Saturday, August 18, 2007

Our Week at Lake Gillette

I thought I'd share some of our experiences from cabin camping at Beaver Lodge at Lake Gillette. This resort is located in the heart of the Colville National Forest on Highway 20 on one of the chain lakes of the Little Pend Oreille (pon duh RAY) Lakes in the Selkirk Mountains of Northeast Washington.

First off, a little history: I used to live in the Colville area, during my 8th-12th grade school years, and my parents continue to reside there. I first saw Beaver Lodge on a Labor Day weekend drive many years ago (early 80s). Our family used to drive into Canada every Labor Day weekend on a day trip (back way before border crossings were no big deal!), and I remember seeing the rustic lodge on the side of the road. That original building burned down in the mid 80s and was rebuilt.

Fast forward to Summer 1990: I was pregnant with our oldest, and the church we were then attending had a church camp out for the weekend at Beaver Lodge in late July or early August, I believe. Norm and I had done a lot of weekend camping that summer, figuring it would probably be our last opportunity for a while (we were right), and trying out our new, family-sized tent. We had already camped at several of the Forest Service campgrounds at some of the other chain lakes nearby (Lake Sherry and Lake Leo come to mind). So it was an easy decision to go up with the church group. By that time, I was well into my pregnancy, and the tent sites were located far from the restrooms; in fact, you had to cross the highway to get to them. I well remember getting up several times a night to trek the long path through the woods and across the highway to get to the restrooms, with a full bladder and a kicking baby, to boot. I was young (23) and probably pretty foolish in those days (but then, too, I lived many years of my childhood without either running water or electricity)! Seventeen years later, I felt pretty inconvenienced to walk only 25 yards away from the cabin we rented (which was much more comfortable than a tent). I'm getting older...

I don't remember the church camp out the following year, but I definitely do in 1992. The main reason I remember is that is was the first time I had been away from our daughter since she was born. My parents and my teenaged sister babysat her, and it was a relief (for me) and a worry (for Norm) for us to get away. My family brought Missy to us at the resort before we left, and we have a photograph of her and Kayla (my niece) as toddlers in a little wading pool at the lakeshore. I think we tent camped once more with both the kids (our son Matt was born 3 years later) as part of the church group, and then we had a long absence. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law continued to bring his kids (most of whom are much older than ours) up to the resort for special dad-daughter or dad-son tent camping weekends, and the occasional family vacation renting one of the cabins for the week.

Four years ago, we decided to plan our family vacations together with my brother-in-law's family, and ended up renting two cabins in mid-August, during probably the wettest August on record! Fortunately, the cabins, while rustic, were well equipped for bad weather; in fact, they are used year round, and snowmobilers and cross-country skiers use them frequently in winter. Each cabin has a couple of beds, a wood stove, table and chairs, a TV and VCR, a refrigerator, coffee pot, hot plate, microwave and toaster, a cold-water sink, a kitchenette equipped to feed four. The store has groceries, a little restaurant, a selection of videos for rent, and a couple of gasoline pumps. So even though it was really too cold and miserable to swim, we were able to play games, stay warm by the fire, and we took a number of drives around to the various lakes, as well as up to the Gardner Caves near the Canadian border. In fact, there's a half-mile trail from the mouth of the cave to the border: did you know there's a cleared border of about 50 feet wide from the Pacific to the Atlantic, all along the U.S.-Canadian border? Check out Google Earth or Windows Live Local (aerial view) to view it!

The last three summers we've had beautiful weather. In 2005 and 2006, we went in mid-July; this year, we again went in August. Here's a list of some of the activities we engage in while there: swimming (of course!); water fights (ditto!); fishing (Matt always does well at that); kayaking (several of the lakes are connected by a canal); sailing; renting a paddle boat; hiking (there are mountain trails all over); driving around to find wildlife to photograph (moose, deer, bear, turkey, pheasants, cougar, etc.); basketball; pool (except this year, they had taken out the pool table - sad!); toasting s'mores and enjoying drinks over a campfire (not this year, due to a burn ban); reading; napping; playing board and card games (Balderdash is a favorite, and this year we learned Pass the Pig); checking out the hot guys (oh, wait, that was what Missy, Kayla, and their friend Stephanie were doing...!); sitting down at the dock late at night and looking up at the stars so bright you could see their reflection in the water below; ditto for the meteorites; driving around and visiting the other lakes and communities (a lot of railroading, lumber, and mining history here); exploring the caves and seeing the border as mentioned above; and sharing meals (we usually do a big pancake breakfast, a spaghetti dinner, and a burger cookout as joint meals with my brother-in-law's family).

There were some disappointments, some of which I've mentioned in the last paragraph. The other was that this resort has gone through many hands over the years, and the latest owner, for which we've had so many high hopes, has decided to sell as well. It can't be easy to run such a place, and really, I think it can't be done without better, more reliable help, a computer system for registration ease, and a website for advertisement. While there was a badly-needed new dock this year, it wasn't conducive for swimmers' convenience, with no ladders available. One of the newly-built cabins was so poorly constructed that the floor is sagging and separating from the wall; it also had no sink installed, with only a spicket on the outside of the structure. My brother-in-law had reserved it, but after two nights of listening to a rat or squirrel in the walls, requested a different cabin (and got it).

So will we return next year? That's a discussion (or two) we'll probably have in the next nine or ten months. And I hope to post some photos soon of this year's visit.

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