When I travel, I want to feel a sense of place, the daily life, local flavors, sights, sounds and smells. I want to unlock what is unique about the destination. From the moment my husband and I pulled on to the dirt road leading up to The Ranch to the moment we pulled back on to the pavement headed for home, I was enjoyably immersed in the ranch life of Montana.
I knew leading up to our arrival to this rugged yet bucolic landscape, that I would go horseback riding, zip lining, fly fishing and shooting at the range. Even though I could anticipate these experiences, I couldn’t predict these three surprise glimpses into the life of a rancher.
1. Surprise on the Range
First, as we wound our way through the dirt trails in the property Jeep to the shooting range, we found a herd of grazing cattle blocking the targets. Our cowboy guide looked at us and said, “I need to wrangle these cows up. You can either get out or you can join me in wrangling them up.”
We had never done anything like this, so of course, we went along for the ride. He honks the horn, drives straight for the cattle and starts making a whooping sound. The cows moved and the range was clear for us to shoot the rifles. With the expert guidance of Gavin, I learned that I was left eye dominant and could shoot really well left handed.
2. A Buckle Barn Dance
Thursday night, The Ranch threw a barnyard dinner and dance at the Buckle Barn, which is decorated with repurposed John Deere tractor parts and circular-sawn fir floors, and added to the ranch style flare. Guests were lassoing fake cows on hay bales with the guidance of cowgirls. Others were enjoying a game of bean bag toss (known as Corn Hole or Baggo to those outside of Minnesota), and others were noshing on delicious appetizers while classic country music played in the background.
Chef Josh Drage prepared a massive ranch style dinner, with lots of locally sourced meats, vegetables, and fruit. Micah, their craft bartender, served up the best Missoula Mules my mouth has ever had the privilege of drinking. The atmosphere in the barn allowed for mingling with other guests and left me feeling like I was part of the community. After dinner, guides led classes in country line dancing. Suddenly, Ranch owner, James Manley, takes the hand of Ranch staffer, Mariah, and begins country swing dancing with her. This was a great finale to all of the fun we were all having.
3. Horseback Riding— Rain or Shine
Lastly, we arrived at the Rod & Gun Club to get ready for horseback riding. Our guide offers us cowboy hats and cowboy boots to get us in the role of cowboy and cowgirl. We trotted through the property, ascending the rolling hills, following the streams babbling through the property, and listening to the sounds of nature. Thankfully, I obliged with the cowboy hat because during the last hour of our ride, nature decided to start raining…hard.
At first it was bothersome, and I wanted to get back to the property. However, it occurred to me, this is how cowboys and girls really live. They’re out in the elements with only some tough boots and a brimmed hat to protect them from the elements. It was in this uncomfortable moment, that I was able to feel a part of this Western culture and it allowed me to enjoy the rest of the rainy ride.
Experiential travel is something that can be planned and intentional, but sometimes the best part of experiential travel is the surprise you could never anticipate.