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Montana Moments: Photo Essay by Server & Photographer Willie MacDade

As the seasons change and the holidays approach, we are reminded that a photograph of the exact same spot in the summer looks entirely different in the spring, fall and winter. But, things don’t only change season to season; they change moment to moment. The serenity of a flowing stream may be interrupted by an eagle swooping down to catch a fish, or a cow and calf moose might decide they want to try glamping (Watch a recent guest’s video of a moose sighting).

Four seasons on Rock Creek, Four Montana Moments
Four Seasons on Rock Creek. Fall Photo by IG user @mpbroderick; Winter Photo by Granite Spa Massage Therapist Lindsay Roberts; Spring Photo by Jose Villa Photography; Summer Photo by Robert Cole Photography.

Our Favorite Montana Moments

This changeability is why we love the Montana Office of Tourism’s “#montanamoment” hashtag. We’re grateful to guests and staff members who share their pictures with us on social media or by email, so we can see the wild beauty of our home through their eyes. This week, we are pleased to bring you a new perspective from one of our Ranchers. Willie MacDade joined us last May and has seized every spare moment to explore our landscape and wider Montana. In many ways, seasonal employees experience Montana in a similar way to first-time guests; they are let loose on 6,600 acres of secluded wilderness and are given dozens of ways to explore it. If you’re inspired by Willie’s travels, we invite you to peruse the Indulgent Frontiersman special for an intriguing take on winter exploration.



Life as a Rancher with Willie MacDade

When I graduated college last May, I had no plans of working on a guest ranch. I did not know what my immediate future had in store for me. I did not know a place like The Ranch at Rock Creek even existed.

Photographer and Server Willie MacDade wades into Rock Creek for a self-portrait
Hey there! My name is Willie and I am a server and photographer at The Ranch.

There is something viscerally human and satisfying about uncertainty though. Over the past four months I have truly embraced this sense of uncertainty and allowed a place in my life for the unknown. In submitting ourselves to new challenges, like learning to fly fish or garnering a respect for food and wine pairings, we can all achieve substantial personal growth.

Rancher Willie MacDade enjoys his morning coffee before fly fishingLife as a Rancher is awesome, but before I even think about the day, I have to make coffee. Luckily Montana is home to some amazing coffee roasters like Black Coffee Roasting Co. in Missoula!

When I arrived here in June, I didn’t know a thing about fly fishing and now I can confidently maneuver the creeks and rivers of Southwest Montana. In my working life, I developed a greater sense of how the same grape from different regions can taste dramatically different. I now appreciate the succulent flavors of local morel and chanterelle mushrooms.

A fly fisherman casts into Flint Creek in Southwest Montana
As a PM Server my shift doesn’t start until 3 PM, allowing me time to fish most mornings in some of the most beautiful spots in the country, including Flint Creek with my friend Tom pictured here.

And it is this sense of embracing the unknown that allows for such an unparalleled experience here at The Ranch at Rock Creek. As we welcome guests to our community far from civilization, we are better able to foster an environment of exploration, which can reach great lengths in strengthening relationships and personal growth.

An inviting view of Warren Peak in the Anaconda Pintler Range near The Ranch at Rock Creek
When not fishing, I try to take advantage of the amazing hikes in the surrounding area. Here is Warren Peak in the Anaconda Range.

As Ferris Bueller so profoundly, yet casually remarks when preparing for his romp around Chicago, “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Montana moments and sweeping views on Bowman Lake in Glacier National ParkMost, if not all, staff take a trip up to Glacier National Park in Northern Montana at one point or another. Even on hazy days, the park fails to disappoint—especially with coffee in hand.

Luckily for us, the great wilderness of Montana forces us to stop and look around. And so, it is hard for us to miss it.

A Montana moment while driving through the Ruby Valley in Southwest Montnaa
One of my favorite parts about driving through Montana is seeing the changing landscape filled with constant reminders of ranching as a way of life. Seeing cattle and horses dotting the view reminds me that we live in an almost untouched part of the Wild West.

I’m reminded of a quote by Annie Dillard:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Executive Sous-Chef Ben Miller preps for the night's tasting menu.
Executive Sous Chef Ben Miller busy prepping the night’s tasting menu

As a server I help setup the Granite Lodge dining room and other venues for dinner service. The final order of business before we open the doors is the menu meeting. Either Josh, the Executive Chef, or Ben, the Executive Sous-Chef will go over the evening’s menu and we often taste ingredients.

A roper waits for his moment to compete in a Ranch at Rock Creek summer rodeo.
A roper waits at the ready during a Ranch at Rock Creek summer rodeo. The Ranch provides daily opportunities to capture authentic Western culture. 

I vividly remember talking with my parents about wanting to have a story to tell down the road. Life as a Rancher gives you the freedom to create your own adventures and I’m truly grateful for it.



View more Montana Moments: Guest Photographer Benjamin Morgan documented his summer travels on the blog, and former Rancher Robert Cole shared his experiences of photographing ranch rodeos. Interested in life as a Rancher? Check out our career information.