Montana's Big Sky Beckons by:Amy Jo Bazile
The mountains loom and the bluest sky reaches beyond the heavens, soaring endlessly, dotted with fluffy clouds that make insignificant shadows over the rolling prairies. You have the sense that those who have laid claim to this grand land have done so only temporarily. In a way, it makes you feel free, more open to new experiences and adventures. Montana, Big Sky country, with its colorful history and extraordinary landscape, has experiences and adventures for everyone.
Montana sets the scene for the mystique and drama of the Old West. Cowboys and Indians and some of our favorite western characters, like Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, Sitting Bull and General George Armstrong Custer, planted their feet in Montana soil. In fact, the southeast corner of Montana is known as Custer Country. General Custer and his troops rode through the area in the 1870's, making their last stand in 1876 at Little Big Horn, where they fell at the hands of Sitting Bull and his Sioux and Cheyenne braves. Little Big Horn National Monument commemorates this event and documents Custer's life and career.
Also in Custer Country, along Interstate 90, you see a large looming rock towering over the plains. Pompey's Pillar is one of the most famous sandstone buttes in North America and bears the only remaining physical evidence of Lewis and Clark's western expedition. Clark engraved his signature on July 5, 1806 and named the rock after Sacagawea's son. The engraving is still visible today on the 150 foot pillar that overlooks the Yellowstone River.
The Yellowstone River twists, turns, and tumbles us into Yellowstone National Park. While only a small portion of the park is in Montana, its geological wonders and wildlife invite travelers through the northern gate. North of Yellowstone, the Beartooth Mountains' craggy peaks jut up towards the sky. The Beartooth Highway rises to nearly 11,000 feet with majestic views of glaciers, alpine lakes and plateaus. At the foot of the Beartooths, you will find the quintessential western town of Red Lodge. Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane once walked these streets and rested their boots at the Pollard Hotel, one of the town's many highlights. Local residents say the gloriously restored Pollard is haunted, only adding to its charm and mystique.
Travelling north, other ghost towns still dot the rolling hills of southwest Montana. Many of these ghost towns were old mining communities. Gold was discovered in southwest Montana in the 1860's, coinciding with the discovery and development of natural hot springs in the area. Hot springs were popular in the late 1800's and daily soaks were widely prescribed by local physicians as cures for a range of ailments. Many of the hot springs have enjoyed a resurgence of interest and have been restored. Boulder Hot Springs, nestled in the Peace Valley just south of Boulder, features a century old historic hotel and several pools fed by geothermal waters.
Northwest Montana is the home of the Blackfoot Nation and Glacier National Park. The Blackfoot Tribe call this native land the Backbone of the World. It is home to glaciers, meadows, glacial lakes and over 400 foot waterfalls. Give your wheels a rest while you are there, and take one of Glacier's famous Red Buses for a tour and relax as you enjoy the park.
Heading back towards eastern Montana, the great Missouri River cuts through the land and feeds the plants, animals and people of the state's agricultural community. Agriculture is Montana's number one industry, evidenced by the farmers and ranchers, the modern cowboys, and their ranches, in the area. The Missouri River Basin is also home to some of the best dinosaur digs in the country. In 1990, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex was found near Jordan. Visit the Dinosaur Field Stations near Malta and Fort Peck, along with many local museums, for an even closer look at these prehistoric creatures.
Whether your interests are historical, geological, zoological, archeological or otherwise, Montana is bound to thrill. In Big Sky country, you will find experiences and adventures not soon forgotten; the smell of sulphur hot springs on a cold, crisp morning, the eerie view of ice-encrusted trees, known as snow ghosts, on a mountainside or the lonesome call of a bull elk to his mate. Like the drum beats from a Native American Pow-wow, Montana will continue to echo in your soul long after the big sky fades away in your rear view mirror.
About the author
Nothing is more freeing than the open road! For generations, Americans have enjoyed the wind in their hair traveling from coast to coast seeking romance and adventure. Road trips are as American as baseball and apple pie. If you have always dreamt of taking that journey, Road Trip Journal has the information you need to plan that rite of passage. Visit us today at www.roadtripjournal.com.