Working, Playing, Learning
Long ago and far away in Montana, it was possible to operate a business in the summer with the hard-working folks from right here in the Madison Valley. There were fewer businesses, fewer tourists and fewer jobs off the ranches, so finding enough help was not the challenge it is today. To keep El Western operating up to the standards you, our guests, have come to expect, requires creative hiring solutions.
Fortunately, one answer to this annual employee search is the J-1 student exchange program. The program brings university-enrolled students to the US to work and learn about our way of life. We have had students from Poland, Kazan, Moldova, Bulgaria, Taiwan, Russia, Unkraine, Chekz Republic and Romania. Most have never been to the US and many have never traveled by plane or left their own country before. Some come with a friend, but many arrive alone. All have some English, some have just a little. Think of it! Traveling for 24-48 hours from the far corners of their world to come to our little piece of Montana and go to work cleaning log cabins!
When we first began hiring these students, there was no Skype and phone cards to Lithuania were very expensive. It is easier now - they can reach back home and even show their families where they live and work and play. They share an apartment and literally mix cultures while they cook and eat together. They work hard, often having two jobs. And they are part of the seasonal puzzle for those of us in remote tourist areas. Without them, we would not be able to maintain the tourism economy that keeps our area vibrant.
And for our part, we are enriched. They bring enthusiasm, diverse points of view and fresh perspectives about the beauty and wonder all around us. Many keep in touch on FaceBook and are working in hotels around the globe. For us, the program does much more than just keeping our businesses in business...it brings people together for a time to share experiences. Just what western hospitality and travel are all about!
Photography lessons and tippets
One of the first things most folks pack when they get ready to come to Montana is a camera - wisely so! There are so many photo ops it is hard not to spend all your time snapping away. If you combine this urge with the chance to learn more about your camera and composing great photos, then we have a perfect opportunity for you. Ken Hall of Bearfeather Studios in Ennis is offering photography lessons at El Western this summer. On vacation, with no other cares and plenty of incredible subjects, is the perfect time to improve your inner shutterbug.
Last week, Ken spent time teaching my friend, Kim and I some of the finer points of shooting moving subjects, animals, mountains and flowers. He is a patient and generous instructor and we had a wonderful time learning from a master.
Ken shared a photo he took during the class and included this story to explain our very wet, but happy Golden!
"Here is an image from the last day of the workshop I taught at the El Western. This is "Tippet" the resident caretaker of the stream. The lawn was covered with limbs that she removes from the creek and deposits on the lawn. This behavior goes on constantly throughout the season. Seems she has given herself the job of Stream Maintenance Supervisor. Just in the hour we were by the stream shooting she must have brought twenty large branches and small limbs out of the creek.
For those of you who don't know. a tippet is the smallest part of the leader on a fly rod. The fly is tied onto the tippet. And since it is the first part of the line in the water, our Tippet is aptly named!
If you are interested in taking a lesson with Ken, contact the El Western office or Ken directly at
Seems I can’t always focus on my inside work when I am sitting by a window, looking out. I have a weakness for wildlife of all kinds, but especially birds. Flitting, feeding, fighting with all those shapes and sizes - they are a constant, but welcome, distraction. I come by it honestly. Growing up, I can remember my mother getting us to rush to the window with shouts of, “Come and look!! There’s a rose-breasted grosebeak!!” She even took to naming some of her favorites…like the surprisingly large pileated woodpecker she named “Big George”.
In that tradition, we now have our own feathered favorites. The Great Horned Owls have been nesting in the spruce trees on our front lawn since 1985 and many springs we have a front-row seat to the fledglings first flights. We know our noisy neighbors are back from the south when the Sandhill Cranes return in spring. There are so many wonderful species and this area that the Madison Valley has been named an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society and El Western is one of the IBA counting sites.
One of my favorite guest stories was the woman from New York City who came into our office to check out. As usual in the summer, the office door was propped open to a beautiful Montana morning and as she sipped her coffee she commented that she would love to have that recording. Puzzled, I asked what recording she meant. “The birds,” she said. “That CD of all the birds singing would be lovely to have back in the city – we just don’t hear them.” It took quite awhile to convince her that those songs and chirps were not recorded…just the usual morning chatter of our feathered guests!
For more information on the Madison Valley IBA visit http://mtaudubon.org/birds/madison.html
Observing nature is a favorite passtime here at El Western. The constant tide of weather changes and animal sightings is educational and entertaining (okay - so we're easily entertained!). Even Tippet, our golden retriever, gets involved. We taught her not to chase deer, as that is dangerous for the deer moving to the highway and for her. Instead, we call them her "friends". The deer have adapted to her non-aggression and will follow her activities - even watching when we throw balls in their direction and she retrieves them. Sometimes, it looks like they might be interested in playing themselves.
But Tippet's favorite part of the day is after her dinner. She gets a "chewie" stick and takes it outside and joins her "deer friends" on the lawn as they munch the dried grass. They have all gotten so used to this routine, that Tippet will look out the window and whine for an early supper if the deer have already gathered. The deer, for their part, are attentive when she comes out, but go back to snacking as soon as she lies down. Once in a while, a deer will huff and stomp at her, but Tippet just keeps chewing and before long the aggressive doe will relax. Last evening, one of the deer got within 3 feet of Tippet, and I grabbed my camera to record the friendship!
Winter "quiet" at El Western
Peaceful, quiet, secluded, relaxing…words we think of to describe winter in Montana. And they are mostly appropriate for the humans. But for the critters awake in our winter world, life is active. Take a walk on Bear Creek Meadow and see the chips of wood and fresh cut branches left by those ever-busy beavers. Or encounter the very skittish Great Blue Herons on take-off or catch a family of swans or ducks swimming where the water still flows. Millie moose and her calf are here from time to time – the herd of deer are here all the time. The owls hoot us awake in the morning and again as they sent out on their evening hunt.
We are never sure what we will see outside our windows in the“quiet” wintertime...but we never tire of nature’s surprises.
Our summer season begins...
New Year's Greetings! It always suprises folks when I tell them January is one of our busiest months. With only the Moose Lodge and Eagle's Loft open for the winter, how can we be so busy???
Well, right now is peak reservation season for our repeat visitors and also new family groups or weddings. The Mountainside Cabins and the Moose, Eagle and Trout Lodges are unique accommodations with their large living spaces and full-service support from our front office and housekeeping staffs. Guests know that they need to plan ahead to reserve their first choice cabin.
Let us help you plan your Montana break...now is a great time to lock in your favorite cabin and look forward to the summer!
The waterwheel waits for spring to start rolling again...just like us!
Madison River Gorge
The Madison River has gorged! Gorging is caused when extremely cold temps freeze the water into ice that clumps together on the bottom of the river, forms bigger clumps and floats to the top causing the river to slow and more ice to form. Eventually, the river stops flowing as the ice jams it up. The river doesn't always gorge, but this year has been extreme - starting early and continuing for over a month with just a short break. You can look at other gorge photos in our FB album at
Winter is coming...
Come spend some quiet time with us this winter. The Moose Lodge and Eagle's Loft lodge stay open all year and a crackling fire is really welcome after a day snowshoeing in the nearby forests. Rates and information for a winter stay are just a click away on our winter page.
Planning ahead for 2014
This is a great time to plan for your vacation to El Western next summer. Our availability is still good and we still have space on the 4th of July weekend. Look around the site and click on one of the "Book It Now" links or give us a call!
Welcome to the update!