18 Reasons We Love MontanaOctober 17, 2019
If you’ve ever spent time in Montana, you know it’s a place that calls you back. It is a wild and wonderful place. It’s a place where small town life still exists, where you know your neighbors and you give a friendly wave to people you pass on the street. There’s so much we love about Montana that we could never name all the reasons, but here are some of our top ones that we feel sum up what life is like here.
USDA Photo by Preston Keres
1. Most Towns have Higher Elevations than Populations.
Montana is dotted with small towns. Dell, Wisdom and Wise River are just a few that had populations of less than 100 people during the 2010 census. Then there’s Cooke City. With less than 100 residents who live there year-round, it sits at an elevation over 7,600 feet at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. You can climb to over 10,000 feet on the Beartooth Highway when the road opens up in the summer. There are some wild and remote places in Montana, but what we love is that, despite how small they are, they have a lot of heart. People help each other, they volunteer and pitch in. It doesn’t need to be a big town for it to have a great community of people.
2. The Smaller the Town, the Bigger the Game.
While we’re on the topic, living in small town Montana means everyone turns out at the high school when there’s a game. In the fall, it’s football. During the winter, it’s basketball. We bundle up in the bleachers or grab a seat in the gym and cheer for the home team. In a lot of our smaller communities, these games are where everyone gathers on a Friday or Saturday night. A documentary was even made about our love of small-town sports. Check out “Class C: The Only Game in Town,” which follows Class C girls basketball teams as they compete for the state title. We take great pride in college sports too. Just ask anyone who they’re cheering for at the Cat-Griz game when Montana State University takes on the University of Montana, our big state rivalry.
3. All Four Seasons Can Happen in One Day.
We have a saying: if you don’t like the weather in Montana, just wait five minutes. That’s because the weather can change often and drastically. It will be snowing one minute and the sun will shine the next. You can be wearing shorts in August in Yellowstone National Park then take a drive up the Beartooth Pass and find yourself in a snowstorm. The most extreme 24-hour temperature change in U.S. history is said to have happened in Loma, Montana when the temperature went from -54 to 49 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Fireworks Aren’t Just for the Fourth of July.
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) can light up the sky any time of year, but you’re most likely to see them on longer nights in the late fall, winter and early spring in regions of higher latitudes. These are vibrant green, purple, violet, blue and red hued lights that dance across the night sky. Cloudless nights in areas away from urban light population will give you the best chance for viewing. Stay up a little late on a night that an aurora is expected, because peak viewing time is around midnight on nights surrounding a new moon.
Photo credit: XL Country, Townsquare Media
5. Labor Day is Celebrated by Coming Into Town, Not Heading Out.
Small towns love their holiday celebrations, and Dillon is no exception. Known as “Montana’s Biggest Weekend,” Labor Day weekend in Dillon (the county seat of Beaverhead County) features the Beaverhead County Fair and the Dillon Jaycee PRCA Rodeo with concerts, a parade and a lot of other family activities to make for a full weekend of fun. While some people head to the lakes and mountains on holiday weekends, Labor Day usually draws people from all over into our small towns.
6. Cattle, Crops and Kids are All Raised with the Same Great Values.
We live by some simple rules that we pass onto our kids: always help your neighbor, be polite, remove your hat and cover your heart with your right hand when the national anthem plays, respect the elderly. Always look someone in the eye and have a firm handshake. Always be on time and work hard. It’s important to us that we grow our children to be polite, competent adults who will make the future better. Montanans who work in agriculture look at their ranching and farming operations in a similar manner. No corners are cut, and livestock and crops are handled in a meticulous manner. Extreme weather happens every year in Montana and we never miss a beat in caring for our livestock. Farmers spend countless hours making sure crops bring in high yields even in drought conditions and often spend their own money fighting a weed battle, even on property in public hands.
7. Ranchers Know What It Means to Really Have an Office with a View.
Corner high-rise offices have nothing on us. We’re out in the morning as the sun peeks over the Rocky Mountains and the steam rises off the rivers. Days on a ranch are days spent working outside, and Montana is a beautiful place to do it. Out here, you can see for miles. A storm can be seen rolling in long before it reaches us. We wouldn’t trade this view for any corner office.
8. The Longest Line You’ll See Comes from a Reel.
Have you seen “A River Runs Through It?” It’s what put fly fishing in Montana on the map. It’s true, Montana has some of the best blue ribbon fly fishing rivers and streams in the country. One of our local favorites is the Big Hole River, known for its beauty, as well as having the last population of native fluvial Arctic grayling in the contiguous United States. When not catching those, you’ll have shots at brown and rainbow trout. Wouldn’t you rather spend mornings on the river instead of stuck in traffic? Us too. Here you don’t encounter many angry car horns or standstill traffic jams. Instead, spend the early hours of the day chasing brown trout.
9. The Two-Finger Hello Never Goes Out of Style.
Whether you’re on a dirt road or in town, it’s always an acceptable, and polite, way to say “hi” to an oncoming motorist. Here’s how you do it: hand on the steering wheel, index and middle finger raised in a “V,” and maybe a nod as you drive by. This gesture is an acknowledgement to the other driver, a friendly “hello.” It reminds us that we’re all neighbors and we wish you well on your travels.
Photo Credit: Donnie Ray Jones.
10. Our Biggest Traffic Jams are Sorted Out with the Help of a Border Collie or Heeler.
Beaverhead County ranks at the top in the state for all cattle inventory. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that with 155,000 head of cattle, Beaverhead County had 35,000 more head of cattle than Yellowstone County, the next largest cattle county. It’s no surprise then that you’re more likely to encounter a cow-jam than a car-jam. When that happens, we get the help of our cow dogs to get the cattle moved.
11. Directions are Given by Landmarks, Not Street Names.
Driving down the backroads of Montana, you may not see a street sign for miles. Some streets don’t even have directional signs, or stop signs. Local landmarks lead us to where we’re going. Instead of telling someone to take Atlantic Street all the way to Third Street then take a right on Fifth Street, the directions would be: take a right by the Catholic church and go down until you see a blue truck in front of a white house, go right there and we’re the red house with white trim. In Dillon, you may hear people using local landmarks like The Metlen, Safeway, the college, the high school, John Deere and the golf course.
12. Big Ideas are Best Discussed on the Tailgate of a Pickup.
Formal meetings aren’t really our speed. We prefer driving out onto the ranch and having a face-to-face conversation with the sun on our backs and our feet on the ground. If we’re talking land, you need to see it. We can tell you about the snowcapped mountains, the endless views that make this Big Sky Country and on-site streams, but it’s just not the same as seeing it first-hand.
13. Haystacks Outnumber High Rises.
Located in the south-central part of the state, Billings is our largest city in the state with around 110,000 people. It houses the tallest building in Montana, the First Interstate Center that measures 272 feet. Montana’s population just hit one million in 2012. While many areas of the state are growing, you’re much more likely to drive for miles while looking at acres of haystacks than you are to see a bunch of high-rise buildings, especially while taking in the views in Beaverhead County.
14. A Trip Back in Time is Just Down the Road. Montana is rich with history.
Beaverhead County is home to Montana’s oldest town, Bannack City, where gold was discovered in 1862. Today, Bannack is a ghost town, but it comes alive each year for the annual Bannack Days celebration when people dress in period clothing and demonstrate pioneer skills, reenact shoot-outs and teach visitors how to pan for gold. Down the road is Virginia City and Nevada City where gold was discovered shortly after the rush in Bannack. Today, Virginia City and Nevada City are destinations for tourists and locals alike. The well-preserved buildings from the boomtown days line the street and you can get a meal, watch the popular Brewery Follies show, swing into the old-time candy store and take a train ride.
15. The Morning Commute is Short and Scenic.
In Montana, the morning commute is an opportunity to watch the sun rise, sip coffee and listen to the radio. Some of us walk to work or school. Others enjoy a lazy drive into town, spotting wildlife along the way and taking in the beauty of the landscape. Whatever way you travel, this is time to soak in the moments and enjoy.
16. Camo and Hunter Orange are Always in Style.
No one’s going to look twice if you show up to dinner in hunting gear. In Montana, getting outdoors is a way of life, not just a hobby. Montana hunting includes seasons for upland game birds, deer, elk, moose, antelope and more. Everything you need to know about hunting in Montana, including what you can hunt and when, can be found on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website.
17. We Take the Chill Off with a Soak in a Hot Spring.
Montana hot springs are popular places to gather with friends, escape for a weekend getaway or just relax after a long day working or playing outside. Hot springs in Montana come in all forms. Some are at high-end resorts. Others are undeveloped pools at pullouts along backroads or accessible only by hiking several miles to get to them. Just a short drive from Dillon, you’ll find Elkhorn Hot Springs and Jackson Hot Springs. Both offer natural hot springs pools, lodging and dining.
18. Family Get-Togethers Don’t Just Happen Over the Holidays.
Sure, we gather together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but those aren’t the only times. Cattle brandings are a Montana tradition. Many of the folks who own ranch properties here have several hundred or several thousand cows. Branding is the one time where you are handling a large number of animals in a short time. Instead of hiring extra hands, surrounding neighbors and families help each other. Brandings are planned on different days so two don’t fall on the same day, ensuring neighbors will be there to help each other. They bring their whole families, and everyone is involved. When the kids are too small to wrestle the calves, they are on gate duty. They graduate to wrestling calves, then to roping or running the iron. Others run the vaccine gun. It can take a lot of people to go through a large herd of cattle. Because no one is being paid, the person holding the branding traditionally prepares a meal for everyone to share afterward. Gathering over hard work and good food is an extremely rewarding Montana tradition.