Archive for May, 2014

In Praise of Montana’s Shoulder Season: A Stay at Ranch at Rock Creek

Big Blue Sky (and Zan) at the Ranch at Rock Creek in March

With Memorial Day behind us, we’re currently in the thick of summer travel plans (and the hassles that go along with them). I’ve got be honest– I much prefer shoulder season travel to summer. My husband and I don’t have children (or their various school schedules to take into account when making our vacation plans) and so many summer hot spots– including Montana– have benefits and charm that come with non-peak tourist season.

Scenes from Montana in March

When I got invited to visit the Ranch at Rock Creek in March I was really excited to visit one of my favorite summer destinations- Montana- during a time of the year I’d never been. And truth be told– I loved it. The Ranch at Rock Creek has a high staff to guest ratio and the personalized service couldn’t have been better.

Snow in March in Montana

While fun in the sun is what most people look for in a Spring Break destination, there’s something to be said for a little weather, too. There were true spring sunshine-y days, another filled with “wintry mix” but the evenings were cozy around the fire and all the families that were at the resort seemed to be having fun and enjoying braving the elements together.

This hot tub looked highly inviting on a sunny March morning in Montana

Left: Signage above the Ranch at Creek Right: Moose House

The interior of Sweet Grass Tent

March is probably not the best  time to sleep under canvas in Montana, but it’s a perfect time to stay in one of the Ranch’s private loghomes. We stayed in Cattail Cabin– a two bedroom cabin with two masters that works perfect for couples traveling together. In my case, my husband and I were in one room and my BFF, Zan, and her dog, Sally, stayed in the second master. We had a great time on our spring glamping adventure.

The lobby of the Granite Lodge

This was Zan’s first trip to Montana, and her first glamping adventure. She described it as, “when you go camping you’re miserable, but when you go glamping you have fun.” We definitely had fun. With the Silver Dollar Saloon, a three lane bowling alley and The Granite Spa on property we had a lot of options of where to hang out. Three days wasn’t nearly enough time to take advantage of all the other activities available.

Grilled cheese & tomato soup: perfect comfort food for March in Montana

I talked to many of the staff members during my stay at the resort, and they confessed that not all shoulder season is created equal. April seemed to be the least favorite month among the staff members I spoke to, mostly because the nearby Discovery Ski Area in Philipsburg is closed, and the weather isn’t predictable enough to be fully committed to outdoor activities. October seemed like a favorite month too.

Left: Pintler range kale salad Right: veggie burger for lunch

Any time of the year you visit the Ranch at Rock Creek you’ll be well fed. Chef Josh Drage uses a lot of local produce and protein for his daily menus. He told me he was thrilled that foodies got hip to kale since it grows like a weed in Montana. Between the fresh baked cookies and Missoula Mules (served in copper mugs), we were grateful there was a fitness center on property. Zan borrowed her yoga mat for the entire stay and used it in our cabin.

The Rock Creek Ranch Syrah was impressive

The Staff at the Rod & Gun Club had no problem helping us arrange activities– including sporting clays, which were fun and challenging. It was nice to take horseback ride on a snowy morning with cowboy Joe, a former rodeo star. I’m not sure I would have gotten to hear as many of his entertaining stories if my stay was during maximum occupancy.

Pool table in the Silver Dollar Saloon

Saddle Seats at the Silver Dollar Saloon

Bluebird Cabin Exterior

The Ranch at Rock Creek has a wide range of accommodations– from hotel rooms in the Granite Lodge to multi-bedroom homes that could sleep 10 people. There are also some canvas glamping tents available during the summer season. Cattail worked great for us, with a full kitchen, a cozy living room, two master baths (complete with chandeliers over the claw foot bath tubs) and a fireplace that was easy to light at night.

Zan and Sally touring a log cabin at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Detailed decor doesn’t let you forget where you are: Montana

The Bedroom of Trapper

Interior shots of the Rod & Gun Club

Sally didn’t mind that they didn’t have cowboy boots in her size

Left: Zan Goofing around inside Bluebird Cabin Right: Zan’s first time at Sporting Clays

Zan and Sally agree: March in Montana can be delightful

A snowy last morning outside the Granite Lodge

Farm Fresh scramble with organic spinach and Birdman toast

Left: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes were yum Right: An omelette with bison sausage

Pacific Northwest Steelhead Salmon, Beluga lentils and Fiddlehead ferns came as room service

After spending the day in Philipsburg, where we toured the local brewery and candy store, we were in a bit of sugar coma and feeling lazy about dinner… and were thinking about skipping it. But as a Relais & Chateaux property, The Ranch at Rock Creek doesn’t really let you get away with skipping meals.

Apple Crisp with Nutmeg Ice Cream

We asked for dinner to delivered to our cabin. It came room service style and while we swore we were only going to have a bite or three, it was delicious and hard to stop eating. Especially the apple crisp, served in personal sized cast iron skillet with homemade nutmeg ice cream.

Blue Sky and barn at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Left: Saddles in the tack Room Right: Zan and a stagecoach

Cowboy Joe getting horses ready for a ride

Since the Ranch wasn’t 100% booked, it was easy to get activities scheduled at our preferred times and personalized service. Cowboy Joe led us on a horseback ride near the river, and the gentle snowfall was nicely atmospheric.

Snowy ground cover made for an atmospheric horseback ride

Zan and can lead a horse to water and make it drink

Cattail Cabin’s fireplace at night.

You can read more  detailed trip reports of my stay at the Ranch at Rock Creek on the Blog:

First day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

First Night and Second Day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Third Day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Left: Night lights in Montana Right: Returning to Cattail Cabin after dark

Zan, a local jackalope, and me at the White Front Bar in Philipsburg

Rates in shoulder season are typically lower than peak summer season. At the Ranch at Rock Creek October rates start at $850.00 per person per night. All rates include full board with breakfast, lunch & dinner in the Granite Lodge and/or the Blue Canteen. Also included are all wines and drinks during meals from The Ranch wine list or in the Silver Dollar Saloon.

Rates include the following activities:

-Horseback riding: trail rides, arena lessons
-Fly fishing: Rock Creek & trout ponds
-Shooting: sporting clays/shotgun, rifle & pistol,
cowboy & skeet shooting
-Mountain Biking
-Little Grizzlies Kid’s Club
-Wildlife watching
-Stagecoach rides
-Outdoor swimming pool & hot tub
-Cross-Country skiing
-Ice fishing (upon availability)
-Ice Skating
-Snowcat Tours
-Entertainment in the Silver Dollar Saloon:
bowling, billiards, shuffleboard, movie cinema &
board games

The Ranch at Rock Creek
79 Carriage House Lane
Philipsburg, Montana 59858

Much thanks the staff at Ranch at Rock Creek for hosting my stay. Without them this post would not be possible.

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Landscapes of St. Lucia: a #FriFotos Photo & Video Essay

A view of Gros Piton from Ladera Resort

I just returned from my first trip to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. St. Lucia is all lush rainforest and curvy mountains. If islands were supermodels, I’d say St. Lucia is the Kate Upton equivalent. In honor of #FriFotos, I thought I’d share a few landscapes from St. Lucia.

iPhone panorama shot from the deck of Ladera Resort

Diamond Falls, St. Lucia

The Piton Mountains are no doubt the island’s most notable geography– they are an UNESCO  World Heritage Site– but St. Lucia has many other charms. The island has beaches, rainforest, volcanos and waterfalls (especially the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens) are all beautiful and worth visiting.

St Lucia’s Diamond Falls

Peak a book Piton view from the pool at Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort

If you’re into cloud porn, then St. Lucia is for you. Here’s a timelapse I shot from the deck of room 709 at Sugar Beach.

Cloud Time Lapse from Room 709 at Sugar Beach

Beautiful landscapes are one thing, but Lucians, as the locals call themselves, are lovely people. And it was nice to leave the hotels and go into Soufriere and dine with the locals while taking in another spectacular sunset.

Sunset at Soufriere Harbor, St. Lucia

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Sunset Time Lapse at Ladera Resort, St. Lucia

Sunflare with flair at Ladera Resort St. Lucia

I’ve been on St. Lucia for the last few days staying at the fantastic Ladera Resort which I’m covering for the blog. This is my first trip to St. Lucia and I’ve quite enjoyed my time on this lush tropical island. Last night I decided to make a sunset time lapse using the TimeLapse app ($4.99) on my iPad mini since my I was editing other images on my iPhone 5s. Here’s the result.

Sunset Time Lapse at Ladera Resort St. Lucia

I’m not a big fan of shooting with my iPad, but I do appreciate that is useful as a backup camera when my iPhone is otherwise occupied. I used the Movie Looks App ($1.99) to pretty it up a bit since the camera is lower resolution than than I’d get shooting on my iPhone 5s.

Ladera’s pool deck, perched above the Pitons in St. Lucia

Ladera’s location about 1,110 feet above the coast give it an amazing view of the local mountains, The Pitons, and the clouds were particularly spectacular. While I don’t plan on making a regular thing of shooting time lapse videos on my iPad, I am a fan of mobile technology and was grateful that I knew a way to capture last night’s gorgeous cloud action.

The Pitons after Sunset

If you are planning a trip to St. Lucia and want to take in this amazing view, know that reservations are essential at Dasheene Restaurant and the best seats in the bar are reserved for Ladera’s in-house guests.

Stayed tuned to both this blog and the Blog for more detailed updates about my trip to St. Lucia.

You can read about my second day glamping at Ladera Resort here.

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FriFotos: Service Dogs in Uniform at the Monkey Tail Ranch

Tim and Tater, the FEMA search and rescue dog, en route to Alaska

When I found out this week’s FriFotos theme was “uniform” I decided to take the opportunity to pay tribute to some very special professionals who wear uniforms– service dogs.

I’ve learned quite a bit about service dogs in the past year because my puppy, Zeppelin, is being trained by Tim and Elise of K9 Training Concepts who know quite a bit about the subject. In addition to training dogs as family pets (like my Zeppelin), Tim and Elise are both members of the FEMA Search & Rescue teams. Their dogs, Tater and Lupin, are are trained to find live human scent in disaster situations. These dogs have mad skills. Check out Tater climbing a ladder at the 1:15 mark in this video.

Tater climbing a ladder at the 1:15 mark is highly impressive

Tater in Uniform

Tim and Elise are also the co-founders of The Monkey Tail Ranch, a non-profit organization where they train service dogs to help those living with autism, post-traumatic stress, and other disorders that can benefit from having a service animal.

Nothing cuter than a puppy in uniform: Future service dogs in training

I didn’t know about autism service dogs until until I got to know Tim and Elise, and every time I hear updates about how the Monkey Tail service dogs have changed lives, I often find myself moved to tears. 

First time in uniform: 9 week old Bailey, a future autism service dog

If you know of anyone who might benefit from an autism service dog, I highly recommend checking out The Monkey Tail Ranch. I cannot speak highly enough of Elise and Tim’s commitment to dog training– be it their own FEMA search and Rescue Dogs,  service dogs for austim, and family dogs.

Lupin the FEMA Search and Rescue dog looking very handsome in uniform

Tim is also a full time firefighter, and while Firemen a reputation for looking fine in uniform, I don’t think he’d be insulted knowing that Tater and Lupin kind of steal the show. I’m grateful Elise and Tim train family dogs, too, like our Zeppelin. Zepp is an Instadog and won’t be officially home with us until he is fully trained this summer.

Zeppelin is proudly being trained by k9 Training Concepts

Above Photo Credit: Rebecca Adler Rotenberg

The Monkey Tail Ranch is located in Silicon Valley in Hollister, California.

The photos in this post are courtesy of the Monkey Tail Ranch and Rebecca Adler Rotenberg. Much thanks to Tim, Elise, and Rebecca. Without them, this post would not be possible.

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Guest Post: Turks & Caicos A Trip Report Part 2

Editor’s Note: This guest post is the second in a two part series written by my friend, interior designer and lifestyle guru Brian Toth. Brian recently returned from a trip to the Caribbean island of Turks & Caicos. Not only does his trip report include some great travel tips and excursion ideas, but he even discovered where you can get gluten free pasta in Grace Bay. You can can read the first post here. You can also follow Brian Toth Lifestyle on Instagram and Twitter. All the images in this post are courtesy of Brian Toth- Jen

Day 4 was excursion day, the one day we took a break from being lazy all day on the beach drinking rum, and actually did something active. We scheduled a trip with Provo Ponies, an experience that lets riders go horseback INTO the water, and ride in either groups or private parties. We had originally wanted a 90 minute afternoon ride, but were booked solid, and had a cancellation for a 60 min morning ride. It worked out in our favor. They provide a 9:30 am shuttle pickup, and after a few other pickups, were at the place by 10. by 10:30 you’re on the ride, enjoy the time, and finished by 12, ready to go back to the shuttle. (having to do that by leaving your beach day at 3:30pm would be too difficult, especially with the temperatures and rum drinks.).

Our group was about 10, all with different experiences, from zero to professional riders. The guides pair you up with a horse suited to your comfort level (they get all this info before-hand when you book). The bigger guys in our group got ex- carriage draft horses that were BEAUTIFUL, and all the others got native provo ponies- cute horses all grown up from the island, that were enjoying a semi-retired life. Once you’re comfortable on your horse, the ride begins with leaving down a big open dirt road, until you get to go through some foliage. Once passed, it opens up to this glorious beach, with not a soul in sight, and the horses don’t just get the hooves wet- they get belly deep in the water! (they make sure you’re valuables are safe, and even offer alternative shoe choices in case you come in sandals). The ride was incredible, and everyone had a great time. This is an experience you should have once in your life!

While driving back to the hotel, we noticed an Italian restaurant, Bella Luna Ristorante, and decided we felt like needing comfort food for dinner; a little break from all the fish. Once again, it was just in town, and easy to walk to. That night, With plans to have a pre-dinner sunset cocktail at a nearby hotel, we stopped by the restaurant as they opened, and put our names in for a reservtion an hour half from then. After a 10 min walk, we arrived at the upscale hotel resort, the Grace Bay Club.

Its a beautiful property, where clearly no money was spared. It may be one of the nicest hotels in Grace Bay, with the lobby and grounds, and pool all perfectly brand new, cabanas and linen flowing in the breeze. We read that this place boasted their “Infinity Bar”- a sleek 90 foot long bar facing straight towards the ocean. Although it is just a long bar, serving fun tropical cocktails and light bites, the view and ambiance it provides is spectacular.

We arrived just at sunset, and the colors were breathtaking. This place definitely had more guests and visitors, as their neighboring outside dining experience on the ocean front lawn was packed. Tike torches, linens, lanterns in the trees- very picturesque. More of a polished resort experience, making our resort seem like a cozy hideaway far removed from the world. Drinks were fun, and we ordered coconut shrimp (excellent- I can still taste them)!

Ready for dinner, once arriving to restaurant, it was ready for Italian food. This place is actually 2 levels- the bottom open air patio style is open daily as a pizza place, and upstairs  (through trees- very Swiss Family Robinson) is the Italian dinner side. Service was fine, food was comforting. Not loud, not busy, but booked. Seated on the veranda high up was a nice experience, getting just a bit of the breeze. The best part of this menu was something not offered on it- they actually have gluten free pasta here! This was a big win for for me! They are known for making their own handmade pastas and bread, so I felt a little bad, but not as bad as if I had eaten it! We had a gluten free carbonara which hit the spot, and a meat pizza that was pure Italian. Portions were large enough that we didn’t need dessert.

Things to know: There is a grocery store Graceway Gourmet, that has everything you need to feel like you’re at home. Because our suite had a fridge, we wanted to get some afternoon snacks to enjoy on our balcony. Being active- and gluten free- vacations can be tough, because you may not find things your stomach would like you to eat. Graceway Gourmet had everything your normal grocery store would have- including probiotic drinks, an extensive wine and liquor selection, and of course, a deli, coffee shop, and snacks for the room. It was close enough to walk to, no taxi needed. The pries are quire a bit higher than the states, because everything is imported. a bag of nuts was around $11 dollars, while protein bars were upwards of $5.

The liquor stores are outrageously priced, so get your liquor at the grocery store. A bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue was $266 here, when you can get it for $150 back home. We also noticed certain wines available at Trader J0es for under $20, were going for double the the price! Same goes for any of the hotel sundries shops. My advice: make like a local and shop at the grocery store. You’ll get overcharged anywhere else.

Logistics: Upon leaving this wonderful island, a 15 min ride to the airport was quick and easy. Once you got in the airport- it was back to reality. The lines for customs isn’t the best, but not the worst. The worst is once you get past it, the combination waiting area/lobby/terminal is so small and packed and crowded, we felt like sardines in a can. What wasn’t helping is that certain flights were having 6 hour weather delays. Fortunately we found that there is a “secret” upstairs waiting are, which offers a small makeshift bar, and has music, as well as an open air view of the tarmac. While it may be warm, it is better than being trapped downstairs. There is a bar area in the main room, but it is too busy to deal with- my advice: skip to the roof!  Also, Beware of the bathroom there- it does not feel up to US standards, so don’t expect them. The boarding process was a mess, as there really isn’t a terminal, once you fight your way to the “gate”, you’re free to go outside and board the plane from the stairs on the tarmac (again- remember about any purchases or luggage you might not want to carry up). Once inside- nothing but cool mist, and air-conditioning help ease your way back home.

We took US Airways, (now part of American Airlines), which seems like the really need to update their planes. We usually fly Virgin, so I expect nothing less than personal TVs, ordering service, etc. This plane had no TVs or music or entertainment anywhere, and for a long trip like that, it can be very monotonous. The silver lining is that while we traveled coach- we booked the same seat for every leg of the trip -22d and 23E- they are at the emergency door with more leg room than first class, and only the 2 seats side by side- no stranger is near you. Plus, its not a bulkhead seat, providing you with storage in front of you.

Much thanks to Brian Toth for this guest post.

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