Updated: Jan 15
12/21/2021, By Julie Van Hise
After 20 years as Active-Duty Air Force, I and my husband, Chris, had determined it was time to do something else. What that something else was a mystery until May of 2021...
Hi! I'm Julie Van Hise. My husband, Chris, and I are 1st generation ranchers and owners of 4 Bear Ranch - a ranch that not only provides for our family but provides for the local community as well. How did we get here? Lots of twists and turns, that's for sure - however, we would not change a single thing. Starting a Ranch when we didn't know we wanted a ranch is a blessing. First though, how did we end up in Montana?
My husband and I, both active-duty Air Force at the time, were stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana in the late '90s thru early 2000's - during the six years we lived there, we fell in love with the state and knew we wanted to retire in it. Montana was an easy decision for us - though neither of us are actually from Montana. We just LOVE Montana - the way of life, the state as a whole, the weather, and the people - or lack there-of. Of course, kicking ourselves in the butt now - why on earth did we not buy land back in the day before Montana became "popular"???
Fast forward to 2017 when we decided to retire after 20 years of service. From Ramstein Air Base, Germany my husband, 10-year-old son, myself, and three dogs made our way to Montana - western Montana to be specific. In August 2017 we made the many many-hour long drive after visiting family in Virginia in our new to us 2013 F-150 crew cab with a topper and three dogs.
Finally, we arrived in Montana. We camped in that truck by the Blackfoot River for a bit while waiting for our rental to be ready. Every once in a while, we would ask ourselves, "Why on earth did we not ship ourselves some of our super cool camping gear from Germany?". Instead of being with us, that super cool camping gear was travelling across the Atlantic Ocean via cargo ship in a big wooden crate...
We accomplished many things while camping at the river. I finished my dissertation for a doctorate degree in Business and my husband completed job interviews, and got the job - we had just enough cell service by the river to do all this. Our son, of course, had the time of his life playing in the river with the dogs, catching frogs, and fishing with his handmade fishing pole - because, again, we asked ourselves as we did with the camping gear, "Why on earth did we not send ourselves our fishing poles?"...
At one point, we took a vacation from camping next to the river to go to Seeley Lake to camp at the lake! It was a great vacation - minus the massive wildfire encroaching on the small town. One positive - with all the smoke, in August, we were the ONLY campers in Seeley Lake Campground!! Usually, the campground is packed during August - and rarely ever is there a camp site open. We were on an adventure! And what an amazing adventure it was - despite it being one of the worst fire seasons Montana has had. We figured if the smoke didn't make us leave, then we were never going to leave Montana. We already knew about the winds and snow, so those Montana weather events were never a concern.
While living in Germany and searching online for homes, there was one home in particular that kept popping up on our feed - we called it the "wreath house". However, the pictures were terrible, and the house was not staged at all - making the pictures that much worse. Though, the house was in our budget and came with 28.5 adventurous acres - and both of those requirements were somewhat difficult to meet. As time passed, we became busy with moving activities and retirement and had forgotten about the "wreath house". Looking for a rental with dogs was quite the challenge - finally, Chris found a rental that allowed dogs on Craigslist. Now, we weren't exactly sure what this place was going to be like - or if it was a scam. This is where military family comes into play! Our very super awesome friends just happened to be travelling from North Dakota over to Washington - and they were brave enough to check out the rental in the middle of nowhere for us...we are still so very thankful for their bravery to this day! So, our friends travelled to the rental, viewed the rental, and we moved into the rental after camping for a bit.
It turns out the rental was in the beautiful 9-Mile Valley - a valley we had not seen in many-many years, and we quickly realized we travelled by that valley many-many times while river rafting. the valley oddly felt like home - even though we didn't actually have a home yet. As soon as we took the exit and drove up the hill overlooking the Clark Fork, we all said, "This is what I think of when we say we live in Montana." We were in love, instantly.
While driving to the rental, we saw a Home for Sale sign - looked up the address, and to our surprise, it was the "wreath house!" It had a price drop! Woohoo! We drove to the home - the directions to the address were not updated on Google Maps - and hence we drove up into the mountains for 20 or so minutes, quite a ways, and we couldn't go any further without driving through a house! We weren't sure what to think. It was certainly beautiful up in the mountains - but I, specifically, was having horrifying thoughts of trying to drive down the mountain to bring Braeden to school every morning...there are just a couple of drop-offs that were quite steep and quite high from the ground...
Confused, we went back down the mountains, found cell service, and tried a different route - it took 5 minutes to get to the house! we drove by cows and horses, pigs and chickens, up into the trees by one house, and the log house was at the end of the road. It was perfect! We fell in love instantly, before we even stepped foot on the property...and the rest? Well, here we are 4 years later, living our best life and starting a ranch!
We have had quite a crazy four years learning everything about chickens, pigs and cows, potatoes, tomatoes, and green beans, grass and dirt, bees and apples, and everything in between! We have learned about micro-climates, silvopasture, rotational grazing, and grass versus grain fed animals. We have learned to use our unique land to our benefit, even though many would say, "You can't have a ranch up there!", we do, and it is rewarding for us, our land, and our animals. So, we bought the land, what happened next? To find out, please subscribe to our blog to follow along with us in our journey, starting a ranch when we didn't know we wanted a ranch!
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