My First Visit to Montana

Like many avid US travelers I hold a desire to visit all 50 states. Some like, Nevada and Arizona, were pretty easy to knock off the list while others, say North Dakota or Maine, will be a bit harder. One that I thought would take me some time to get to was Montana. It just seemed so far away. But a few weeks ago I was spending a few days at Lake Coeur d’Alene and discovered that I was just a little over an hour from the state line. Say what? That’s a normal commute back home! Right then and there I decided to visit “Big Sky Country.”

One rainy afternoon I was at The Cataldo Mission in Idaho (more on that later) and decided to venture a little further east to cross the border. I took interstate 90 through the mountains and pretty soon found myself crossing the 24th state off my list.

Montana. I finally made it! The only thing was…it wasn’t quite the Montana I expected. Maybe it was the grey skies but it looked just like Idaho. Where were the majestic mountains? The endless meadows? The big sky???

I made a quick stop at the Savenac Historic Tree Nursery (founded in 1907 it once grew trees for the Forest Service and is now a campground), grabbed a Huckleberry shake in St. Regis and headed back to Idaho slightly disappointed.

The next day was to be my last in the area and I had a clear schedule. While looking at the map and contemplating what to do thoughts of Montana rang through my mind. I just had to go back. I knew if I just drove a little further there was chance for me to see the land of my imagination. I then resolved to venture west with the small town of St. Ignatius as my destination.

I chose St. Ignatius because it’s the home of the St. Ignatius Mission – a Catholic church filled with beautiful paintings by Brother Joseph Carignano which appealed to the art history grad in me. So I drove onward and before I knew it the landscape opened up and I suddenly found myself in Big Sky Country.

I made it to the town, spotted the church…and found it closed for restoration.

I was super bummed, especially since there wasn’t anything else to do in town. I contemplated heading to Missoula but wasn’t yet ready to head back to city life. So I looked at the map, found I was not too far from the Ninepipes National Wildlife Refuge and hit the road again.

Before I knew it I was face to face with the Rocky Mountains. And there were endless meadows. And wildflowers galore!

It was just what I’d always dreamed of! Finally, happy with my Big Sky experience I made a quick stop at the gift shop before heading back. Called Great Grey Gifts it was filled with an array of unique, made in Montana items and I couldn’t resist picking up a few things. I started talking to the proprietress about my explorations and she asked if I was going to the lake. I didn’t know of any lack so I told her I was actually headed back to Idaho. She suggested it might be a good detour as it was only 15 miles up the road and the largest lake west of the Mississippi! Needless to say I took her advice and found myself running smack dab into Flathead Lake.

Wow! She wasn’t kidding when she said it was big.

And it’s certainly a beautiful site. As I was running out of time I grabbed a few shots and vowed to one day return to explore it further. I headed back towards Idaho and soon found myself passing by the entrance to the National Bison Range.

I hadn’t seen bison since a childhood trip to Yellowstone and decided this was an opportunity not to be missed. The range offers two driving loops, either 1 hour or 2 hour, and both give you a chance to view a number of local wildlife. Due to the late hour I opted for the shorter route and hoped it would still offer me the change to view the majestic creature.

First I spotted some deer then a few elk and I was pretty happy. Then…I saw them.

I know they kind of look like ants but they’re really bison! I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.

After a rocky start Montana proved to be just as beautiful as I imagined it would be. In my short time there I never visited a city, saw only a few cars on the road and met only a handful of (friendly) people. Instead I was able to fully immerse myself in the natural world and see some of the most amazing sites in all of America. I can’t wait to go back.


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