The Secret Beauty of Central Montana
When I first moved to Montana, I put down roots in a town of 27 people located right in the state's center.
Yes, that's right, I said 27 (more on this story in a coming blog post). I'm from the urban midwest, so I didn't even have a concept of what living in a town so small, but in a location so vast, would be like. I knew I was in for an adventure, and it turns out I was up for the challenge. Years later, I've never left. I bought a home on the river, got married, I fell in love with Montana, literally. It's open range beauty and welcoming people. As an artist, this part of the country truly inspires me. And if there anything Central Montana taught me when I arrived here all those years ago it's the true meaning of "big sky country."
Rugged Spaces and Scenic Byways
Montana, the state where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. In Central Montana, you're just on the cusp of really mountainous terrain, so the best word I think to describe it is "rugged." The vast space is checkered with plateaus and snow-capped peaks. Your eye can see what feels like 100 miles.
One thing about me is that I'm a wanderer and explorer. So Lewis, Clark, and I are right at home here! Because the state is so big, one of the best ways I've found to explore is to take a drive and let me tell you, the scenic byways in Central Montana are the perfect way to day trip and witness unspoiled beauty firsthand. 10/10 would recommend.
US Route 89: the Kings Hill Scenic Byway - this route is such a Central Montana gem that it's recommended in many a road trip guide. So with Rocky Balboa, my pup sidekick in tow, one morning, I headed north out of White Sulfur Springs, one of Central Montana's best small town hot springs, and made my way up through the Lewis and Clark National Forest. With 71 miles of scenic highway to discover, I had to get an early start.
From fly fishing the Sluice Boxes in the summer to snowmobiling the Little Belt mountain trails in the winter, there is so much to do along this stretch, in addition to just observing your surroundings. If you take this drive, I recommend stopping for a short hike up to Memorial Falls just outside of Neihart, MT. It's a gorgeous easy hike even if you have kids and pets. But beware, Montana water is cold! Even on a warm summer day. So just a heads up if you take a "shower" as I did.
If you get hungry from all your adventuring as you wind your way up the byway, make a pit stop at the Cougar Canyon Bar and Grill for a burger. The little town of Monarch has some tasty food and welcoming people.
Central Montana: Quietly Inspiring
Old architecture, I've always loved it. There is something beautiful about seeing a church on a hill standing strong after more than 100 years. A remnant of a more self-sufficient past, these weathered buildings are a beacon of ingenuity. A reminder of a time when we built things as a community, rather than individually, armed with YouTube and the latest high-tech tool.
Old hand-raised buildings aren't specific to Central Montana; you can find them throughout the state. But because the central part seems more expansive than everywhere else (you know, the Great Plains), to me, when stumbling upon these small dots in a farmer's field, a historic structure becomes even more unassumingly elegant. They're holding themselves up, bracing the unbuffered winds, and braving the cold all alone beneath the Big Sky.
These buildings represent Montanans. People with a sturdy, gracious spirit who will never leave their neighbor out in the cold. Yes, this state is big and rugged, and yes, you may not see another soul for miles. But it's inspiring that despite challenges, these rural ranching communities have always come together to support one another, and it's amazing to live in a state where you know what's built here will last for generations to come.