North America


Mountain Sky Guest Ranch

By Mary Ashcraft

Bozeman Airport is the first glimpse many travelers will see of the Big Sky State on their way to the upscale Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, and it is an eye opener. Unlike most airports around the world that are carbon copies of every other airport, clearly, the one in Bozeman says, "You have arrived in Montana." From the airplane one walks into what appears to be a mountain lodge with a huge working stone fireplace with cozy cushion covered stone benches and life size bronze sculptures of Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion, Elk, and Beaver. Bronze birds fly overhead. One almost expects to see next the wild thriving Bozeman frontier town of the late 1800's where most of the people living there had crossed the difficult plains in prairie schooners. These early pioneers came seeking gold in the streams, to set traps for beaver in order to sell the much sought after fur, or just to find a place in the vast wilderness to call their own.

In an hour's drive from the airport, traveling through Paradise Valley along the path of the historic Bozeman trail, (now a main highway), is the turn off to Mountain Sky Guest Ranch. Separating the ranch from the main road and civilization is a four mile drive that follows the rushing Big Creek river as it winds through the wild beauty of Quaking Aspen, evergreen forests of White Pine, Sagebrush and Apache Plume. You know you've arrived at the ranch when you see the horse barns and corral fronting the impressive heave-timbered lodge with its wide porches filled with rocking chairs. The strong fragrance of Pine fills the air, and there are the unmistakable smells of leather saddles, wool saddle blankets and horse feed emanating from the stables.

Construction began on the main lodge in the early 1900's. The thirty guest cabins scattered about on hillsides and under the trees can accommodate up to eighty people with some of the cabins dating back to 1929 when it was a working ranch and doors opened to its first guests. Naturally, all of them have been refurbished for up to date comfort, with attention being paid to retaining their rustic character. Rustic stops at the front door, however. The cabins reflect a time gone by, with charming hand made patchwork quilts, and pillows, colorful braided rugs, and chunky Split-Pine furniture. In contrast, there are large, comfortable overstuffed sofa and chairs as well, a refrigerator, coffee and tea maker, and under those old fashioned pieced quilts are modern down pillows and comforter for keeping warm and cozy on brisk mountain nights. Three bedroom units have large stone wood-burning fireplaces, and the three recently built cabins have sitting rooms, and large porches and picture windows affording views of the magnificent mountain scenery.


In the late 1800's, Nelson Story drove a herd of Texas Long Horn cattle up the Lonesome Dove Trail to reach mining towns in Montana. His travels were halted by an early winter that can hit hard in the mountains. Finding a little canyon with good protection from the elements in Emigrant, Montana, he claimed it for his ranch and called it Ox-Yoke. That was one of the first brands used in Montana and it is still in use today. In the early 1900's Mountain Sky became part of the Ox-Yoke Ranch and served as a base camp for cowboys and sheepherders. Vegetables and chickens were raised on the ranch to feed the hired help, and there was enough good home brew to liven up an evening. Ranch fare today at Mountain Sky has improved considerably since the days of serving fatty bacon, beans, and home brew that could remove stains from a napkin. Chefs prepare three gourmet meals every day for guests, pool side barbecues of steak, chicken or seafood, and an array of hors d'oeuvres before dinner. Home brew has been replaced by a list of excellent wines from which to choose.

There are enough activities or lack of activities on the ranch to please anyone. From over a hundred horses, mostly geldings, each guest will be matched up to a suitable horse at the beginning of the visit, and it will be that person's horse exclusively until the end of the visit. There are horses for everyone from beginner to experienced rider. Mountain Sky wranglers give helpful riding tips along the way with the notion that a guest can also be improving his riding skills on the trails that criss cross through the Montana Rockies, streams, and cattle grazing pastures nearby. Some rides are all day adventures with a lunch break midday for a specially prepared picnic. Riders learn about their horse, lore of the mountains and Montana history from the wrangler as they ride along through a countryside so grand it boggles the imagination.

There are guided hikes twice a day on woodland trails that are also graded for the fitness of the hikers. Those wishing to hike alone will be given advice about the trails, a backpack and a lunch to take along. Twice per week, hikers or riders set out early in the morning for a scenic spot to enjoy breakfast being cooked over an open fire, cowboy style. The guest may Fly Fish in the pond on the property which is stocked with Brown, Cutthroat, Rainbow and Brook Trout, in the Big Creek that runs by the ranch or in the nearby streams and lakes of Yellowstone Park. Yellowstone Park is only 30 miles away from the ranch and well worth a visit. We all owe Teddy Roosevelt a debt of gratitude for this great National Park he gave to us. The guest may sign up for scheduled all day trips to Yellowstone for a rigorous hike with breathtaking views, or for whitewater rafting down the Yellowstone River. Other activities offered at the ranch are tennis, volleyball, or horseshoes, and a pile of board games and a good selection of books are to be found in the main lodge. There are sing- alongs after dinner with all the old western favorites, western dancing with the wranglers joining in, and hay rides that end with roaring camp fires, and tasty snacks.

For those who think inaction is beautiful, there are isolated quiet corners everywhere for reading, meditating or painting some of those amazing views, listening to the birds, watching the wranglers herd the horses down the mountainside, or lazily watching the clouds in the big Montana sky. Then too, there is always time for a swim in the heated outdoor swimming pool, or relaxing in the outdoor hot tub. Try these at night while gazing up at a black sky filled to overflowing with stars from horizon to horizon.

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch welcomes families with children and offers carefully planned, fun-filled daily activities for kids. There are programs geared especially to keep the children amused and busy. There is a playground with swings, a cabin for crafts plus an Indian style teepee with a campfire site for stories on Indian and wild animal lore. Daily programs run from early morning to afternoon with a stop for lunch. In addition, there lots of supervised options geared for teens to choose from, like horseback riding, fishing, arts and crafts, swimming, tennis, and scavenger hunts. Parents and children both like the evening meal when the children eat the foods they like with their peers, and the adults are left to enjoy their gourmet meal at tables with other adults.

In this quiet little out of the way niche in the southwestern corner of Montana with the Montana Rockies all around, one can begin to feel the vastness of the land. Montana alone is roughly the size of Germany, and in many areas there is more wildlife than there are people. It is in such a place that one can hear the spirit of the land if one is listening.

For Additional Information: http://www.mtnsky.com

Photo Credits: Mary Ashcraft and courtesy of Moutain Sky Guest Ranch