Cow­boy for a day

NATALIE COMPAGNO AND GREG FREITAS TAKE US TO THE RANCH AT ROCK CREEK IN MON­TANA

Frequent Flyer Destinations - - CONTENTS -

The lure of the Amer­i­can West has never been stronger. City slick­ers from Man­hat­tan to Man­hat­tan Beach, Cal­i­for­nia flock to the idea of big skies and starry nights in an idyl­lic set­ting, far from stress. Dude ranches have gone deluxe, but no one does high-end glamp­ing quite like The Ranch at Rock Creek. They cu­rate the en­tire cow­boy ex­pe­ri­ence from soup to nuts, as­sur­ing both a visit that’s rus­tic and lux­u­ri­ous, and that guests don’t miss a sin­gle op­por­tu­nity for fun.

The ac­co­lades are wide­spread, and de­served. The Philips­burg, Mon­tana Re­lais & Chateau prop­erty is the only Forbes Five-Star ranch in the world, and the only do­mes­tic prop­erty listed on Na­tional Geo­graphic’s char­ter Unique Lodges of the World list. The all-in­clu­sive ex­pe­ri­ence pro­vides best in class food, drink, and lodg­ing op­tions com­bined with an ex­hil­a­rat­ing breadth of things to do. Other than the Spa (which many ranches don’t have), guests don’t sign for food, drinks, ac­tiv­i­ties, or even to check in. The re­sult is a com­mu­nal, stress-free, adrenalinecharged mem­ory to last a life­time.

As Gen­eral Man­ager Steve Shots­berger points out, the ranch is a la­bor of love for East Coast-based owner Jim Manley. “For over 20 years, he searched the Amer­i­can West for the per­fect ranch prop­erty. He fi­nally found it in South­west Mon­tana, home to a Blue Rib­bon trout stream, Rock Creek, in a pris­tine nat­u­ral habi­tat, with di­verse moun­tain ter­rain.” The prop­erty had been a work­ing cat­tle ranch since the late 1800s, and many of the orig­i­nal 19th cen­tury struc­tures have been con­verted into ac­com­mo­da­tions.

Upon ar­rival guests are im­me­di­ately

struck by the wit and whimsy of the de­sign. It’s ranch chic but tonguein-cheek, in­formed by 100 years of Hol­ly­wood’s fas­ci­na­tion with Western style. Each of the 29 dif­fer­ent dwellings is com­pletely unique. The “project of a life­time” for Santa Fe-based de­signer Jet Zarkadas cul­mi­nates in sump­tu­ous lodge rooms, glamp­ing cab­ins, and a con­verted barn en­hanced just so, with a dizzy­ing as­sort­ment of an­tiques, ta­pes­tries, and leather­work.

The staff also de­lights, bring­ing en­ergy and ro­bust personalities, and pro­vid­ing a mem­o­rable com­po­nent to the visit. Guides can ac­com­pany guests on vir­tu­ally any ad­ven­ture, and their ex­per­tise is breath­tak­ing. For ex­am­ple, the archery guide speaks with au­thor­ity on hunt­ing, butcher­ing, and pre­serv­ing the meat from a sin­gle elk all by him­self, which would last him “more than a year, un­less friends come over.”

When hunger calls, the menu ex­ceeds ex­pec­ta­tions. Chuck wagon fare this is not. Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Josh Drage is as com­mit­ted to the farmto-ta­ble tra­di­tion of lo­cally sourc­ing his in­gre­di­ents as his big city peers, and has the ad­van­tage of prox­im­ity to a cor­nu­copia of farms. The sea­sonal Mon­tana bounty pro­vides ev­er­chang­ing, multi-course tast­ing menus, and pair­ing menus with Mon­tana mi­cro­brews and ciders.

So the decor is de­lec­ta­ble, the food top-notch, and the beverages top­shelf. But what makes The Ranch at Rock Creek dif­fer­ent? Quite sim­ply, it is a place to play--dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties, all day ev­ery day, from sun­rise to sun­set. Fly fish­ing is the pres­tige ac­tiv­ity in Mon­tana, but guests can also swim, bike, shoot a vast ar­ray of weapons, go geo­caching, at­tack the ropes course, search for sap­phires on nearby Gem Moun­tain, ski, skate, and hike. High end clients can cus­tom­ize at will, even fly­ing by he­li­copter to a re­mote moun­tain for se­cluded fish­ing, a pri­vate pic­nic, or a ro­man­tic din­ner by can­dle­light.

What about horses? Of course! “Mon­tana is made for horses and The Ranch at Rock Creek is made for rid­ers,” says Barn Man­ager Kari Rea­soner.

“Our wran­glers are pas­sion­ate about cus­tomiz­ing the eques­trian ex­pe­ri­ence for each guest, from green­horns to com­pet­i­tive rid­ers.” The Ranch is home to a herd of 80 beau­ti­ful horses that can tra­verse pas­ture, for­est. and moun­tain ter­rain. In ad­di­tion to rid­ing, they of­fer rop­ing in­struc­tion, Wells Fargo Stage­coach rides, sleigh rides in win­ter, sum­mer rodeos, and barn dances.

The Sil­ver Dol­lar Saloon adds a wealth of in­door op­tions, in­clud­ing bowl­ing, ping pong, bil­liards, and karaoke, even a pri­vate screen­ing room. The bar­tenders are ex­u­ber­ant about

pro­vid­ing tastes and ex­pla­na­tions of the lo­cal brews and spir­its. Ser­vice is so at­ten­tive one has the im­pres­sion that if a guest ex­pressed the de­sire to ride a me­chan­i­cal bull, the ma­chine would ma­te­ri­al­ize in­stantly. Yee haw!

Wed­dings, cor­po­rate re­treats, weeks of fun for fam­i­lies of all ages--from young ‘uns at the Lit­tle Griz­zlies Kids Club to old timers who want to play cards by a rag­ing fire while sip­ping whiskey from the lo­cal craft dis­tillery? Yes to all of that. The best part of be­ing Cow­boy For A Day in the mod­ern world is the cows don’t need milk­ing, and them do­gies can wait. It’s strictly choose your own ad­ven­ture at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

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