By Emmie Bristow
As a sixth generation Montanan, I was raised around many ranch-hands. I have a long list of relatives who’ve worked in ranching, including my grandfather who was a livestock camp tender out at Sieben Ranch (north of Helena) and mainly worked with sheep. My mother, aunt, and uncle grew up there, and I have many family friends who have also worked with and around the ranching business. These people have worked around horses, cows, sheep, you name it, and they have an incredibly deep love of Montana’s history and the land. Because of this, I tend to avoid many cowboy-country-themed tourist attractions because they often don’t accurately portray Montana’s ranchers or their way of life.
When I went on Bruce Anfinson’s Wagon Ride Dinner to Last Chance Ranch, however, I was pleasantly surprised.
Anfinson met us Visit Helena Montana ladies at the edge of the Park Avenue building parking lot in Downtown Helena, and we followed him up Grizzly Gulch to his horse-drawn covered-wagon. He began preparing the wagon ride, and while doing so, treated his horses with the same respect I’d seen my grandfather treat his own horse. It became apparent that Anfinson had spent many hours around them and knew what he was doing, and when we loaded onto the wagon and began the slow trip up the mountain, I felt an overwhelming calmness. There was a slight breeze that day, slightly swaying the pines above us, and it looked about to rain soon. As Anfinson states so perfectly in his brochure, it literally felt as though we were “travel[ling] back in time.” There was no rush of cars, no flashing of iPhones: only a small group of us settling in, listening to the bump of wagon wheels over the old dirt road. I was glad I brought a jacket, as it was a little chilly, but it seemed a nice break from the usual sweaty summer weather.
When we arrived at the Moose Mountain Cabin—which was hand-built using beetle-kill pines—we made our way inside the cozy lodge. The tables were already set and ready for the family-style dinner, and it reminded me of the stories my grandfather and mother tell of their time working on the ranch: how exhausted they’d be when coming in for supper, and how everyone on the ranch would settle down around the same time to a nice, home-cooked meal of hearty meat and potatoes. Little did I know, that’s exactly what Anfinson would be serving us: prime rib with homemade rolls, potatoes, fresh vegetables, and some good old coffee and water. He made our experience a little better than the ranchers usually had, however, by adding in a garden salad to start off and finishing up with a delectable huckleberry cheesecake. The food was exceptional.
After the meal had been served, Anfinson, along with an old friend of his, played some guitar and sang for us. By his proficiency, he obviously had been playing for quite some time, and as the sun set pink and orange across the big sky, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of nostalgia—a yearning for a pastime I never even experienced—which I feel is what this little trip was all about. Anfinson was able to help us see just a bit, from his point of view, of what it is like on a Montana ranch. And that is an experience I will never forget, and I doubt you would, either.
Reservations are required to catch a ride on the Last Chance Ranch Wagon Ride Dinner. Either call ahead 406-442-2884 or BOOK ONLINE. Tickets are $100 per adult and $85 per child, but well worth the money. It’s not every day you can experience this Montana adventure.