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Silvies: An Amazing Ranch Experience


HIgh Valley View of Silvies.

Story and Photos by Neil Wolkodoff

The Silvies Valley Ranch has been around for 140 years, an indication that they know what they are doing. This 151,000 acre ranch in the eastern Oregon high desert abuts a National Forest.

Over 1,000 years ago, the Paiute and Shoshone tribes started foraging and hunting in the area. In the early 1800s, hunters and trappers worked the streams, ponds, and surrounding hills. Shortly afterward, the area was homesteaded, and the ranch was expanded in large chunks as the early settlers passed on. Their property was added to existing ranching.

View to Western Meadow

As the ranch sections passed ownership and expanded, it was acquired by veterinarian Scott Campbell, a local. His vision was to restore the land to what it was over 200 years ago. Given the ranch’s size, this eco-restoration vision was a major endeavor. Restoring streams, beaver dams, wetlands, and forests is a never-ending task. Over 6,000 bird and bat houses have been placed to bring the insect population into balance. Campbell and Silvies don’t receive any awards for this and other measures. They do it because it is simply the right thing to do. This theme runs through everything on the property, from the lodging options to golf courses and activities. Respect, restore, leave a small footprint as you walk, and recover history and ecology. This unsung vibe permeates the air and experience.

Restored Stream & Meadows.

Silvies is not a dude ranch. It is an enormous working ranch that offers n comfortable guest options. To the  lodging options, you can add all-inclusive food and activity levels. They can also customize packages.

Cabins with Lake View.

The posh cabins and log rooms sport hand-cut wood finishes, imparting a comfortable, rustic, western feel. The little touches are all thought out, even the abundance of personal flashlights to aid navigation after dark. A small conference center can accommodate executive retreats.

With spectacular views from the high ridge, single homes and additional upper cabins are being carefully added. They are designed to work totally off the grid with their own utilities. I liked the idea of having additional access to this enormous expanse while maintaining the function and feel of the land. At present, the lodge rooms and cabins sport at most 70 guests. That’s more than a regular ranch per person.

Getting around the massive property is aided by a rechargeable electric golf cart. Many of the paths around the ranch are available for you to explore. Other trails are for hiking, ATV tours, and horseback.

Claire’s Lake Putting Course.

Everyone has a view of Claire’s Lake, which has a reversible putting course around the water body. The higher you go, the more you take in the vista of the central stream in the massive lodge meadow and surrounding hills. That topography is the basis for the Silvies brand and logo.

Every working ranch has a central point where the cowpokes and wranglers gather, chow down, and talk in stories of the day. The Silvies Lodge is more than food and drink. It is a Western history exhibit. The bar has enough elbow room for comfort yet enough proximity that ignites friendly conversations. Flights of rare spirits lubricate the banter for the social hour before or after dinner. The attached Saloon has a large pool table, lounging chairs, and entertainment.

Long Conservation Table.

The dining area is the evening star, with individual tables, booths, and a long gathering table. While guests filter in and out at breakfast and lunch, the 7 p.m. dinner bell gets everyone around the table for a five-course nightly menu. Food and meats from the ranch are featured, including beef and goat.

The Rocking Heart Spa has the most demanded services like massages and facials and a more than adequate fitness facility. And, given the number of guests, who would expect a lap pool?

The lap pool at Rocking Heart Spa

The indoor riding arena starts you off on the right hoof before you head down the trail. A horse-powered gander occurs three times a week in the ranch wagon or sleigh for those so inclined. A zippier way around the ranch is the ATV tours. The ranch hands have plenty of experience adjusting the mode of transport to your comfort, preference, and needed safety level. If you prefer human-powered hoofing, there are fat-tire mountain bikes and hiking trails.

A trail ride at Silvies

No matter how you get there, seeing the restoration of beaver ponds and meadows is more than education. It gives you a personal connection with past and current ranch history. On your treks, it is common to see antelope, deer, badgers, and various birds.

Doe guards her fawn in the tall meadow grass

Silvies has three shooting ranges that cater from newbies to accomplished marksmen. A certified ranger and instructor staff all. The Rifleman Range sports anything from an air rifle to small caliber firearms with old-time lever action. The classic targets clink and rotate after hitting one. Beavers, skunks, birds, and other metallic critters make this big fun. Even those new to the sport returned to social hour, beaming about the experience. The Pistolero range is close-in precision, while the Sharpshooter range focuses on historical long guns at 1,000 yards. And for those manually inclined, each of the three ranges offers knife and axe throwing. With 234 square miles, why not?

Golf at Silvies has the same purposeful connection with the land. Rather than two different 18-hole courses, Silvies has the Craddock and Hankins courses which alternate direction each day using a different set of tee boxes and greens. You will swear it is another area, as reversing direction makes the track fresh while having less disturbance on the land.

View of 18-hole courses to the valley

If that was not enough golf, The Chief Egan, named for the last war chief of the Paiute tribe, is a par-3 that is short enough for beginners to have fun yet challenging enough for seasoned golfers. Add the goat caddies of Chunkie and Charlie, and you will have a memorable experience for every golf level.

And in case you want to hike, McVeigh’s Gauntlet is a seven-hole course that meanders through the razor-back and natural vegetation in the middle of the golf courses. Challenge, fun, and frustration are all on the golf menu. Settle your bets Sherpa-style.

After almost a week, all the guests were gushing about their experience. It was way more than just the physical size of Silvies. It was the nuances of the land, history, native lore and other guests. I renewed my energy and enhanced a universal sense of connection.

Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sports Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During the rare free times, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.

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