Since Peggy Dulany bought J Bar L Ranch, the 30,000-acre working cattle ranch she owns in Montana’s Centennial Valley, in 2000, she’s used the five historic homestead cabins on the property to host retreats for her nonprofit and as vacation rentals. This year, Dulany and Barb Holliday, a wilderness guide, massage therapist and somatic coach who grew up in Montana and has worked at the ranch for years, will start offering personalized wellness retreats to clients who want the chance to disconnect and recharge. Here, they share what the ranch offers and who can most benefit.
Q: J Bar L is a working ranch that you’ve owned for a number of years. How did you decide to open it up to vacation renters?
Peggy Dulany: When I bought it in 2000, there were these beautiful, but somewhat falling down cabins that were from homesteader times. It seemed like it would be such a terrible waste to not restore them to their original beauty. We ended up with five cabins. Then of course, we had to do something with them.
The guest program itself has evolved over time from just rentals to then designing activities, most of which were initially outdoor activities like hiking, bird watching or painting. Then we began to realize that people often came there with a yearning to really find themselves in the wild. And that some of them wanted to do that but didn’t know exactly how to go about it. So over time, we’ve gathered together on the ranch people who are really knowledgeable about that.
And you host workshops too?
PD: Yes, through the other side of my work, which is Synergos. It’s a full week in which people spend two nights out alone in the wilderness. We only take between 10 and 14 people a year—people who either are or want to become part of Synergos’ global philanthropist network. What we’re realizing though is more people want that kind of thing. Two of the people who went on that retreat last summer said, “We want to come back and bring four friends next summer. Could you create an experience specially tailored for us?”
What have people said they’ve gained from these types of experiences?
PD: One example would be people are in a, I don’t want to call it a mid-life crisis, but they’re not sure what they want to do next, or they’ve been doing something for a long time and there’s a little voice inside them saying, “This isn’t really what I wanted to do with my life.” The opportunity to disconnect, step back and get time in this beautiful wilderness gives them the chance to reflect deeply—to have nature mirror back to them what it is that they’re really longing for. Even if you’re not camping out in the woods, we find that being in this environment offers them a different kind of reprieve from their busy daily lives than they’re likely to get either in a spa or certainly in a city.
Barb Holliday: One man came who’d been through a health crisis, and he ended up staying for six weeks. He said that the amazing thing was that he actually rediscovered not only a connection to people, but he said he actually had rediscovered his sense of purpose.
He’d gotten really cynical, overworking, lots of stress. What he said was that coming to J Bar L provided him the opportunity to switch off from the conventional and get close to the land and his core self.
But this kind of retreat isn’t for everyone.
PD: No—the closest highway is off 21 miles of dirt road. You’re out there in a valley where you’re likely not to see any other lights. The cabins are beautifully decorated and it’s very comfortable, but you have to really want to be away with your family or your friends or even on your own to want to do this. We’re pretty clear that this wouldn’t be the place for somebody who wants to go out to a restaurant every night.
BH: It’s an hour and a half to the grocery store. There aren’t the usual distractions. But what there is, is beauty and quiet. It’s almost primordial, with the ability to see the Milky Way in the night sky and the mist on the river when you wake up in the morning.
Who do you think will really benefit the most from these tailored and specific programs?
PD: It doesn’t have to be executives, although a lot of our guests are. What we’re really looking for are people who are longing to be their most fully engaged selves in life. They may be interested in self-development or want an opportunity to work on that with a very experienced and talented person. Barb is really amazing at helping people, first of all, really get grounded in their own bodies—that’s what somatic coaching is all about—then helping them connect to the wilderness.