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Category: Around The Ranch

Gratitude and Respite | A Ranch-Wide Recharge

Unplugging During an Unprecedented Year in Travel

By Jon Martin, General Manager at The Ranch at Rock Creek

Thanksgiving is not a day of rest in the hospitality industry. This is when we work harder; it’s when we shine. This year we’re hoping to shine a little brighter because just a little over a week ago, our staff took a four-day vacation, including a blackout of all electronic communications. (Don’t worry, the herds were still fed and the pipes didn’t freeze, and we are grateful for the staff that ensured that).

Ranchers take a trip to the Washington Coast. Photo by Allison Beggs

The Spark

The blackout was like a long, deep breath of fresh air after one of the most challenging years in hospitality. Some might wonder if that is an exaggeration after 2020, and we can understand why. Closing during lock-down and reopening was challenging to be sure. But we slowed our pace, focused on the physical health of our patrons above all else in the face of a new hazard.

In early 2021, after our we became Sharecare Health Security Verified with Forbes Travel Guide and knew we could successfully operate with our safety measures. Our confidence was met by the confidence of travelers. We welcomed many new and return guests that were craving the kind of respite we can offer in our pristine wide-open spaces in Western Montana.

General Manager Jon Martin with wife Brenda on a trip to Denver during the blackout.

We heard time and again that people appreciated being able to travel here and disconnect. Meanwhile, the experiences we had with our travelers were deeper and more meaningful for us as well. People seemed to soak up the beauty of nature; the one-on-one-time spent by our guides and servers; the meticulousness of our housekeeping team; and the creativity of our chefs on a new level, and that helped us feel like a very valued part of our industry.

During this extraordinary time, precautions required us to double our efforts to protect our staff and guests. Working harder, covering shifts when people were exposed to Covid, and other knock-on effects of the pandemic required more from our staff. We could not be more grateful and impressed by how our staff executed their jobs, including receiving our eighth Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award.

The Plan

Despite challenges, our entire team here at The Ranch at Rock Creek, ensured our success. They collectively worked harder than ever to maintain the reputation we have built for 11 years as a premier luxury guest ranch and provided each guest with a heartfelt, memorable experience. As we all know, our success as hospitality professionals is reliant on our ability to empathize with and put our guests’ enjoyment at the forefront of our minds. In order for our team to stay energized for the remainder of the year, I realized they would be well-served by some time off.

Reservations & Revenue Manager and Marketing Manager Josh and Tricia Erickson in Oregon.

We have often taken a short planning break before or after Thanksgiving in preparation of the holiday season. However, I felt a true blackout closure, which not only required everyone to be physically off, but I also forbade anyone from sending emails or having work related calls between employees (with emergencies being the only exception,) would provide more value to our employees. In today’s world even the dinging of our phones on our days off can weigh on our heads – as the perfectionists we all are.

The Adventure

Our staff was not just asked to stay off electronic communication, they were also asked to do something that they are passionate about or wanted to do and haven’t had a chance. For our Reservations and Revenue Manager and Marketing Manager (husband and wife) Josh and Tricia Erickson, this meant taking a long-overdue trip together.

“This 4-day opportunity to disconnect completely from our work allowed my wife and I the time to go explore the Oregon Coast together. This is something we had wanted to do for five years, and we were finally able to do it because of this. We came back more focused and energized and loved the chance to enjoy the part of the world we call home.” ~ Josh Erickson

Ranchers take a trip to Idaho. Photo by Blaine Perez

The 900 Forbes Travel Guide service standards require us to be interconnected in all we do. While the closure removed some of the workplace communication, many deepened their connections with each other on a personal level by adventuring in the West.

“This blackout was a blessing in disguise. I’ve made great friends I know I’ll still be in contact with after our time here is over together. A group of us went to Idaho. It was so much fun, just a great group of people, all with the same mind set of just enjoying life!~ Line Cook Blaine Perez

It is heartening to see our employees from the past 10 years at each other’s weddings, taking vacations, visiting each other across the world and still sharing photos of their time as Ranchers. There are few employees that work here who have not made a lifelong friend.

“With everyone having different work schedules at The Ranch, it can sometimes be difficult to find time to do things together. The blackout allowed us the opportunity to go on trips together and without having to worry about things going on at work in our absence. One of the reasons I came to The Ranch was to be able to explore new places, and during the blackout I was able to visit Washington for the first time with friends that I have made at The Ranch.” ~ Marketing Coordinator Allison Beggs

The Reflection

This time gave me a chance to reflect on what I learned as General Manager in 2020 and 2021. It made me think of the incredible difference it makes to be able to choose four consecutive days to close based on our mental health, rather than close for our safety during a lockdown in a pandemic. The importance of mental health in the service and hospitality industries is often overlooked. Since August 2020, a few months after reopening, we have provided free therapy sessions with a local therapist to those employees who wanted the option. While I realize that these measures are first steps to solving a much larger issue, this year has also served to reaffirm my staunch belief that our employees are our most valuable asset and we will continue to invest in them.

Staff members on the Washington coast. Photo by Allison Beggs

Thank you to our return and future guests for responding to those emails and messages about our blackout with kindness and patience. Thank you for allowing our team to have those four days to rest and recharge. Our staff fished, traveled, hiked, spent time with loved ones, cracked open books and binged watched TV shows. This team that gives their all so that guests can leave their cares behind, got to savor the same feeling together.

We are recharged, reinvigorated and ready to deliver an amazing holiday season to each and every one of our guests who chose The Ranch at Rock Creek. Thank you to all our guests who put their trust in us. If you’re not here with us this weekend, we hope you have a recuperative rest over the long weekend and give yourself a chance to disconnect, like we did.


Category: Around The Ranch

Reviving the Past with Sundance Social Hour

Trails, Trailers and Tales

When I was growing up, the beginning of July meant the end of a 45-mile cattle drive that stretched from my family’s ranch to the mountains near what is now The Ranch at Rock Creek. If you would have told a (rather stubborn) young me that I would one-day be the Digital Media Manager for a place called “The Ranch at Rock Creek” near our summer pasture, I would not have believed you.

Sundance Social Hour Views

Granted it was a time before social media, cell phones and luxury guest ranches in Granite County. (The Ranch at Rock Creek begin welcoming guests in 2010). Despite how the modern world has changed, it’s surprisingly easy to picture myself riding Brandy and trailing cattle – probably because I work for a ranch that spends its days leading guests through Montana pastimes that are actually reminiscent of times past.

Me at 5 riding my dad’s horse a few miles from The Ranch at Rock Creek.

A Ranch-Style Sundowner

Our Sundance Social Hour was a brainchild of Executive Chef Josh Drage, whose creativity with cuisine is only outshined by his ability to connect dining with Montana’s frontier roots. From Cowboy Breakfast, a campfire-cooked meal in a picturesque expanse, to the Overland Route Tasting Menu, inspired by the dining cars on the first passenger trains to California, his menus are always steeped in the history of the West.

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

Chef Drage wanted to find a unique way for guests to relax after a full day of activities and before the evening dinner and revelry began. He liked the African tradition of a “sundowner” which is a social hour that is a refreshing transition from the heat of the day into the relaxing evening, often after a day on safari. The guest experience at The Ranch is often compared to a safari experience because all our events, activities, guides, gear and meals are included in a stay. Read more about it here. He cooked up the idea of buying an old, rusted horse trailer and converting it into a mobile bar.

This is where my family comes in….

Barnyard Treasure

My family’s ranch sits on Montana Highway 1 – most Ranch guests pass by it on their airport transfer from Missoula or Butte. Rusted machinery and cars in ranch fields is pretty normal around here, and our ranch is no exception. You never know when an old wooden plank or metal sheet might be of use.

In our barnyard sat an old little two-horse trailer that once carried my childhood horses, Brandy and Cisco. Baking under the sun, it faded from royal blue to roughly the patina of a cloud-dotted Montana summer sky.

Me, Krista, and my horse Brandy, next to the freshly painted horse trailer.


One day my sister-in-law, and HR Director at The Ranch, Cat Johnson heard that The Ranch at Rock Creek was looking for a horse trailer for a new culinary experience. My dad sold our trailer to The Ranch and Chef Drage’s dream became a reality.

Old Trailer, New Life

Our talented engineering team set out to keep the character of our old horse trailer while giving it a new life at The Ranch. Mechanic John McDonald, who also hails from a longtime ranching family in the County, along with Director of Engineering Michael Heinz, IT Technician Joshua Kitchen, and Engineering team members Brent Babcock, John Monaco, and Stan Kosteczko, retrofitted the trailer to be a luxe cocktail bar with a fold down bar top, pass through window, and room for two bartenders to make you a refreshing summer cocktail.

Mechanic John McDonald working on the trailer.

Sundance roves around The Ranch just like a horse trailer should, parked at different locations throughout the week from Bikini Pond, to the Running of the Horses at our “Paradise and Piney” backroad intersection, or at the Camp Roosevelt Arena. Instead of bringing the proverbial horse to water, with this mobile bar, we bring the “water” to them.

Sundance Social Hour at Paradise Overlook.

Mobile Mountain Magic

Once the trailer was completed, our Ranch Bartending team took the reins. Led by PM Dining Room Manager Abby DeGraw and Bartender Jaitlyn Pettit – the experience blossomed to be the perfect combination of rustic charm and Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star service. Throughout The Ranch there is a deep appreciation for the beauty of the weathered west – from the initials carved into the door of the homestead barn to old saddles as seats and broken sheepskin chaps adorning the walls in the Silver Dollar Saloon. Call it “trash to treasure,” upcycling, or artifact curation – the result is being surrounded by Wild West history.

Sundance Social Hour at Bikini Beach.

Abby and Jaitlyn dreamed up new cocktails that would be refreshing in the hot sun and pair with the patina and stamped metal siding that now adorns the bar.

“I can not tell you the amount of times I’ve heard ‘we need one of these in our backyard.’ However, with Sundance, the uniqueness does not just end at the look but also the cocktails that we feature on the Sundance menu –  like the Rhinestone Cowgirl that we make with a Montana-made honey huckleberry vodka. The combination of uniqueness and fun that Sundance brings to The Ranch has made it one of my favorite projects to work on each week this summer.” ~Sundance Bartender Jaitlyn Pettit

Bartender Jaitlyn Pettit serving up a Rhinestone Cowgirl and Montana-grown cherries during Sundance Social Hour.

Sundance Social Hour will be featured throughout our summer season and during special events year-round. Follow us on Instagram to see it pop up over the fields and mountains across our 6,600 acres. We’re in awe of each of our dedicated Ranchers who have made Sundance Social Hour a new tradition at The Ranch. I’m personally grateful to see a relic of my past bringing people joy each week.

Category: Around The Ranch

6 Ways We’re Celebrating + Supporting Earth Day in 2021

In our 11 years as a guest ranch, we’ve never had a bigger celebration for Earth Day than we’ve had this week. This year we’ve found more ways to say thanks to nature, which has sustained us personally and professionally during the pandemic.

One of 12 boats on our 2021 Clark Fork Cleanup. Photo by organizer and Activities Director Patrick Little.

During 2020, we had to revise our commitment to eliminate single-use plastics in a few small ways when it was necessary for safety protocols. Though we recommit to returning safely to single-use plastic elimination in all areas, we were inspired us to look deeper into our sustainability efforts to see where we could lessen our footprint further to minimize the environmental effects of new safety measures. Here’s a look at what we’ve been doing this week and this year to celebrate the Earth.

1.Resuming our annual Clark Fork Cleanup

In 2015, we launched our first Clark Fork Cleanup along with the Clark Fork Coalition (who oversees cleanups throughout this watershed) and the Philipsburg Brewing Company. (Rock Creek is a tributary to the Clark Fork River.) The Cleanup continued for years.

Due to high water levels and the pandemic, we were forced to go on a hiatus, but on Tuesday, April 20, we resumed the tradition with a total of 12 drift boats and rafts carrying 25 people! The Ranch provided lunch for the crew and removed approximately 1,500 lbs. of trash from 11 miles of the Clark Fork River. This included a kid’s bike, 30 pieces of sheet metal, three large rolls of wire fence and more.

“The Clark Fork river has some of the best trout rivers in Montana flowing into the Clark Fork, yet I feel it’s one of the most polluted big rivers in Montana. When we get great partners Like Trout Unlimited, Clark Fork Coalition, along with local businesses like Philipsburg Brewery, to help us clean up for a day it can really make a difference! Over the years we’ve cleaned up almost 4 tons of garbage and metal out of the same 11 miles of river. You can see the change!” ~ Activities Director Patrick Little

2. Adopting a stretch of highway

This year, our application to adopt four miles of highway near The Ranch was accepted by the Montana Department of Transportation, Adopt a Highway program. We now oversee cleanup efforts between mile marker 41 and 44 of the Skalkaho Highway – the main road that we use to access the unpaved Rock Creek Road that leads to The Ranch.

General Manager Jon Martin and HR Director Cat Johnson help during our first highway cleanup.

Accounting Associate Danna Landry organized our acceptance into this program. “I grew up in Philipsburg. My childhood memories are full of green grass, flowers, blue skies, and pristine spaces as far as the eye can see. I want others to have the same memories as I do, and it begins when each of us takes just a little time to contribute. It was my way of giving back to a place that has taken care of me.”

On Wednesday, April 21, a crew of seven ranchers removed 12 bags of trash. Those involved commented that is was surprising how many things they removed were there for decades. They even found now-obsolete pull-top cans hidden in embankments with other trash. This hidden trash could have easily been washed into Rock Creek. A cleanup will happen every spring and more often if we see the need.

Director of Rooms Linda Walser finds litter during the cleanup on April 21st.

3. Hosting a blood drive in our Buckle Barn

Covid-19 impacted the Red Cross’ ability to do blood drives, reducing its blood supply. For people in Philipsburg, that makes it significantly harder to donate because we are 90 minutes from the nearest donation locations. When one of our beloved long-time employees was diagnosed with cancer in January, Assistant Pastry Chef Flynn Hall saw the number of blood donations that staff member needed to fight cancer and scheduled a blood drive as soon as the Red Cross resumed them.

A Red Cross van parks outside the Buckle Barn where 15 people donated blood on April 20.

The blood drive took place on Tuesday, April 20 in our Buckle Barn and 15 people, including Flynn herself, donated blood. The Red Cross remarked how many first-time blood donors there were. Encouraging new blood donors is important step in providing enough blood to emergency room, cancer and chronically ill patients. It is one another addition to our community sustainability efforts that we hope to continue in the future.

Nest Supervisor Katie Tobin and Controller Angie Scantling donate blood during the drive.

“My cousin Caitie was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at the same time one of our Ranchers was diagnosed with AML as well. Patients often need blood transfusions, due to a low count of red blood cells and platelets. I was unable to attend a blood drive back home so I thought it’s a good cause in honor of someone we love at The Ranch. It was really gratifying to see everyone supporting the cause as a donor, organizer or providing food for the event.” ~ Assistant Pastry Chef Flynn Hall

4. Installing a Trout Unlimited fish screen

This winter and spring, and through snowstorms and rain, Trout Unlimited constructed a fish screen on an irrigation headgate on The Ranch to protect fish populations that were swimming into irrigation ditches and dying as those seasonal ditches dried up.

Construction of the fish screen on The Ranch at Rock Creek. Photo Courtesy of @troutunlimitedcf

Trout Unlimited has raised funds to revise the headgates in agricultural areas throughout the Clark Fork watershed and beyond. While this meant a large construction project would have to take place for months on one of our most frequented areas of Rock Creek, we knew that this was an essential step in protecting the creek we love. The fish screen is designed to regulate flow like a normal headgate, but also let water flow through holes in a steel plate while fish and debris are ushered into a tube that returns them to the main channel of Rock Creek. During the research portion of this project Trout Unlimited discovered there were 14-16 inch brown trout making their way into irrigation ditches, which will now safely stay in their natural habitat.

fish screen projects help promote more sustainable waterways

An example of the Trout Unlimited fish screen working in the warmer months.

The Rock Creek director of this Trout Unlimited Clark Fork project, Tess Scanlon, has taken on an incredible amount of work to make this happen. While the construction took place on our land, the irrigation ditch that was installed does not serve our own irrigation ditch, but rather the irrigation for three ranches down the road. Conservation efforts are rarely done quickly. Trout Unlimited, those ranch owners, and The Ranch at Rock Creek, had to work together for years to make this a reality. Tess wrote a blog about these efforts two years ago. They require an incredible amount of community participation, organizational oversight and planning. We thank Trout Unlimited, Tess Scanlon and the construction crew for their commitment to protecting the streams in our area.

General Manager Jon Martin said, “The Clark Fork Cleanup, the Trout Unlimited fish screen and the highway cleanup extend how we can protect Rock Creek. It’s not just about the 52 miles on Rock Creek. It’s about protecting the tributaries upstream and the watershed downstream.”

5. Starting on-Ranch glass reuse

One of the major reasons we strived to eliminate single-use plastics in 2019 was that nearly all recycling was removed from our frontier county. Now, as we prioritize safety protocols that require some single-use plastics, we look for alternatives to using those plastics along with other meaningful ways to reduce our footprint.

Aluminum is one of the few materials that can still be recycled in our area. We both recycle and support local businesses like Philipsburg Brewing Company and Montana Silver Springs that bottle with recyclable aluminum and create containers that can be reused.

We’ve long sought to close the loop on even this practice, so we’ve just completed the purchase of a glass crusher which will turn glass into sand to use on property. This will allow us to prioritize glass containers because they can be directly put to use on property.

As GM Jon Martin said, “The bottle of wine that you enjoy today with dinner can be under foot at Bikini Beach pond tomorrow.”

The dock at Bikini Beach is a great place for yoga, a picnic or a quick dip during a summer vacation

If you’ve just read for the first time about these efforts, they are adding to a multitude of other practices, such as composting, local purchasing and community philanthropy. We detail our other ongoing efforts on a special sustainability page, from reducing vehicle traffic and emissions to recycling brass from our shooting ranges and replacing all lights with LEDs.

“I think it’s our progression toward sustainability that is important. In 2020, we had an excuse to bring back single-use plastics, but we are striving not to do it where it’s not absolutely necessary. When we make changes, we always ask “Is this sustainable? Is this good for the environment? And we try to make the most environmentally friendly choice while retaining our high Forbes Travel Guide standards.” ~ Director of Rooms Linda Walser

6. Educating guests and staff on the importance of sustainability

One very important piece of sustainability is educating our staff and guests about conservation efforts.

“Our endeavors for a more sustainable work place, are also great ways for staff to invest in this area. Whether they are here long term or for a season, the beauty of Montana is often what inspires them to come out here and work for us.”  ~ HR Director Cat Johnson

Recently Virtuoso featured Master Naturalist and Activities Manager Kelsey McGlothlin in an article called, “Big Sky School.

Master Naturalist Kelsey McGlothlin leads a Master Naturalist class with Centano’s daughters. Photo courtesy Joel Centano/Virtuoso.

Writer Joel Centano explains how he tried to impart information about environmentalism to his daughters, but it wasn’t until their stay at The Ranch that they realized the impact they had on the environment around them.

“Ranch stays include plenty of other ways to continue the conversation that won’t feel like you’re forcing your kids to eat their vegetables. A fleet of specialized bikes replaces cars to encourage carbon-free wanderings around the property’s 6,600 protected acres. Art classes by the creek show how green spaces spur creativity. Visits to the apiary illuminate how bees sustain food supplies. Fly-fishing guides preach catch-and-release and lead cleanups to remove refuse from nearby rivers.” ~ Joel Centano, Virtuoso

Centano’s daughter shares her master naturalist journal. Photo courtesy Joel Centano/Virtuoso.

Our Ride Along with a Rancher activity also teaches how our Ranching Manager Rob Laird and Barn Manager Hailey Laird are developing our own cattle herd to close the loop on our beef supply, while Executive Chef Josh Drage sources our meat and produce from over 100 local and regional farms and ranches. Every department is empowered to keep sustainability a priority in their decisions and development.

Mother Nature has been so good to us, and our gratitude must be expressed in lasting, meaningful action to protect her for future generations.

Read more about our sustainability efforts here.

Category: Around The Ranch

Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star Award + The Bright Side of 2020

On the Bright Side

2021 is looking brighter. The first reason is we’ve just earned our 8th consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award! We are proud of that achievement in a normal year, but during a pandemic, we are thrilled that our staff’s dedication is being recognized for the incredible that feat it is. We congratulate each property that achieved a Forbes Travel Guide destination, judged on 900 separate standards, even as the rules of travel were being rewritten.

General Manager Jon Martin added, “Early in 2020 we were faced with adjusting to a growing pandemic as we tried to anticipate how it would affect our business. Our focus for the entirety of 2020 was to prioritize the safety of our guests, employees and community, without diminishing our levels of service.  Each and every member of our team made adjustments and added new service experiences whenever we had to remove something in response to the pandemic.”

Stars at The Ranch during the announcement that The Ranch has won the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the 8th consecutive year
The Ranch’s summer starscape from Top of the World peak. Photo by Robert Cole Photography.

“When we could have easily found excuses, our team found solutions. It is an honor to see their hard work and dedication rewarded.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

We closed in March and reopened with strict protocols that have proved extremely effective. As we approach a year since our closure, we are looking back to see what has allowed us to remain successful – an exercise in counting our blessings, because we have so many things we are grateful for despite a tough year. We hope you’ll enjoy a helping of stardust from today’s happy announcement.

5 Silver Linings from 2020

1.Rooting in Nature

From the moment The Ranch at Rock Creek became a guest ranch, almost 11 years ago, owner Jim Manley wanted the experience to be rooted in nature. Guests received a bike upon check in for transportation but they were also encouraged to walk and take in the scenery. At a minimum, they would see more wildlife, but more likely, they would adopt a slower pace of Ranch life. This act of trading horsepower for horses and bikes would give us the break we all need on vacation – trading daily stresses and routine for a deeper connection to the world around us.

a corporate group mountain bikes across The Ranch's trailsCross-country biking on our new trails.

We invested in e-bikes to empower our guests to ride around the property and tackle our new cross-country mountain bike trails, and we encouraged people to spend more of the day outside than they would in the course of their daily life. We developed 12 new activities, including sapphire mining, with gravel from the Sapphire Mountains that abut The Ranch, Ride Along with a Rancher, Respite on Rock Creek, and a five peaks challenge. We found over the course of the year that these were competing with horseback riding, fly fishing and shooting sports for the honor of being some of our guests’ favorite activities.

British TV presenter Simon Reeve recently wrote about travel in a recent piece for The Telegraph “Travel is part of our make-up – we need it in our lives. Montana, in a land of neck-craning views, where vast skies are a stage for troupes of dancing clouds, possibilities for adventure are endless. A higher end option for exploring the landscape, The Ranch at Rock Creek offers horse-riding, hiking trails and a chance to test your limits with a survival course in frontier skills.”

2. Lower Capacity, Higher Connection

Upon reopening we lowered our capacity to 60% in the summer and 40% in the winter. Many businesses had to make this change to keep indoor environments safe, even as they knew it would limit the viability of their business. Our dining team pivoted to make experiences customizable to people’s comfort levels – whether they were comfortable dining in our dining rooms or in their accommodation.

Food & Beverage Manager Marilyn D’Angelo said, “As peoples’ comfort levels differed, we needed to engage guests on an individual level. We have always styled cuisine to their needs, but now serving had to be styled and customized. The result is that we got to know them even better. We were socially distant but we gained a better connection to our guests.”

A couple enjoy coffee in rocking chairs outside their creekside glamping cabin at The Ranch at Rock Creek
A couple enjoys coffee on the porch of one of our creekside glamping cabins.

Fresh pastries from our French-trained pastry chef are the best way to start a morning, which is why they’ve been a staple in the Great Room for years. We pivoted into personal service – delivering coffee & pastry orders to our guests each morning to avoid an influx of people in the Granite Lodge. Feedback showed our guests loved reading the news on their scenic porch with their favorite coffee and decadent pastries before heading to their breakfast reservation. Likewise, we created Happy Hour on the Porch as an option for the summer, where a bartender would bring hors d’oeuvres and make an artisan cocktail on their porch at golden hour.

Watch our Relais & Châteaux Delicious Journeys film about Preserving the Legendary West thorough our cuisine.

These new dining experiences posed challenges, but Executive Chef Drage has always sought ways to meld the Montana farm and ranch landscape that produces the ingredients with the elevated finished product. This year our team achieved that in weekly Cowboy Breakfasts on Piney Pond and with daily experiences on the Aspen Deck or on the Granite Lodge Patio.

3.Off the Beaten Career Path

When you live and work in the middle of nowhere like we do, you learn to approach work ready to lend a helping hand. Our employees are trained in ranch-wide Forbes Travel Guide standards and most of our employees train in multiple departments. That was a key to our success this year. Employees were paid to stay home when they were feeling ill, encouraged to seek testing immediately, and given a safe environment to quarantine–with management ensuring that they have everything they needed to be comfortable. When these precautions took place, our staff stepped up to cover for other departments that needed help.

Masseuse Candace Sellman
Spa Massage Therapist, Supervisor and Employee of the Year Winner Candace Sellman (photo taken in 2018).

This was a silver lining, but it also led to other unforeseen benefits – people in different departments became closer and people felt they were in this together. We even created an Employee of the Year category called “Mountain Mover.” The winner, Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman, helped in housekeeping, food & beverage and transportation – doling out a dose of her positivity to each department she helped.

Manager of the Year Award Winner, Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry noted, “Staff came together more than ever before, but you could also see them developing new skills, venturing into areas they may not have tried if it wasn’t for this pandemic. I saw a number of employees find new career paths where they feel even more fulfilled with the work they do and resolved to stay longer in a place they felt even more at home.”

4.Safety as a Foundation

Other employees stood out in their commitment to making The Ranch a safer place. Our HR Manager Cat Johnson believes that this process began with management’s approach to the pandemic, “We count ourselves very fortunate to have ownership that was inclined to keep and support staff we had hired for the year and those that are with us long-term. Our staff is instrumental in the guest service for which we are known. Being able to avoid mass layoffs was an incredible boon for us. It helped that our staff was on board for our newly implemented protocols.”

“These protocols still allowed them to take pride in what they do, where they are and maintain a genuine desire to provide our guests with an amazing experience.” ~ HR Manager Cat Johnson

Group snowshoeing at The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
Lead Fly Fishing Guide Eli Smith leads a staff snowshoeing adventure (taken in 2019).

Safety and preparedness play an important part of life in frontier Montana. Recreating responsibly took on a whole new meaning this year as emergency and hospital services were stretched across the country. Another Employee of the Year, Homestead Hero, Eli Smith, was recognized for making The Ranch safer by being an EMT, but for also watching out for ways employees and guests could be safer.

Activities Director Patrick Little is certified to train EMTs and has done so for years. We often have multiple EMTS on property and our community is also safer because we feed more emergency personnel into Granite County. We’ve made countless upgrades to safety, from our horse mounting deck to cleaning procedures that guests may not notice, but have resulted in a foundation of enhanced service standards.

5.Mindful Management

An elevated appreciation for mental health has been imbued into travel and hospitality – an industry known for long shifts and a work hard, play hard mentality. This year has allowed us to put ever more value into work/life balance. The Ranch paid for employees’ health insurance during closure; we encouraged staff to speak with General Manager Jon Martin with any concerns; and when we reopened, we brought in a local therapist to provide free one-on-one sessions with our staff members. The accessibility of a mental health therapist led employees that might not have sought help to find it, but it also emboldened a spirit of mental health support that helped us all. The Ranch was named a Community Leader in the 2020 Trip Savvy Editor’s Choice Awards for our efforts in supporting employees and the environment in 2020.

Woman reads a book by the banks of Rock Creek in Montana
Respite on Rock Creek

We believed that having a healthy staff would also help keep our guests safe. Meanwhile, we found our guests reducing their mental and physical stresses while at The Ranch, just like we were as we skied, hiked and biked the stress away in our time off. Our Granite Spa opened up with a litany of new safe protocols which have been extremely effective. We noticed a spirit of people wanting to take better care of themselves. More than any other year, we’ve seen our guests rebook spa services during their stay. Our spa team heard so many stories of people appreciating the healing power of touch in a year when it’s so markedly missing. A massage can help sooth muscles, but it also has the ability to fill a basic human need of connection to others.

Our meditation and Art in Nature activities both provided a therapeutic approach for guests. These activities, as well as no touch treatments like wildcrafting, tea blending and Respite on Rock Creek have inspired us to offer our inaugural Roam & Restore Wellness Weekend this spring – using what we’ve learned through the year to help people reconnect and learn skills to better handle the stressors of pandemic life.

As we look forward to 2021, we are emboldened that our efforts have resulted in better experiences for both employees and guests. Thanks to each of our guests for putting your confidence in us and writing to us or reviewing us on TripAdvisor. Your business and feedback has been invaluable.

As Forbes Travel Guide Editor Jennifer Kester wrote today, “Even in the midst of a global pandemic, service remains paramount. It’s more important than ever before that properties demonstrate the utmost regard for their guests’ wellbeing: 75 percent of a hotel’s rating is based on its service and genuine care and concern shown by the staff, while 25 percent is determined by the quality of its facilities.When you’re ready to travel again—whether it’s to embark on a far-flung escape or a low-key staycation—check into one of the best hotels in the world.”

The pandemic reminded us that we never know what tomorrow will bring, but we know our team has shined light on the path ahead. We look forward to sharing our sky high standards with more of you in the coming years.

Category: Around The Ranch

The Staff at Rock Creek: 2020 Employees of the Year

Employees of the Year

Exceptional Stars of an Exceptional Year

This year we’ve relied on our staff’s dedication, versatility and above-and-beyond service approach to make our way through the changing landscape of the hospitality industry. We closed during Montana’s stay-at-home order and when we reopened, the stakes were higher. We spent months changing everything we’d fine-tuned over our first ten years in an effort to protect those who we relied on. Management stated from day one that employee safety had to be established before we could safely welcome back guests.

Barn Manager Hailey and Wrangler Brittney care for horses on Whiskey Ridge at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Thanks to The Ranch’s 6,600 acres, new social distancing protocols were adapted on all activities.

Though we are a small operation in the hospitality world, The Ranch at Rock Creek is the largest employer in Granite County. 180 jobs were at risk if we couldn’t reopen. And we could only reopen if our staff redoubled their safety efforts, covered shifts for any staff member staying home when they weren’t feeling well, and became proficient at executing the new standards we required. Last year, we recognized only three people, but we had to expand our employee of the year award to include the exceptional efforts these seven individuals achieved this year. It was far from just these people that took that commitment seriously, but we are very pleased to recognize the year’s shining stars. Thank you, sincerely, to all our staff for your commitment during a hard year, and thank you to our guests for supporting the safety efforts we put in place.


Mountain Mover: Candace Sellman, Spa Supervisor

Our Mountain Mover award winner is always going the extra mile to help their teammates, cover shifts and be flexible with scheduling. They understand that a ranch requires the wearing of many hats and understanding the extraordinary times call for flexibility and positivity. Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman is the epitome of Mountain Mover, helping out with dishwashing, housekeeping and driving while creating a safe experience in the spa. If you’ve ever had a massage from Candace, you’ll know she is exceptional at her most specialized role, but she seems capable of anything she puts her mind to.

Employee of the Year Candace Sellman
Mountain Mover Candace Sellman

“Candace is a rock star in every way you look at her. She gives incredible treatments, she handles operations in spa, she looks for any other people she can assist when she is not busy with her primary position. This year she has been a vital helper with housekeeping, food and beverage, and laundry, often coming in before or staying after her schedule in the Granite Spa. She has done the same with assisting the front desk in doing drives. We love her and appreciate every thing she does for The Ranch as a whole!” ~ Spa Manager Brooke Bucher


Master Ranchers: Ranch Manager Rob Laird and HVAC Technician David Todd

Our master ranchers excel at specialized skills that serve to enhance both their department and The Ranch in general. “Rancher” means many things at our property because we are both a working cattle ranch and a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch. We have two winners in this category because it’s impossible to separate the importance of the agricultural and tourism operations of our ranch.

Employee of the Year Rob Laird
Master Rancher Rob Laird with his daughter, Barn Manager Hailey Laird

“Not only does Rob have the skills and work ethic developed over a lifetime of ranching in the region, Rob ALWAYS takes the time to teach. He is always there to answer a million questions and teach us anything and everything we could ever want to know. It could be about fencing, calving, pasture rotation, bovine pink eye (in the summer or winter, it is different I now know), the breeding process, throwing a rope, getting your horse to turn on a cow, trimming a hoof and more. It is his quiet leadership and guidance that makes him most special to me and our department. He shares this knowledge with our guests through the Ride Along with a Rancher activity.” ~ Lead Wrangler Ariel Roselle

Employee of the Year David Todd
Master Rancher David Todd

“David consistently goes above and beyond his HVAC role at the ranch. His skillset allows him to work on so many different pieces of equipment around The Ranch, including boilers, furnaces, refrigerators, chillers, ice machines and all sorts of kitchen equipment, and he is able to fix everything he works on. David always has a positive attitude and is willing to take on any project no matter the difficulty or duration and works whatever hours are necessary to complete his work without interfering with other ranch operations. I am happy to have him as a part of the team.” ~ Engineering Director Michael Heinz


Homestead Hero: Lead Fly Fishing Guide Eli Smith

Our homestead hero is chosen from the many safety-conscious team leaders. During Covid and in the Montana wilderness, the adventurous (and occasionally dangerous) task of navigating inclement weather and outdoor adventures, our hero ensures The Ranch is always running as safely as possible. For Eli this was anything from mask wearing, social distancing, lightning warnings to emergency preparedness and his role as a local first-responder.

Employee of the Year Eli Smith
Homestead Hero Eli Smith

“Eli is a nose to the grindstone worker. His knowledge of what it needs to be a professional guide and outdoorsman is only amplified by his skills as an EMT. His calm demeanor and professionalism have led our ranch team and community through emergency situations with grace and yes, safety first always.” ~ Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns


Ranch Trailblazer: Front Desk Agent Glory Aulik

Our Ranch Trailblazer shows exceptional leadership skills, stepping in during times of need to take charge and ensure The Ranch runs smoothly. Always leading by example, winner Glory remains cool, collective and cheerful – always ready to lead by example.

Employee of the Year Glory Aulik
Ranch Trailblazer Glory Aulik

“From the day Glory started she has been making improvements at The Ranch. Guests and employees alike benefit from her positive attitude, efficiency and willingness to create memorable experiences. Her natural ability to lead and her desire for excellence makes her a real Ranch Trailblazer.” ~ Director of Rooms Linda Walser


Service Superstar: Server Kayden Windsor

In our seventh consecutive year as a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star property, our service-driven staff shines in what we refer to as “homestead hospitality” – an approach that values service and personality equally. Kayden is a perfect example of someone who is able to deliver a personalized touch and show a sincere interest in providing a Five-Star experience.

Employee of the Year Kayden Windsor
Service Superstar Kayden Windsor

“The energy that Kayden brings to The Ranch at Rock Creek is contagious-during 2020 it’s the one thing you want to catch. His attitude sets the tone for service and the mood, not only in the dining room, but across The Ranch. Not only does he work tirelessly in the Food and Beverage department he has helped out in housekeeping, at the Front Desk and on drives. He has the energy of a Christmas elf, 365 days a year. Kayden is second to none when it comes to Hospitality; it comes naturally to him and we are lucky to have him on our team at the Ranch. As steady as the sun comes up every morning so does Kayden come to work with a smile on his face.” ~ Food & Beverage Director Christina Wernikowski


Manager of the Year: Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry

Our Managers have worked especially hard this year, so often working tirelessly in the day-to-day operations and managing personnel and service standards at the same time. Housekeeping is the backbone of any property, but especially in this year that required a sky-high level of spotlessness. Stephanie worked at The Ranch for its previous owner, before it was a guest ranch, almost 14 years ago. Since returning she has been a force at The Ranch, never accepting “good enough” and managing her housekeeping team with compassion and spirit.

Manager of the Year Stephanie Boutry
Manager of the Year Stephanie Boutry

“It would be impossible to be a successful luxury property without our great Housekeeping team, led for over two years by Stephanie.  She is both compassionate and driven by perfection. Every time we walk through a room to inspect, Stephanie looks for ways to improve our guests’ experience. No detail is too small and our guests regularly comment about how great the Housekeeping team is and how impressed they are with the thoughtful touches they return to in their room like eyeglass cleaner placed next to their glasses.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin


Thanks to all our staff who kept us going through this particularly challenging year. We know that our second decade will be even better than the first, if we’re able to surmount these challenges and improve the guest experience.

Category: Around The Ranch

Shop Small | Philipsburg Brewing Company Banana Bread Recipe

We’re celebrating American Craft Beer Week with local, award-winning small business Philipsburg Brewing Company and their Corner’s Porter Dark Chocolate Banana Bread recipe. Below, Sales and Marketing Manager Maddy Mason shares her connection to The Ranch at Rock Creek, her love for banana bread and how this recipe came to be.

We’re also hosting six days of contests to celebrate our Instagram community reaching 60K followers. Please go to @theranchatrockcreek to read more and learn how to enter.

Corner’s Porter Banana Bread Recipe

Philipsburg Brewing Company Dark Chocolate Porter Banana Bread Recipe


Category: Around The Ranch

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


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


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


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…

Category: Around The Ranch

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…

Category: Around The Ranch

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:

Sustainability Program

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

Category: Around The Ranch

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