The Story of Phil and Nancy Wilson
The story of Wilson Ranches Retreat is as old as the Oregon Trail. Phil and Nancy Wilson opened their bed and breakfast a decade ago on a piece of land steeped in history. It was Phil’s great-great-great-grandparents who drove a horse-pulled wagon out West, settling as cattle ranchers in the vast, high desert terrain of Eastern Oregon. Just like their ancestors, Phil and Nancy grew up homesteading. “Cattle ranching is in our blood,” says Nancy, the ranch matriarch. “It’s just neat we get to share a lifetime of our memories with guests.”
The high school sweethearts married in college and raised three children on their 9,000-acre ranch in Fossil. Their bed and breakfast, Wilson Ranches Retreat, officially opened in the spring of 2000 (this March marked their 10-year anniversary) but their family home doubled as a hotel for many years prior. “Our house was like Grand Central Station,” says Phil, who remembers that they had just 13 nights alone in a five-month period before they opened their B&B. “We’d come home to a living room full of friends, relatives, friends of friends, and then one day we came home to a house full of strangers. That was the last straw.”
They renovated the former bunkhouse—a 1910 Sears Roebuck catalog home—into a lodge where guests can relax on well-worn leather couches in the living room or sip a cool drink while stargazing on the back porch. Every morning begins promptly at 8 a.m. with a home-cooked country breakfast around a long farmhouse table that Phil built himself. “There is an incredible camaraderie among everyone who visits,” says Nancy. “Lifelong friendships are built here.”
During the early spring into late fall, guests can take scenic horseback rides or lend a hand on the ranch in a cattle drive. Visitors often use the ranch as home base, spending their days fishing on the John Day River or exploring the nearby fossil beds.
Though visitors come for a true western experience, they return year after year for the relationships they’ve built. “It’s a real privilege to share our family, home and life’s work with guests; those guests become a part of our family,” says Nancy.
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In this Oregon Story
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