Mustang Monument FAM Trip

Having not been away all summer and with the depressing weather, I was very much looking forward to my trip to Mustang Monument in mid-August so with my cowboy chic wardrobe safely packed, I boarded my flight to Vegas which I thought would be an exciting stop over, having never been.

I was making myself comfortable and relishing the thought of being able to read the Saturday Telegraph undisturbed when my fellow passenger, a friendly American on her way home asked where I was going so I told her “Mustang Monument” to which she replied “oh are you nervous about going there?” “Why would I be nervous?” I queried rather confused. “Well you know, it’s men only?” I laughed and explained that this was definitely not the case.

Evidently there is a similarly named establishment of ill repute so Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco Ranch is not to be confused with this one.

After checking in to the Four Seasons Vegas, we had a quick turnaround before being collected by Maverick Tours for our sunset helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon .There was a little too much waiting around for my liking …almost an hour from arriving at the terminal to departure but they had to weigh everyone and allocate groups on that basis so I guess there is not much one can do to change that. We met our very suave pilot Kevin; clearly straight out of Top Gun and after a safety briefing we boarded the helicopter. This was my first helicopter ride since a very unfortunate incident in one some five years ago so I was feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation but as we rose over Hoover Dam with the bright sun shining over the Canyon, I relaxed and took in the incredible views below. One can certainly appreciate why it is listed amongst the wonders of the world.

We landed to enjoy the sunset deep in the Canyon where rustic wooden benches had been built to host champagne and snacks. As I sat there in awe, it struck me just how insignificant we are as humans when one takes in this feat of nature and yet we think we are so powerful.

Flying back into the sunset and along the “strip” now illuminated for the nights activities, I thought about how lucky I am and would definitely recommend this experience for clients.

We were transported back to our hotel and had intended to go out to see the nightlife but by 9pm the jetlag was taking hold and so after a delicious slice of New York cheese cake, I nestled into the divine Four Seasons bed….

I didn’t need the 5am alarm call – I was up and ready for the next stage of our trip, the reason for being here  – to visit Mustang Monument Eco Horse Resort (mustang was very excited.

We left the hotel at 6am for the short drive to the airport with a very chirpy cab driver who insisted on giving his opinion of USA politics .We nodded and smiled politely, well as much as we could muster at 6am on a Sunday after a transatlantic flight!

We had the usual queues for check in and paid for our bags on Delta (which I have not experienced before), grabbed a leisurely coffee and made our way to the gate 20 minutes before departure only to be told by a very discourteous member of Delta staff that we would not be boarding the flight and it became apparent when she said to another woman who looked very embarrassed “Do not speak to them”.  After much debate it transpired that she had sold our seats which is evidently not that unusual with American carriers and with only standby status for the next flight, we decided to hire a car and drive from Vegas to Salt Lake City!

As we stood at the Avis desk the receptionist said “Do you ladies know what you are doing driving through Death Valley when there is a heat warning? Make sure you take plenty of water and snacks as there is nowhere to stop!”

At that point I was wondering whether this was a good decision but the alternative was sitting in Vegas airport all day so we had little choice and figured it would be fun to do a road trip!

Actually the journey passed incredibly quickly, the highlight being stopping for a Haagan Daaz which  had almost melted by the time we’d walked back to the car….There were actually several places to stop and refuel so admittedly we had a day of eating trash but after six hours we recognised the  iconic tepees  of Mustang Monument on our right and finally we arrived at the ranch at 5pm. Sadly we had missed the days ride up Spruce Mountain which the other guests said was amazing, particularly the picnic lunch with breath taking views across the valleys.

I checked in to my cottage which was a very high end version of something from “Home on the Range”, beautifully furnished with a big bathroom featuring a free standing bath. With 20 rooms in total, there is a choice of accommodation, tepee or cottage and the general consensus from the group was that the cottages are preferable for adults mainly due to the fact that the bathroom is outside in the tepees but we all agreed that the tepees were fabulous for maybe one night or definitely for teenagers. They too are beautifully designed but much colder at night.

There are also a number of dining tepees and dinner was served in one of the larger ones that night …a unique experience and hats off to the waiters who have to negotiate the low level entrance when serving each course!

Owner Madeleine Pickens is currently building a new kitchen and restaurant overlooking the plains which will be ready for next season and this will make a huge difference to the food service as currently they have to walk quite a way from kitchen to dinner venues.

Traditionally everyone retires to the Saloon after dinner and I have to say this was my favourite place of all in the ranch be it for cocktails, lunch or cards and games. It has been beautifully restored in true Wild West style with original saddle seats and tasteful throws; it really comes to life in the evening.

Breakfast the next morning was served at the saloon deck and offered an array of fresh fruits, homemade oatmeal and scones, yoghurts and smoothies.

It was a very relaxed affair and I am told that when Madeleine is in house, guests are invited to her house for breakfast.

After breakfast we were taken out to feed the horses which was an incredible experience as there is clearly a pecking order in which they feed and during the course of two hours , the mustangs come to feed , some more nervous than others but with them all together including young foals, it was a spectacle to behold. A big part of the whole experience at Mustang Monument is undoubtedly chatting to Clay, head rodeo and his team whose knowledge of these horses and close support of Madeleine’s cause to save America’s mustangs is very apparent. Hearing all about how Madeleine started and the lengths they have gone to thus far was fascinating. I have no doubt that this would be a highlight of the whole guest experience as well as the expert riding and plethora of activities on offer.

Lunches tended to be delicious salads and cold meats or fish and these were well presented and served mainly in the saloon. It’s fair to say that we all looked forward to the lunches.

The afternoon of Day 2, we left in convoy for the 90 minute drive to Goshute Valley for what I had considered the highlight of the trip and the part I was most looking forward to (a little ironic as I like my creature comforts!)

We were treated to a session on the shooting range under the expert guidance of Niks, an ex US Navy seal and whose main priority was safety but he made it fun and even by his own admission was surprised at the expertise of his all female group!

Those who did not want to do shooting went on a safari drive and saw herds of mustang cantering across the spectacular valley.

Dinner was a barbeque, served by the Mustang Monument team and as all meals and drinks (excluding champagne) are included, guests were offered a selection of wines, beers and a mean punch which went down far too easily!

There are nine Californian trail wagons in situ at the Goshute Valley and all can accommodate two people. They are basic but clean and there are plenty of blankets as it did get chilly during the early hours. Each has hot water and a basin but we were told to just take our toothbrush and PJs. Being the cold creature I am, I wore PJs and my clothes and at one point with Clint Eastwood nowhere in sight, I was still tempted to hop in beside my colleague Frangelica! Next morning, we discussed placing fleecy pyjamas in the wagons for next year.

Of course we had all woken up early and breakfast was a simple affair with fruit, yoghurts and the most delicious homemade lemon cake and brownies. I have to admit I have never actually had cake for breakfast but I thought I’d try it and ended up having both ….in hindsight it was good preparation for the Napa Valley experience ahead where we were tasting wine at 11am!

On journeying back to the ranch, we were all looking forward to a hot shower but actually when Niks suggested taking the mavericks out, we found renewed energy and decided the shower could wait as we were going to get very dusty anyway! Wow … What an experience that was! If your clients like adrenalin fuelled activities, they will love this. There are four people to a maverick and we nominated our American travel industry colleague as our driver, little did we know that she clearly had Ayrton Senna blood in her somewhere. We drove up Ruby Mountain at great speed and at the top climbed to the top of the ridge which had the most incredible vista. It was on the way down that the “girl racer” kicked in and boy was I scared.

Once we reached home, I got out, heart racing but pleased that I had opted in for such an exhilarating experience. Be warned….

Dinner on the last night was in the saloon and with much to talk about Clay and the team gave us a great send off. We had shared much fun and laughter and created memories which would stay with us for a long time to come.

The alarm was set for 4.15 am for the drive back to Salt Lake City for the next leg of our trip to Napa Valley which I thought would combine well with Mustang Monument.

We were met at San Francisco airport by Michael of Napa Valley Tours and Transportation who turned out to be our guardian angel for the next three days.

Having arrived at Auberge du Soleil slightly later than planned due to heavy traffic, we had a quick turnaround before a site inspection and dinner. I loved this hotel and we were made to feel so welcome by Carol and Renee and their colleagues.

Dinner was absolutely spectacular and of course accompanied by delicious wines from the region expertly explained by the sommelier.

The next morning we were leaving early to visit some wineries and see what all the fuss is about!

For me the olive oil tasting at Round Hill winery was very special. We learnt all about the process involved in making the different oils from traditional olive oil to orange, basil and lime fusions, each one tastier than the other and the small bites we were served to taste the oils were scrumptious.

It’s fair to say that between us we did considerable damage in the shop before leaving!

Merus was the second winery we visited and this is by appointment only and much smaller operating for private members only. As I am not a wine drinker and there was no champagne in sight I took my colleagues word for the fact that each one excelled .Here we tasted wine at $800 per bottle so one for your discerning wine lovers.

Lunch was at Calistoga Ranch where we were greeted by the iconic General Manager Connie and her team and enjoyed yet another outstanding lunch at the Lake House restaurant overlooking Lake Rommel. Calistoga Ranch is all about nature and actually fits extremely well with Mustang Monument as a two centre combination. There are over 100 acres in which to explore be it hiking, cycling or running followed by relaxation in their state of the art spa.

Dinner that evening in The Cave was a real treat – such a unique venue as the name implies and ideal for private family affairs and weddings. As we walked in we were all wondering how we would actually face another meal but Chef Aaron Meneghelli who has an impressive CV which includes Carneros Inn did us proud and we soon forgot that we had been eating virtually all day!

Aaron is inspired by nature and uses virtually everything in the gardens at Calistoga Ranch and I mean everything so you will find flowers and unusual wild herbs in his creative dishes, all beautifully presented.

After a busy but wonderful culinary day, we waddled to bed….

Four of us booked a wakeup call for 7am to do a hike before we left and after the previous day’s indulgence we were so glad we did, not just for the spectacular views in the morning mist but also to make up for all our sins the day before!

Before we left, we visited the chicken coup which may sound rather an odd thing to do but trust me you have never seen anything like this chicken coup. It is Connie’s treasure and the chickens (Connie’s girls as they are affectionately known) enjoy art work on the walls including a portrait of Connie and a fabulous chandelier. She is even talking about putting a shower in for them. Rumour has it that when she needs a break, she goes and talks to her girls!

After collecting our eggs and enjoying a delicious omelette, we were met by trusty Michael who would transfer us to our last destination, San Francisco.

We were greeted enthusiastically by all the team at Loews Hotel (previously  Mandarin Oriental). Loews is located in the financial district but actually it was only a 10 minute walk to Union Square and the main shopping area. We had been allocated Superior City View rooms which were very spacious and comfortable. The views were indeed amazing and Greg Nigh the DOS had generously arranged for us all to have a complimentary massage in their lovely spa which was a haven away from the buzz of the city. The hotel itself feels slightly corporate but the staff were absolutely superb and dinner on Friday night was very pleasant.

On Saturday morning we hit the shops (unfortunately we did not have time to do Alzcatraz) which was very successful as there was a huge sale at Macy’s with one of the group purchasing six pairs of shoes….well a girl can never have enough!

One of the highlights for me was wandering around The Ferry Building which was just a five minute walk from Loews and on a Saturday morning there is an amazing organic food market. There was a great buzz and with Golden Gate Bridge in the background I would definitely recommend it. We had a light lunch in the sun and then treated ourselves to an ice cream from the infamous Humphry Slocombe…it had to be done especially as we’d starved ourselves all week!

So that was the end of our trip and we headed for the airport mentally preparing for our forthcoming detox……