We stayed in Missoula for a night after dropping Angela off in Plains, and headed to Darby the next morning. Our route took us along the Bitteroot River valley, which is east of the Bitteroot Mountains. Arriving in early afternoon, we were given a tour of the ranch and checked out our room. We stayed in a small private cabin called Chipmunk that was set off in the woods and surrounded by ponderosa pine trees.
The room was cozy and comfortable, had a wood stove, reading loft, fully stocked fridge/kitchen, and a deck with a hot tub. When we arrived, I found that Brian had ordered me a wildflower arrangement (the only kind of flowers I like to receive) and decadent dark truffles with crumbled toffee on the outside. My hubby is so thoughtful! After settling in, we took a place by the pool to enjoy some reading and relaxing that had largely been absent from our trip to that point. Afterward, we went up to the bar and Brian ordered a drink prior to dinner. The bartender James was in Brian's words, "the quintessential bartender" friendly, talkative, witty, aiming to please. We chatted with him and also took a look at the extensive wine cellar. Dinner each night was a full four course gourmet meal complete with house wine or drinks. We took our time at each meal, trying out new or different dishes, savoring the food and drink and sharing good conversation.
The waitstaff was always friendly and cheerful, helping us make choices and talking to us about our daily activities or our trip. Despite starting dinner early (around 6 or 6:30) each night, we always ended late, usually shutting down the dining room. The first night the sky was clear and we did some star gazing from the hot tub. Temperatures are ideal for a hot tub all year round in the mountains because though the summer days can be hot, the nights are almost always cool.
On our first morning, we ordered breakfast to our cabin; simply bounteous and delicious! At 11am, we took a 2.5 hr trail ride with a wrangler from the ranch named Colby. He is a skilled horseman from over the mountains in Idaho, and made for interesting conversation about what most would consider the "classical" western lifestyle. He told us stories of his big family, hunting and riding horses and what he is doing at college.
It was my first ride since 2006 and Brian's since some time in the first half of the '90s, so it was a novelty for us both. Brian rode on Joe and I rode on Ceasar, both seasoned horses trained to be ridden by inexperienced folk like us. It was fun, and we got to direct the horses on our own a bit. We rode up to a spot called Devil's Thumb in the Bitteroot National Forest using trails that the Ranch wranglers had blazed over the years. The Ranch leases the land from the Federal Government, basically paying to use the trails for what would be considered "commercial purposes." Devil's Thumb is a large exposed ledge that protrudes from the side of the mountain and has some nice views across to the Bitteroot River valley.
We ate excellent packed lunches that we ordered the night before. They have a lot of choices on the list, and let us check off as many as we wished, including shrimp cocktail for me! That afternoon, Brian had scheduled me a massage, always much needed and appreciated for the many tight muscles in my back and neck (thanks, college - haven't been able to shake them yet).
On our second day, we had breakfast at the dining room and left for a nature tour on CB Ranch with Craig, a guy who is employed by the Ranch to mainly oversee timber harvesting operations. He knows the ranch well, and took us to spots where we might see some of the wildlife that inhabit the acreage. Craig's work on the ranch mainly includes removing dead trees and ensuring the survival of natural and planted regeneration. The Bitteroot fire (I think it was in 2000) killed a large portion of trees on the property and a harvester was allowed to come in and take out dead and dying trees at will by the prior owner.
The result was intense removal, and too few trees to allow for seed and shelter to young trees. You could tell Craig wasn't pleased with the decision, and I would agree. CB stands for Craig Barrett (not our guide), former CEO of Intel Corporation who now owns Triple Creek Ranch (600+ acres) and over 25,000 acres nearby that encompass CB Ranch. You have to give the guy credit for using his millions to buy land, live in a modest home and work on his ranch. Craig drove us around in a Suburban, stopping to point out sites and wildlife. We saw Lewis woodpeckers, ravens, a golden eagle, sapsuckers, a mother grouse and her babies, and many mule deer. The ranch covers hills with steep slopes, open grazing land, partially forested areas and near the height of the property around 6000', some closed forest. We had a great view of Trapper's Peak, the highest mountain in the Bitteroots, from many areas on the property.
In the afternoon, we took a fly-casting clinic from a local guide. I figured if we were in Montana, what better place to learn to fly-fish? We didn't actually get out on the water, but learned the basics of casting, reeling, and landing fish. Fly fishing actually appealed to me, unlike other forms of fishing I have tried. Perhaps someday I'll get a license and take it up...
On our final morning, we relaxed around our cabin, packed up, and then had a long lunch before heading out to Idaho. Our experience at Triple Creek was 100% positive, relaxing and fun...Windham Hill Inn of Vermont (where we went for our honeymoon) has met it's match. And that's saying a lot.
Several months back, Brian searched for a place that we could visit on our trip as a celebration of our 2nd anniversary. He found Triple Creek Ranch in Montana, a guest ranch where western experience meets comfort and relaxation. It sounded like just the kind of retreat we seek out - set apart on a scenic back road, with outdoor experiences and great food on the property, and nice rustic-themed rooms. The ranch is all-inclusive, meaning that there were no additional expenses for the three days - all meals, snacks, drinks and activities on the ranch were included in the base price. We quickly assessed our schedule and secured a three-day stay before they fully booked. It was much looked forward to, and did not disappoint.