The adventure never stops.
Since he returned from his European Vacation with Nicole Kelley on the 21st of October (2014), Dennis F. Stevens has been virtually running the 10,000 plus acre Targhee Ranch & Resort for his friend, the owner, George Gillett, Jr.
George, his wife Rose and three of their four sons are in Australia until the 13th of November. The Gillett family owns the Penfold Wineries (Australia’s most famous name in wine) and other assets in South Australia. They also own the world famous Traghee Ski Resort near Driggs, Idaho.
Stevens first met George when he was a seasonally employed inspector for the Idaho Department of Agriculture (from 2009 – 2012) assigned to the Ranch. This, after he was let go by BYU’s Cinema Studies Department for violating a zero tolerance rule (i.e.) no one, student or professor, shall partake of adult beverages. A food and wine critic, Stevens slipped up and was caught red handed.
Gillett was impressed with Stevens’ background and they hit it off. Since he knew all there was to know about his operation, Stevens was the logical choice to fill in while he and his family were in Australia.
With the valuable certified seed potatoes in storage and the wheat and hay harvested, Stevens was busy winterizing the ranch and selling most of the approximately 2,500 head of Black Angus cattle. Winters can be rather harsh on cattle in this high altitude area. Since it’s a drain on resources, the ranch wants to care for as few cattle as possible in wintertime.
The numerous Mexican workers all head for their homeland three weeks after Labor Day, leaving only a skeleton crew to work the ranch through the winter. A large, motel-like bunkhouse accommodates both the fulltime and summertime workers. Family housing is also provided year around. The well stocked kitchen, with its Cordon Bleu trained chef, would please both a Minnesota lumberjack and sophisticated world traveler eating at Michelin star rated restaurants.
Stevens insists that this is a really a festinating ranch; with three helicopters, and a Hawker (350 turbo twin-engine) Beachcraft King Air with a range of 1814 Nautical miles; which carries 11 passengers; cruises at 312 Knots and has its own galley and restroom. The aircraft also has its own hangar at the Driggs (Idaho) Regional Airport. Salt Lake City’s billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr. has the adjacent hangar. George Gillett, Jr. pilots his own aircraft.
The rich and famous fly in from all over the world to spend a week at one of the last dude ranches in America. The resort also caters to family reunions, class reunions, and competes with Las Vegas for government and corporate gatherings. Overflow business from the nearby Targhee Ski lodge (owned by the same family) keeps the Resort open during the winter.
The Targhee Ranch also has a fleet of RAM pickups and 10-wheel trucks, six 18-wheel semi trucks, powerful tractors, the latest equipment and harvesters, with more than a dozen horses specifically trained to cut specific cattle from a herd. There are another six young stallions in various training stages. It is a fusion of the traditional working cattle ranch with the modern farm. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the adjacent Teton Resort also serves as a dude ranch where guests can actually lasso and herd cattle sitting atop skilled horses.
During these summer months the resort puts on a western show every Saturday night, in the big auditorium. After a hot barbeque beef and chicken dinner served cafeteria style with freshly baked beans, baked potato, applesauce, hot bread, corn on the cob, and a surprisingly delicious dessert, the five member band sings traditional western songs; which include, but are not limited to: Tumbling Tumbleweed; Back in the Saddle Again; Don’t Fence Me in; Home on the Range; Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo; Red River Valley; Ghost Riders in the Sky; the William Tell Overture (the latter accompanied by images from the Lone Ranger TV show on giant HD TV screens flanking the stage); and many other iconic western tunes. Despite the loud, electronic, rock beat, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, would be proud
As the band plays samples, on stage a
gunslinger/announcer explains the difference between country music (as sung by
Willy Nelson and Patsy Cline); country-western (as sung by Tex Ritter) and the
western music made famous by the likes of the aforesaid Gene Autry, Roy Rogers
and the Sons of the Pioneers. All while he demonstrates his skill with an
authentic single action model 1870 black powder 45-70 cartridge loaded Colt
.45. As an aside, it was in
1873 that the smokeless powder cartridge was introduced. …It’s really a thrill and attention
getter when the gunslinger fast draws and fires that deadly weapon inside the
auditorium. Sometimes the
smoke gets so thick on the stage that you can barely make out the
musicians. The wadding from
the converted cartridges (from lead to blanks) flies high above the
audience. And the cordite
smell readily reminds one of Robert Duvall’s famous line from “Apocalypse Now”
The dinner show is not all that different from the one at Mesa Arizona’s world famous Rockin’ “R” Ranch. Like the Rockin’ “R,” the musicians are working ranch hands when not performing for their Saturday night audiences. The fiddle player is actually one of the two helicopter pilots. The drummer is the ranch’s wrangler and horse trainer. The bass player is the veterinary and a very good cook in his own right. All but the drummer play more than one instrument onstage.
All food including the freshly churned butter comes from the ranch and is really, really good. Seconds are available as the supply lasts, all of it washed down with hot coffee and/or cold lemonade. Wine and beer are sold separately. Stevens feels proud that he have had a large role in selecting the wines; all geared to a compatible paring.
As the Black Angus cattle are sold to local meat packers, choice cuts are sold back to the resort for the gourmet meals served in the resort’s restaurant and in the auditorium, during the western show. Instead of the typical Tyson chicken farm, at the Targhee Ranch the chickens have their own roost where they tend to gather at night for feed and to lay their eggs, but roam the adjacent wheat fields during the day. Stevens has yet to figure out where the hens get laid, in the roost or wheat fields; perhaps both.
Recalling the burlap wrapped, buried in hot charcoal, slow cooked pigs of his youth (where the succulent, juicy meat fell off the bone), at first Stevens was surprised that the Gilletts refused to raise hogs on the ranch. He later learned that this was because of wife Rose, who hated to see an animal as intelligent as a pig being slaughtered like cattle. To her what Stevens callously refers to as a porker was like a dog, a loyal friend, albeit not necessary a cuddly one. However, Stevens couldn’t help notice that Rose’s unwavering attitude towards the animal never prevented her from enjoying strips of crisp bacon with her eggs Benedict. Needless to say, Stevens loves his brief, part-time assignment and is having the time of his life.