Landscape Photography via Snowmobile in Montana, with Rich Ranch

February 10, 2017  •  4 Comments

 

I just returned from a 7-day winter snowmobile tour of the Lolo National Forest and surrounding areas with the good folks of Rich Ranch.   I’m looking for the right words to describe my experience:  Outstanding?  Not good enough.  Fabulous?  Still not good enough.  Spectacular?  Not quite good enough, but I’m running out of words, so Spectacular will have to do.  Rich Ranch took it from pretty darn good to Spectacular.

 

Tracks lead the way into the Lolo National Forest mountains

 

My backstory is that the last time I did winter landscape photography was 20 years ago.  I’ve been itching to get back out in winter, but I knew that I was going to need to do a snowmobile-based tour.  Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing were out.  I was not interested in an auto tour.  I wanted to get out close to and into the wild, and I wanted to cover a lot of ground.

 

Shadows on the meadow herald impending sunset, Lolo National Forest

 

I looked far and wide.  I have a spreadsheet filled with options: the Yukon backcountry (I knew this exceeded my skills), British Columbia (looked pretty good), Togwotee, West Yellowstone, Montana, Alaska, Quebec,…. I pretty much looked at all of them, and contacted four outfitters/guides.  My criteria were:

  • Spectacular, mountainous winter landscapes with vistas from elevation
  • Daily guides.  I last snowmobiled 20 years ago, on my own and sometimes off-trail.  On that trip I flirted with real trouble.  I knew I had limitations.  I also wanted a guide for providing guidance on exactly which trails would be best, on any given day, for the type of landscape photography that I wanted to do.  Plus, a guide can be critical for helping to free snowmobiles stuck in the snow
  • Landscapes unmarred by buildings or boondocking (off-trail riding).  Based upon YouTube videos, I thought Togwotee might not qualify.  I thought that Rich Ranch might be a better choice for this criterion, as the snowmobile traffic appeared to be much lower
  • Competitive pricing 

 

Light and shadows highlight snow drifts. 100mm lens. Ten frames focus-stacked with Helicon Focus to ensure sharpness front-to-back

After I spent some time talking and corresponding with Jack and Belinda Rich, at Rich Ranch, I decided to “take a chance” and go. I’m very glad I did.

 

On my trip, Rich Ranch was able to dedicate a daily guide to me as a lone snowmobiler.  That was good, but it got a LOT better. Early in my stay, I showed Jack some of my photos so he could see concrete examples of the type of landscape photography that I like to do.  Some of those were aerial photographs.  Jack mentioned that he had a friend who owned a Cessna plane, and that that friend might be able to do a flight if I was interested…  I said “Sure”.  The next day, family friend Mike Lindemer, who also owns the local Lindey’s Prime Steak House, was very kind to take me up for an 80-minute, open-window flight photo tour of the surrounding mountains.  Wow!

 

Aerial photo of the Bob Marshall wilderness, taken on a courtesy flight with Mike Lindemer. Open window

 

Each day I would “make medicine” with Jack (his term) to determine the best places to go.  With about 1500 miles of snowmobile trails in the surrounding mountains, there were lots of choices.

 

Days 1 and 2 were mostly clear.  Days 3-6 it mostly snowed.  However, I had planned ahead and brought an umbrella.  I was not sure how the guides would feel about holding an umbrella over the camera to protect the lens, but they did it with a smile....including Cecil, a former bareback bronc rider!   

 

Frozen waterfall in distance. The "splotchiness" in the sky is falling snow. Photo taken under an umbrella

 

On day 7, Jack treated another snowmobile group and me to an outdoor BBQ hosted by Mike Lindemer, in the National Forest, which was a very nice touch. Also on day 7, we went looking for snow ghosts: trees totally covered by snow, after four days of snow.  We came close to finding them. I really like the photos from that day.  What was more remarkable was that Jack dedicated two guides: Jon Kimble and himself, in case we got stuck in the terrain.  Jack and Jon even spent a few minutes creating a passable trail down a ravine and over a stream, just so I could get into the area and get some photos.  More wow!

 

Snow-covered trees at elevation, last day

 

In the evenings, I also got to learn a little about Rich Ranch, and about Jack and Belinda, and their family, friends, and staff. Interesting tidbits, such as 

  • Building and running a genuine and authentic guest ranch has been a lifelong dream lived by Jack and Belinda
  • That Jack camps in the wilderness for about 100 nights a year, half under the stars, and half in a tent, while doing horse packing trips
  • The remarkable story of Jack’s father, including how he was able to evade capture during WWII
  • Belinda’s painting talent and Jon's guitar and singing talent
  • The lobbying and local conservation work that Rich Ranch does

 

Clearing Snowstorm. Black and White

 

Before this trip, I had never done any type of guest ranch experience.  Kathy and I, or I, always venture into the outdoors and into the wilderness on our/my own.  I feel fortunate that my first guest ranch experience was so good.  For that, I give special thanks to Jack, Belinda, Shannon, Jon, Cecil, Mike, and Raeann for their exceptional hospitality.  I simply had a great time.

 

Guide Jon Kimble (R) and Owner/Guide Jack Rich (L)

 

The ultimate criterion that I had for this trip was “did I get great photos?”  I did.  I am very pleased with the photos I was able to take. You can see some more of those photos here in our Montana: Lolo NF and Bob Marshall Wilderness Gallery.  Some photos are up now, and more will be forthcoming over the next few weeks.

 

Jeff

 

Disclosure:  I have received no financial nor non-financial incentive, nor any discount, nor future promise of any type, for writing this post.  Nothing. Nada.  I wrote this post based solely upon the goodwill built by Rich Ranch during my stay.

 

Mission Mountain range, from ridge


Comments

4.Nicolet Dilts(non-registered)
Greetings Jeff! We arrived at Rich Ranch right as your vacation was ending but I wanted to thank you for sharing your conversation with us at meals while we were there. We can sometimes not appear as the most approachable bunch but I am so thankful that I got your website. The photos turned out lovely! I can't wait to see more.
3.Margie Bullinger(non-registered)
I am Jack's cousin, and I too have spent a large part of my life in the backcountry,and have also spent a week in the winter at their place taking in the winter beauty. The first words that came to mind were, majestic, breathtaking, serene, peaceful, untouched, calming, Creators canvas. I am happy for you that you got to share this experience with The Rich Family. Great Choice!
2.Violet(non-registered)
I had the chance to visit the Rich Ranch in the summer and it was totally Awesome. Love ALL of your pictures.
Jack and Belinda were the best host/hostess > keep saying "Best vacation EVER"
1.Larry L White(non-registered)
Great photos... Would love to see more
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