Joe and Leslie Tripps' 15,000-acre parcel of land has been in the family for five generations. The husband and wife team controls the management and operations of the Bull Run Ranch, located on the Missouri River. Twenty-five miles southwest of Great Falls, Montana, and seven miles from the town of Cascade, Bull Run Guest Ranch has been a working cattle ranch for the last 100 years. Even today, 500-plus head of Black Angus are pastured there. But over the last several years, there's been a distinct shift in the management philosophy of what this Montana homestead can and should be about. It's the Tripps' belief that this pristine land can be managed in such a way that many different kinds of land-use needs can be met.
The Bull Run Guest Ranch is becoming much more than just the working guest ranch it's been for many years. Visitors from around the world come here to enjoy horseback riding, campfire cookouts, and, at certain times of the year, cattle drives, when the livestock is moved to and from the high mountain pastures.
About five years ago, however, Joe and Leslie began to look at additional ways to maximize the return on their land. Through careful planning and close coordination with Russ Ehnes, executive director of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, the Tripps began cultivating this land for a different kind of market.
Using the existing livestock and game trails and carefully planning and contouring environmentally friendly new trails, they've created and groomed more than 100 miles of trails for ATV and motorcycle use, plus miles of roads where family SUVs and pickup trucks can be put into 4WD to have their mettle tested. In many cases, for those arriving at the Ranch in their SUV or pickup truck, this will be the first time the family transportation has left the pavement to do what it was designed to do. With its new trail system, this multiple-use ranch provides adventures and recreation for a wide variety of enthusiasts, including photographers, birdwatchers, fishermen, hunters, backpackers, naturalists, ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts, and those who simply want a true ranch experience.
As part of the operation, Bull Run rents motorcycles and ATVs to their guests (there are age restrictions), but people staying at the ranch also may bring their own toys. Bull Run even offers a package where toy enthusiasts who also enjoy the RV lifestyle can bring or rent toys and enjoy the solitude of standalone RV camping in a primitive setting along the Missouri River. One such campsite is located where Sheep Creek flows into the Missouri. It was here that Meriwether Lewis and his men camped (around 1805) and hiked to the top of what's now called Tower Rock.
For accommodations, guests of Bull Run Ranch have a choice of the old ranch house (built in the 1890s) or five individual cabins, all of which are outfitted with the creature comforts of home. Here, guests can relax, eat, and plan the day's agenda. They can cook for themselves in their cabins or dine at the ranch house, with meals prepared by the hosts or by the Bull Run staff. Leslie Tripp specializes in hearty ranch-style cuisine, but loves to experiment with new recipes, often gleaned from watching Emeril on the Food Network.
A Day in the Life
When you're both the management and the workforce, your job is never done. Wearing many different hats, Joe Tripp uses his trucks not only to load, haul, and maintain their fleet of motorcycles and ATVs, but to feed livestock, check and maintain the trail system, and monitor the game roaming the property (elk, mule deer, antelope, whitetail deer, bear, and pheasant). It's this game that during the autumn months attracts hunters from across the country.
Like many rural operations (farms and ranches), a collection of old abandoned trucks and farm equipment has accumulated behind the ranch buildings over the years. It's an automotive graveyard that offers the curiosity-seeker a museum-like opportunity to see the vehicles of yesteryear that once provided support to America's rural communities. When looking at these old trucks (including a 1940s General Motors tractor/trailer cab, a Dodge Power Wagon, and others that have been cannibalized and rusted almost beyond recognition), even the most stoic will give pause to marvel at how these vintage trucks made rural America what it is today.