Meditations on Montana

As I sit with my feet in the sand on a beach by Santa Cruz, I remember a trip I took last summer to Montana. It was a road trip with a few friends, and I made them pull over so I could smell a flower. It was a flower native to Montana, a Penstemon. I pulled it out of the ground and smelled it. I’m not sure why I wanted to smell it, but I did.





That’s what struck me the most about Montana – the beautiful natural smells that just seemed so out of place in a state best known for cowboys and big open spaces. I was in Montana for a conference, but also to explore on my own. I spent several days driving around the state with an agenda that began in Billings and ended up by Red Lodge, Montana. Here are some of my favorite parts of this beautiful state.


As soon as you get off the plane in Billings, you know you’re in flyover country. The roads are wide and flat, like everything else around here.. And there is nothing wrong with that; this place is stunningly gorgeous! It got its name when Union Pacific Railroad officials were looking for a location along the Northern Plains where they could build a railroad station, so they put their heads together and came up with Billings. Probably after having too many drinks at dinner.





The city itself is pretty small (around 100K) but has all the usual amenities including nice restaurants and shopping areas.. If you have time though spend your time exploring some of the great outdoors nearby!


One thing about Montana – people really love their animals! Even though we were near downtown we saw plenty of cows grazing next to 4-wheelers or cars parked nearby for sale…It wasn’t long before we started seeing pronghorn antelope jumping over fences alongside us as well.


After driving through wide open fields all day without seeing anything besides cows (and antelope), we finally reached our destination – Crow Peak Recreation Area near Hardin. But first I had to stop at this beautifully dilapidated gas station. I finally arrived at my hotel: A rustic cabin right outside Hardin that would make any mountain man proud (at least if he owned a chainsaw).


Not only did it have great views from our balcony but also featured handmade furniture inside made from local trees: We woke up early the next morning determined to see more than just Custer National Park, which is why we drove down south towards HardinWe stopped first at Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark Site where various Native American tribes across North America believe this structure was built for ceremonial purposes by using solar alignments.


Then onto Custer State Park where our main purpose was not only to hike but also see black bears roaming free from captivity: Our final stop on Day 2 was Devils Tower National Monument located just outside Hulett Wyoming where yet again there were millions of cows grazing away completely oblivious to anyone else around them (not kidding – seriously how do those things survive out there?) While visiting Devils Tower make sure you take an elevator ride up to get spectacular views from above including these nearby hills covered in wildflowers. And then after getting back down at ground level there was time for a quick hike near the base of the tower.


Food tours are available where small groups go on walks around town tasting local delicacies along with picking up fun stories about the history behind some of these local places. Transportation costs vary greatly based on how much you travel each day so make sure you know exactly what fees will be charged before leaving town.


One great way locals recommend getting around town is by bike instead. Montana State Parks charge entrance/day use fees ranging from $3 USD per adult up to $10 USD per vehicle; however, fees vary depending on location so check ahead for details before visiting any park or monument nearby.Entry into Yellowstone National Park costs either 7 days ($30 USD) or 1 month ($60 USD) but passes must be purchased beforehand and in person. Visitors can purchase passes at the West Yellowstone or Cody entrances.





While I didn’t have time to fully explore Red Lodge, I did spend an afternoon checking it out and found some interesting spots worth sharing with you.


Here are some highlights from my time there: Red Lodge Mountain Resort – after exploring Red Lodge it was time for an adventure so we headed up towards Red Lodge Mountain Resort where we enjoyed great views from atop Lookout Mountain. This mountain also offers snow sports during winter months including skiing or snowboarding!


Located in downtown Red Lodge, the Museum of the Northern Plains showcases life on the northern plains and features permanent exhibits including The Barn, The Cattle Drive and The Blacksmith Shop. If you want to learn more about the history of Red Lodge this is a great place to start!


Whether you stay in Billings or drive out of town there are plenty of activities. Visit Yellowstone National Park for hiking, biking, rafting or fly fishing. Or check out Custer State Park where visitors can enjoy hiking, horseback riding or even swimming at one of many lakes located throughout the park.


Makoshika State Park – located only an hour from Billings – lies this beautiful state park filled with pine forests.





Be sure to stop by at night when the forest turns into a glittery wonderland thanks to millions upon millions of fireflies that come out every summer making their way through these woods!

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