Wilson Ranches Retreat (Photo by Robbie McClaran)
Phil Wilson tending to cattle (Photo by Robbie McClaran)

Until last week I had never really experienced the Wild West. In fact, the closest I’ve been to homesteading was helping gather eggs from my friend’s urban chicken coop (and when I say helping, I really mean watching her do it). However, for the Travel Oregon Spring issue, we are profiling Phil and Nancy Wilson: fifth generation Oregonians, proprietors of Wilson Ranches Retreat and two of the most genuine, hard-working and hilarious people I have ever met.

So, I traded leggings for Levis, flats for cowboy boots and headed out east with photographer Robbie McClaran.

Our drive from Portland took about four hours, just past Hood River the terrain changes from lush Pacific Northwest to high desert with big blue sky, as far as the eye could see.

Robbie knows the back roads (and there are many) of Eastern Oregon very well—in the summers he hops on his motorcycle with some like-minded riders and cruises through the sometimes-paved roads of this Western frontier—as a first-time visitor to this part of the state, Robbie made sure I got the tour.

The scenery felt like a journey through time: windmill farms soon gave way to rolling hills, dotted with sagebrush, roaming antelope and farm homes, some as old as the Oregon Trail. We passed through genuine ghost towns. It was as if we found the flux capacitor and went from 2010 to 1894 in a matter of seconds.

We arrived in Fossil around mid-afternoon and found a handwritten note from Nancy, the ranch’s matriarch, about our accommodations. Nancy and Phil were out working on the ranch. Though they opened their bed and breakfast a decade ago, their livelihood remains cattle ranching—waking up at 5 a.m. to make breakfast and hosting over twenty strangers in the guest-house seven days a week is just something these two overachievers do for fun.

After exploring the house and my makeshift bedroom for the next night—queen bed, thick comfy quilt and my very own TV (I don’t even have this at my home)—we met up with Phil and Nancy who took us on a tour of their 9,000-acre property in their truck.

After dinner at Big Timber Family Restaurant (Shamrock, the only other restaurant in town, was closed) we headed back to the house. The other guests had arrived for the evening and as Nancy prepped the morning’s feast, we sipped tea and visited.

Though guests return year after year for a Wild West experience—horseback cattle ranching, birding, stargazing—the evening socializing is just as significant.

We started the next morning at 4:30—Phil and Nancy picked us up and we drove off-road, along ridges overlooking the valley, to the summit of their property. Robbie wanted to shoot their portrait at sunrise above Fossil. It was epic. It was also 10 degrees and windy but numb appendages and runny noses were a minor sacrifice.

Our morning concluded the best way possible: sitting around a large farmhouse table, enjoying homemade breakfast of biscuits and eggs-true comfort food.

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These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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  1. Marilyn Affolter says…

    YES! There is so much of Oregon that is reminiscent of days in the past and Fossil is one of my favorites to visit. Life definitely moves at a different pace in these wide open places. Go further south and east to the corner of our beautiful state and you will find land even more primitive with stronger echoes of the wild west.

    Written on June 30th, 2017 / Flag this Comment
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