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.
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.
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:
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!
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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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.