Reconnect with the Wonders of Nature
By Liz Manduca
An Adventure Begins
I flew from Portland, Maine to Seattle, Washington. Views from a plane are dramatically different in the winter. Rivers are stuffed with snow. Mountains resemble prehistoric creatures that could come alive to shake snow and clinging clouds off their long scaly backs. Like a child’s drawing, ski trails wriggle down mountainsides. Black and white are the only hues visible.
A short hop from Seattle to Spokane, WA brought me closer to my destination. The Northern Lights Lodge and Retreat Center is located two and a half hours north of Spokane, and about 30 miles from the Canadian border. All wheel drive vehicles or vehicles equipped with snow tires are absolutely necessary in the winter. I drove 71 miles north on Route 395 passing through the historic town of Colville in Stevens County. This county has been named a Preserve America Community, preserving its cultural and natural heritage. Fascinating information about this initiative can be found at www.preserveamerica.gov.
The last twenty-seven miles on Route 25 follows the winding course of the majestic Columbia River with beautiful views at every turn. This mighty river, an area the size of France, begins in British Columbia, borders both the Colville and Spokane Tribal Reservations, and eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean, on its 1,243 mile journey.
Natural Simplicity at a Picturesque Lodge
I turned onto a dirt road between two towering pine posts supporting the large sign-Marble Country. I had arrived at a small bucolic community of self-sufficient, amiable residents. Northern Lights Lodge is nestled on two-acres facing the deeply forested Selkirk mountain range and flanked by the Columbia River.
The 4,000 square foot, tri-level lodge is trimmed in half sawn fir logs and river rock. A log porch encircles half the building. A large front yard is home to an impressive variety of trees including black walnut, crabapple, and magnolia. Roses, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram grow atop a rock wall that lines the driveway. Soaring pines surround a parking area behind the garage.
“I came from Texas to visit this area, and I just forgot to go home,” said Trent Smith, who greeted me on my first day. He and his wife, Tamara, are the caretakers of the lodge. They live in Marble with their five children and a wonderful array of barnyard animals. They were at my service whenever needed. The lodge’s neighbor, Mike, shared fascinating local lore. He brought me goodies each day including some tasty sushi and books about the history of this area.
White-tailed deer roam freely through Marble Country. Herds of elk forage at the edge of the forested mountains. Geese, eagles and red-tailed hawks soar above and dive into the Columbia River. If you fish-Nirvana! The night sky is ablaze with constellations and if you’re lucky, the northern lights.
Bill Davies, the owner of the lodge has been coming to this area since he was a child. His ancestors homesteaded here in the 1890’s. At that time, there were thousands of acres of orchards. The apples from these orchards won awards worldwide.
The Idyllic Lodge and its Purpose
Northern Lights Lodge is a great place to hold family reunions, weddings, conferences, corporate retreats, cooking classes, tranquil vacation getaways, or wild outdoor adventures. The opportunities for recreation and observation of wildlife abound. Each season showcases a rich new landscape. A visitor can choose to ski, mountain bike, hike, golf, ride horses, raft, hunt, fish, visit tribal areas, explore wineries, study fascinating history or just enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Open the front door and the living room beckons you in with its vaulted pine ceiling, leather furniture, and immense stone fireplace, which is flanked by floor to ceiling windows. We spent most nights in front of the fireplace reading, chatting, and dozing.
Rustic elegance describes the lodge’s inviting interior. Every window is trimmed with logs and offers a spectacular view of the mountains and the lodge grounds. Dick Idol, a wildlife artist and sculptor, made the aesthetically pleasing wooden furniture.
All floors are gleaming hardwood or covered with thick carpeting. The walls and ceilings are attractive pine. Pastoral and animal scene paintings adorn the walls.
Richly Decorated, Spacious and Private Bedroom Suites
There are six very spacious bedroom suites, each named for local trees: tamarack, aspen, ponderosa, cedar, and spruce. Three suites are on the lower level, one is on the main level, and two on the upper level. A hallway with a half wall made of logs separates the upper level suites. An artistic metal sculpture of deer and pine trees is affixed to this half wall. You can stand in the hallway, look down on the living room at the roaring fire, and add to the conversations going on below.
All suites have large, well-appointed bathrooms. One suite has a Jacuzzi. Five suites have gas fireplaces that we used to create warmth and mood. Each room has a hand crafted armoire, a large mission style bureau, a recliner, a rocking chair, and a king size sleigh bed. The lodge-themed window treatments, richly colored quilts, and lamps make these rooms special.
Our group of eight family members used all but the children’s suite. We were in total agreement that the beds were immensely comfortable, pillows were the best, and the furnishings just lovely. Each suite provided complete privacy. In three suites, doors open to the yard where barrels of colorful flowers bloom.
A Place for Everyone in the Lodge
Because the lodge is so spacious, you can choose to be together or spend time alone.
For children, there is the bedroom suite where you can almost hear echoes of laughter. The closet is very large, and stocked with toys and extra sleeping bags. I’m sure more than one child has made it a sleeping place. There is a small room on the third level containing folding cribs. Highchairs line the wall in the den next to the kitchen. This den has been designated for children. It has a comfortable couch, flat screen television, and even a pass-through window from the kitchen! There is so much for children to do outside that I wonder how often this room gets used. . For the business traveler there is satellite television, and wi-fi. Upon request, you can use a small office for quiet and privacy. Sitting on the porch overlooking the mountains would be a quiet place to work as well.
On the lower level, a laundry and utility room contain a large washer and dryer, drying racks, and a table for folding clothes. Extra supplies for the lodge can be found here.
For the cook, this kitchen is a dream. Guests can pre-arrange to hire a chef to make delicious meals on site. We like cooking, and thoroughly enjoyed using the gas stove with six over-sized burners. I will miss that stove.
The pine paneled kitchen and dining area run the length of the house. A cold pantry, a half bathroom, and a commercial dishwasher for larger events are located close by the main cooking area. A long island, including a sink, runs down the center of the room, leaving ample space around it. There is so much counter space that three or more cooks can work together without crowding. The cupboard and drawer space is immense, and luckily the owner labeled some of them. It would have taken the entire 10 days just to remember where everything was located! Four tall, very comfortable chairs with leather seats encouraged us to sidle up to the island and chat with the cooks.
The windows in the dining area face the cloud-wrapped mountains and icy trees that shine brilliantly in the sun. An antler chandelier lights the table that comfortably seats ten people. We spent hours at the table eating slowly and enjoying conversation. This area of the lodge is ideal for relaxed communal gatherings.
A regular size dishwasher, large refrigerator, microwave oven, and commercial coffeepot complete the necessary appliances in this hard-working kitchen.
“Location, Location, Location”
In order to enjoy the peace, serenity and outdoor activities, you must be willing to travel for necessities. The lack of amenities and commercial establishments actually makes this area so special.
Your choices are the following: go north about 7 miles to the town of Northport. There is a small grocery store with adequate supplies, enough to cook up a good meal. Go south about 26 miles to Kettle Falls or 35 miles to Colville. Each town has larger grocery stores, pizza places, and chain restaurants such as Subway and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
In Kettle Falls, I enjoyed shopping Meyers Falls Market, an organic grocery store with fresh produce and delicious baked goods. The owner hosts a wine tasting each month. There is a small deli in the store. Attached to the market is the Red Apple Trading Post, an antiques barn with a wide variety of goods for sale. This entire building used to be the apple warehouse for the thousands of pounds of extraordinary apples harvested in this area.
A Superabundance of Skiing Terrain
“ There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met.”
– Rossland, British Columbia Chamber of Commerce
Downhill: Six members of our group (all cousins) headed for downhill skiing at Red Mountain in British Columbia. Red Mountain is a mere 25 miles from the lodge, a treat for the skiers from the east who often travel hours to a good hill. Remember to bring passports as you will cross into Canada.
Red boasts 2,919 feet of vertical drop on 110 runs. With 7 lifts and 1000 acres recently added on Grey Mountain, the mountain isn’t crowded. Skiers travel here from all over the world to ski the steep powder-filled glades. The views from the top are spectacular. Unfortunately, Washington was experiencing a very unusual winter with very little snow, so while it was only February, the conditions were spring-like. They had a nourishing lunch at Paradise Lodge, ski-in access only. Dining tables are inside and outside. The cabin is heated with a wood-stove making it a warm and cozy place to eat and rest.
Cross-Country: Aunt Pat and I set out to cross country ski at Black Jack Ski Club, a non-profit club near Red Mountain with a biathlon range, great trails, and even a dog loop. We decided not to ski because of the lack of snow and icy conditions. This is a rare occurrence here. Instead we talked with people who work and ski there. They seem to be a wonderful community of dedicated cross-country skiers. A moonlight ski out to a remote warming hut for Le Petit Fromage, a French fondue dinner by candlelight sounds so tantalizing! Ski areas revert to mountain biking areas in the other seasons.
Instead of skiing, we went to downtown Rossland to visit some unique shops. A free shuttle is available to the ski areas and through downtown. We visited The Rossland Art Gallery in the historic Bank of Montreal where you can view or buy art of local British Columbia artists. The gift shop, Out of the Cellar, sells unique gifts, some made by local artisans.
The Café Book West is a combination bookstore and sandwich/pastry shop. We bought a variety of delicious pastries to bring back to the lodge. Ferraro Foods Gourmet Grocery has a wonderful array of fresh foods, but we were limited in what we could bring across the US border. Check with US border officials for the most current information.
We visited the Rossland Museum and Discovery Center which contains both virtual and real life displays of the history of Rossland mining, skiing, and town life.
Washington is known for its award-winning wines. 15 miles from the lodge is the China Bend Winery on the banks of Lake Roosevelt. The winery wasn’t open for business, but the owners let us tour the buildings and grounds. China Bend has a Grape Stomp (accompanied by fiddlers) and a Garlic Festival. All of their wines are crafted from Swiss grapes which produce a high level of resveratrol. They are organic and do not contain sulfites.
Whitestone Vineyard and Winery at Whitestone Ranch borders the shores of Lake Roosevelt, 28 miles behind Grand Coulee Dam. We visited their wine tasting room in Spokane and were delighted with the quality of the cabernets and merlots, and the friendly, knowledgeable service.
Since we flew into Spokane, a two and a half hour drive from the lodge, we decided to visit the city on either end of our trip. The falls of the Spokane River are located in the city center. Viewing walkways put you close enough to feel the spray. Gondola rides take you over the falls.
Enclosed aerial walkways zigzag from store to store, and a large downtown multi-level mall contains the typical mall stores.
Be certain to visit the historic and lavishly refurbished Davenport Hotel. We had lunch in the sumptuous lobby and took a tour through five magnificent ballrooms, including The Hall of the Doges, the only flying ballroom in the world.
Another must-see is The Northwest Museum of Art and Culture. The 100 Stories exhibit, 98 years in the making, contains objects, photographs, paintings, and narratives about people of the Northwest. Story #66 The Artist’s Palette pairs the artist’s actual palette with the eventual painting. It was fascinating and beautiful.
In the 1930s, Frank Knight purchased railroad car #1787. Originally the private car of the North Pacific Railroad president, it was turned it into a traditional diner called Frank’s. It has been voted Best Breakfast Award for ten years in a row! I went for a late Sunday afternoon delicious lunch. I enjoyed being in the cozy dark wood booths watching people chat at the long counter. Stained glass windows shimmered throughout the entire car. Railroad history stories are posted on the walls.
Swah-netk’-qhu (Big Water) History Comes Alive
During the ice age, glaciers blocked the flow of rivers and created huge ice dams. The dams burst and walls of water carved the fantastic scablands and deep gorges that would become the great Columbia River watershed.
I walked from the lodge down to the river. I drove to overlooks in different towns to observe its changing colors, flow, and riverbank terrain. We took a day trip, following the river, to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Grand Coulee Dam.
At the Colville Tribal Museum, we met Jennifer Ferguson who graciously guided us through the museum. She showed us a new film about young men who hand built canoes with the intention of paddling up to the Columbia headwaters in British Columbia. Their goal was to emulate the salmon runs that occurred previous to the building of so many dams, including the massive Grand Coulee Dam. Poignant scenes showed the tribes decrying the blocked salmon migration, the flooding of their homeland, and the forced removal of their burial grounds.
The museum may be small, but its effect is big. The beadwork and crafts are exemplary. The history of the various tribes comes alive through stories, paintings, and photos. Jennifer elaborated on and answered our many questions. We agreed that we all search for truth from fragments of distorted history. Jennifer told us this story. She was raised in the Kettle Falls area. Her daughter won a pageant, and it was a tradition for the mother to dance a ceremonial tribal dance. Jennifer, embarrassed that she didn’t know one, vowed from that day on to research and document her tribal history. We thanked her for that and for all the time she, and her assistant, Travis, spent with us.
We crossed the river to visit the Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center. There are many interactive exhibits, films, and photos. You can take a tour of the dam, but not in the winter. Built in the 1940s, it was the largest masonry structure in the world. It created the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area which stretches over 150 miles with 660 feet of shoreline. This area is managed by the National Park Service, The Bureau of Reclamation, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, and both the Colville Confederated and Spokane Tribes.
Today, Coulee is the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the US. It provides electricity for hundreds of cities, assists in flood control and irrigation for 600,000 acres of cropland. Hydropower is a clean and reusable energy source, producing no emissions. It costs much less than nuclear or fossil fuel production. However, the building of this dam and the many dams upriver came at quite a cost. I was glad we took the time to look at both sides of this issue.
The Spirit of the Lodge
“To live ethically, one must follow a moral code which maintains a reciprocal relationship between humans, the land, and the realm of spirits…people must not take for their own gain but instead give back by following a cultural ethic of egalitarianism, reciprocity, and peaceful living. “
– Elder, Eva Adolph Orr, Sinixt Tribe
As I explored the river, and witnessed the beauty of the mountains and wildlife, my imagination came alive. I appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with nature. I thank Bill Davies, the owner of the lodge, for allowing me to have this rich experience.
Northern Lights Lodge and Retreat Center falls into the category of Family Focused as it is ideal for large gatherings. It can also be placed in the Retreat and Events category. The geographical area with all the outdoor activities certainly puts it into the Sports Enthusiast category. Whatever reason brings you to the lodge, I’m sure you’ll be rewarded.
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