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Country Strong

Big Sky style from Montana, the land of silver and gold



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Harry Western Center; Polo Ralph Lauren; Tommy Hilfiger

JIM MANLEY, A TALL, white-haired rancher, leads a visitor past a homestead cabin alongside meandering Oxbow Lake. Up ahead are the remnants of a handmade rail system leading into an abandoned silver mine. The mine has two entrances. One has collapsed. A cougar has taken up in the other. “I’ve been coming to say hello to the cougar every time I get out here,” Manley says, inspecting the cave.

You’d expect Manley to be a grizzled Westerner more suited to horse-breaking than high society, but the reality is a little more complex. While he is indeed the proprietor of this place, the 6,600-acre Ranch at Rock Creek, just outside Philipsburg, Mont., he’s also a hedge fund manager from Connecticut. “I’d wanted to own a ranch all my life,” Manley says. It took him 20 years to find the one he wanted, and another year to turn it into the luxury lodge and impeccable cowboy fantasia that it is today.

But then such is the draw of Big Sky Country. Bordered by Yellowstone National Park to the south and Glacier National Park to the northwest, Montana has never been accorded the jet-set cachet of an Aspen or Jackson Hole (nor, one suspects, would it want it). However, there is a gentle cultural shift afoot, with rustic-luxurious ranches like Manley’s becoming popular weekend destinations that combine high-end amenities with the breathtaking landscape that has long drawn hikers, skiers and trout fisherman here to the land of silver and gold.

It’s that same blend of ruggedness and effortless style that drew us here for Hemispheres’ fall fashion spread. We spent three days at the working ranch soaking in the Montana air, tooling around on muddy roads with the ranch hands and shooting the latest Western-inflected styles from big and small designers alike, accompanied by the odd pair of gloves or chaps on loan from the resident cowboys.

At dusk one day, after we had wrapped the shoot, Kerry, the ranch manager, brought us out into the field where the horses roam at night. He stepped out of the Jeep and whistled. The horses all perked up and wandered over to greet us, sniffing and gently brushing their heads against us like so many friendly dogs. It called to mind something Manley had said earlier, when he told us he hoped to retire here some day. “It’s like paradise on horseback,” he said. www.theranchatrockcreek.com

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