Vacation now? In Wide-Open Spaces? Yes, consider the American West!
“Vacation.” Having spent my entire career in the travel and tourism industry, that word, until a few months ago, would immediately elicit instant images of beaches and tiny winding streets on Mykonos, tropical drinks, the warm water of the Aegean, freshly grilled octopus and a villa with a view of the ocean. That’s what it means for me. The images conjured in your mind when you think of vacation are likely different, but when you boil it all down, the idea is to get away, unplug, unwind, relax, see, do, and in general, experience.
Over the past weeks, I’ve spoken to dozens of people, who all want to get away, but the first thing that pops into their head is a hesitation of sorts. Where can I go that will be safe? How will I get there? Will I get stuck there? Will I have to quarantine? How are the doctors and hospitals there? I have to admit, I hesitate. This virus has been like a punch to the gut. Every part of our lives is impacted and so many people have lost their lives. It is tragic.
My wife and I concluded though, we needed to get away and we needed to figure out if it could be done safely. Last week, for us, that meant a home rental on the beach in Michigan. Waking up, sipping some coffee, sitting out on the deck overlooking nothing but hundreds of miles of open water did the trick. We recharged. We connected as a family. We did puzzles together. We went to the beach together. We had meals together. Was it the most wonderful vacation we’ve EVER taken? No. But it was great, especially given what’s going on. To us, life is short. We didn’t want to take risks with our health, and this was something we were comfortable doing given we’re being very careful about where we go. We always wear masks and we don’t go to many public places at all. We knew we wanted open-air, wide-open spaces, spectacular views and a place we could practice social distancing. We wanted to be able to get there by car without stopping much, if at all. We accomplished all of this, and it was well worth it.
What’s next? Throughout my career, especially as an international tour and yacht cruise operator; I’ve been amazingly lucky to have seen so much of the world. Traveling around the Greek islands, the Indian ocean, pyramids in Egypt, the Amazon, small villages in Thailand, the Austrian Alps, and so many other places, my eyes have seen natural beauty that must have been created by God. With all my passport stamps, I’ve always known I have so much more to see.
Guess what wasn’t on my list? The American West. I know, I’m embarrassed. Hear me out though… I thought I had seen our country. After all, I’ve been to almost every city for one meeting or another and traveled hundreds of thousands of air miles. I had seen the beaches on both coasts, the lakes of Wisconsin, the ski mountains of the northeast as well as the Rockies, dozens of the best small towns across America during my time at Rand McNally, and so much more.
Well, over a year ago, I was asked to join the amazing team at Brush Creek Ranch, in Wyoming. Nestled on 30,000+ acres in Saratoga, Wyoming, Brush Creek Ranch is comprised of three ranches and has been voted the top resort in the USA by Travel+Leisure and Conde Nast in multiple years. The top resort? There’s no way, I thought, that I hadn’t heard of the nation’s top resort. Well, one look at the website, and I was amazed, not only at the beauty and the amenities but at the cool $1,500 per person, per night price tag. Brush Creek Ranch was looking to do a luxury retail startup of sorts, to sell everything from apparel to beef. They were going to open another facility called The Farm at Brush Creek, complete with a brewery, distillery, creamery, a wine cellar that could house 100,000 bottles of some of the finest wines in the world and finally, a top restaurant which would serve not only American Wagyu raised on the property but organic fruit and vegetables from their monstrous greenhouses. I had, in the past, done two startups and successfully sold those businesses, so I knew this would be right up my alley.
On my second day on the job, we flew into the private airport in Saratoga, Wyoming, and drove the 25 minutes to the ranch. Alternatively, you can fly to Denver and drive three and a half hours to get to the ranch. It’s an incredibly easy, scenic route. I did it many times.
Do you want open spaces? Beautiful views? Fantastic accommodations with some of the best fly-fishing the world? This is it! And, by the way, if you’re hearing “ranch” and imagining some dilapidated cabins, you couldn’t be more off. This is a luxury ranch.
Upon driving around, one thing immediately struck me; the vastness of it all. You could see mountain ranges that were hours away. It reminded me of Patagonia in Argentina. It is simply breathtaking. And, not far away, you could find beautiful, national parks, not that you ever really need to leave Brush Creek Ranch to do anything. Let me explain.
Given the area and the property, Brush Creek Ranch offers a myriad of activities. There are almost seven miles of the North Platte River that runs through the property. Brush Creek Ranch is an Orvis certified venue and has, on staff, some of the finest fly-fishing guides around, especially the Head of Activities, Matt Anderson. Matt is a fish-whisperer if I’ve ever met one. They outfit you in every conceivable piece of Orvis gear you might need, and then take you and show you where the fish are and how to catch them.
You can also go horseback riding, take out ATVs to explore the property, do archery, go rock climbing, or relax at the spa. So basically, you can go out, enjoy nature, get dirty and come back and pamper yourself in deluxe accommodations. That’s my kind of outdoors.
Last summer, The Farm at Brush Creek did indeed open. This complex is one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot around the world. The Cheyenne Club restaurant serves some of the most delectable meals I’ve eaten, thanks to head Chef, Angus McIntosh. Yes, he’s a chef with the first name of steak and last of an apple. He’s awesome and has made some of the most scrumptious dishes I’ve ever eaten, not to mention they’re so physically beautiful, you almost hate to eat them…. Almost.
The wine cellar was just voted one of the top ten in the world and is up to about 30,000 bottles. You’d be hard-pressed to find such a complete selection of some of the world’s finest bottles, all in one place. The Head Sommelier, Gretchen Allen, is another true professional. A tour of the cellar with her is an extraordinary experience. In addition to the wine cellar, you can also visit the Spirit Vault, with some of the finest spirits from around the world, which is only accessible via a secret door.
I’m writing all of this because I was lucky enough to visit Brush Creek Ranch about a dozen times over the past year while I was employed there. And, if you’re like me, you need a vacation right now and want something where social distancing won’t be a problem. Wyoming has more cows than people. You also want a place where they take protecting staff and guests seriously. I can tell you that Brush Creek Ranch had, before I left, an entire Covid-19 operations plan and was putting into place everything required by local government. They weren’t fooling around. My advice is to do what you are comfortable doing according to your own personal situation and circumstances. You have to do your own research and come to your own conclusion about vacation. Visit www.BrushCreekRanch.com to find out more.
Brush Creek Ranch (featured in all the above pictures) isn’t the only luxury ranch out west. PawsUp in Montana and Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado, are also good choices for luxury stays. I prefer Wyoming and of course, Brush Creek Ranch, but I’m biased.
Finally, please don’t think I’m not aware of how many people have lost their jobs. Many can’t even think about vacation and this post wasn’t meant to come off as insensitive. Trust me. That said, for those looking for wide-open spaces, Wyoming is about as wide open as you can get. And, while it’s a bit of a drive for most of us, it is doable. Also, while I’ve written here about one of the most upscale experiences you can have, Wyoming offers an assortment of ranches for all budgets. The Wyoming Office of Tourism is one of the more organized tourism offices I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and their site has links to the ranches which are available. See https://travelwyoming.com/places-to-stay/dude-ranches