In the silence I opened my window to listen to the secret of the Bitterroots…a nameless hush.” – The Great Western Bus Ride, Jack Kerouac
I needed a nameless hush. I wanted to get away from the city’s wailing fire engines, ambulance sirens, and sounds of traffic. I ached to see a place where the sun and moon weren’t blocked by high-rises, where the wind whispered through the trees, where I could stare up at snow-topped mountain peaks and see the stars at night. I dreamed of hiking Wild West trails, biking without having to dodge distracted drivers in the city, and horseback riding among golden Aspens, orange cottonwoods and Ponderosa pines.
So, I booked a vacation to Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, deep in the heart of the Montana Rockies. This 26,000-acre Relais & Chateaux luxury resort, less than two hours south of the Missoula Airport, is a tranquil all-adult all-inclusive (wine and alcohol included) getaway offering gourmet meals, endless adventures, and plenty of wildlife to watch. Also a working ranch, there are 150 bison, a wild herd of 1,000 elk, and several hundred black angus cows.
I imagined myself as Billy Crystal in City Slickers, driving cattle while waving my cowboy hat and screaming YeeHaw! But Triple Creek’s authentic cattle drives, run from June through September, are appropriate only for qualified riders. That ruled me out both because I was arriving late fall and I don’t ride horses. But Triple Creek offered endless other activities including riding without being on a cattle drive.
My log cabin, one of twenty-five, was enormous. The living room area had a buttery-soft leather couch to sink into, swiveling armchairs, kitchen with coffee and tea maker, a fridge stocked with sodas and juices, coffee, tea and homemade granola and freshly made cookies were restocked daily. The living room fireplace needed only a match to roar to life, readied each day. There was a small dining table for meals (you could have every meal delivered any time of day), a huge LED screen TV and DVR, and a king-sized four log-poster bed. The bathroom had two ensuites, two vanity areas stocked with Moulton Brown amenities, robes and slippers, and an enormous steam shower. Upon seeing my spacious cabin, I was tempted to jump into my private hot tub on my wrap-around deck, breathe in the fragrance of the Ponderosa forest, and do nothing. But I’d do nothing later.
Weeks before, I’d worked out my schedule by phone with the Ranch’s “Experience Concierge.” First, horseback riding. With sixty horses at the Equestrian Center, there was no need to be on a cattle drive. There were rides to fit one’s ability all year long. I didn’t have cowboy boots (sneakers were fine), and they offered a selection of cowboy hats to borrow as well as leather gloves, hand-warmers, and a “duster,” a long oilcloth coat to keep out the cold and rain. Rides are kept to a maximum of four guests, so it was just me and a couple celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.
We watched a short video explaining how to get on a horse, how to make it go, stop, turn, etc. Then, led by Kelly, the wrangler, we mounted and rode out of the corral to a forest path blanketed in fragrant Ponderosa pines, and where Aspen, birch and larch trees glowed golden yellow. Always in the distance were the snow-capped mountains. The sun absolutely silent except for the horse’s hooves clip-clopping on the earthen trail.
When I came back to my cabin that night after dinner, there was a framed photo of me on horseback. Guests received a framed photo for each activity they tried. At the end of the stay, they gave each of us our personal zip drive of photos. Classy.
I wanted to try a few esoteric activities. I didn’t feel like soap or candle making, archery, fire building, or geocaching, but I wanted to give hatchet throwing a try. Rusty, the Logging Camp guide, handed me four small hatchets, stood me in front of a wooden target, and told me to aim for the bullseye. I aimed perfectly, but hatchet after hatchet missed the target. After sixteen throws I was ready to give up, but Rusty encouraged me to try again. Thwack! On throw seventeen, the hatchet landed smack into the target, an almost perfect bullseye. Grinning from ear to ear, I sauntered, now a bit bow-legged from my ride, over to the sapphire panning area.
Rusty handed me an apron, rubber gloves, and a bucket of gravel from the nearby sapphire mine. At his instruction, I chucked the large rocks, poured some gravel into a screen, swished it around in water, dumped it onto a table and, with tweezers, searched for sapphires. What would I make when I found them? Earrings? A necklace? I didn’t see even one, but in a matter of seconds, Rusty handed me eight tiny sapphires he’d just found – not enough for jewelry, but I knew they’d make a great story to exaggerate when back home.
I was tired – maybe it was the 4,600-foot altitude – but it was time for a hot tub, then a steam in my wall-to-wall steam shower, relaxing time by the roaring fire, and finally, dinner. At Triple Creek, you don’t wait to be seated—you choose any table. Chef Jacob Leatherman, who has cooked at the James Beard Foundation, knocked it out of the park with every dish – no two were ever the same no matter which day. Dinner began with an amuse bouche (my favorite was smoked trout with lime crema and a sage pistou) to homemade soups and appetizers (think smoked duck breast with fresh figs and toasted hazelnuts) followed by dry aged beef ribeye with black truffle sauce, cheeses, and a sinful dessert.
Wine and drinks were included though there’s also an extensive wine cellar where you can order fine wines, even a 2007 Petrus for $5,300. The bread and butter were made daily with a different kind each night (my favorite was adobe chipotle honey butter.) Lunch was equally delicious: an organic mountain beef burger, or a Hawaiian crab seaweed salad, or pan-seared mahi mahi. Most people had breakfast in their cabins: pancakes, any type of eggs or omelet, home-made pastries, and steaming hot lattes and espressos.
Many come here to fly fish, not surprising as Montana fishing is the ne plus ultra and at Triple Creek, there are three rivers, two ponds and float trips from which to choose. The ranch supplies rods, reels, flies, nets, waders, and boots. I am not a fisherwoman but decided to try a fly-fishing casting lesson with Sean. We started on land, then went to one of the fully stocked trout ponds. While Sean was very encouraging, I am much too impatient to stand still and cast a line, so I suggested we go mountain biking instead.
Soon, Sean had driven us to the trailhead, adjusted a full-suspension mountain bike to my size, and handed me a helmet. Off we went, tearing up and down the forest trails, weaving around the Ponderosas, and finally coming to a clearing with a perfect view of the golden Aspens and the Bitterroot Mountains in the distance. I stopped and inhaled the smell of fresh mountain air. It was absolutely silent, and it would remain so during my private yoga and meditation session followed by a mindful forest walk, then a soothing massage in my room, and then another hot tub. After dinner, I gazed up at a universe of stars twinkling in the dark sky—not even the gentle wind could be heard. Only the nameless hush for which I had longed.