, the Campbells place a high-value on offering guests the opportunity to interact and learn more about its animal and ecological operations.
“That is an important aspect of this place to Scott and I, “Sandy explained. “We want people to understand agriculture and livestock. A working ranch can be fun and exciting and educational, especially for the kids. We like guests to interact with our cowboys and herders and experience feeding the cattle and goats and understanding how we take care of them. We also provide details about many of the ecological things we do here. Getting people to understand how as owners we still have to care of the land and do what is right so you provide the optimum environment for your livestock as well as wildlife while having people come and enjoy it.”
Well, all that activity certainly can make one hungry and breakfast, lunch and dinner is served ranch-style every day at long wooden tables shared by guests, staff and management.
Ranch-style meals at Silvies include seven courses featuring what’s available locally and what’s in season as well as the herbs and vegetables grown in a micro garden and greenhouses.
“To have organically-raised, naturally grass-fed beef and chevon (breed of meat-producing goat) is a most-rare thing. When you realize how beautiful and pristine this environment is, you’re eating as healthy as one can,” said Bradbury.
Employing award-winning chefs, the Campbells, in keeping with their Old West theme, apply it to their menu as well.
“While we incorporate our cattle and chevon into our menu, what we aim to do is create offerings that harken back to the old Western days,” explained Mrs. Campbell. “Steaks, hearty stews and chili. Sourdough bread. We don’t want spices overpowering the taste. I think our chefs do a great job of elevating our food to a gourmet level without overpowering the simple, honest western fare that brings one back to the pioneer days. Like French cuisine would be way off the beaten path for us.”
Right in the path for everyone entering the lodge is Silvies’ iconic bar. Over two tons of “vertical tasting.”
Jeff Campbell, Scott’s brother, an immunologist who studied at Stanford and conducts a popular sourdough-bread making class, oversees a massive bar that features over 220 different types of wine from across the Pacific Northwest, California, and Europe and also boasts the largest Scotch collection in the region with over 110 different varieties.
But while adult beverages will warm you up, no question, the heart and soul of a winter vacation here is partaking in the many services offered at the retreat’s recently opened Rocking Heart Spa.
The brand new 17,000 square-foot facility features single and couples massages, treatment rooms, a manicure/pedicure/facial salon, steam saunas, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, a half-Olympic length lap pool, the latest in fitness equipment, an indoor rock-climbing wall and relaxation room.
“Our magnificent facilities help our guests reconnect with themselves through serene surroundings and individualized therapeutic treatments. Our mantra is to let nature nurture your soul,” said Cindy Qual, the Spa Director.
They do that by also providing it in an atmosphere that ‘captures the very spirt of the Oregon high desert with its Native American-inspired ambiance including native music, artwork, baskets, rugs and pottery, all in a very relaxing environment.’
In seeking the essence of true serenity, guest have lots of options winding down to the sound of an indoor waterfall before their treatments (or afterwards as well). They can take a dip in the lap pool, warmup in the Finnish dry sauna and relax in a hot tub.
And once in a treatment room, the small, yet highly- experienced staff can cover a wide range of massages from new age Eastern-style holistic treatments like Reiki, Tuina and Chi Nei to Swedish Deep Tissue, to meet their guest’s individual needs. The technicians place an emphasis on holistic treatment where they’re concerned about mind, body and spirit.
Reflective of the focus on the spa at this time of year, Ms. Qual describes some seasonal plans.
“We offer a range of packages and one of the most popular is the Snuggle-Up Package. A couple can spend 3 nights in one of our beautiful cabins and each is provided 6 individual treatments. From head to toe. Including foot massage, aroma therapy, signature massage, deep tissue massage, facial and departing massage as well. It is a wonderful holistic wellness weekend.”
And to literally add icing on the cake, there’s a bonus for the golfer.
Sean Hoolehan, the past president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, and Silvies’ Golf Course Superintendent, recently devised a new winter attraction called “Cool Golf”.
Played on the snow on the Chief Egan, 9-hole Par 3 course, golfers use high-loft clubs to drive neon-green tennis balls into over-sized “cups” at the “greens”.
“There’s no pressure,” he said. “It’s a family fun activity that often ends up as a snowball fight after five holes.”
The good word is getting out, here’s a homey place for rejuvenation and serenity run by a family that’s not layered in corporate bureaucracy.
“We’re good a looking at the client and fitting their specific needs,” said Mrs. Campbell, “What’s nice is that we are small enough that we can adjust.”
“I think people need and want a sanctuary of space these days and there isn’t anything better than this little enclave called The Retreat at Silvies and you’re far away from things yet it seems pretty cozy,” added GM Bradbury. “People are looking for getaways (and) I think our facilities, our spa, our ranch activities I always thought people really need what ranch resort properties can provide – a place to reconnect with each other and a place to reconnect with nature. This is that kind of a place. We’re pleasantly surprised by the number of people that have already visited and those scheduled to come and enjoy a great Winter in eastern Oregon.”
People are discovering a four season resort here on the Oregon frontier. A facility amidst such peaceful and pastoral surroundings is very rare. The air is pristine and on clear nights views of The Milky Way are unprecedented.
Plus you can cap off your Winter holiday by making a family Season’s Greetings card to send out to friends from of a sleigh ride powered along by some massive but friendly Clydesdales (you can call them by their first names, like the ranch owners, Oz and Magic are low key, friendly and accommodating).