Millions of bison used to inhabit North America until the turn of the century, when they were slaughtered to near extinction. Enter Turner, who founded a commercial industry for bison with the goal of increasing heard counts. Now the buffalo population amounts to about 150,000 and the species is no longer deemed endangered.   

“One way we have achieved success and balance is with bison ranching,” Turner says proudly. The ranches, the restaurants and the reforms he has made to wild land ecosystems all come together in a balance of nature and commerce. 

“There is something inherently powerful and beneficial about spending time in nature and appreciating our reliance on a healthy, functioning ecosystem. That’s one of the reasons we decided to launch Ted Turner Expeditions. We want visitors to enjoy the outdoors, while educating them at the same time. Experiential education is not a new idea. Lifelong learning is often facilitated by time spent in the wild. These experiences provide an arena for connecting with the natural world in a meaningful way, especially when young people and families can share in a moment of discovery through actually ‘doing’ together,” Turner says, his comments remarkably sanitized for someone who has been called “the Mouth of the South” and “Captain Outrageous.” Perhaps he so carefully weighs his remarks because he cares so much about the land, what’s on it and how it’s cared for. 

His marketing materials also wax poetic about the tour offerings: “Ted Turner Expeditions is rooted in two million acres of wild, private North American landscape acquired by Ted Turner as a pioneering investment in balancing conservation and economic sustainability. The restoration of habitats, conservation of threatened and imperiled species, and increase of biodiversity are the cornerstones of Ted’s vision. His vast, pristine, working landscapes and their ground-breaking conservation practices give voice to the visionary in all of us. ... Ted Turner Expeditions is committed to making a difference by inspiring individual action to preserve the wonder of nature.”

The tours are different enough—“extraordinary” is an apt descriptive. Waking up on the Ladder Ranch in the bedroom Turner’s ex-wife, actress Jane Fonda, designed, with its four-post bed, pink walls, Mexican blankets and bearskin rugs, the sunrise beats a hard blood orange against the jagged cliffs, crafting an illusion of color reminiscent of a lavish Bierstadt painting. On the nightstand is a piece of memorabilia with Henry Fonda’s name on it; a buffalo statue that was a gift from Burt Reynolds stands on another table, as well as a collection of family photos. If you have ever wanted to step into the shoes, nay boots, of a billionaire and experience life as he would have it, this is the opportunity.

To be sure, this is no Four Seasons resort. The rustic Americana accommodations match the environs. But at the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa, you’ll dine on fine cuisine and drink fine wine if that is of interest. You’ll take in a famed mineral bath and perhaps indulge in a massage. At the Ladder Ranch, there is a private chef, tour guides and staff to suit every need. Just wandering around the property is actually an activity in and of itself. That’s because the surroundings present a certain kind of solace. It sets the destinations apart from the typical adventure tour or national park. Ted Turner Expeditions have all the makings for mass appeal yet also cater to the eco-conscious elite.

Mokotoff says from a business and marketing perspective, his biggest challenge is to not pigeonhole the type of client who may enjoy many of the more provocative aspects the expeditions have to offer. “We may have a client with a different economic means who could stay at Sierra Grande and do a half-day or a full-day tour on either the Ladder or Armendaris, for example. That type of client could be someone who doesn’t have the desire to exercise like I might want to, and so we have driving tours. ... We have high-energy tours where you may be doing moderate to extreme hiking, moderate to fairly extreme mountain biking. We’re going to be offering mountain climbing.”