It’s difficult to describe the Glacier Ridge Ranch’s offerings in just a word. Eclectic might come close.
The guest ranch that sprawls throughout the woods near Trego features a half-dozen well-appointed cabins, some of which are more like custom log homes than cabins. A million-dollar man-made pond added seven years ago is a focal point that attracts plenty of waterfowl.
The ranch end of Glacier Ridge Ranch attracts plenty of visitors in search of the perfect retreat. It’s been the backdrop for weddings, even a funeral, and many family reunions. But it’s the businesses operated by manager Indigo Cantor in the main lodge that are more intriguing.
In an upstairs loft, the state’s only absinthe bar — that Cantor knows of — operates in a private space amid Art Nouveau décor in shades of green that complement the potent green elixir.
Absinthe is said to have originated in Switzerland in the late 1700s and became popular among artists and writers who imbibed in the strong 80- to 90-proof alcoholic drink because they believed it enhanced their creativity. Absinthe is made with anise and wormwood, but was banned in the United States until a decade ago because of a potentially toxic chemical called thujone that’s found in wormwood.
Cantor hosts guests in the absinthe bar by private reservation only.
“We get a lot of VIPs who like the fact it’s so private,” she said. “There’s definitely a cult following.”
A couple of local distilleries make absinthe, she noted.
“The reason is it (artemisia absintinum, the Latin word for wormwood) grows wild here,” she said. “Montana makes some really good absinthe.”
Part of the charm of sitting in the green room and being served a glass of absinthe is the process by which the drink is made.
To create the perfect blend, a sugar cube is mounted on silver sieve and ice water is dripped over the sugar cube into the glass.
The chemical reaction of the cold water as it hits the herbs in the alcohol turns the drink milky and it’s then ready to sip.
Cantor’s partner, Paul Grove, handles the lion’s share of the ranch work — “he’s the backbone of this place,” she insists. That frees up some of Cantor’s time to operate the Montana Farmacy in the main lodge.
That business is styled like an old-fashioned mercantile and offers a wide variety of herbal tinctures and remedies, most of which Cantor makes herself.
As a master herbalist, she is one of just a few people in the country who make specialized herbal treatments for Lyme disease and drug-resistant diseases such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus, known as MRSA, a super bug that is resistant to many commonly used antibiotics.
“We have 20 to 50 orders going out every day,” she said of the Farmacy’s mail-order business.
Cantor’s knowledge of herbal remedies was driven in part by her own quest five years ago to find a way to battle thyroid cancer.
“I wanted to immerse myself [in learning about herbal remedies],” she recalled. “I became a master herbalist so I could understand the science.”
In addition to the herbal remedies, Montana Farmacy sells the kinds of things one may have purchased in any mercantile a century ago. Cantor makes soap and sells it by the slice in her Soap Deli. Other products include salves, teas, jams, herbs, spices and food products such as imported balsamic vinegars.
Montana Farmacy, much like the absinthe bar and the guest ranch itself, are found largely by word of mouth.
“I have a lot of gruff, tough cowboys call me on the sly” wanting herbal remedies, she said. “People call me for certain products … some roots are super hard to get.”
It was a vagabond lifestyle that led Cantor and Grove to the ranch at Trego. Cantor operated the Sun Valley Soap Co. in Ketchum, Idaho, for a number of years before she and Grove traveled to South Africa for volunteer service.
While they were overseas, they realized their volunteer efforts could be put to use just as well in the U.S., so they came home and went on the road in an Airstream trailer. They’d stop in different locales, “randomly” volunteering for anything that needed to be done, whether it was cutting trees or cleaning bathrooms.
Cantor’s skills as a graphic artist kept them afloat financially as she did design work on the road. Her skills as an artist, incidentally, have led to some local projects such as designing beer labels for nearby H.A. Brewing Co.
They committed to volunteering for a year, and talked about one day managing a ranch in Montana.
“It was a pipe dream,” she said.
Then it came true.
Through connections of a family member, Cantor got a call from the ranch owner, who wondered: “Would you like to manage a ranch in Montana?”
They jumped at the opportunity seven years ago and never looked back.
Cantor and Grove are a couple whose ideas are constantly evolving. They want to grow lavender, and are contemplating planting a test crop of tobacco — they live in the Tobacco Valley after all.
If it grows, Cantor would like to make cigars as another addition to an ever-eclectic enterprise.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.