Thanksgiving Ranch Work Vacation

 

Southern Alberta is my spirit space. I live for grasslands and mountain ranges. I spent oodles of time there as a kid because our closest cousins lived in Pincher Creek. During the hot Alberta summers of the 70’s and 80’s, we would play in the creek, hang out in the mountains and just absorb the wind with our youth. I recently got an invite to come photograph Thanksgiving Ranch ( I’m calling it Rainbow Ranch because of the constant spectacular rainbows) and I jumped at the chance. Owners Bradley and Christi Bustard found me on instagram while casually searching for a headshot photographer for their teenage boy and we hit it off immediately. I arrange a three day photoshoot and we agreed that Ken would join me since we had a wedding in Pincher Creek to attend that weekend.

The moment we arrived at the front gate I was struck by the spectacular views. I have been to ranches all over Alberta but this place is uniquely situated. It’s nestled in the mountains rather than sitting in front of them. If you have ever been to Waterton Lakes National Park, then you will understand how beautiful the Rocky Mountains are in these parts. The ranch has rolling hills and is punctuated by large swaths of trembling Aspen. The trees are a shorter version than what I am used to and I found them so beautiful. Later in the trip I was thrilled to visit a stand of ancient Limber Pine trees (my other favourite trees). There is a lot of wildlife in this area and you might view moose (we did!), bears, wolves, coyotes, deer (saw them plenty) and just about every bird of prey while staying on the ranch. Shortly after we arrived, Bradley took Ken and I on a fun zip around the property in the batmobile (a really great covered atv) in order to orient ourselves and start shooting. I continued shooting for the next three days but it really didn’t feel like work.

Bradley is a serious cook and provided us with delicious gluten free treats, large breakfasts, hot lunches and wonderful dinners. We enjoyed meeting and sharing meals with other guests during our stay in the main Lodge. Our well appointed suite in the lodge had a spectacular view of the mountains to the south as well as a view directly to the west. Pincher Creek flows through the property and makes a beautiful morning vista from the room. The king bed was super comfortable and luxurious. Our suite had it’s own large bathroom with a large walk in shower. Loved the privacy and never heard anyone else during our stay up on the second floor.

The Lodge used to be the main home on the 24 quarter section ranch while the current owners parents were still living on the ranch. Since that time, renovations have been made that really improved the guest suites. There is also a beautiful swimming pool building right next door. I forgot about that while packing and didn’t bring a bathing suit (oops). I also got to tour and photograph the barn which is a fantastic rustic event space for weddings and parties on the main floor and there is a modern event room upstairs for yoga retreats and corporate meetings spaces. I was hired to take lifestyle photos for promotional purposes so most of my tours were Ranch specific, but I know they can arrange any type of outdoor tour for guests. Ken and I took an afternoon to ourselves and rode mountain bikes in Waterton Lakes National Park on the third day. I noticed dozens of families had rented motorized bikes in the park. Such a great equalizer! Folks of all ages took the path from town to the red rocks highway (closed to cars at the time) and rode bikes for the day. We saw 2 bears on our biking day.

You might not know that my step dad (Papa Larry) has a small hobby ranch and you might be wondering how a mostly vegetarian/flexitarian feels about a cattle ranch. I gotta be perfectly honest. Bradley and his family are amazing with their cattle. I was really interested in their ranching techniques because I have never seen any of my other ranching family friends operate the same way. The family doesn’t raise calves themselves. Rather, they purchase calves at market, send them to a really quality feedlot until the harsh winter is over and then they only keep them on the ranch for around 90 days. Everyday or two, Bradley opens the gate of one of the the sections where the cattle are grazing and he calls them. Literally he lets out a big deep “heyooo” and the cows just come running into the next section. He closes the gate behind them and they graze for a day or two on fresh fields. No stressful rounding up needed. This method ensures that the grass on the ranch is healthy and is continually renewing for the next year. I thought it was pretty cool. My dietary requests for gf/vegetarian food was deliciously met so I was happy and his young cows posed magnificently for me.

Location wise, it’s among the best in Alberta. Our hosts were genuine and kind, the food was awesome and I loved my experience there. You can check out their website and stay tuned for my photos starting to pop up on it and on their instagram. This rainbow shot overlooks the ranch and the rockies from high above. So gorgeous I didn’t want to leave.