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How to Bird Your World for the Year of the Bird

2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese zodiac, but man’s best friend has to share the limelight with another vertebrate, the bird. 2018 marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In recognition of the most powerful piece of bird protection legislation ever passed, the National Geographic Society – and by extension its Unique Lodges of the World – are taking part in worldwide conservation efforts to protect migratory bird species, a key cornerstone of our ecosystems.

Sustainability through Conservation

From the very first day of 2018, we began celebrating Montana’s incredible bird population and supporting conservation efforts in a program we are calling Bird Your World. On New Year’s Eve we even decorated the Silver Dollar Saloon with majestic raptors and on New Year’s Day on a snowy Raptor Hike to learn about the hawks, eagles, osprey and other birds of prey that call Rock Creek home.


A bald eagle sits on a fence post near Philipsburg, Montana. Photo by Activities Director Patrick Little.

The Ranch at Rock Creek has been part of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World since 2015. We began as the only US Charter Member. As this eco-tourism collection has expanded, we’ve sought to double our efforts to make our ranch more sustainable. Our main areas of focus are conservation efforts and investment in our local community. National Geographic’s 2016 Unique Lodges Sustainability Report showed the great strides this collection is making to promote sustainable tourism. Read more…

Memorial Day: Grand Entry to Summer Travel

Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor the soldiers who lost their lives serving our country. Though “decoration days” took place before the American Civil War, the first official Memorial Day was held on May 30, 1868. This date was chosen because Northern flowers were abundant and used to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. This year marks the 150th anniversary of that first Memorial Day.

Over the past 150 years, Memorial Day has grown to celebrate America in general. It echoes the feelings of July 4th, but often serves as more of a family-focused celebration. Families gather round to eat and toast America, the beautiful, and their family and community members who have served.

A Ranch wrangler proudly caries the stars and stripes during the Fourth of July rodeo at The Ranch at Rock Creek in southwest Montana

When we celebrate Memorial Day at The Ranch at Rock Creek, we do so with the American traditions of the legendary West. It is one of our favorite seasonal celebrations because it is a chance for families to gather and observe the holiday in an old-fashioned and spirited way.

Guests enjoy a family picnic during summer multi-generational travel to The Ranch at Rock Creek

Throughout most of the country, these celebrations are fast disappearing, but they are alive and well at The Ranch. In fact, this weekend kicks off our summer season, when barn dances and rodeos are part of our weekly events. Here are some of the events that make our celebration a bucket list trip to the American Wild West. If you’ve yet to make your Memorial Day plans, several accommodations remain. Please join us for an unparalleled American journey.



1. Cowboy Breakfast

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Sweet Life of Bees, Year Two

Join us as we follow our new colleagues—the bees—through their second year homesteading in the Rock Creek Valley. The story is in reverse chronological order so scroll down to start from the beginning, or read more about their first year on The Ranch.  

Chapter Three: Lessons Learned

by Kelsey Bruns, Beekeeper, Master Naturalist and Little Grizzlies Kids Club Coordinator

A Growing Year

I am constantly amazed and humbled by the complexity of the hive. One of the first things I learned from my apiarist mentor was that once you believe you know everything about beekeeping you should quit because that means you are a terrible beekeeper.

Instead, you should always be learning from the hive. That comment has stayed with me. This season there have been many surprises and unforeseen circumstances with the hives, a less-than-bumper crop of honey, and yes, there has been a lot of learning.


We sold jars from our 2017 at this year’s Autumn Harvest Celebration. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

For me, beekeeping is an intricate dance of manipulating the hive. As a beekeeper you are constantly assessing the hive and reacting quickly enough to know what your next move is going to be. Knowing how to read a hive is imperative to a healthy and successful hive. This can be as easy as moving frames from point A to point B and as complex as listening for different intonations of the buzz of a hive. This season there were many instances to practice observation and react to what the hive was telling me.

A Product of our Environment

Spring was very wet and cold this year, and our summer came in strong and left quickly. Two things need to happen for any plant to produce nectar: warmth and moisture. The warmth and moisture allows the plant to bloom. But the golden ticket is to have both these things happen over an extended amount of time. With no moisture in the ground, the flowers may be present but they will not produce nectar.


Spring green soon changes into a tawny landscape during the summer in Philipsburg, Montana. Photo by Drew Baker Photography.

Lacking these two integral factors left the hives with less than enough time to collect a enough nectar to turn into a large crop of honey. As one can imagine, this can be quite frustrating for a beekeeper. I feel for the local farmers when the weather is just not conducive for a bumper crop that can support their livelihood.

A Tough Call

With all this being said, I can blame the weather all I want for the lack of honey, but the reality of this year’s less than exciting honey crop was also due to the health of the hives. For reasons unknown, two hives lost their queens. To make matters worse, these two hives lost their queens right before the nectar flow.

As a beekeeper, all your work is for the nectar flow. You work to ensure you have the strongest hive possible with the most bees that are foragers right as the nectar comes on. With no queen continuously laying eggs to keep hive numbers up, and forager bees coming of age, a hive simply lacks the bee numbers and the appropriate cohort of bees to collect nectar.


As the weather turned cool, the bees started to clump for winter. This act helps the bees to stay warm while exuding less energy. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

Even after this event, I still had hope for my hives. I repaired these hives with bees from the two strongest hives in the apiary and patted myself on the back for a job well done. But to my dismay one of the new queens in the hive did not mate well and was a drone layer (only produced male bees, not female worker bees), and thus this hive was once again doomed. Being an optimist, I went into the strong hives once again to repair the damaged hive and this queen took.

Finally, all of the hives were back to normal. But because of my optimism (or potentially my stubbornness), the two strongest hives that I used to heal the weak hives had suffered. I ultimately decreased their bee numbers, and in return, these hives produced less honey.


Female bees taking advantage of their last sunny days in the Rock Creek Valley before their winter stay in the Bitterroot Valley. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

I had to make this decision along the way and I had my reasons. The question was, should I let two hives die and let the strongest hives stay strong and produce an amazing honey crop? Or should I save two hives and sacrifice the amount of honey I would get in the end? I reasoned with the second option, which roots in my philosophy of beekeeping.

The purpose of beekeeping for me is not how many pounds of honey I harvest; it is for the mere appreciation I have for them. Understanding the honeybee hive is a wonder. Something so complex, yet so perfect and simple, that it hasn’t changed in millions of years.

The hive is a beautiful super-organism that our society will always be indebted to and that I will forever be in awe of.

The bees are now set up for success in which they will over-winter well.  They now reside in the Bitterroot Valley for a second winter where the climate is less harsh and the spring flowers come early. Cheers to the bees. I am always ready to learn.

 


Chapter Two: A Live Hive That Thrives


Spring Turns to Summer

Spring in Rock Creek Valley was quite a dramatic season. This past winter we had an above average snow pack and thus, in return, we have had an extended high water season for Rock Creek. We hope the extra precipitation will mean a healthier eco-system in the long run.


A honeybee on a rosebush. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

Now that the water is down, the fly fishing is up! As spring progresses into summer, the hives are busy, gathering pollen and trying to recuperate from the long winter.


Beekeeper Kelsey fishing in Southwest Montana. Read more…

National Geographic Photography Workshop & Top Tips

More Than a Snapshot

Travel and photography go hand in hand like big skies and majestic mountains. (As any Ansel Adams fan can attest.) Since the advent of smart phones, almost everyone can capture the notable moments and minutia that string together a great trip.

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” ~Steve McCurry

However, despite this constant digital presence, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the principles and art of photography. Learning the principles of great photography can heighten the travel experience.


Photo by Lead Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich.

National Geographic’s Narrative Approach

When we joined the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection in 2015 (as the only US charter member), we were excited to partner with other sustainability-focused lodges. But we also couldn’t wait to use this affiliation to bring the art of photography into our all-inclusive offerings. Nat Geo redefined storytelling photography in their magazine, and they always find new ways to wow us on social media.

In early 2017, award-winning photographer Jay Dickman and friends from National Geographic Expeditions came to The Ranch to train our staff on narrative photography techniques— as part of a new pilot program with the Unique Lodges of the World. Dickman has an impressive resume, including a Pulitzer Prize and 25 assignments for the National Geographic Society. We couldn’t wait to see what he would make of February at The Ranch.


Photo by Lead Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich

Over the course of the next three days, the workshop taught our guides how to harness wild beauty and Western culture into pictures that tell a story about our remote corner of the world.

“I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.” ~Annie Leibovitz

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Celebrating 5 Years as a Family-Friendly Forbes Five-Star Resort

Five for Five

Five is our lucky number! We’ve just received the Forbes Five-Star award for the fifth consecutive year. Forbes Travel Guide offers the only independent global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas. We’re truly honored to be part of this prestigious family who strives for hospitality perfection – opting to be judged on 900 objective service standards every year.


Photo by Lead Ranch Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich.

While many of our buildings are well over a century old, The Ranch at Rock Creek is a young property, and we want to thank our former and current Ranch staff for helping us earn this distinction for five of our eight years in operation.

The Ranch at Rock Creek staff gathers for a photo after the last rodeo of the season

We also want to join Forbes in welcoming two of our Montana neighbors into the Forbes Travel Guide family for the first-time. This year, Triple Creek Ranch, another Relais & Châteaux property, earned four stars and The Resort at Paws Up was given Recommended status. Congratulations friends, on these big achievements. The Treasure State is shining even brighter after this year’s award announcement.



All in the Family Travel

We are honored to be part of the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star family because families with high-standards and a love of travel are at the crux of what we do.  From our inception as an all-inclusive luxury resort in 2010, we knew that the family travel experience was an essential facet of our outdoor-focused amenities.

A multi-generational family enjoys a reunion picnic at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Southwestern Montana

Though we love welcoming corporate retreats, elopements, bachelor/bachelorette parties and other generally adult-focused affairs, the versatility of being family-friendly allows us to ensure that every traveler can find their niche at The Ranch.  (Unless, of course, they don’t enjoy the outdoors).

Last year, we covered the new trend of multi-generational trips on this blog, including tips on making the most of a family trip. This time we want to hone in on why our carefully curated and outdoor-focused style of hospitality ensures memorable, inspiring and personalized family vacations.

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Eggnog the Ranch Elf: A Travelogue

After Thanksgiving celebrations ended, a surprise guest arrived on our doorstep, direct from the North Pole. It was Eggnog, the Ranch elf. We suspect he traveled all this way to make sure the many families who celebrate at The Ranch are well taken care of, and we were happy to show him the ropes of our country Christmas. While he’s been here, he’s crossed a few things off his bucket list. In true Rancher spirit, he also pitched in to help out when possible.

As he looks to depart on Christmas Eve to head back to Santa’s workshop, we’re sharing his travelogue with our Blog at Rock Creek readers. Read more…

5 Unique Jobs at Montana’s Own Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star Ranch

Working at the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch requires a special type of person. Our jobs require people who are highly social, working with The Ranch team and guests day-after-day, and thriving in a secluded outdoor environment.

The Ranch at Rock Creek lies just off a dirt road 75 miles from the nearest city. The people who make our ranch thrive are mountain souls and adventurers who value living beyond the hustle and bustle of city life. At the same time, they are professionals with the capacity to meet hundreds of Forbes Travel Guide standards (we’re judged on 800) on a daily basis.

Executive Chef Josh Drage and Executive Sous Chef Ben Miller bike back to the Granite Lodge with fresh herbs from their garden
Executive Chef Josh Drage and Executive Sous Chef Ben Miller ride from the herb garden to the kitchen.

Unconventional Jobs For Adventurous Souls

Even the more well-known hospitality jobs that we fill, such as Housekeeping Manager, Bellman or Front Desk Agent, aren’t run-of-the-mill. The environment and experiential nature of The Ranch means that jobs are anything but ordinary — just ask the Front Desk Agent who had to keep tabs on a mother moose and baby when they settled down for a morning snack in front of the Granite Lodge this fall.

The people who love, live and work at The Ranch are unique, but the careers and seasonal jobs we offer also follow suit. We are featuring some of those jobs that may sound unconventional, but are essential in keeping our 6,600 acres working as an experiential travel destination and working cattle ranch. Read more…

A Joyful Kickoff to the Season of Giving

Giving Thanks

Before thanks have even been given in the traditional American way, we’re giving thanks to our community through a local tradition. This Friday and Saturday, we will host the 4th annual Granite County Festival of Trees in our bedecked Buckle Barn. Though Santa doesn’t make his appearance for another month and a half, it’s fair to say our elves are busy as ever preparing for this charity event. Read on to garner the recipe for our Bar Manager’s wassail-worthy mulled wine. 

17 Christmas trees lit up the Buckle Barn before the Festival of Trees gala auction
“It’s a Wonderful Life” plays in the Buckle Barn before the 2015 Festival of Trees Gala Auction.

Joy in Montana, Joy to the World

The Granite County Festival of Trees is the only major fundraiser for the local non-profit organization, the Granite County Medical Foundation. Since the event’s inception, The Ranch has been a sponsor, and for the last three years we’ve served as angel sponsor and host. The first year, the event raised over $10,000 and last year’s event it raised $35,000 for local health projects.

The outside view of the Buckle Barn after the 2015 Granite County Festival of Trees
Peeking into the windows of the Buckle Barn before the 2015 Gala Auction. 

These projects have ranged from buying new beds for the long-term care and acute care patients at our local medical center to supplying AEDs to local law enforcement vehicles and to helping provide car seat checks and bike helmets to the area’s youth. When you live in a remote mountain environment, you truly appreciate emergency and preventive health services that help your staff, family, friends and neighbors.


Mercantile artisan, Pat Siler of Philipsburg’s Back Creek Pottery, created commemorative ornaments for the event. 

In addition to the Festival of Trees, The Ranch also hosts our hometown’s Granite High School prom and supports a long list of charity projects throughout the year. We believe one of the most important parts of our commitment to sustainability is giving back to local organizations and supporting local businesses and artisans.

“Our whole Ranch team truly enjoys helping to produce this community event. We are proud of our angel sponsorship and look forward to our participation every year. Our group coordinators and culinary team are very talented and create memorable family reunions, corporate retreats and weddings throughout the year. But this greatly anticipated event is extra special because it brings our community together for a wonderful cause and represents the official start to The Ranch’s holiday season celebrations.” ~Steve Shotsberger, General Manager

We are happy to be recognized for our giving and sustainability initiatives through our National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World affiliation, but these charity projects also signify a personal connection to many of our employees, who volunteer their time to serve on local non-profit boards, volunteer for projects and even work as Ski Patrol or volunteer fire fighters to ensure the safety and health of local residents. Read more…

What is Forest Bathing?

Travel & Nature Therapy: Shinrin-Yoku/Forest Bathing

“The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise…I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”
~Henry David Thoreau, “Walking.”

Montana ranks 44th in population size, but this allows us to be leaders in another way—in our access to nature. The Ranch itself is mid-way between America’s first National Park, Yellowstone and the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park. Montanans love having a homestead and venturing out into our vast public lands. It seems the more wide open spaces you see, the more you crave them.


Photo by Caleb Lee

Conversely, the world in general is growing ever more industrialized. Eighty-two percent of North Americans live in an urban setting. With that number projected to grow, scientists are studying the unforeseen physical and mental cost of moving away from natural settings. At the same time the research mounts, we’ve spent the better part of 2017 developing programs that help guests connect with our natural setting, from Montana naturalist classes to Nat Geo narrative photography lessons to natural play environments in the Little Grizzlies Kids Club and natural movement and forest bathing Granite Spa classes.

This week we look at the role of nature in restoring mental and physical health, as well as society’s skepticism toward nature therapy and the power of vacations to get us out of our routine and try new things. Read more…

5 Luxe Ways to Celebrate and Savor the Fall Harvest

The Ranch’s New Fall Harvest Festivities

This early October, we are channeling The Ranch’s beehives and buzzing around diligently in preparation of one of our biggest celebrations of the year, Autumn Harvest Weekend. Although we celebrate most major holidays here, our fall harvest celebration is a labor of love – the love of food grown, raised and made in Montana.


Photo by Lynn Donaldson

Everything about this celebration is inspired by Western Montana and its purveyors, pioneers and culture. If you’re looking for an unparalleled culinary journey through the legendary West, we have a few select accommodations remaining, like Bear House below. Contact our Reservations Specialists today for last-minute availability.


Bear House is a one-of-a-kind luxury home, perfect for groups of friends or families. 

Click here to see the full Autumn Harvest itinerary, or stay on this page to see five ways we’re celebrating Montana’s bountiful fall harvest this October. Read more…