Captured by Wells Gray's CharmsWhen Mike Mueller first set eyes on Wells Gray Provincial Park he knew he was in love. He had travelled all over Canada in his job with Canadian Airlines, but this was the Canada he had always imagined.
Storybook scenery, soaring mountains, azure lakes, and more horse country to ride than he could ever dream of. Inspired, he pulled up stakes in his native Austria and created a new life in Canada’s old west.
Along the way Mueller acquired some horses, canoes and park permits, and began guiding adventurous travellers into the park’s remote reaches on multi-day backcountry camping trips.
“I’ve guided this place all of my life,” grins Mueller admitting he knows every trail on Battle and Table Mountains or the Hemp Creek Canyonlands, “I’m inspired to show other people how beautiful British Columbia is – Wells Gray is just in my blood!”
So much so, in fact, he bought a heritage homestead and went about building Wells Gray Guest Ranch, an old- west themed resort at the doorstep of the Park.
Step Back in Time at the Black Horse SaloonYou just need to take one look at Wells Gray Guest Ranch to feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Waving cottonwoods and spruce trees planted by homesteader Lewis Rupel still line the yard. The original house, built in 1928, is now the main lodge and Black Horse Saloon – part watering hole, part restaurant, where hungry and weary travellers gather for light lunches and buffet dinners today.
Camp out at Fort Wells GrayYou can hear horses winnowing in the pastures as you make your way to your accommodations – there are a few options to choose from: traditional log cabin rooms, bunk houses, and, new in 2014: Fort Wells Gray, Mueller’s version of an old western town. Imagine pulling in for the night and being handed the keys to the jail – or the sheriff’s office – or the general store. Affordable, and comfortable, Mueller says they’re an alternative to camping.
“Fort Wells Gray is actually way nicer (than the modest, dormitory-style bunk houses). They have propane lights, access to the shower house, an outhouse, and fresh water from the water barrel. If you don’t have a tent, or even your own sleeping bag, you can still ‘camp’ out at Fort Wells Gray, we’ll provide the sleeping bags and pillows.”
From Hunting Cabin to ChapelMueller can tell a story about every building and barn at Wells Gray Guest Ranch including the shoeing barn that was once the original homesteader’s hay barn. But ask Mueller the story behind the log cabin chapel at the front the ranch and his face lights up.
“That used to be Ted Helset’s hunting cabin!” laughs Mueller. “That cabin was in the way of the highway crews building a new bridge in the Park; one Friday afternoon I discovered (they were going to) tear it down and I said ‘whoa, give me until Monday (to get it out of here)!’ I got all the neighbours together and used a bunch of old hydro poles sitting by the side of the road. We jacked (the cabin) up and put the poles underneath it, braced it all up and towed the whole thing down the road all the way to the Wells Gray Guest Ranch – six or seven kilometres!”
You might not recognize it as a hunting cabin today. Although it still rests on the hydro poles that carried it down the road, the cabin has been renovated into a log cabin chapel, complete with stained glass windows (courtesy of a local artist), and watched over by Austria’s Saint Christoph. The bell that sits atop the chapel? According to Mueller, it was once a ship’s bell, with a colourful history of its own.
“There are a lot of neat stories here,” says Mueller, proudly declaring that, “We have the most history in the area.”
Experience Wells Gray as the Homesteaders Once didVisitors to Wells Gray Park often want to experience Wells Gray as the homesteaders did: by horseback or canoe, and whether or not you’re a guest of Wells Gray Guest Ranch you can. Mueller, and his team of cowboys, offer guided trail rides and canoe trips throughout the summer.
“We keep about 25 horses and we run 20 canoes up at the lake,” explains Mueller. “Our horseback tours go right from the ranch – a two to three hour, and a four to five hour ride to Hemp Creek canyon lands and the Clearwater River Valley.”
Full and multi-day canoe trips depart from the quiet shores of Clearwater Lake and paddle in the shadow of mountains to Azure Lake and back.
Mike Mueller is the proprietor of Wells Gray Guest Ranch , an old-west themed resort at the door of Wells Gray Provincial Park. In summer the resort features a light lunch and buffet dinner restaurant at the Black Horse Saloon, guest accommodations in a variety of settings, and guided horse and canoe trips into Wells Gray Provincial Park.