BY CAROLE ORLIN

Special to the Daily Press

I just returned from another outstanding adventure in Big Sky Country. The sirens were once again singing their songs about the grandeur that is Montana. The smells of the sage, the pine trees and the memories of the star-filled skies once again assailed my senses.

Fortunately, The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Mont. recently opened its doors and welcomed us with open arms. The Ranch promotes itself as an unparalleled luxury escape while providing an authentic Montana ranch experience. If you are looking for rustic chic, the Ranch will not disappoint.

We flew from LAX to Missoula on a non-stop flight (Allegiant Airlines) that took us a little over two hours. We were greeted there by the lovely Sara who drove us to the Ranch, a distance of about 100 miles. The Ranch is an authentic 6,600 acre ranch that offers all the amenities and comfort of a luxury resort, including fine dining, spa services and beautifully appointed suites with Montana inspired décor. The staff at the Ranch is dedicated to making its guests feel comfortable even if this journey might be their first Western experience. The staff promotes a real sense of ranch community. Their extensive activity menu is constantly evolving, and if by chance you do not see what you want, no worries; the activities staff will work with you to create the exact activity you desire. You are encouraged to take part in activities that will get you out of your normal comfort zone, whether it is horseback riding, archery, sporting clays, fly fishing, rafting, mountain biking, hiking, just to name a few. We met a couple who came there only to ride and were gone on horseback for the whole day, exploring the miles of breathtaking countryside. We also met several families that wanted to introduce their children to a world that does not revolve around sitting in the house all day playing computer games. The Ranch has a comprehensive program for children of all ages.

I was thrilled with the range and quality of the activities offered at the Ranch. However, I would not be completely truthful unless I admitted that part of the reason I chose the Ranch was for its fine dining. The chef’s selections were consistently first rate. I adored the watermelon and fennel salad along with the brined Hutterite chicken breast with Tuscan white bean ragu and Alpine huckleberry milkshake. I thought that couldn’t be topped, until I had the grilled panzanella salad, the Pacific Northwest king salmon and huckleberry buerre rouge and candied lemon marmalade with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. I could go on and on, but it just makes my dinner tonight of Costco chicken and couscous seem somehow sad. I must admit that before this trip I did not know the difference between a huckleberry and a Huckabee. Huckleberry is now my new favorite berry. The Ranch makes everything from scratch and most everything is home grown. Tony, “the man of wine and spirits,” loves to assist in the pairings of the best wines for the meals.

After the gourmet dinner, and partaking of multiple outdoor activities, it is time to party, Montana style, at the Silver Dollar Saloon. There, we had great fun bowling, shooting pool, playing darts, Texas hold ‘em poker, singing karaoke, watching sports on their 14-foot screen, and just letting our hair down, having a good time with new friends and acquaintances. The saloon stays open as long as the party lasts! During our stay, the fifth game of the Lakers/Celtics playoffs created a potential dining conflict for those of us from L.A. and Boston. The staff was kind enough to serve our gourmet dinners at the saloon so we could watch the game on the 14-foot screen. What a treat! Of course it did not help the Lakers, but it did make the loss a little less painful. Good food and good company does ease the pain!

We returned to our accommodations, a lovely room at the Granite Lodge (which houses nine luxury guest rooms). The Ranch has numerous alternatives, such as the riverside canvas cabins located right on the banks of Rock Creek. These eight “canvas cabins” are definitely suitable for city slickers. The sturdy canvas and wood structures have heating, electricity, rugs, plush beds, and your own private bathroom a short walk away. The people I spoke with loved staying there because of its location on the banks of Rock Creek, with evening bonfires, and a community feeling created from the others staying in the “cabins.” This is definitely “glamping” — glamorous camping — at its finest. There are also private homes to accommodate families or larger groups. We got to meet the owner of the Ranch, Jim Manley, who originally bought the property to be a guest ranch for his friends, but decided to open it to the public. All I can say is thanks, Jim. I had the time of my life!

CAROLE can be reached at Caroleorlin@yahoo.com.

IF YOU GO

The Ranch at Rock Creek

79 Carriage House Lane

Philipsburg, Mont., 59858

(877) 786-1545

theranchatrockcreek.com

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