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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 Glamping.com 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
-Archery
-Mountain Biking
-Hiking
-Paintball
-Little Grizzlies Kid’s Club
-Wildlife watching
-Stagecoach rides
-Horseshoes
-Outdoor swimming pool & hot tub
-Cross-Country skiing
-Ice fishing (upon availability)
-Snowshoeing
-Ice Skating
-Snowmobiling
-Snowcat Tours
-Sauna
-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
877-786-1545

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 Glamping.com 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 Glamping.com 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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Hotel Review: A Stay at GeeJam in Port Antonio, Jamaica

Soaking tub with a view in Drum & Bass at GeeJam

After falling hard for Port Antonio, my friend Zan and I decided to extend our vacation by an extra night. After shuffling our flights home, we headed to GeeJam (which is managed by the same great staff as the Trident) and checked into the Drum & Bass suite, which is located directly under the GeeJam’s onsite Recording Studio.

Chic island simplicity in Drum & Bass

With only seven rooms– five of which are stand alone cabins and one three bedroom villa, GeeJam is intimate and cozy and feels like a five star glamping experience in the jungles of Jamaica. It’s more rough luxe than the sleek and chic Trident, but the experience is just as fantastic.

All the rooms at GeeJam are named after different styles of Jamaican music

Drum & Bass had a killer deck with a hot tub that we didn’t have time to use and chic island white decor. The glass paneled walls opened up, making the whole place be about indoor/outdoor living. GeeJam has killer public spaces– including the BushBar restaurant where bands perform live almost every night. Even if you don’t stay at GeeJam, I highly recommend coming for dinner at BushBar when their de facto in house band, the Jolly Boys, are performing. 

Love the Flintstones chic paver stones near exterior of Rock Steady at GeeJam

The Jolly Boys are Jamaica’s answer to Menudo– except all the “boys” are over the age of 70. They perform great mento music as well as some killer cover songs I’m particularly fond of their mondern mento cover of New Order’s Blue Monday.

Green grounds at GeeJam at the Jungle luxury

GeeJam is built into the side of a hill, and that might be an issue for people with mobility issues or small children (in that case, the Trident might be a better choice for you). Down the hill, there is also a private beach club complete with loungers, a bar, and paddleboards. If you want more of a local beach experience, the staff will happily drive you to nearby Winnefred Beach or Boston Bay Beach.

Comfy lounging area in Drum & Bass

In addition to wifi, GeeJam (like the Trident) gives guests a mobile phone so they can contact the staff wherever they are on property or in the area.

Left: the soaking tub at Drum & Bass Right: the hairdryer

The bathroom was modern with a HUGE soaking tub and enormous steam shower that I didn’t stay long enough to enjoy.

I slept exceptionally well in the comfy all-white bed in Drum & Bass

Musicians often stay on site here when recording in GeeJam’s studio (like Amy Winehouse and No Doubt).

Banana pancakes for breakfast at GeeJam

I loved the friendly and laid back luxury of GeeJam. The staff was top notch and made sure we were well taken care of. Room rates include breakfast which is a nice touch.

Jamaican swag on GeeJam’s chef’s uniform

The staff at GeeJam had no problem with my food allergies and was friendly to boot.

The exterior of GeeJam’s Recording Studio

GeeJam’s rates start at $395 per night, and you can find specials here.

The outdoor pool table at BushBar

Left: cozy lounge seating at BushBar Right: the view from the deck of Drum & Bass

Zan exploring the Beach Club at GeeJam

On the walk to GeeJam’s private beach, you can take a detour and explore nearby Drapers– which has some great hole in the wall bars and is very atmospheric. You’ll pay $2 for a Red Stripe.

The sharply dressed Albert Minott, lead singer of the Jolly Boys at BushBar

The Jolly Boys performing live at BushBar

Before things got hopping at BushBar

Left: BushBar has fab drinks Right: the outdoor pool table at night

GeeJam is a Jamaican gem and will appeal to those seeking a non-generic luxury experience. It’s part of the reason I am so crushing on Port Antonio (so much so, I’m already planning a return visit with my husband).

Night lights at GeeJam

GeeJam Hotel is located just east of Port Antonio in Drapers.

Skype reservations available on the GeeJam website

phone 1-888-4-GeeJam

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