After a day spent fishing deep pools along the roaring Gallatin or hiking into Beehive Basin to catch glimpses of moose and bighorn sheep, guests can book an hour with the resident massage therapist before tackling one of chef John Rolfe's creations, such as pan-roasted caribou tenderloin accompanied by curried tomato purée. I prefer to sit on my terrace and study the moon-dappled crest of the Spanish Peaks, a skyline that appears to be mine alone.
Mountain Sky Guest Ranch
Owner Arthur Blank has an eye for beauty. Flowers overhang window boxes and burst from the sides of old horse wagons. All 80 saddle blankets are color coordinated. So are the roofs of the guest cabins. Many of the wranglers are attractive young women. And the dazzling view, capped by a glimmer of Emigrant Peak—nearly 11,000 feet high—could be a stage set.
Blank and his wife, Stephanie, have undertaken a complete refitting and remodeling of this 75-year-old guest ranch, as one might expect of the cofounder of Home Depot. Every room in the main lodge—library, great room, dining room, bar—has a rock-lined fireplace, which is appealing even in summer, when high-altitude evenings call for a sweater and a little contemplation. The property accommodates 80 guests, but cabins are spaced far enough apart to provide privacy and intimacy for even a three-generation family. Besides riding, fly-fishing, and tennis on the ranch's own 7,000 acres in daylight, guests spend evenings taking hayrides, barbecuing beside the heated pool, and Western dancing with the wranglers. Whatever the time of day, count on this: everything at Mountain Sky will be easy on the eye.
Lazy E-L Ranch
In 1901 a wealthy 19-year-old Easterner, besotted with the Rough Rider life, began acquiring parcels of real estate near Red Lodge, Montana. Four generations later, his dream of an unspoiled West is still intact. Open, rolling, vast, and protected, the Lazy E-L summers not only domestic cattle but also scores of wild species. Wolves den in these hills. Elk bugles echo throughout the 12,000-acre property.
Jael Kampfe, the Lazy E-L's general manager and great-granddaughter of founding father Malcolm S. Mackay, delights in listing the various issues that have roiled the family partnership over the last century. Some have involved women's rights, others land use, and one a conservation easement that has forever frozen land development on the ranch. But the decision that dominates Kampfe's life these days is the one that opened the Lazy E-L's gate to paying guests in the late eighties. Today, she thrills to the sight of newcomers occupying her family's cabins. "Now we have no time to travel," she says. "Instead, we bring the world to us."
Kampfe brings the world to the Lazy E-L one small group at a time. Guests get a choice of three cabins, from the small Russell, with cowboy artist Charlie Russell's initials burned into the mantel, to the expansive Summer, with a rarely used formal dining room of whitewashed logs. Families gravitate toward the unpretentious cookhouse at the center of ranch action. While horses graze nearby, guests and crew cluster around several tables for communal barbecues of grilled Montana Legend New York steak (antibiotic- and hormone-free Angus), roasted homegrown potatoes, and a towering plate of apple pie and ice cream.
Above all, the Lazy E-L is inclusive. On my stay, I discovered that there's no activity that Mike Murphy, the ranch's livestock manager, will not share with a guest. Branding a horse, doctoring a calf, or riding hard for six hours may not be for the squeamish, but after a few days in the saddle, I stopped pinning life to old formulas and began to imagine new verities. A horse became an extension of myself. My laughter became a war whoop.
JOHN HEMINWAY's most recent book is Yonder: A Place in Montana (National Geographic Society).