Montana is----different. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit there, especially the remarkable panoramas of Big Sky Country. During our weeklong adventure we stayed at a phenomenal luxury dude ranch called Triple Creek Ranch,
toured Yellowstone National Park (which is actually more in Wyoming than Montana)
and marveled at the jaw-dropping views of Beartooth Pass, one of the most scenic drives in the US.
The state has two distinct regions separated by the continental divide:
in the west where we visited the terrain is mountainous and rugged; the east is more flat prairie and not as scenic. Although Montana is the 4th largest state geographically, its population is less than one million. These are surprising statistics when one considers that Cuenca, which I consider to be a small city, itself has ½ million people.
This means that folks there have plenty of room to spread out and that they most certainly do. The citizenry apparently places much more value on space than the actual physical dwelling. Generally unimpressive houses are dotted throughout the countryside on extremely large tracts of land. Subdivisions were so rarely observed that those few choosing to live in them seemed almost cult-like.
Don’t get me wrong. There are magnificent homes scattered throughout the state. Ted Turner has a half million acre spread and the owner of Triple Creek, Craig Barrett, is the former president of Intel. We along with the other guests enjoyed a 4th of July celebration at Craig’s hacienda and it is H-U-G-E.
But many of these fiefdoms are second (or third or fourth) homes owned by wealthy folks whose primary residences are elsewhere.
We were picked up there and driven about an hour and a half to Triple Creek. On the way we passed a restaurant serving “home cooking.” Cynthia asked our driver what constituted “home cooking” in Montana. He replied, “Oh, things like chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes.” She then asked, “What kind of vegetables would they serve?” Long pause. “Um---chicken fried steak---mashed potatoes------.”
Montana is one of 16 states (plus Washington DC) that has legalized medical marijuana. During the first few years of the program only a few thousand people signed up. Then in 2009 the US Attorney issued a statement that the federal government would not prosecute individuals in those states for possession. In the next year enrollment quadrupled! We learned that a nearby small town itself had FOUR marijuana apothecaries. I suggested that the state’s motto should be changed to “Big High Country.”
(A quick aside: in doing some quick research to make sure about the correct number of states I stumbled upon an interesting factoid. Most states allow an average possession of around 2 ounces. Washington and Oregon adopted a “go big or go home” agenda that allows their citizens to have on hand a pound and a half!! What?!?!? Party on, you northwesterners!)
Here’s a quick recap of our trip with some representative photos. We spent four nights at the dude ranch. This wasn’t a hardcore cowboy and cowgirl experience. Yes, we rode horses down old logging trails,
fished for trout,
and hiked in the mountains through spectacular fields of wildflowers.
We also ate gourmet meals,
had in-room massages, and enjoyed a huge hot tub in the woods behind our cabin. No branding cattle or sitting around the campfire eating beans from the chuck wagon for these two.
We then drove east to Yellowstone Park, where we originally intended to spend two days. But a blog fan who was very familiar with Montana strongly suggested that if possible we drive through Beartooth Pass, a scenic route that we learned is rated as one of the best in the country. We’d frankly never heard of it but decided if this was our one and only trip to Montana then----why not?
So we did a kamikaze 14 hour day in Yellowstone, taking our time and seeing all the sights. And my God, what sights there are to see. The park encompasses 2 million acres full of gurgling pits,
and scenery to which photos cannot possibly do justice.
Wildlife sightings were dismal, however, and we left a bit disappointed at seeing only an occasional solitary elk or bison.
Driving through the northern portion of the park the following morning on the way to Beartooth, however, critters were everywhere. A bunch of elk were chillin’ in one of the villages;
uncountable bison were spotted in immense herds
and one was strolling down the road only a few feet from our car.
A coyote leisurely dined on road kill while traffic patiently waited.
Beartooth Pass did not disappoint. Even with some internet research we weren’t sure what to expect. We were treated to scenery so spectacular that we felt blessed to even witness it.
Up, up, up we climbed to over 12,000 feet, putting us at eye level with the tops of mountains we had admired from below.
It seemed impossible at times to even believe what we were looking at was real. If you ever have the opportunity to experience this sheer awesomeness do not deny yourself the privilege.
Montana was a destination we’ve wanted to visit for years. We chose it to celebrate our 40th anniversary and create a special memory.
I'm so happy to report that the trip exceeded our expectations. Hooray!!