Trails, Trailers and Tales

When I was growing up, the beginning of July meant the end of a 45-mile cattle drive that stretched from my family’s ranch to the mountains near what is now The Ranch at Rock Creek. If you would have told a (rather stubborn) young me that I would one-day be the Digital Media Manager for a place called “The Ranch at Rock Creek” near our summer pasture, I would not have believed you.

Sundance Social Hour Views

Granted, it was a time before social media, cell phones and luxury guest ranches in Granite County. (The Ranch at Rock Creek begin welcoming guests in 2010.) Despite how the modern world has changed, it’s surprisingly easy to picture myself riding Brandy and trailing cattle–probably because I work for a ranch that spends its days leading guests through Montana pastimes that are actually reminiscent of times past.

Me at 5 riding my dad’s horse a few miles from The Ranch at Rock Creek.

A Ranch-Style Sundowner

Our Sundance Social Hour was a brainchild of Executive Chef Josh Drage, whose creativity with cuisine is only outshined by his ability to connect dining with Montana’s frontier roots. From Cowboy Breakfast, a campfire-cooked meal in a picturesque expanse, to the Overland Route Tasting Menu, inspired by the dining cars on the first passenger trains to California, his menus are always steeped in the history of the West.

Executive Chef Josh Drage prepares for our fall harvest celebration - carrying a plate of roasted vegetables.

Chef Drage wanted to find a unique way for guests to relax after a full day of activities and before the evening dinner and revelry began. He liked the African tradition of a “sundowner” which is a social hour that is a refreshing transition from the heat of the day into the relaxing evening, often after a day on safari. The guest experience at The Ranch is often compared to a safari experience because all our events, activities, guides, gear and meals are included in a stay. Read more about it here. He cooked up the idea of buying an old, rusted horse trailer and converting it into a mobile bar.

This is where my family comes in….

Barnyard Treasure

My family’s ranch sits on Montana Highway 1 – most Ranch guests pass by it on their airport transfer from Missoula or Butte. Rusted machinery and cars in ranch fields is pretty normal around here, and our ranch is no exception. You never know when an old wooden plank or metal sheet might be of use.

In our barnyard sat an old little two-horse trailer that once carried my childhood horses, Brandy and Cisco. Baking under the sun, it faded from royal blue to roughly the patina of a cloud-dotted Montana summer sky. One day my sister-in-law, and HR Director at The Ranch, Cat Johnson heard that The Ranch at Rock Creek was looking for a horse trailer for a new culinary experience. My dad sold our trailer to The Ranch and Chef Drage’s dream became a reality.

Old Trailer, New Life

Our talented engineering team set out to keep the character of our old horse trailer while giving it a new life at The Ranch. Mechanic John McDonald, who also hails from a longtime ranching family in the County, along with Director of Engineering Michael Heinz, IT Technician Joshua Kitchen, and Engineering team members Brent Babcock, John Monaco, and Stan Kosteczko, retrofitted the trailer to be a luxe cocktail bar with a fold down bar top, pass through window, and room for two bartenders to make you a refreshing summer cocktail.

Sundance roves around The Ranch just like a horse trailer should, parked at different locations throughout the week from Bikini Pond, to the Running of the Horses at our “Paradise and Piney” backroad intersection, or at the Camp Roosevelt Arena. Instead of bringing the proverbial horse to water, with this mobile bar, we bring the “water” to them.

Sundance Social Hour at Paradise Overlook.

Mobile Mountain Magic

Once the trailer was completed, our Ranch Bartending team took the reins. Led by PM Dining Room Manager Abby DeGraw and Bartender Jaitlyn Pettit – the experience blossomed to be the perfect combination of rustic charm and Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star service. Throughout The Ranch there is a deep appreciation for the beauty of the weathered west – from the initials carved into the door of the homestead barn to old saddles as seats and broken sheepskin chaps adorning the walls in the Silver Dollar Saloon. Call it “trash to treasure,” upcycling, or artifact curation – the result is being surrounded by Wild West history.

Abby and Jaitlyn dreamed up new cocktails that would be refreshing in the hot sun and pair with the patina and stamped metal siding that now adorns the bar.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve heard ‘we need one of these in our backyard’. However, with Sundance, the uniqueness does not just end at the look but also the cocktails that we feature on the Sundance menu–like the Rhinestone Cowgirl that we make with a Montana-made honey huckleberry vodka. The combination of uniqueness and fun that Sundance brings to The Ranch has made it one of my favorite projects to work on each week this summer.

~ Jaitlyn Pettit, Sundance Bartender

Sundance Social Hour will be featured throughout our summer season and during special events year-round. Follow us on Instagram to see it pop up over the fields and mountains across our 6,600 acres. We’re in awe of each of our dedicated Ranchers who have made Sundance Social Hour a new tradition at The Ranch. I’m personally grateful to see a relic of my past bringing people joy each week.