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Ranch Traditions: 7 Years as a Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star, 127 Years as a Homestead

The falling snow might as well be confetti today. We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve earned our 7th consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award! Forbes Travel Guide is the only independent, global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas, and they judge properties based on 900 rigorous standards. We are so proud of our staff that continues to translate our own unique homestead hospitality into world-class service year after year. 

Horses walking in the snow at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Photo by Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns, who is also our beekeeper and a Master Naturalist who helped rescue a golden eagle near The Ranch last year.



7 Years as a Forbes Five-Star Property

Last year, we made a big announcement when we earned our 2019 Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award – we were to eliminate single-use plastics by Earth Day.

View of The Ranch at Rock Creek in the spring from a drone
The Ranch continues its sustainability pledge after eliminating single-use plastics in 2019.

We achieved our goal, but continue to work on a robust sustainability program (more about that later this year). Our brief was a difficult one – to ensure our sustainability goal didn’t compromise our service standards. This year’s award is proof that we could raise our standards for sustainability and service simultaneously.

“Since The Ranch opened its doors 10 years ago, we strived to prove that a ranch could combine inspiring activities, amazing cuisine and exceptional luxury service. My team and I are proud to have earned this award again for 2020. Our success is owed to the team of professionals that day in and day out come to work with a simple task of providing our guests with unforgettable experiences.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

Congratulations to all the hotels, restaurants and spas that have worked so hard to earn this award.


10 Years as a Guest Ranch

This year’s announcement comes at the same time as another important announcement, 2020 marks our 10 year anniversary! We will be commemorating our first decade during a special celebration weekend this May.

An RC saddle sits atop a horse, ready for a trail ride

Though it’s not all about the numbers, we’re incredibly proud that eight of those years have been as a Relais & Chateaux property, seven have been as a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star winner and five have been as a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, with its focus on sustainability.

Holding these designations has not been easy, but it has been possible for two reasons. The Ranch at Rock Creek was founded in a historic tradition, a working ranch that is also a family ranch for Jim Manley and his family.

The second reason is the same as the basis for our Forbes Travel Guide distinction – our dedicated staff. Executive Chef Josh Drage has been with the property since it began, building a farm-to-table dining program that supports Montana and regional agriculture.

Executive Chef Josh Drage prepares for our fall harvest celebration - carrying a plate of roasted vegetables.Executive Chef Josh Drage.

Activities Director Patrick Little has also been with The Ranch since its first days as an all-inclusive property – building an activities program of over 40 year-round activities and an award-winning kids’ club that allows travelers of all ages to explore our 6,600 acres. Other 10-year employees include Maintenance Associate Mike O’Dell and Kitchen Manager Kelly Fernatt.


Activities Director Pat Little and Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns during a National Geographic photography class led by photographer Jay Dickman. Photo by Lead Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich.



127 Years as a Homestead

Buying their dream ranch also allowed the Manleys to preserve the land and the way of life associated with it. The Ranch still has its original homestead barn and house, both loving restored as accommodations. If you tour the property, you see evidence of the brands and history that have been integral in its formation.

Original homestead at The Ranch at Rock CreekOriginal Homestead at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Photo circa 1940 courtesy of Judy Staninger Guernsey.

River House is a large luxury home at the world's first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch.
The original homestead, now called River House, at The Ranch at Rock Creek. 

In the 1970s, while the ranch was still a family ranch, the Historic Barn was used as a functioning horse barn. Hay was kept in what we now know as Loft, and Stables was full of riding stock. We were visited recently by a gentleman who lived in River House (see above) while his family owned the ranch at that time. He fondly recalled how he would play basketball in the loft in late winter, after enough hay was tossed out to feed the herd.

Peeking through a wagon wheel to glimpse at The Ranch's treasured Historic Barn accommodations.
The Historic Barn through the spokes of our chuck wagon. 

He also remarked how happy he was that we had kept the original barn door from the Historic Barn. He knew this was the original barn door because he’d carved his initials into the door as a young man and left a tick mark for every time he was thrown from a horse that lived in this barn. The barn door has a roughly carved “GB” underscored by 15 tick marks. These grooves tell the history of a young man learning to ride, while making his mark on our history.

Initials on the HIstoric Barn door
The original Historic Barn door with initials “GB” and 15 tick marks for each time he was thrown from a horse.

“This ranch was homesteaded in 1893 and the spirit of the past 127 years is an important part of The Ranch at Rock Creek. When our guests walk back to their accommodations from dinner they admire the same stars, breathe the same mountain air, and cross the same creek that residents of the ranch have enjoyed for over a century. While we certainly go to great lengths to make each guest’s experience is a luxury one, we always strive to do so while maintaining the authenticity of the West.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin



Thank you to each of the guests and staff members who’ve helped us maintain this goal. Stay tuned for more information on how returning guests will be invited to “make their mark” at The Ranch at Rock Creek in our 10th year

Top 9 Ranch Captures of 2019

The Ranch’s Instagram community is now 17 times our Montana county’s population. Every December, it’s fun to look back at the pictures that originated in the wilderness of Granite County but resonated worldwide. Read the stories behind our top 9 of 2019.

Click on the photo to see the full-sized photo or watch the video.


1. “Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile”
by Eric Bunting @elbunt

https://www.instagram.com/p/B3zTcA5Hgb8/

It’s no surprise that our number one photo is equine. Our 75-horse herd inspires us daily and shows up regularly on our feed. Though it’s hard to choose a season we love most, autumn holds a special place in our hearts. The pace of life slows down, the harvest begins and we celebrate the “last, loveliest smile” with Labor Day, Whiskey & Water, Autumn Harvest and Thanksgiving weekends. Former Rancher Eric Bunting captured this beautiful scene when he worked at The Ranch as a photography and activities guide.


2. Dashing into Christmas
by Caleb Jordan Lee @calebjordanlee

https://www.instagram.com/p/B6TabXNB1Ly/

The Friday before Christmas many of our guests were setting off for The Ranch from places around the country and the world. No one was immune to the feeling of holiday excitement. Our running of the horses is always breathtaking, but in the snow it is truly awe-inspiring. A few years ago, Filmmaker Caleb Jordan Lee visited The Ranch on a shoot for Relais & Châteaux and his video of the herd heading in from pasture was poetry in motion. The running of the horses happens year-round and being close to an entire herd running free has been known to inspire racing hearts and tears of joy.


3. June Bug
by Mindy Avila @mindyavila

https://www.instagram.com/p/BsdRiBQH9zU/

Mindy Avila took over our account for a Ranch Life Takeover and shared the story of a calf named June Bug. Ranchers from around the area will confess that although you rarely name each and every calf born, it’s not unusual to form a special attachment. Stay tuned for our first Thursday Ranch Life Takeover of the year with Barn Manager Hailey Laird, where she’ll talk about one of her favorite cows, Sweet Pea.
Read more…

The Staff at Rock Creek: 2019 Employees of the Year

If you’ve been to The Ranch, seen our TripAdvisor reviews or even wandered onto our Instagram profile, you’ll know, our staff is what gives us our Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star shine.

According to General Manager Jon Martin, “Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from our guests that the people are what make this place spectacular. Even in an incredible setting, the staff is always what makes our guests return.”

At our Ranch Christmas party this week, the votes were counted and our employees of the year were announced. Though every staff member at The Ranch works in concert to exceed our guests’ expectations, Jon took a moment to explain the invaluable contributions made by this year’s award winners.

Ellie, Cat and Chuck, The Ranch at Rock Creek's Employees of the Year, stand with General Manager Jon Martin
Left to Right: Ellie Walsh, General Manager Jon Martin, Cat Johnson and Chuck Gursky. Read more…

Master Naturalists: Golden Eagle Rescue


In 2017, The Ranch started its Master Naturalist program to better explain the beauty of our exceptionally diverse eco-system. In 2018, it expanded to include National Geographic’s Year of the Bird, and in 2019 we’ve added the Rock Creek Field Guide (e-mail) and special classes like our Christmas week Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery Skills Class.

What we didn’t know is that our Montana master naturalists would play an even more active part in helping our eco-system. Read about the rescue, recovery and release of a golden eagle. At the end, you’ll find two important ways you can help raptors in the wild today.


The Rescue

On October 12, 2019, Ranch Master Naturalist and Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns spotted an injured golden eagle on a blind curve on the Skalkaho Road near The Ranch. The golden eagle was on her back when she found her, so she wrapped some clothing over her to be able to hold her wings together. She then, rolled her over, picked her up and took her to the side of the road. Kelsey placed her clothing over her head so that she couldn’t see and was less likely to get spooked and fly away.

Wild Skies Raptor Centers Jesse Varnado holds the rescued golden eagle
Rescued golden eagle, held by Wild Skies Raptor Center’s Jesse Varnado. Photo by Activities Director Patrick Little.

Kelsey reported it to the Wild Skies Raptor Center in Potomac, Montana. The Wild Skies Raptor Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured raptors in Western Montana. They promote wildlife conservation through on and off-site education programs with live raptors.

“I will forever be in awe that I touched something so wild and free. I am grateful I was able to help such an absolutely stunning creature return to her home.” ~ Master Naturalist Kelsey Bruns

Kelsey, Activities Director Patrick Little and Guide Madi King, all Montana Master Naturalists, helped Wild Skies Raptor Center’s Jesse Varnado secure the golden eagle for x-rays. Patrick captured the rescue on camera. Watch the video of Jesse holding her.


This young golden eagle has a 7 ft. wingspan. Hatch-year eagles have a little bit longer flight and tail feathers than adults. Photo by Activities Director Patrick Little. 

It was determined that the golden eagle’s injuries were likely sustained in a car collision on the blind curve. Although roadkill and other carrion often serves as part of Montana raptors’ diets, living near roadways can also endanger the eagles.

Jesse determined that the 10 lb. young female sustained a pelvic fracture and head trauma due to the collision. She was transported to Potomac, Montana to recover.


The Recovery

Due to their hollow bones, birds like eagles are prone to blood clots when they are healing. The Wild Skies Raptor Center created a treatment program to give her the best possible chance of recovery. The first week of her treatment involved supportive care and containment in order to administer fluids, pain management and adequate nutrition. 


Photo courtesy of Jesse Varnado.

During the second week she was moved outside to move around on her own for two weeks. She dined on venison, rats, rabbit and Guinea pigs.

Once she reached the top perch, Wild Skies started conditioning her for release. During the last two weeks, they exercised her two to three times daily and she was allowed to eat all she wanted. Wild Skies has a permit to collect roadkill to feed the raptors at the center – sticking to a similar diet that they would have in the wild.

“Like most Golden Eagles I’ve worked with over the years, it was an absolute pleasure and an honor to provide her with the time and care she needed to recover.” ~Brooke Tanner, Executive Director of Wild Skies Raptor Center

She was found at 10 lbs. and released at 12 lbs., ready for her return to the Rock Creek area.


Photo courtesy of Jesse Varnado.


The Release

After five weeks of successful recovery, the golden girl was ready to be released. Although she was found near The Ranch, she was released on the mountains at The Ranch, likely part of her previous territory. Watch the video of her release taken by Guide Madi King here.


Releasing the Golden Eagle. Photo courtesy of  Jesse Varnado. 

As a younger female, the raptor center and The Ranch hope she will survive, stay in the area and raise young along Rock Creek. Although mortality is quite high for hatch-year raptors, this center works hard to give raptors a second chance.

She will give back to the team who helped her over the coming year. She was fitted with a GPS satellite transmitter that will help the Wild Skies Raptor Center gather information about migratory, feeding and other behaviors.


Notice the GPS satellite transmitter on the released golden eagle’s back. Photo by Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns.

The transmitter is designed to fall off, but the center is hoping it will stay attached for approximately one year. This is the first time they have every placed a transmitter on a rehabbed bird! Our golden girl is helping make raptor history, and helping this incredible organization learn how to better care for Montana’s rescued birds.



The Two Best Ways to Protect Raptors

Approximately 70-80% of raptors don’t make it past their first year of life. This doesn’t stop the Wild Skies Raptor Center from working hard to increase their odds. Helping a potential breeding female can have a positive impact on raptor populations, which face lead poisoning, vehicle collisions, electrocutions, intentional shootings, trap-related injuries and wind turbine collisions.

According to Executive Director Brooke Tanner, these are the best ways you can help raptors in the wild and after they are rescued:

  1. Switch to non-lead ammunition when hunting. This reduces the incidence of lead poisoning in the raptor population. When lead ammunition is used and birds are hit but not harvested, raptors eat the injured birds, resulting in lead poisoning. The center sees birds die of acute lead poisoning all too often. Read more here
  2. Donate to the Wild Skies Raptor Center’s Giving Tuesday or ongoing donation programs to directly fund more raptor rescues! Donate here.


Read More about The Ranch at Rock Creek’s recent sustainability efforts:

Protecting Rock Creek with Trout Unlimited

How to Bird Your World for the Year of the Bird

Sustaining Five-Stars & the Future by Eliminating Single-Use Plastics

Protecting Rock Creek with Trout Unlimited

Sustainability from Field to Stream
Guest blog by Teresa Scanlon, project coordinator with Trout Unlimited



Why We Love Rock Creek

It’s no secret that Rock Creek, the fabled blue-ribbon trout stream tucked away in the mountains of Western Montana, is remarkable. Its steep canyon walls and sweeping valleys are home to both traditional ranching and endless prospects of recreation and exploration.

Guests can enjoy beautiful fall river scenes like this one at Montana's The Ranch at Rock Creek
Rock Creek bridge at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

The hills in Rock Creek are filled with wildlife diversity including moose, bear, mountain goats, and elk, and its waters offer prized fly-fishing opportunities.

A moose crosses Blue Ribbon Rock Creek
Moose crossing Rock Creek. Photo courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith.

That’s why Trout Unlimited’s (TU) local WestSlope Chapter is partnering with the community and other stakeholders to launch a signature program dedicated to protecting and restoring this iconic local watershed for future generations of anglers to enjoy.

A Montana fly fisherman catches a fish in his net
Fly fishing on Rock Creek. Photo by Silvio Mollov.

For over a year now, I’ve been the Trout Unlimited program coordinator, working with individual and public landowners to explore opportunities to improve habitat and connectivity for native and wild trout in Rock Creek.


Why Rock Creek Matters

Biologists recognize Rock Creek as a native trout stronghold with populations of bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout as well as wild browns and rainbows.

A large bull trout is released back into Rock Creek
Bull trout photo by Ranch Guide Madi King.

Anglers from across the country revere Rock Creek for both its accessibility and quality fishing. Yet native and wild trout populations are facing challenges, such as increasing water temperatures and barriers to migration.

Tess Scanlon of Trout Unlimited
Tess at our Whiskey & Water Weekend casting carnival.

I am collaborating with biologists and landowners to address these issues through collaborative projects that benefit both the fishery and landowners.


How The Ranch is Helping

The Ranch at Rock Creek and Trout Unlimited are working together to protect the landscape and fishery in Rock Creek and ensure future guests can enjoy it. I am working with The Ranch to explore installing fish screens on irrigation diversions on the four miles that run through The Ranch’s property.

fish screen projects help promote more sustainable waterways
An established fish screen similar to what will be installed at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited.

The Ranch uses stream water to irrigate their fields for pasture and hay production. Installing a screen at the headgate, which is used to control the water intake, prevents fish from getting stuck in the ditch.

Pastures and hayfields at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Lines are cut into the hayfields by a pivot sprinkler used in irrigation.

In the process of installing a fish screen, the irrigation infrastructure used to divert water from the stream is typically updated to the latest technology. This collaborative project showcases The Ranch’s dedication to environmental conservation and helps keep fish in Rock Creek.

“Rock Creek has a special spot in my heart. Working with local animal protection and conservation groups like Trout Unlimited is so important to everyone in Montana and at The Ranch. There are people, groups, companies and land owners that care deeply and take steps to help preserve the wilds of this great state. It’s uplifting knowing that what we (The Ranch, TU, and our neighbors) do in this valley makes a difference and sets an example of what should be done. I couldn’t work for a property that didn’t care.” ~ Activities Director Patrick Little


How You Can Help

When I attended The Ranch’s Whiskey and Water Weekend, I discussed how guests could contribute to healthy fish populations on Rock Creek. Here are my top tips for protecting local waterways, especially our beloved Rock Creek.

  1. Sponsor a fish in the Race Up Rock Creek. Watch cutthroat trout run the 80k up Rock Creek to spawn! All donations go to our on-the-ground projects to protect Rock Creek.
  2. Be conscientious about when you fish. Midday water temperatures in the summer are hot. Catching and releasing fish at the hottest times of the day can stress or even kill fish.
  3. Join or support your local Trout Unlimited chapter. No matter where you live in the United States, you have a local chapter that will share with you how you can support fishing for the future. Go to TU.org to join or to learn about our research and project work across the country.
  4. Teach a kid how to fish. Building memories and a love for the outdoors breeds the next generation of conservation leaders!


Dalles Rapid on Rock Creek. Photo Courtsey of Trout Unlimited.

 

Christmas in Montana: A Few of Our Favorite Things…

Cream-colored ponies, crisp apple strudels and sleighbells may be a few of Maria Von Trapp’s favorite things, but they are also some of ours. While the first snowflakes fly at The Ranch, and we gear up for another season of all-inclusive skiing, we’re dreaming of our homestead for the holidays. In the spirit of the season, our Ranchers have shared a few of their favorite things about Christmas in Montana.

The fire roars in Granite Lodge’s Great Room during our Country Christmas holiday celebrations
Our Montana Christmas traditions include plenty of time by the fire in the Granite Lodge’s Great Room.



1.Montana is Christmas in a Snow Globe

“I love Christmastime in Montana, because aside from all the pines being dusted with snow and all the horses starting to look like teddy bears with their winter coats, it’s the time of the year my family all comes to town. My mom has a gift of making Christmas (no matter where we are) warm and cozy. It’s my favorite time of the year!” ~ Barn Manager Hailey Laird

Draft horse team Bob and Buster will start training to pull our sleigh soon
New draft horse team Bob and Buster will start training to pull our sleigh soon. Photo by Hailey Laird

I love Christmas in Montana because it is always a truly white Christmas. Growing up I didn’t have snowy Christmases, and living here I have one every year! Montana in her best winter white really gets you in the Christmas spirit! It’s a wonderful reason to warm up by a fire and drink hot cocoa with your friends and family.” ~ Recruitment & Training Manager Cat Johnson

Feet of snow creates heart shapes on top of the fences around The Ranch
Another reason we love The Ranch’s traditional jackleg fences – they turn to hearts when it snows.

I love Christmas in Montana because this whole valley truly feels like the inside of a snow globe. The trees are dusted with snow, there is a peaceful quiet that settles over everything, and the air always smells of wood fires and crisp air.” ~ Ranch Ambassador Supervisor Katie Acheson

winter and Christmas glamping at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Christmas glamping is available in our Sweet Grass and Trapper hybrid canvas cabins.

 


2. Montana is Rockwellian at Christmastime

“Juliette’s second Christmas was the snowiest Christmas I can remember, snow piled up on the 24th and it continued to fall all day on the 25th. The whole family went for the most beautiful cross country ski in the new snow towing Juliette in the Chariot. It seems the forests are the most peaceful on Christmas because it’s such a busy holiday that folks are not venturing out.  Juliette was bundled up in probably 12 layers so she slept the entire time, but we stopped for a quick fire and hot cider & aquavit by the frozen lake.  The snow was magical and Chef’s love peaceful holidays. We cross country ski every Christmas now; it’s our favorite.” ~ Executive Chef Josh Drage

Executive Chef Drage with daughter Juliette during Christmas
Executive Chef Josh Drage and his daughter Juliette Christmas tree hunting in Montana.

Christmas in Montana feels like a Norman Rockwell Christmas to me. Between celebrating the Granite County Festival of Trees with our community in the Buckle Barn to Yule Night in town, Philipsburg and The Ranch become magical. My first Christmas here we had light snow trickling down continuously all day creating a snow-globe like feel. In town every street lamp has beautiful bows. Montana creates the perfect Christmas.” ~ Guest Services Manager Linda Walser

17 Christmas trees lit up the Buckle Barn before the Festival of Trees gala auction
The annual Granite County Festival of Trees takes place in our Buckle Barn to benefit our local healthcare services.

“There’s no shortage of trees for the taking. For a $5.00 fee to the local Ranger District office, my partner Amy (AM Lead Line Cook) and I can venture out into the National Forests that surround the Ranch to find the perfect Charlie Brown tree and haul it back home for some real Yuletide cheer. It’s our favorite Christmas-time tradition in Montana.” ~ Dining Room Manager Leigh Dollard 

A couple harvest their perfect Christmas tree in Montana’s National Forests for a $5.00 fee
Amy and Leigh carry their harvested Christmas tree back home. 

 


3. Montana is a Winter Playground

“My favorite Christmas memories growing up in Montana have been centered around family and snow. I have one special memory of my sister and I waking up at 5 AM to find Red Flyer Runner sleds and sledding from sunrise to sunset on Christmas day. We would unwrap presents and be out the door to ice fish on Moose lake or Georgetown Lake. Now that I have a family of my own and a husband that lives to ski we have a new tradition of taking the kids skiing at Discovery. ” ~ Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry

Young boy skiing on The Ranch’s local ski mountain on Christmas Day
Stephanie Boutry’s 2.5 year old son skiing at Discovery Ski Area.

We always seem to get a good snowfall in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the look on my girls’ faces when they wake up excited to make snow angels and a snowman is guaranteed to put the whole family in the Christmas spirit. ” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

The Ranch’s General Manager’s yard covered in snow
The view out General Manager Jon Martin’s backdoor. Photo by Brenda Martin.

 


4. Montana is Full of Mother Nature’s Gifts

“I think my favorite thing about the winter time in Montana is the way the world around you forces you to SLOW DOWN. You can’t do anything faster than mother nature will allow.  During those shorter days you are forced to slow down in so many ways; as you drive slowly you notice the world around you, there is no hustle and bustle. You have to take coffee breaks at the shop to warm up and chat with the guys, and best of all you slow down to spend time with all the best people that decided to call this beautiful place home year round.” ~ Lead Wrangler Ariel Roselle

Wranglers drive a team of Belgian Draft horses as they pull our sleigh our winter wonderland
Sleigh rides often take place over the holiday season at The Ranch.

“I love how quiet it gets here on the creek when it snows..” ~ Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns

Photographer Martin Battilana captures a shot of winter fly fishing on Montana's Rock Creek
Our most avid anglers find winter the most peaceful time to fish Rock Creek.


5. Montana is Full of Unique Christmas Traditions

Driving my snowmobile to get groceries with the kids while the roads in Philipsburg are covered with snow is such a great memory for the kids every year.” ~ Reservations Manager Josh Erickson

boy eating snow at a hockey game
Josh Erickson’s son eats a big snowball during a hockey game at the rink in our hometown of Philipsburg, Montana.

“My favorite Christmas time in Montana is the smell…. Cutting down the tree,  the pine filling the house with joy, freshly baked bread, turkey slowly roasting in the oven, everyone bringing together their favorite dish, family getting together after a year of hard work and normal daily living to enjoy each other’s company.” ~ Assistant Housekeeping Manager Chrissy Gursky

fresh baked pastries in the Great Room are a morning tradition at The Ranch
Eating (too many) fresh baked pastries in the Great Room is one of our favorite traditions.

 



We can’t wait to welcome new guests to The Ranch this Christmas and help them create festive memories and traditions of their own. See our Christmas itinerary or view our Big Sky Love celebration over President’s Day Weekend. 

 

Sweet Life of Bees, Year Three

The Honey Flows with the First Snows

Join us as we follow our colleagues—the bees—through their third year homesteading in the Rock Creek Valley.  Read more about their first year and second year on The Ranch.  

by Kelsey Bruns, Beekeeper, Master Naturalist and Activities Manager

A jar of honey bottled on the day of our first fall snow

Keeping the Hives Alive

The end of the 2018 season was slightly anti-climactic. There were a few hive setbacks due to hive health and a less than optimal summer honey season. Knowing this, going into the winter season I had to have a different set of tactics to allow the hives to survive over the winter and have a new plan for the 2019 season.

Ranch Beekeeper Kelsey Bruns stands by her beehives after finding out they survived the cold Montana winter

While I took the hives to the Bitterroot last autumn, in the back of my mind I knew not all of them would survive. It is not unusual for an apiary to lose 30 percent of their hives over the winter. With this math I could be looking at losing two out of our five hives – not the greatest thoughts while driving my precious cargo over a mountain pass to their winter home.

Though losing hives over a winter has become more normal within the commercial industry, it is not ideal.

Like any agricultural job, beekeeping is controlled by the natural environment. Allowing Mother Nature to have control of your livelihood can be difficult to wrap your head around, but as any beekeeper would agree, they put their heart and soul into the bees.

Trials and tribulations often disappear when you are alongside the bees. For me, becoming a beekeeper has never been about making a paycheck or paying bills. Many would say, one becomes a beekeeper because of the love of it.

New Nucleus

Going into the winter season with my foreseen future of a few fatalities in our bee yard, I had to become proactive. In the spring I ordered three nucleus hives. Nucleus hives are six framed hives with bees, brood and a mated queen. These are ultimately a miniature version of our hives on property.

A moose drinks from Welcome Pond at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana
Photo by Beekeepr and Activites Manager Kelsey Bruns

They provide a new start for a hive or even just a boost for bee numbers to an already existing hive. Buying nucleus hives gives one hope and light to starting a season off on the right foot with strong and healthy hives. These particular nucleus hives originated from California, were driven to Washington where I purchased them, and then they took a long trip across several  state borders, before I gleefully accept them into our apiary.

Back on Track by Autumn Harvest

As with any living creature, travel can cause stresses. Unfortunately, one of the nucleus hives did not survive the trip, but the other two were able to keep our apiary on track. They helped replace two hives that did not survive the winter. Through all the organizing and work put into the hives this spring, we have five thriving hives going into our next winter which is so quickly approaching us here in Montana.

Jars of honey wait to be bottled before The Ranch's 2018 honey release

At the end of September we had our first snowstorm. It was also the day in which I bottled our 2018 honey. (We release one year after with harvest). It is light in color, and beautifully balanced in floral notes. Our limited 2018 crop was just released on October 11th during our western rendezvous during Autumn Harvest Weekend.

Jarred honey before our 2018 honey crop release

Ranch Cocktails | Making Haymakers while the Sun Shines

August is the beginning of harvest for most of our Western Montana purveyors. For the ranchers, it’s the end of a demanding haying season. The Ranch cultivates hay pastures during the summer to produce hay for the winter season.

The Ranch grows and harvests hay for our herd of longhorn cattle and horses
Photo by Robert Cole Photography

Former Barn Manager Kari Reasoner explained the importance of hay production in Granite County. “We have 74 horses and a small cattle herd. While we do produce some of our hay on property, we heavily rely on our wonderful neighbors to sell us a supply for the winter months. Small town living at its finest!”


Photo by Eric Bunting Photography


Hay is for Horses (and Cattle)

Horses on average will eat 2-2.5% of their body weight in roughage. This is strictly hay and is the basis of their diet. During the winter when our horses are not used as often, we only feed hay as a maintenance feed program, so an average 1,000 pound horse will eat 20-25 lbs. of hay each day. For our herd of 74 horses, that’s up to 675,250 lbs. of hay a year!


Photo by Eric Bunting Photography

The amounts produced are even more substantial for other hay operations in Granite County. One local ranch produces 2,500 round bales at 1,350 lbs. apiece. This results in over 3 million lbs. of hay produced in three short months. This amount is necessary for feeding large herds of cattle that eat 20 to 32 lbs. per day, with ever larger amounts for pregnant cattle to ensure good body condition and fetal health.

During the summer months when our guests are riding frequently and we are consistently working our horses, they require some additional supplement (just like athletes that are training for a game), so we created a feed program that tailors to each individual horse’s needs.


Photo by Eric Bunting Photography

We use two main types of grain, one geared toward active and young to middle-aged horses, and the other is geared towards our older horses. Through careful measurement and additional necessary supplement for a few specific horses, we do our best to keep their systems healthy and prolong their lives at the ranch as much as possible.


Photo by Eric Bunting Photography

Guests learn about horse health during special programming, such as Horsemanship 101 and Behind the Chutes.


Haymakers are for Humans

Meanwhile our culinary team produces ever-changing seasonal menus and artisan cocktails using local ingredients. Right now, our bartending team is preparing for our second annual Whiskey & Water Weekend next week – celebrating the water of life in our trout streams and in our snifters.

A fly fisherman walks home after spending a fall day on Rock Creek

To honor the height of haying season, they are producing a special switchel-inspired Haymaker’s Punch cocktail or mocktail. Thanks to bartender Lindsey for putting her magic touch on this recipe and sharing it with our community!

Homestead Haymaker’s Punch

“Haymaker’s Punch” or switchel was common in colonial America, where it was used to quench hay harvesters’ thirst during the hot, long hours in the fields. It’s generally made with water, apple cider vinegar, molasses and ginger. We regularly make switchel for our Granite Spa patrons. Bartender Lindsey pivoted from the classic Haymaker cocktail recipe and put her five-star touch on the traditional hydration punch recipe, which can be served with or without local whiskey.

Ingredients:
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp. fresh ginger simple syrup (see below)
1.5 oz. Glacier Distilling Wheatfish single-malt whiskey
1.5 cups water
1/2 fresh lemon juiced

Method:
1. Make a ginger simple syrup.

Bring 3/4 cup of peeled fresh ginger, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then gently simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve, and then cool. Store for other uses in addition to the punch.

2. Add apple cider vinegar, ginger simple syrup, water and fresh lemon into a mixer. Shake well.

3. Strain into a Collins glass with ice.

4. Add whiskey. Stir. Garnish with a lemon round.


Photo by Eric Bunting Photography

Enjoy!



View our other cocktail recipes:

Grand Opening: The Nest at Rock Creek!

Family Ties

This Father’s Day we’re celebrating the Ranch dads that have chosen to live, work and raise their kids in the wide open spaces of Granite County. Families are an essential part of the genuine homestead hospitality that makes our property a home away from home for so many people.


Outside play is a big part of the Ranch experience for guests and staff children alike. Photo by Danielle Boutte Photography.

Ranching in rural Montana is by and large a family endeavor and Owner Jim Manley continued that idea, starting The Ranch at Rock Creek as his family retreat.

Hiring and Recruitment Manager Cat Johnson explained, “In an employee’s offer letter we welcome them to the “ranch family.” There are so many people here who are connected: husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, sisters-in-law, fathers and sons. All across The Ranch and the departments, there are family ties. So it genuinely is a ranch family.”

Living in a secluded location means that our Ranch families trade urban convenience for extraordinary beauty. In an attempt to improve access to childcare and career opportunities for our staff, Just one month ago we opened on-site childcare, dubbed The Nest at Rock Creek.

Hatching a Plan

General Manager Jon Martin and his wife Brenda came to Philipsburg in early 2018.  It also meant that due to the lack of childcare options in a town of just 900 people, that Brenda would stay home with the kids after 20 years of working in the hospitality industry as a spa director.

Moving from Southern California was a culture shock, but it was a net positive change for their family.

Brenda said, “People ask me, ‘Why do you love it here?’ My kids get to grow up in these wide-open spaces. They get to see animals that lots of kids have never seen. They go to a forest preschool in town. It can be hard to transition to a place where everyone knows everyone else, but I know that this is the kind of town where if my kids step off the sidewalk, 10 people are going to grab her. People don’t look past you.”

General Manager Jon Martin and his family with wrangler Jamie
The Martin family after a Tuesday summer rodeo. 

Staying at home was a change the Martin family was able to make, but they soon saw that other employee families and single-parent households needed more childcare options to maintain their careers and provide for their families.

The Nest at Rock Creek

The Nest is designed in the spirit of our Little Grizzlies Kids Club, but tailored for kids aged eight weeks to five years old. (During the summer break, it will welcome kids up to 12 year of age). Play in nature is an essential part of every day, except in extreme weather conditions.


Nest children found an actual nest in the first few weeks of opening The Nest at Rock Creek.

In addition to time in nature, the curriculum is designed to be well-rounded, preparing them for school. The tenants of the curriculum also include art, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, science and sensory play, math and dramatic play.

Infants have their own rooms and each infant has a dedicated teacher, so that diaper changing and feeding schedules are never confused.

Ranch employees pay $25 per day for the first child and $15 per day for the second, which covers a portion of the expense for this program. The remainder is covered by The Ranch as a benefit to employees. Included in the price is breakfast, lunch and a morning and afternoon snack — all made by our Relais & Châteaux kitchen.

Full-fledged Benefit

Behind the scenes, The Nest was built to cater to the idiosyncrasies of the hospitality industry. Instead of strict monthly schedules and pre-payments that many daycares require, we’ve chosen to remain as flexible as our employees need to be. Parents don’t need to commit to a schedule, because hospitality schedules change week to week. Parents can also cancel by 9AM on the day their child is scheduled to be in The Nest. This means if parents are called off their shift, they can cancel without being charged for the day.


A Nest participant practices weighing and measuring food during a “Farmer’s Market” activity.

The Nest is open during holidays, when most of our staff is on-hand to execute special events.

Nursing mothers are welcome to come to breastfeed in The Nest in a dedicated space during their break or lunchtime, and parents are welcome to visit during their break times. Before Father’s Day, Ranch dads were asked to come talk to the kids about what they do.

Jon and Brenda recognized that if their previous employers had offered on-site childcare, they would have been more likely to continue their careers at those hotels. Though we all make sacrifices to live in this pristine beauty, choosing between a career and high-quality childcare was not one Jon wanted his employees to make.

General Manager Jon Martin says, “Not only do we take care of the families that come here to visit, but we need to take care of the families that work here.”

Women account for 51% of our staff. Access to affordable childcare will aid female staff in developing their careers and combat gender wage gaps caused by time out of the workplace. Marketing Specialist Tricia Erickson is one of the Ranch employees using this new benefit.

She says, “Rural Montana is exactly where my husband Josh, the revenue manager, and I want to raise my children, but being in a remote location has challenges like finding available childcare. I am incredibly grateful for The Ranch’s leadership seeing the value of investing in quality childcare. My two kids now get to ride to work with mom and dad and learn about animals, take nature walks and play with their best friends. As a working mom of young children, I am relieved that my life has much more balance now. I can still do the job that I love while knowing my kids are getting world-class care within walking distance from my office.”


A Father’s Day project at The Nest.

Happy Father’s Day from The Ranch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sustaining Five-Stars & the Future by Eliminating Single-Use Plastics

As we approach 10 years as a property, sustainability is on our minds. We occupy a remote corner of the world, and keeping consistently high standards in the sticks, so to speak, is a challenge. This is why we’re especially pleased that we’ve earned the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the sixth consecutive year! 

A rainbow arches over the Rock Creek valley, home to The Ranch at Rock Creek

Sustaining our Forbes Travel Guide Five Stars

We’re in such exceptional company with other Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star winners like The Broadmoor who has sustained their Five-Star designation for 59 years.

“We’re honored to be recognized once again with the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award. The team at The Ranch at Rock Creek sets out each day to ensure our guests are treated to memorable, luxury experiences. We are so glad to be affiliated with Forbes Travel Guide which shares our passion for genuine luxury hospitality.

Being out here where we are, there’s a certain responsibility and it just feels wrong having plastic out here. We’re at the headwaters of Rock Creek. Being at the headwaters, I think there’s a mental but real responsibility that anything we do, it affects everyone who’s downstream of us.”

~ General Manager Jon Martin, Quote from interview with the Missoula Current

Sustaining Our Environment

Every year that we’ve garnered this incredible award, we’ve taken a moment on the blog to look back at one of the things that is a cornerstone of who we are and how our incredible staff goes above and beyond to maintain this high quality of service. This year, we are looking toward the future and how we can sustain our FTG stars and our natural environment in the long term.

A springtime scene in the Rock Creek Valley with green grass, mountains and stormy skies

It’s no secret that we value our environment. We employ Master Naturalists, we keep bees and Chef Drage is committed to an always farm-to-table dining experience. Since we joined the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World (as the only US charter member) in 2015, we’ve created new sustainability initiatives every year, like river clean-ups, reducing plastic waste and supporting local vendors in the Mercantile.

Now, we are doubling down on sustainability. In 2019, we will eliminate single-use plastics.

Eliminating Single-Use Plastics

Eliminating single-use plastics isn’t a decision we made lightly. It presents an operational challenge to our organization and to our employees. It is difficult, but worthwhile.

“We approach our interactions with guests with a “do whatever it takes” attitude. That same mindset is required for responsible stewardship of our ranch lands. Sustainability efforts require a tremendous investment in both time and money. But everyone at The Ranch, from owner to seasonal worker, understands that the time we take with eco-conscious best practices now is an investment in the resilience of our 6,600 acres that will benefit both us and future generations.” ~ Director of Operations Justin Robbins

One of the things we love about our home state, Montana, is that it’s a little behind the times. Most of the time, this means that once we arrive home – 75 minutes from the nearest city – there is no light pollution to obscure the stars. Asking our guests to walk or ride bikes on property means there isn’t significant traffic or petroleum fumes. However, this low population density also means our state lacks a recycling industry and there are some things we just can’t buy from local vendors.

Last year, our county (like many counties across the country), responding to China’s change in recycling imports by cutting out plastic recycling. There are only a few metals that can be recycled in Granite County. While we’ve continued to recycle what we could, it was obvious that a change had to come from within in order to be sustainable to our environment and keep plastics out of landfills and our beloved Rock Creek.


Our 2019 Earth Day Initiatives

By Earth Day, we have introduced the following major initiatives, in addition to a number of smaller initiatives, in order to eliminate single-use plastics.

1. Eliminating Single-Use Plastic Bottles

Our Rod & Gun Club has been committed to providing refillable options for several years, in the form of Kleen Kanteens, but eliminating water bottles completely requires a more robust plan to ensure we are maintaining accessibility to water throughout a guests’ stay. We are at the top of the Rock Creek watershed, which means that our property receives pure, clean, mineral-rich water! We’re calling on this wonderful natural resource to provide our guests with the clean, cool water they need. In order to ensure its quality, we work with WGM Group in Missoula to ensure that all mineral and chemical levels are safe in our water with monthly tests across our property.

In addition to Kleen Kanteens for activity use, guests will receive two refillable Stanley thermoses that they can bring home or leave here. (We also rewarded our Ranch employees who helped us earn our Five-Stars with a thermos this spring). We have filling stations in our Ranch hubs, like the Granite Lodge, Buckle Barn, Blue Canteen, Buckle Barn and Rod & Gun Club.

Guests at The Ranch at Rock Creek receive a Stanley Thermos to use during their stay and take home to eliminate single-use plastics

Accommodations are stocked with sanitized glass bottles that have been filled with pure Ranch water and sealed with a 100% cellulose seal. A sparkling filling station in our kitchen will allows us to replace bottles of pre-packaged sparkling water throughout The Ranch. Guests who want a more traditionally sealed bottle of water to take with them on adventures will also have access to refillable aluminum water bottles provided by Montana Silver Springs, a Philipsburg-based company.

Co-owner of Philipsburg Brewing Company, Nolan Smith, also purchased Granite Water Works, a bottling plant with access to a freshwater springs, that they could use in their beer, but which they could also use to bottle water. This year, they launched Montana Silver Springs, one of only two companies using Alumi-tek bottles to bottle water in the United States.

“Montana has a really hard time recycling plastic. 10% of our plastic is recycled. 90% of our aluminum is recycled. If you put one of these aluminum bottles in our recycling chain, within 40 days it could be a bottle again.” ~ Nolan Smith.

These practices will reduce our plastic consumption, but also ensure that guests’ hiking, horseback riding, skiing or fly fishing adventures are happy and healthy – with plenty of water to make up for lost sweat.

2. Eliminating Single-Use Toiletry Bottles

Like most hotels, we’ve used single use amenity bottles in our accommodations, replacing them with each guest. Now, we will be using glass etched and reusable plastic, specially chosen to remain sanitary for guests.

We’ve always wanted our toiletries to evoke Montana’s intoxicating aromas in accommodations and bathrooms. Our signature scents include mountain juniper and mountain sage, two plants that are part of the experience of The Ranch, whether you are horseback riding through sagebrush flats, or trekking through juniper bushes on our 3-D archery course.

Our exclusive skin care line was developed by Body Bliss, a Sedona, Arizona-based line. Body Bliss uses no artificial fragrances and their products contain no paraben preservatives, no mineral oils, no harsh laureth and lauryl sulfate cleansers, no phthalates and no formaldehyde donors. They rely on the finest natural and sustainable botanical raw materials to ensure a therapeutic benefit. 

3. Eliminating Small Plastic Items.

Plastic straws are among the top 10 debris items in our oceans, and 90% of all trash floating in the ocean’s is comprised of plastic. Around 44% of all seabirds and mammals have ingested plastic.

For over a year, plastic straws have only been available upon request, but before Earth Day, we replaced them with hay straws, which are made from wheat. Hay Straws are natural, compostable, gluten-free, and do not get soggy in hot or cold drinks! They will be available in dining locations if guests re- quest a straw.

Ranch at Rock Creek guests enjoy cowboy coffee cooked over a Montana campfire

We are also moving away from pre-packaged coffee and creamer in our accommodations. Glass bottles will contain fresh cream, milk or other guest requests. Not only will this be better for the environment, but our guests will enjoy a better quality of coffee during their stay since we will rely more on our vendors like Black Coffee Roasting Company out of Missoula, Montana.

Sometimes the devil is in the details. We’ve had to reach outside our states boundaries to source the smaller single-use plastic items in our organization. We have a team devoted to finding other single-use plastics and replacing them with alternatives. Their dedication and hard work over the past few months has turned our New Year’s resolution to a reality.

Protecting our Treasure State

As we celebrate eliminating single-use plastics this Earth Day, we look forward to establishing new partnerships and new goals that keep Montana’s future in mind.

Rivers and streams cover more than 169,829 miles in the state of Montana, of which 388 miles are designated as Wild & Scenic rivers (rivers with outstanding natural, cultural & recreational values). Rock Creek River holds the Blue Ribbon River designation which is only given to waterways with excellent water quality & quantity, great water accessibility, natural reproduction capacity for fish species, good angling pressure, and specific species of fish occurring naturally. The Ranch at Rock Creek has private access to 4 pristine miles of Rock Creek!

Travelers enjoy four miles of private access to Rock Creek during a fly fishing vacation

We believe commitment to our guests and our environment goes hand in hand. Thanks to all our guests and our community who’ve given us the opportunity to do what we do for almost 10 years.

It’s time to reduce our impact on our natural world, in gratitude for the incredible, inspiring impact it has on us.



Read about our past Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Awards:

World’s First Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Ranch

Glamping Under the Five Stars

Lasso the Stars: Inclusivity, Culture & Wild Luxury

Celebrating Five-Years as a Family-Friendly Forbes Five-Star