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Rope in ranch life in Republic

REPUBLIC – Casino, my assigned horse at K-Diamond-K Guest Ranch, trotted obediently toward the SanPoil River Valley as our group of 11 riders readied to push cattle across green pastures to a corral.

The dude ranch’s hostess, Kathy McKay, chose the American Paint for this city girl as a horse with a gentle touch and tendency to stay near his best mate, Thoryn, a quarter horse thoroughbred cross, ridden by my husband. Casino mostly kept true to his reputation, yet not without a gamble or two.

Yes, he complied with my “Whoa” and tug on the reins, but when we neared the end of our moseying behind cows, Casino cut away and beat an independent path toward the oats back at the ranch.

“Hello, Hello,” I called out, waving helplessly at the group as he ignored me, and that brought McKay over with a lead-rope rescue for our return.

“He’s just used to going on a trail ride, and we threw in something different,” McKay said. She used the same cheerful tone when we entered a flooded plain near the swollen river.

“Sometimes the horses like to lay down,” she announced. What? This was not in the brochure. Casino, almost on cue, started playfully splashing the water with his hoof, just short of sprawling sideways, I was sure. Fortunately, he yielded when I urged him toward drier land.

That incident happened right before the moment that took my breath away, when McKay told our group following the cows heading up a steep bank to hold on tight to our horse’s mane and lean forward. Before you could say Casino, we were up on top of a ridge along the valley.

Ranch hands

Doing light ranch work – moving cattle, tagging calves, feeding horses – is an option for guests, but visitors also can choose only to relax and enjoy scenery during a stay in a sprawling log lodge.

K-Diamond-K Guest Ranch south of Republic, Washington, is just over a two-and-a-half hour drive from Spokane, heading north on U.S. Highway 395, then scenic State Route 20 toward Republic until a turn onto S.R. 21.

Depending on the season, visitors can pick from evening campfires, archery, roping, cycling, clay pigeon shooting, trail riding, hiking, and fishing. In summer, some guests float the river, or in winter, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are options.

The lodge also boasts a large downstairs lounge decked out in cowboy decor along with two fireplaces, pool table, separate bar, and commercial kitchen serving up family-style meals. Guests find several outdoor decks, an upstairs gift shop and two wings for rooms.

K-Diamond-K, taking paying guests since 1994, branched out in 2008 when it opened its guest lodge. The site also hosts weddings, retreats and reunions. In fact, my husband and I crashed a graduation party when we arrived a little before our 4 p.m. check-in time in late May. The group from nearby Republic was wrapping up the event and promptly invited us to eat some cake.

Extra cowboy boots line the lodge’s hallways for guests, who are encouraged to snatch whatever fits for outdoor activities. After all, the ranch is a family affair going back to 1961, after McKay’s parents Stephen and June Konz finished at Washington State University and bought the land. She became Ferry County’s first veterinarian, and he taught school.

The family considers K-Diamond-K, with 1,600 acres, still to be a working ranch — just with more horses now than cattle. They grow hay each summer after the cows are moved June 1 to an additional 30,000 acres of Forest Service land leased for summer grazing.

Thrill rides

During our 24-hour stay, a definite highlight was a better-than-Disney ride on a Polaris Ranger Crew all-terrain vehicle as McKay took incoming guests on a whirlwind tour. We drove across a large swath of the ranch, and over twigs, rocks, and mud in our path. Out in front of the ATV, McKay’s golden Labrador Lila ran at full pace, other than a couple of breaks jumping in with passengers.

When we reached one large mud bog, our group jumped out and walked the edges so McKay could drive across. She just gunned it faster on the return trip, successfully, with nobody landing in muck.

We ventured near a pond, running higher from the wet spring, and later to a valley overlook, where cows looked like specks near a stream. Guests hopped out a second time for selfies.

After an ample dinner of chicken, ribs, mashed potatoes, corn and salad, about a dozen of us headed out again for a lengthy evening stroll, really meant to walk or ride a bicycle behind 50 head of horses to push them from their corral to a hillside grazing spot.

With one volunteer guest hanging back with an orange vest and caution sign, we sauntered with the horses on State Route 21 for about a mile.

That same evening, we also guided a separate small herd of Texas Longhorns and their calves toward a fenced field. A few had escaped onto the highway, so McKay asked us to follow gently behind them, keeping distance from one ornery bull, until we could close up a gate.

McKay describes the dozen or so Longhorns as more like yard ornaments, and sure enough, they hung out in the shade the next day near the lodge along with a sweet old Jersey cow named Lilly. We found more critters to watch in a fenced yard, with rabbits, chickens, goats and a pig.

Don’t know if it was the sun-filled day and abundant fresh air, but we slept soundly in our rustic “Cattle Rustler” room with its own bathroom. So yeah, no midnight outhouse trips. That also meant we missed a spectacular northern lights show the neighboring guests told us about the next day.

After a ranch-hand style breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes, we all entered the ATV again to repeat horse gathering in reverse, this time with McKay veering the vehicle uphill to cut off one horse breaking toward higher ground.

In between options, we did relax, even visiting with neighboring ranchers who came to the bar. We also got to know other guests, most from Western Washington, including a dad and daughter who have made a weekend trek a tradition for three years.

Check on K-Diamond-K seasonal rates and availability. The ranch has a fall-spring rate of $150 per person for all-inclusive amenities, and a $95 winter rate. Peak season July 1-Sept. 1 costs $179 with some three-night minimum stay requirements, but subject to availability, it offers a one-night bed and breakfast deal.

For our adventure, we could have extended another day when McKay told us the room was still available, a temptation we almost took if other weekend commitments hadn’t beckoned. We vowed to go back before the cows come home, which they always do, each fall.

Contact the writer:

(509) 459-5439