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Category: Around The Ranch

Working Happy for Our 9th Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star

The Ranch at Rock Creek Earns 9th Consecutive 5-Star Award

Aerial view of The Ranch at Rock Creek

Living out in the wild, it’s easy to disconnect from the buzz of modern life. But every year when we learn we’ve won another Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star, we feel connected to all the hotels who’ve faced all the challenges of the year and achieved the apex of service standards in the hospitality industry. As we think about the meaning of our 9th consecutive five-star award, we want to congratulate our fellow star winners across the globe, and especially each and every member of The Ranch at Rock Creek family.

“COVID has brought many challenges to our industry. However, this team was purposeful in their efforts to stay the course, never cut corners, and provide the level of service that The Ranch at Rock Creek is known for. This team worked the hardest they ever have, and they did it with a smile to provide that respite for our guests during challenging times.” ~ General Manager Jeremy Belnap

Work Here, Work Happy Finalist in the Best-of-the-Year Awards

This year’s award comes with the dual honor of being chosen as a finalist for the Forbes Travel Guide’s Best-of-the-Year Awards accolade “Work Here, Work Happy.” Forbes Travel Guide selects its finalists from hotels, restaurants, spas or brands that have implemented creative ways to attract and retain staff. Most businesses, let alone most hotels, have struggled to be fully staffed in the past few years as they provide a COVID-19 safe workplace. People across the country reevaluated how they wanted to work and live.

The Ranch at Rock Creek Staff gathered at our 2022 Ranch Olympics

This time of great change at work mirrored a time of great change in travel. More than ever, people were breaking away from normal routine, in search of more meaningful interactions with their families and their environment. While many industries could offer remote work, Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star service is in-person, attentive, and built on meaningful connections. Work from home is not an option in hospitality. At The Ranch at Rock Creek, we offer something a little different, work from the wild.

The Ranch at Rock Creek's hiking trails lead to stunning meadows, peaks and forests
The Ranch at Rock Creek nestled between the John Long, Sapphire and Pintler mountain ranges.

Working Happy at The Ranch at Rock Creek

How does one work happy? There are as many answers to that question as there are people, but it was our Executive Committee’s job to try to improve the overall happiness of our staff in ways that would be meaningful. Assistant General Manager Linda Walser explained several ways we approached this question,

“This year we raised our minimum wage to help address the increased cost of living. We provide free housing for all staff living on property and for the full-time staff members who have chosen to live off-property we implemented a housing stipend to offset the cost of living. We recognize that money isn’t the only answer, but part of the equation. We wanted to encourage our staff to prioritize their mental health and give them a safe space to talk through the challenges that they face. We scheduled a licensed therapist to provide on-Ranch monthly therapy sessions, free of cost to our staff. We also had a mandatory recovery blackout before the holidays. We did not allow our staff to work, but encouraged them to get out and do something they enjoy.” 

Hiking at The Ranch at Rock Creek

Other benefits include staff activities and instruction so that employees can make the most of our epic location; ski passes for full-time staff; a staff bike program, shuttles and two daily meals; EMT and other training opportunities; Ranch family meals, and more. Learn more about staff perks here.

“I think now more than ever, people really appreciate the ability to be happy with what they do for a living. Working for The Ranch at Rock Creek for the past year has given me that. The drive delivers stunning views of Big Sky Country and an abundance of wildlife. I’m greeted by my smiling coworkers and friends. A warm work environment paired with the ability to help guests make their Montana getaway dreams come true has created the perfect work environment for me.” ~Reservations Agent Kelsey Shaver

It’s our employees that execute up to 900 service standards daily, so it’s only right that they help answer this question in their own words.

Location, Location, Location

Perhaps the biggest initial draw to The Ranch is its breathtaking, remote location. People looking for a change can trade car horns for pronghorns.

A moose drinks from Welcome Pond at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana
A bull moose dines on aquatic plants at Welcome Pond. Photo by Kelsey McGlothlin.

“I moved out from the Chicago area two years ago without ever even being to Montana, and a big reason I took such a large step outside of my comfort zone was because of the first impression I got of The Ranch and the people who worked there. It definitely took some adjusting to rural life, but the scenery is unmatched and in my opinion some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. I hope to spend many more fun-filled seasons here at The Ranch!” ~ Michael Novak, HR Associate

The staff who work here possess an adventurous spirit. They live next to a Blue Ribbon trout stream and many hike to and from work. For workers who join us for our peak season from May through September, they can spend the long days enjoying mile-high views, easy access to camping on their days off and the chance to learn lifelong hobbies. For those who stay year-round, they live 30 minutes from a ski hill that’s considered by National Geographic as one of the Best-Kept Secrets in North America, and those with families can raise their kids closer to nature, with on-site childcare provided by The Nest at Rock Creek.

Wranglers on Horses on the Fourth of July

“I moved to Montana to work at The Ranch at Rock Creek because the people seem genuinely happy to be here. It’s encouraged to enjoy your surroundings (what isn’t to love about the nature that surrounds us here?) I would have the opportunity to not only excel at my job but in the industry too.” ~ Front Office Manager Brooke Hudsmith

Ranch Community, Ranch Family

Another benefit is living and working with people who value living a wilder life out West. Lifelong friendships are forged on hikes to Top of the World, camping trips, float trips and nights around the campfires at staff housing.

The Ranch's staff housing is nestled in the Montana wilderness, just a short walk or ride from the Granite Lodge.
Staff housing sits near Blue Ribbon Rock Creek and just below Top of the World peak

“Living in staff housing has allowed me to form great friendships, and at the end of the day it feels like I’m part of a big family. I am very grateful for my time here at The Ranch at Rock Creek. I believe it is also such a happy place to work because of our leaders, our managers. They truly care and go the extra mile for us.” ~ Liana Day, Room Attendant

Our staff excel at anticipating guests’ needs, and this may be because they also looked for a place to get away, find respite and relax in the middle of nowhere before they applied to The Ranch.

Lead AM Cook Aidan Garison came to The Ranch from North Carolina after working in a pizza restaurant. He loved the willingness of his managers and co-workers to teach him new methods as a line cook. After a few months, he was cooking outside on cast-iron Dutch ovens and was promoted to Lead AM Cook. He invited several of his best friends to come out and work with him.

Cowboy Breakfast at Piney Pond
Lead AM Cook Aidan Garison cooks a a Dutch oven Cowboy Breakfast.

“It’s a place where your hard work pays off. The guests are receptive and friendly, saying this is one of the best breakfasts they’ve ever had, while they eat outside next to a pond in the middle of Montana. The staff accepted me and guided me, which gave me an incentive to work harder. Managers are receptive to personal requests. There are a lot of jobs where there are no exceptions and that’s not how it is here.” ~ Aidan Garison

Passion Inspires Happy Work

Owner Jim Manley is passionate about providing the best ranch experience in the world, after he searched the American West for 20 years to find the perfect ranch for his family.

Passion projects are part of The Ranch, including converting this old horse trailer into a mobile bar.

The Ranch has also retained many of its leaders. Executive Chef Josh Drage, Activities Director Patrick Little, Kitchen Manager Kelly Fernatt and Maintenance Lead Mike O’Dell have all worked at The Ranch since the beginning 12 years ago. Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry worked here before it became a guest ranch, and 10 years later she returned and won the Manager of the Year Award. General Manager Linda Walser started as a server and moved up the ranks before becoming second-in-command. Their passion is inspiring for those looking to excel in the hospitality industry.

PM Events Lead Kayden Windsor, explained how important this passion was to him in his first days here, “When I was an intern at The Ranch at Rock Creek Executive Chef, Josh Drage was flawless in his execution of instilling his passion in his team members. He shared with me the craftsmanship that went into each element. The way he spoke about it fueled my fire to be the best I could be each day to ensure our final product went out to our guests as perfectly as we could achieve.”

Executive Chef Josh Drage
Executive Chef Josh Drage

“I believe that passion and happiness are closely aligned. When one fades, the other follows which leads to fatigue, increased stress and an unbalanced life. The Ranch encourages its team to enjoy the astonishing nature we are surrounded by and the tight-knit community we all become a part of by being in Philipsburg, Montana. All the practices and ethics this property exemplifies encourage my passion to be the best in the hospitality industry.” ~ Kayden Windsor

We can’t thank our staff enough for all they do. They are the stars of our TripAdvisor reviews for good reason. See below for a few snippets just from our April reviews:

“The staff could not do enough for you – Thank you MaKenna, Brian, Sam, Max, Hannah, Linda, Brook and all the others who took such good care of us!”

“The staff is superb. They made us feel like VIPs from the minute our driver, Neil, met us at the airport.”

“Every single staff member is so nice and the service is world-class.”

If you missed our Earth Week sustainability blog, please take a look at the 22 initiatives our Ranchers support on a daily basis as they provide world-class service to our guests.

Ranch staff at last week's Clark Fork Cleanup
Ranchers on last week’s Clark Fork River Cleanup.

“I feel that with this great change, we have only become better at what we do; making our guests feel special, everyone is a VIP on our watch. I love coming to work knowing that I am part of something bigger than a paycheck; we have a purpose and succeed at all we try for with a united front. I’ve never worked anywhere like The Ranch and that makes me happy to work here.” ~ Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman

Our Ranchers’ dedication has made The Ranch a happy place to work and also a supportive community. It’s the team that inspires us to work harder, happier and a little wilder.

Visit our Careers page to see our current listings and join our team. You can also follow us on LinkedIn. Watch the video below and, if you’re looking for a change, consider making the mountains your office.

Category: Around The Ranch

22 Active Sustainability Initiatives in 2022

22 Ways We’re Reducing Our Environmental Impact

As a destination rooted in the landscape, there isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t consider the importance of the natural world that surrounds us. Each year on Earth Day, we take stock of what progress we’ve made toward being a more sustainable resort.

Three guests horseback riding along the creek surrounded by trees

Each department is connected to this goal – from Owner Jim Manley to the staff members who live on-property and hike or bike to work, sometimes waking up to the sound of clashing Bighorn sheep curls outside staff housing.

Since we eliminated most single-use plastics in 2019, we’ve sought more ways to reduce our footprint. In 2021 we shared six sustainable practices. This year, on April 22, 2022, we’re sharing 22 of our initiatives.

Reducing Emissions

1. Walking and biking on propertySince Jim Manley started The Ranch at Rock Creek 12 years ago, his goal was for guests to see the property on foot or by bike, nearly eliminating vehicle traffic. He knew from experience it would be better for the eco-system and allow guests to unplug and see more wildlife.

two guests ride their bikes through the Ranch at Rock Creek arch

2. On-property staff housing & staff shuttlesWe provide staff housing, greatly reducing traffic, and provide shuttles and a staff bike program.
3. Solar powered lights on walkways – After dark, these solar-powered lights allow guests to walk to their accommodations safely.
4. LED lights throughout the resort– We’ve use LED lights throughout The Ranch. When upgrades become necessary, we are dedicated to finding ways to reduce our footprint in accommodations and in public spaces.

Sourcing Locally

5. Locally sourced beverages – We love our local brewers, cider makers and distillers – Philipsburg Brewing Company is located just 20 minutes away and Western Cider, Montgomery Distillery and Black Coffee Roasting Company, based in Missoula, are just a few of our favorite suppliers. They keep us in good spirits!
6. Sourcing ingredients from 100 local purveyors – Our culinary program under Executive Chef Josh Drage sources from over 100 local farms and ranches, most notably from Western Montana Growers Co-op who works with so many local companies, and Clark Fork Organics.

A table filled with fresh produce is just a portion of the fall harvest that we'll featuring during Autumn Harvest Weekend
7. Sourcing straight from Granite County – Our culinary team sources eggs from Farmer Boy Eggs in Drummond, Montana and greens and veggies from Frost Pocket Farms in Philipsburg. Using farms in our county mean less plastic, less fuel and a fresher product.

“Local sourcing means fewer plastic bags, fewer plastic clamshells of produce/fruit shipped across the country, less refrigeration in holding facilities, less fuel to transport and the list goes on… Being part of something like this over time that is bigger than us makes a huge difference in the soil, water and carbon footprint of our community. Produce with Clark Fork Organics is put into reusable farmer market bags and cardboard boxes, and not single use molded plastic container that ends up in the landfill for eternity.” ~ Executive Chef Josh Drage

8. Engineering a closed-loop cattle program – Every year our ranching team comes closer toward the goal of a closed-loop cattle program. Closing the loop means raising our own beef for use in our dining program. Our Cattle Manager Rob Laird helps teach our guests about this process and how it will reduce our footprint in our Ride Along with a Rancher activity, which is part of our all-inclusive activities program.
9. Supporting sustainable farming education in our community – 2022 marks our 10-year partnership with this leader in luxury travel. To celebrate we are auctioning off a ‘Delicious Journey’ – a once in a lifetime experience. Our bidders will help us support sustainable farming education for the children in our community. Visit the auction or make a donation here.

Responsible Recreation

10. Practicing catch and release fishing – Our fly fishing program is centered in the sustainable practice of catch and release. Our mountain-fed stream is one of the few places where non-hybridized, native cutthroat exist in Montana despite coexistence with wild, non-native rainbow trout. Protecting bull and cutthroat populations is a major sustainability concern that will help future generations.
11. Using biodegradable clay pigeons & solar-powered throwers – Our five shooting ranges are hidden within the landscape, but we understand their potential impact on our area. Though we clean our ranges regularly, we also use biodegradable clay pigeons and solar powered clay pigeon throwers.

A family with two young children making notes for The Ranch's all-inclusive Master Naturalist program

12. Teaching conservation through our Master Naturalist program  – Since 2018 our Master Naturalist program has informed guests of all ages about the unique biodiversity along Rock Creek. Through the years we’ve contributed to University of Montana’s bird ecology program, both financially and through bird banding. Taking guests along on these conservation efforts helps them find ways to help in their local communities.
13. Offering Flint’s Forest Ranger’s Program – This year we’ve relaunched our kids program as the Flint Forest Rangers. Flint is our Ranch dog and an intrepid explorer. The program, created with help from Swirl, is also focused on sustainability. Kids learn how to play a positive part in their environment as they recreate responsibly.

Continued Elimination of Single Use Plastics

14. Refilling Water Bottles – Before our concerted effort to eliminate single-use plastics in 2019, we began converting our water bottles to refillable versions. With two on-Ranch activities a day, our guests and guides need a lot of water bottles to stay hydrated. These refillable canteens are available at our Rod & Gun Club, while glass versions are available in accommodations and across the ranch.

Two refillable The Ranch at Rock Creek branded water bottles

15. Sipping with Hay Straws – These days hay isn’t just for horses. We switched to Hay Straws in 2019. They are created from hay crops and serve as a sturdy alternative to both plastic and paper straws. Guests have tried the straws and ordered them for their own homes. We love supporting businesses who are creatively solving problems in the hospitality industry.
16. Providing refillable in-room toiletries – Hotels are known for their single-use toiletry bottles. We realized that this was a huge part of our plastic usage. In 2019, a committee of our employees sought to convert our toiletries and coffee program to use refillable containers. Our housekeeping department keeps up this effort by creating a safe, sanitary way to provide our guests with high-quality body products and in-room coffee.

“This initiative is near and dear to my heart as a group of eight of us came together, with the assistance of our mentors, to create solutions to leave less of a footprint on Mother Earth. Our refillable glass water bottles have been a huge success. We selected a design that was unique and functional with recyclable aluminum lids eliminating the use of more than 15,000 plastic water bottles annually. Once the bottles fulfilled their lifetime, we use our glass crusher to turn them into sand-like particles to be used for future projects on property.” ~ Assistant General Manager Linda Walser

17. Crushing glass – In 2020, we installed a glass crusher on-Ranch. When we use glass bottles in our dining program, we place them in our glass crusher. The sand is used for landscaping across the resort.

Environmental Conservation Efforts

18.  Installing Fish Screens – Last year, Trout Unlimited – Clark Fork Project installed the first fish screen on The Ranch.

“Trout that swim into irrigation ditches on Rock Creek usually end up in irrigated hay fields. Fortunately, this fish screen saves thousands of juvenile and adult trout from mortality every year by providing safe fish passage past the irrigation ditch. The new fish screen and other fish screens being installed in Rock Creek will keep more fish in the creek and are expected to improve fish populations.” ~ Tess Scanlon, TU Rock Creek Project Manager

19. Annual River Cleanup – Since 2015 we’ve hosted a Clark Fork Cleanup. Along with the Clark Fork Coalition and local Philipsburg businesses, like the Philipsburg Brewing Company and Live Montanably, we’ve been able to remove tons of trash from our watershed.
20. Launching our inaugural “Spring Greening” – Over Easter Weekend we launched a new program to plant trees. This year’s efforts were focused around the newly installed fish screen, where new trees will reduce erosion and provide nesting habitats for birds along Rock Creek.

A young family planting a tree with a The Ranch at Rock Creek employee

21. Hosting bees on The Ranch – In 2017, we started our own bee hives. Apiarist Kelsey Bruns has been keeping watch over our hives and showing her progress on our blog. We use this honey in craft cocktails and other elements of our dining program. According to Kelsey, when she checked on the bees this year after the winter, they were doing well and had all survived. Bees are responsible for pollinating so much of the food we and other animals consume, so giving them more places to live helps our eco-system to thrive.
22. Annual Highway Cleanup – We adopted several miles along the Skalkaho Highway near Rock Creek Road. On April 26th we’ll host our annual cleanup effort.

Thanks to each and every member of our community, guests and Ranch family who help us to stay true to these goals and keep our eco-system thriving so future generations will enjoy it.

Read more about our sustainability goals and efforts on our dedicated page and on the blog below.

Category: Around The Ranch

Drift off to sleep with The Ranch’s Calm Sleep Story

The Ranch at Rock Creek on Calm

Narrated in a gentle, unhurried pace, Calm’s sleep stories are meditative tales designed to usher you into dreamland. Thanks to a collaboration with writer Dibs Baer, you can visit The Ranch at Rock Creek on Calm and live a day in the life of one of our wranglers. 

Drift off to sleep under the Big Sky with the tales from Sara Jane as she leaves River House and saddles up her horse for a ride on Repeater Ridge. Inspired by the hardworking females from our past and present, this story pays homage to the homestead history we seek to preserve. Read about how this story came about and look for the special Ranch at Rock Creek discount code for a Calm subscription.

The Inspiration

The Ranch at Rock Creek has made it a mission to help people relax and reconnect to nature. The all-inclusive nature of our hospitality allows guests to be at ease as they explore Montana. During the pandemic we began to foster a community of like-minded souls across the world who crave life in the slow lane. Starting in 2020, we shared “Respite on Rock Creek,” a daily glimpse through a window into our world. Thanks to this daily feature on Instagram, Forbes featured us as one of 10 Boundary-Breaking Accounts Curing Wanderlust on Instagram.

Rock Creek flows through The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg Montana

The changes in our modern world have pushed people to seek a better work/life balance during the last few years, mirroring the reason so many of our staff have moved here in the first place. Our community on Instagram also led us to see how beneficial nature can be, even if it’s a virtual tour.

Dibs Baer at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Images from Dibs’ trip to The Ranch. Courtesy of Travel Curator and Dibs Baer

One of our former guests, writer Dibs Baer got in touch with us in late 2020 with the idea of channeling the peacefulness of The Ranch into a calming story for others.

“During the early months of the pandemic I found that Calm’s sleep stories really helped me with anxiety, especially the travel sleep stories because they felt like an escape. I thought about my happiest place I’ve ever traveled to and it was hands-down The Ranch. It was the most beautiful, uplifting, peaceful trip I’d ever been on and I never forgot it. It sounds cliché but it was kind of spiritual and life-changing. I knew it would make a perfect sleep story.” Author Dibs Baer

When Dibs contacted Calm, they were on board. It was time to begin researching the people who’d been ranching this land since Montana was a territory.

River House, The Ranch at Rock Creek's original homestead
The original homestead at The Ranch at Rock Creek, River House.

The Back Story

The Ranch and Montana, in general, have a history of strong female cowgirls and ranchers. In the 1940s, The Ranch was purchased by F.S. LeGrow. He hired well-known horse trainer, Grover Bowles as The Ranch’s manager. When Grover died, his wife, Hazel, and daughter, Sara Jane, took up the reins running The Ranch. Sara Jane’s Cottage is named after this enterprising woman. 

Cowgirl riding during The Running of the Horses
The Running of the Horses. Photo by Allison Beggs

While the mining and trapping histories of Montana speak primarily of men, ranching is common amongst both men and women. Women across Granite County have long been a large part of the ranches in this area. They are skilled riders, farmers and ranchers. When Dibs began her research, every one of our wranglers was a woman. They interviewed Social Media and Website Manager Krista, Barn Manager Hailey, Lead Wrangler Ariel and Master Naturalist Kelsey to gain insight on the lifestyle and environment.

Bunks in Sara Jane's Cottage at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Rustic bunks in Sara Jane’s Cottage at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

The Sleep Story

The narrator in the sleep story is Sara Jane, in an homage to Sara Jane Bowles. She is also a jill-of-all-trades like most ranchers. She knows a little bit about everything, so she can lend a hand and impart her wisdom during her daily tasks.

Barn Manager Hailey and Wrangler Brittney care for horses on Whiskey Ridge at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Barn Manager Hailey Laird and Wrangler Brittney Johnston at Whiskey Ridge.

“I don’t mind showing you a little homestead hospitality as I mosey around our ten square miles on my daily chores. You may see why they call it “the Treasure State.” My ancestors may have been looking for gold and silver, but the real natural wonders fly across the big sky and migrate through the land.” ~ From The Ranch at Rock Creek, Calm Sleep Story

We hope you take this leisurely tour of The Ranch’s 6,600 acres. If you find your eyes closing before the end, we don’t blame you. That means Sara Jane, Dibs and Calm have worked their meditative magic. Use our code at calm.com/rockcreek for 40% off a year subscription as you have a listen. Sweet Dreams from Sara Jane Bowles and The Ranch at Rock Creek!

A couple enjoy coffee in rocking chairs outside their creekside glamping cabin at The Ranch at Rock Creek
We hope you enjoy this relaxing window into our world.

About the Calm Story Author Dibs Baer

Dibs is an LA-based entertainment writer and the author/co-author of six books, including Lady Tigers in the Concrete Jungle: How Softball and Sisterhood Saved Lives in the South Bronx, named a Best New Book by People magazine, and the New York Times bestseller I didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confession of a Reality Show Villain. During a 15-year Stretch in NYC, Dibs was the executive editor of In Touch Weekly and their stories have also appeared in Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Seventeen, Gotham, Hamptons and Vegas magazines. See more at dibsbaer.com

About Calm

Calm is the #1 app for sleep and meditation. Our mission is to make the world a happier and healthier place. It’s both simple and big. Through our website, blog, and app—filled with meditations, sleep stories, music, movement, and more—we’re redefining what mental health care looks like in 2021 and beyond. With over 100 million users worldwide, 100,000 new users daily, and our growing partnerships with major companies, we’re having a positive effect on more and more people each day.

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 The Spa at Rock Creek 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 The Spa at Rock Creek. 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.
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