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- Visiting North America
Black Cat Guest Ranch
Spending Time At Black Cat Ranch
I was presented with an opportunity to trade time and labor for room and board at one of my favorite guest ranches on the east side of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Work-sharing is a popular way to have a vacation as well as getting to know local people. I've been toying with the idea of going abroad with this concept but decided to try local for our first adventure. If it worked, we'd try elsewhere knowing what we were capable of.
On my first trip to the ranch many years ago,I saw this picture on the wall and thought it had a great story to tell about the place I have come to love. It's the story of how the Black Cat Ranch got its name.
The original photo was taken in 1927 after a series of fires left the image of a Halloween cat showing on the mountainside. At the time is was just called the Brule Cat because of its proximity to Brule Alberta.(a small mining town north west of Hinton) In 1935 the Black Cat Ranch was established and the named was taken from the now famous black cat.
This a place is dear to our heart, as I said, and we come here to relax and recharge. Except this time. We came to work. Let me show you what goes on here.
Things You Need For A Guest Ranch Visit
Walking sticks come in various styles and are important to use when walking in brush or hilly country. They not only help yoo keep your balance on the steep terrain but also allow you to poke into areas where you are suspect of hiding creatures that may be delving in the shadows. They are also good for whacking dandelion heaps. Good fun.
For whatever you are doing up at the ranch, you need good footwear. Riding horses, hiking the trails or just looking the part. You need good hiking boots.
You need 20x zoom or better for wildlife shots. We're not talking zoo distances here. Sometimes getting close is too close.
If weight and size are not an issue. 50x optical zoom will keep you safe and still get you great animal shots. But do you really want to carry around 2.1 lbs of camera all the time waiting for that surprise shot?
I can't believe the difference good polarized sun glasses makes to being comfortable when the sun comes out.
Would You Work For Your Vacation?
We are having a working vacation. That means instead of paying and relaxing we are doing chores in a wonderful environment and being compensated accordingly. We come up here quite often in the last 10 years that we are like family so this year we volunteered our services for our vacation to help with the chores and spruce up the place during the slow time of the year for the ranch.
The owners have skipped town for a well deserved ten day jaunt in a newly aquired travel trailer leaving us with a small staff and little in the way of guests but a long list of chores to chew through. It still leaves us time to explore the area though so it is not all work and no play.
We went for a walk in town (Hinton AB.) to pick up a few forgotten items and got side tracked by a new Beaver Boardwalk area. 3 kilometers of boardwalk surrounding a beaver dam and ponds and was a wonderful wildlife area and sanctuary. True to its name we did see a beaver, but also a snipe, some ducks. The red-wing black birds were singing up a storm as well.
Tomorrow we start the chore list.
Places To See Near Black Cat Guest Ranch - - besides the miles of hiking and horse trails around the ranch
- Beaver Boardwalk
Over 3 kilometers of boardwalk surrounds Maxwell Lake and is a wonderful place to see wildlife in the round. Countless birds fill the area with song. Come early or stay late. Those are the best times to see the beavers in action who have resided in the area for over 20 years. Located minutes from downtown Hinton.
- Miette Hotsprings
Located just inside the east gate of Jasper National Park, just 17 kilometers off the main highway. Be careful driving the switchback road to the hot springs. There are many blind corners. These natural mineral waters are some of the hottest in Canada and are collected and funneled into two pools; one shallow and one deep, for your soaking pleasure. There are also a few cool and cold water dipping pools to get the most out of the therapeutic experience.
- William A Switzer Provincial Park
Just 15 minutes north of Hinton on highway 40. This is a jewel of a recreation area open year round. Canoeing hiking water-skiing and beach fun in the summer and cross country skiing and snow shoeing in the winter. This park has it all. The self guided canoe trail along Jarvis creek to Gregg Lake goes along one of Alberta's most intact river valley system in the foothills. Great for wildlife viewing and easy enough for beginner or novice canoeists.
- Wildlife Watching in Jasper National Park
There are lots of things to do and see for cheap in Jasper. The wildlife is plentiful along the roadside just don't feed the wildlife. Leave them to do what they do best. The shoulders of the highway are wide but make sure you watch for highway traffic before exiting you vehicle.
Be smart and stay safe.
Beaver Boardwalk - 20 minutes away
Miette Hot Springs - 1 hour away
William A. Switzer Provincial Park
Wildlife Watching In Jasper National Park
Would You Consider A Working Vacation?
It's not often I volunteer for things because I am really busy at this point in my life but I do consider a job once in awhile. We visit this guest ranch once (or twice in some case) a year and have gotten to know the owners quite well over the last ten years.
This year one of the owners was in a position where they couldn't do some of the trail chores that one does on a ranch that runs horses. Chores like fence mending and trail clearing. These are spring time jobs, before it gets too busy with guest coming over the summer months.
When we were out in the winter to do some snowshoeing, we put to idea in their head for us to come out and volunteer our time in exchange for staying at the ranch for two weeks. It helps them and we get the holiday we needed.
Would you consider a working vacation?
Take A look and Meet The Real Staff
Take a look at the website. Sign up for the newsletter and even register online for a stay. Pick a theme weekend or just come out and enjoy what there is here and about.
Todays Challenge - - before and after shot
Ok. I never claimed to be the handy man but, hey, anyone can paint a picnic table. First I used a wire brush to remove any old dirt and loose paint chips that were flaking off. It looks like the tables have been neglected for a few seasons. The brush off everything and paint.
After the first table I think I had the same amount of paint on me as on the tables. It started when I painted the bench seat first. Silly. When I started the top of course one has to lean in and now my green work pants are turning a camouflaged color.
I'm feeling the painting muscles today. Who knows about tomorrow.
20 Years Worth...
Who needs lights
I'm glad I got painting duty, if anyone can claim to be glad of that. It is better than cleaning the barn windows. "They haven't been cleaned in 20 years..." I think the owner said that to scare off the volunteers. But like my picnic tables, they turned out fine.
My next task was painting the decks as everyone knows I like painting, so it seems. No complaints. We spent the morning pulling off all the deck furniture and sweeping and washing the decks. Working as a team we accomplished a lot but it started to rain and painting with latex in the rain is a waste of time and money.
My next task was indoors. It was plumbing. The commercial dishwasher has been leaking for quite awhile "but only when its on, so its not half bad.." The problem is it was leaking into the workshop below so it was starting to make a mess of things,
From looking below it looked like the leak was coming from up in the ceiling. I guess that is why the job was put off for so long. I climbed a ladder to inspect and found it was just a cracked and broken fitting and a trip to the hardware store for a few fittings and everything is flowing fine again.
Another grand day done. Time for a massage and a light meal and maybe a fire in the great room fireplace tonight.
Watercolor Weekend At Black Cat Guest Ranch
A Kitchen To Die For - - and my back feels it.
What a kitchen. A true ranch style farm kitchen. I would think I died and gone to heaven with a kitchen like this at home. If I could I would throw out the TV, move the dining table and build an island to work off of instead of a small counter. I would throw out my electric stove and put in a gas range.
I must confess it has been close to 25 years since I cooked on a flat top grill. It wouldn't take me long to learn how but I'm definitely out of practice. A gas cook top. It heats up so quickly and you can control the temperature so easily. I love it.
We had pizza the other night and I make a lot of pizzas at home but using an electric oven and a pizza stone. It the gas range the pizza crisped up nice and was a wonder to behold. I was so pleasantly surprised.
The only complaint I have about this kitchen is that it was custom built for the owners and they were just pushing 5 foot. Everything is low except the standard counter along the back wall with the range.
I was making sandwiches for a party of 10 and my back paid the price for it. Now when I do counter work in is along the back wall. But for making bread or pizza dough. The island is perfect height to knead dough.
Gas or Electric ? - - That's to cook on not drive...
What do You Prefer for cooking? Gas or Electric?
Today Was Fences - - someone has to do it
The started bright and sunny so I tackled the front deck and had it all painted before lunch. It looks so much better now. That leaves only one more top deck to do and my painting is done for this trip.
Repairing fences is a full-time job on a ranch. Lucky for me I am not a full time ranch hand. I walked the line around the lower pasture pulling the cart with chainsaw in tow. This is the last part of the fence line that hasn't been done since the Spring break up.
There were a few trees down over the fences that had to be cut up and removed as well as a few that were going to be trouble in the future. I was volunteered because I have had chainsaw experience. There were a few nasty spots but we cleared the line in a few hours and had the fences all repaired allowing the horses access to a new section for grazing.
All in a good day's work.
Along the way we were accosted by an angry red squirrel. I guess he heard the chain saw and felt threatened.
There was also a gathering of blue butterflies and I happened to get close enough to one... it was very tiny about the size of a nickle.
A Rainy Day On The Ranch
We had such a great time in Jasper the other day I had to write all about it here. I finished off the deck painting this morning and the afternoon the rains started. And it rained harder as the day wore on.
I am just glad the deck paint dries quickly and was more or less dry before the rains really came down. Mind you there was no wind and the decks have huge overhangs so they were protected.
So nothing stops with the weather. There are ranch duties inside as well. The afternoon was spent baking. and not just little things. 12 loaves of brown bread, 3 huge pans of brownies, 2 massive pans of dump cake and cookies by the bucket load. All cooked prepared packaged and frozen. All that will go in a weekend with a full house.
What's a Ranch Without Horses
- Mother Nature Rules
Mother Nature has blessed us with rain this week. It's been sunny on and off at the ranch but up in the hills the rain has been coming down enough that the rivers and creeks are over flowing and cutting new channels.
The ford over the creek coming into the ranch washed out a few times. It nothing new; it is built to withstand such a flood but when the creek is high and the flow is deep the ford is covered with rocks and boulders so car access is out. I ferried a few guests over the creek in my Ford Escape ( which we love) so I am not stranded yet. Good thing because we are supposed to leave this weekend. Monday morning we are expected back to our real jobs.
Our little problem is nothing like what is happening in other parts of the province as we hear reports of massive flooding down south and road closures all over. In a way it's good for the ranch as the place has filled up with tourists who had no where to go until road closures were lifted. It is a blessing many are saying because they found this place so beautiful.
Time to fill out the guestbook and start planning for a return visit.
Word of mouth is the best form of advertising so if you come to the ranch tell them I sent you and you may get a discount on the room rate. Just saying!
How to Get Here
Everyone has an opinion on everything but most of us keep those opinions to ourselves. I would appreciate it if my writings have given you any ideas, to share them. Past experiences, future plans or just idle thoughts. Anything would be awesome and most appreciated.