Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hiking Albino Lake, Gallatin National Forest

Albino Lake hike is a 2.5 mile trek to the lake, making it a 5 mile out and back or you can make it a 4 mile loop connecting with Taylor Fork Rd. This hike is located off the Taylor Fork Rd. on Highway 191, just South of the 320 Guest Ranch. When you turn onto Taylor Fork Rd., follow it about 3.8 miles to the Wapiti Creek Rd. split. There will be a pit toilet and parking area, the trail starts across the Taylor Fork Rd.

I scoured my hiking map for a new trail to hike and this hike looked interesting. Of course I tried to find information online about it and got a couple descriptions for the mileage and what to expect.
I planned on going on the Albino Lake trail by myself but my husband insisted I did not go by myself as it is heavily populated by Grizzlies. So I recruited my nephew and my fur child, Fredo to join me on the hike. We hiked in the afternoon as I knew mid-day would be very warm. Once you cross Taylor Fork Rd. you will see the trail head sign and within ¼ of a mile there will be a bridge to cross the Taylor Fork Creek.
The trail winds through the open meadows, with lots of wild flowers. The hike is moderate and climbs slowly up to the lake. About half way, there will be a section where the earth has shifted and sunk, forming two small lakes. The first lake was dried up and the second lake Fredo jumped in for a swim. In the upper right of picture 2, you can see the sunken earth in the photo. We arrived at Albino Lake and found a small trail around the lake. There was lots of activity at the lake with fish rising, ducks swimming, birds and even a beaver (Picture 3 & 4). We hiked back the way we came but you can make it a loop by heading around the lake and out to the Taylor Fork Road.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hiking in Big Sky Area

This spring I planned a hike to Indian Ridge Trail, located north of the 320 Guest Ranch. I had hiked it probably eight years ago and remembered only a few details about the trek. As I was planning the hike, I searched the internet for information about the trail. I found information about the some trails in the Big Sky area, mostly the heavy traveled trails though. It seemed that the less traveled hiking trails weren’t written about or had little details or pictures available, go figure!  For the remaining hiking season, I will blog about these obscure trails. My hope is to aid fellow hikers and guests to explore the beautiful and less trodden trails. So let’s start where it all began at Indian Ridge Trailhead.

Indian Ridge Trail, Hwy 191-9 miles out and back.

I had a wild hair to re-hike Indian Ridge Trail this spring. I knew the hike was up hill most of the way but couldn’t remember how far it was and how hard it was. I talked my nephew into joining me on this trek. He was visiting from the Midwest and looked forward to a hike. Also hiking was my four legged friend Fredo. We started the hike at ten in the morning with another car parked at the trailhead. The hike started up hill, then into the woods. We walked along the draw of the drainage basin for about a half mile, allowing my dog to play in the water and drink some too (Photo 1). As we walked on, the switch backs began. The switch backs were of the longer version not being too steep but I still took a break here and there to catch my breath (Photo 2).  As we gained elevation on the switch backs we walked into a beautiful bloom of wild flowers and great views of Garnett Mtn (Photo 3). After about an hour we started to ascend quite high almost level to adjacent ridges and kept wondering and saying aloud to each other if we were close to the top yet (Photo 4). We kept on hiking with each turn in the trail looking like it was the top. After another half an hour of walking we took a break and enjoyed the view. Of course we both forgot to wear watches or bring a cell phone so we weren’t sure how long we had been hiking or how far we had gone. We discussed turning back as it seemed we just kept on walking uphill with no end in sight. We decided to suck it up and keeping going as I remembered there was a large open field at the top of the ridge. We trekked on, walking in the woods and looking for the top of the ridge. We finally came out of the woods and it flattened out a little with the trail following the edge of a steep meadow. As we walked, there was still snow present and sticking to the trail. My nephew loved seeing the snow and didn’t mind venturing on as we were not heading up hill anymore. We finally could see the meadow I remembered a few turns ahead on the trail. Of course a storm was blowing in with rain clouds and the snow was slick and difficult to walk in (Photo 5 &6). We decided to turn back, after almost summiting the ridge and glad we did because the storm blew in and it got nasty. The walk back down was of course faster than the way up and we cruised through all the switch back sections. When we got to the car, the clock said it was 2 p.m. and it had been four hours that we were hiking. I would guess it was a nine mile out and back for us. Needless to say we ate a big meal and loved every bite after that hike. Next week Albino Lake.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Upgrades and Updates ...

Wow, it's been a while since we've posted - sorry about that!

The ranch has had a pretty busy winter right until Mother Nature gave us a spring preview a bit too early and melted our snow a little too quickly down here! We had to stop our sleighs just after St Patrick's day... but we gave plenty of folks some good ol' Montana fun until then. The sleigh rides really never get old, you can be on your 20th one and it's still as cool as the first time you did it. We all already thinking about next year and more snowy fun!

The Steakhouse has had a pretty busy winter - and there is just one more week to enjoy the delicious food and then you have to wait all the way until June 10 for it again...SO you better mosey on down and get some of the delicious food they are cooking up ... I recommend the elk medallions or the pork - BOTH DIVINE! But then again everything on the menu is so it's kind of hard to pick!

Well, although things are quieting down we are working hard behind the scenes to get some things lined out for the summer to make the ranch better than ever.

First thing we are working on is expanding our kitchen. Chef Martin and his crew do a great job of putting out delicious food each and every day but we are busting at the seams in the summer when we have 2 or 3 events happening and we are running the steakhouse, so we have, with the help of Hackbarth Construction, starting putting in another partial line so we can handle the ever growing lists of events more easily. The new line will be up and running for the summer season and we are all so excited!

Secondly we are finishing the room renovations that we started last winter. All the cabins got new paint, carpet, tile, light fixtures, linen, and mattresses last year - this year they are getting new window coverings, furniture, lamps, headboards, alarm clocks (with Mp3 connections), Kuerigs, kitchenettes in the units that have those, new counter-tops in the units with kitchens, new appliances in the full size kitchens, refrigerators in the deluxe log cabins, new TV's and new artwork and a few other little things here and there to make everything look great. PHEEW that's a lot of upgrades!!!

We are working hard to make our cabins as comfortable as we can and keep them up to date but let them keep their cabin-y charm. We think that the upgrades are pretty great and hope that you do too!

We will try to keep you updated with pictures as things progress - all the projects are just coming to fruition and the hard work will start soon!!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Snow, Snow, Snow.... what do we do with all the snow?

People are always asking us - what do you guys do with all of the snow you get?
Especially if you live somewhere that doesn't get much or any.

It's not an easy answer and it isn't easy work, but living where we see snow 6 months of the year we have to keep up with it and it's a part of our life.

For the roads we have two trucks with plows attached to them. We have a larger dully HD truck and an older Chevy (red rover we call him) - that work together to get the main roadways plowed and cleared of snow. We have several areas on the ranch that we have to push the snow out of the way. Later in the winter when the snow really piles up sometime the piles are too large for the truck to push over so Marce has to fire up the Caterpillar 966 front end loader and move the piles back or make them higher.

We also have a skid-steerer that we use that has a bucket and also a snow blower attachment that is pretty handy in getting into the little crevices that the trucks can't. Also because we have metal roofs on all of our buildings, after it snows and the sun comes out the snow on the roofs will slide off in front of the cabins - this is where the skid-steerer really shines.

Also we have good ol man power shoveling that has to be done to keep the walkways, decks, and steps clear. For the large decks that aren't covered we have a hand driven Honda snow-blower. Most of the decks, steps etc are shoveled by hand by our maintenance and housekeeping crews.

The key to snow removal is getting the snow up before it's been walked or driven on; so on days that mother nature likes to send us large amounts of snow it's up and at'em early by 5 am to get things cleared before people head to breakfast at 7.But it takes nearly the whole day of work to get everything cleaned up; even with the early start.

So, there's  how we do it... just piece by piece and keeping up with it we are able to deal with the about 300 inches of snow annually that we receive here at the ranch.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 320 Steakhouse is open!

The 320 Steakhouse opened December 14th. We had a great start to the winter season. The 320 Steakhouse features favorites like the Cowboy Ribeye or Rainbow Trout with Chef Lewis' culinary twist to the entrees. Chef is inspired by the west and utilizes locally grown foods to fulfill his vision of Montana Cowboy Cuisine.

Our first night went well, we had some diners from the ranch and locals that evening. All were happy and well fed, some saying too well. The second evening the Sleigh Rides began and we had a busy dining room with guests enjoying a relaxing dinner after their sleigh ride.

This week Chef Lewis is featuring three course dinner. The first course has three Montana cheese's. The entree is a 16 oz. Cowboy Cut Ribeye from the Lazy SR Ranch in Wilsaw, MT. He is cold smoking the steak, a process that uses ice in the smoker instead of heat.  This process delivers the smokey flavor and allows the steak to be grilled to temperature later. The Ribeye melts in your mouth with a Flathead Cherry Port Wine Demi-Glace. To finish a creme brulee with a huckleberry brittle. Come down for this amazing taste of Montana, the three course dinner has a limited supply.

In the Steakhouse you will still find Steve tending bar and we have two new servers, Anna and Nathan. Anna is a true Big Sky local, born and raised here in Big Sky-rare to find but always a gem! Nathan has been pursuing his literary studies at MSU and has just finished the semester, now he is ready to learn how to ski. Any night you might find John Richardson, our General Manager greeting the guests, or Meghan and Angela making the 320 Magic happen in The Steakhouse.

If you pop your head into the kitchen you will find Chef Martin Lewis directing his staff, long time employee's Lee and Mike. Also on the line is Daniel, he is a true weekend warrior in the army reserve. As the winter season picks up we will have more staff returning or starting to work for us.
We are so excited by the snow that has been falling, turning the ranch into a true winter wonderland. Come down and see us soon, whether it is a Sleigh Ride with Marce or for a delicious dinner from Chef Martin's Montana Cowboy Cuisine. Happy holidays-The Steakhouse Staff

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sleigh Rides!

It's one of our favorite times of the year - it's time for our sleigh rides to start! 

Tonight is our first night and we have 29 folks signed up for the 5:30 ride, how exciting and what a great start! (and a 9:00 dessert ride too - who doesn't love hot berry cobbler from a cast iron dutch oven?)

This year we have a few new faces, and some that we all know and love. Marce is our head of horse operations and our lead sleigh driver. Marce has been at the ranch for 15 years and takes great care of our guests and horses. We have him to thank for many of the successes that the ranch has. This year our second sleigh driver is Austin, he's new to the 320 but has spent two summers down the road at the Covered Wagon. Austin is from Ohio and went to Hocking College, and we are excited to have him join the team. Eric is our third wrangler and he will be manning the warming tent this winter - he's everyone favorite since he's the smiling face you will see behind the bar in the tent. ;) Eric spent the summer with us as a wrangler and enjoyed it so much he decided to stay for the winter. He's been working on his team driving so we might even get to see him man the reigns later this winter. 

And of course we couldn't have our sleigh rides without our beautiful draft horses!!
Kicking off the season this year are Ace & Joe and Tim & Jim. 

Ace and Joe are a team of Percherons.  Ace came to us as a saddle horse in his younger days but then we realized pretty early on he clearly was a bit more than he appeared. Joe came to us a bit later and is also trained to be ridden under saddle- although it takes a pretty big girth to get  around this guy! We use him only as a wagon/sleigh horse, and he loves his job. These two have worked together for several years and really stop the show when they get going! Ace and Joe are our 'rockstars' as we call them, always great at posing for pictures, the first to come up for treats and attention, and I am sure they would be great at signing autographs if only they had thumbs! Everyone can spot Ace from a mile away, you don't see many 2,000 pound black and white painted horses - he is truly unique. 

Ace and Joe

Next we have Tim and Jim, they are our only Belgian team that we have. Tim and Jim just came to the ranch this summer from the Club at Spanish Peaks, and we love them! They worked this summer pulling our wagons for the Chuckwagon BBQ dinners and this is our first sleigh rides with them; but they are no strangers as they did this in their last job. Tim and Jim pull very hard and have no trouble negotiating a full wagon or sleigh. They are perfectly matching so sometimes they can be hard to tell apart - but for us 'non' wranglers they can be told apart by how they stand when they are hitched. Teams of horses work together as a pair and are placed on the same side each and every time they are hooked to something. Tim and Jim go Tim on the right and Jim on the left if you are standing in front of them. 

Tim and Jim

We are so excited to kick off this winter season! It really is the best time of the year... and what would a Montana winter be without a horse drawn sleigh ride - well we don't think it would be much at all. 

PS - And our dining room is open too - and boy did Chef Martin outdo himself... everything is amazing!!! We'll write more on that later but in the meantime if you want to check out the menu you can see it at Tons of great dishes and Martin spent the off season looking for local, sustainable,and just GOOD products to build an amazing menu with. We love supporting local businesses, it benefits everyone! 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We're new to this - but here's what's happening at the Ranch!

Well here it is near the end of the November and it's finally looking a bit like winter here at the ranch. Beautiful Blue Bird sky day... boy it sure reminds us why we all love this place!  We all filled our tummies full of wonderful Turkey and had a great time enjoying time with our families or our "Montana Families" and now it's time to get to work getting ready for the winter season. 

Marce has been checking on the herd up in winter pasture, they are fairing well so far this winter with Belgrade getting just some snow that has melted off. Winter pasture is always a double edged sword for us; we love giving some of our hardest working employees time off to roam and play and be horses - but they are so far away from us and we certainly do miss them. They all have such personalities and we love seeing them on a daily basis - but this is better for them and lets them all get good rest for next summer and the over 3,000 happy guests that they get to take out on our amazing trails. 

And we shouldn't be so glum, soon some of our favorite gentle giants will return to get ready for our sleigh rides, we can't wait to see Ace & Joe, Tim & Jim, Marty & Andrea, and Magic & Darla. Maybe even the old timer Mike will come and give us a visit. During the winter weeks we will do a little "meet our teams" blogs for you so you can get to know these guys & gals that work so hard to make our sleigh rides just perfect! They are all such gentle souls - we can't wait for you to meet them. 

We have been doing some work around the ranch, making improvements for the upcoming seasons. Today we have carpet installers in putting in new carpet in our dining room and banquet hall, we also have some roofing contractors here putting in some much needed heat tape in some valleys that keep getting ice built up. Marce and Austin (our newest wrangler) are refinishing one of our sleighs so it will look shiny and new. We also have ordered new window shades for our guest rooms to try out and if we like them all the cabins will have them before the summer season. We also have been working to replace some of the kitchenette units that are getting older with new cabinets and appliances rather than the old metal one-piece units. 

Chef Martin has the winter menu nearly finalized and we can't wait to dig into that on December 14th when the dining room fires back up for the winter season. If you haven't checked it out be sure you do... but more on that another day... 

Until then - happy trails!