Exploring New Heights - Women Owned Adventure Companies

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Pack the Bags - Back to Nature

Pack the Bags

Back to Nature

De-stress at Aspen Ridge Resort

Story by Paula Bandy

Photography provided by Aspen Ridge Resort

Perched at 5400 feet on a ridge, in a hidden valley of Fishhole Mountain in south central Oregon, sits Aspen Ridge Resort, on Fishhole Creek Ranch. Here, sandhill cranes cry, starlings swirl and cattle roam freely. The elegantly western log lodge and outlying cabins are completely off the grid, yet with full amenities. Comfort speaks here, through timeless ranch-style, with a modern air. It’s broken in, but not rustic. The resort, a de-stressing outpost for fraught urbanites, sits in the middle of a working cattle ranch surrounded by 10,000 acres of forest service land.

When Karen and Steve Simmons, both originally from southern California, first saw this place, they knew it was what they had been looking for. Karen remembers she said, “This is heaven on earth."

They raised two daughters in a small cabin with no electricity. After their second child, Steve piped in running water. In the fall, after the cattle were shipped out, they spent winters in Bend. When they decided to start the resort, people thought they were crazy. Who would come out to this remote ranch? The cabins were built in 1989 and the lodge opened in 1992. Now, 23 years and hundreds of guests later, Steve and Karen live at the resort all year. The lodge closes for the winter months and the cattle go to balmy California until opening of the next season, on Mother's Day. 

The lodge has big views that overlook riparian land, streams and meadows. Big Meadow, Upper Meadow and Creed Meadow are this backyard—4000 acres of native meadows with no fertilizers and no pesticides. The Simmons are environmentally conscious and have maintained a conscientious stewardship of the land. As Karen says, "It is what it is."


However, this is not a traditional dude ranch, where horses are only available on guided tours. Larisa, Fishhole Creek Ranch's winsome cowgirl, will take you out and about while she works the ranch, and cows. She and Steve do all the daily ranch activities and only hire in cowboys for big events like brandings, so there is plenty to do, all while settled in a saddle enjoying the wide-open valley.


Aspen Ridge offers many things to do: swimming, fishing, tennis, hiking, long walks or simply happily sitting on the expansive decks of the lodge or your cabin and gazing out into the natural world. Karen emphasizes, "Other than the horses, we don't offer planned activities or entertainment. We see ourselves as providing a backdrop, a beautiful spot, comfortable accommodations and fine food.” Steve is also the chef, and he knows how to lay a table. She continues, “But most of our guests are people who know how to enjoy the out-of-doors. A lot of people are wanting to introduce their children to outdoor activities and get them away from videos, etc. Most families visiting look to encounter a way of life in a place and time the parents dimly remember, and now want their children to experience."

This goes for adults as well. Most of us will have lost cell service by the time we turn off onto the Forest Service road and head toward the resort. There is Internet access in the main lodge only. As Larisa says, smiling, "It takes a couple of days for the city to fall off. They're looking at their phone....looking at their phone...looking at their phone. Keep looking at it but it's not going to change the fact there is no service. If people can come and stay for a few days, they slow down and enjoy the fact they're out here for this, and there's nothing around." Nothing but cows, that is, and a whole lot of beauty.

Inside the lodge, historic photos line the walls. There are comfy couches, a large stone fireplace, a game and TV room, and books to read. I can attest to having a delicious filet mignon and potatoes with 'special butter' for dinner, as well as a hearty breakfast. They are happy to accommodate the vegetarian as well. The Buffalo Bar is well stocked, and even has a nice guitar ready for when the Western muse beckons song.

Bring binoculars and hiking books. Aspen Ridge Resort is a place to come to remember how to listen—to the sounds of birds, wind, and small scutterings. And, to look—at the big deep night sky, straight up and out from the decks. These are glittering clusters of stars, land and sky that is not romanticized or imagined.


Aspen Ridge Resort

Bly, OR



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