Let me count the ways:
1. Big Sky
Lone Peak mountain will take the breath away from the most hardened skiers. Granted, I am not a hardened skier. In fact, I vowed never to ski again after an unfortunate incident on a 10th grade school ski trip – but that’s another story entirely. At any rate, when I see this jagged, stony peak jutting viciously toward the heavens, and look at the nearly 90-degree drop down, and then imagine some crazed soul careening down the slope — if in fact, a straight, vertical drop can be considered a slope — on skis, well, let’s just say I get a flutter in my tummy and chills on my arms.
Of all the things in the world that cross my mind when taking a tram ride to the tippy top of the mountain, “Hey, I wanna plummet down that 11,000-foot peak when it’s covered with ice and snow on two skinny skis,” is NOT top of mind. Still, it’s completely rad that there are fools willing to take the plunge!
As you might have gathered from the above entry, athleticism is not my strong suit. Nor is coordination. Nor comfort with high places or uneven surfaces. Combined, these elements mean I like generally mellow activities. Like sitting. Or fishing — while sitting. Still, I do enjoy a good walk, and baby, Montana was made for good walkin’. The hiking here is stupendous, amazing and every other exceptional adjective you can fathom.
I live within walking distance to Ousel Falls, a charming waterfall, and am just a quick drive to Beehive Basin, a hike that will surely rank among the prettiest outdoor experiences I’ll ever have. The 6-mile round-trip trail leads you up a mountain slope, past rolling fields over wildflowers, over a few babbling streams and into the heart of a mountain basin — complete with a shimmering lake reflecting snow-dusted peaks. This, my friends, is perfection. This might also leave you seriously winded and with sore glutes. But maybe that’s just me.
3. Yellowstone National Park
I know, I know, the crux of Yellowstone is in Wyoming. Still, part of it lies in Montana, so I’m going to give it props here. A drive into Yellowstone will leave you gasping. This is some serious American landscape I’m talking about — the kind of landscape Discovery Channel specials are made of. You will see geysers galore, steaming and spewing water as though the depths of hell were bubbling beneath your little feet.
You will watch Old Faithful erupt not exactly on time, and question why it’s such a big deal, when the enormous, gaping Grand Canyon of Yellowstone lies just a few miles away. Bison and elk will casually cross your path. And you will wonder — for a brief moment — if God spent just a little more time on Montana that anywhere else on Earth.
4. Glacier National Park
Want to have all your notions of natural grandeur tested on a single drive? Cruise along Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, and I dare you not to get a bit teary-eyed. You may think you’ve seen magnificent natural wonders in Yellowstone or while visiting Grand Canyon National Park or Bryce Canyon or any other superlative place. Get ready, because in Glacier, your notions of natural beauty will be thrown to the wind as you realize — THIS, yes, this National Park right here in the top nook of the nation, makes all those others you gaped at look like — yep, I’ll say it — STATE parks. Harumph.
The glacial landscape curves and swoops as mountains and valleys and hanging valleys lie carved out of the Earth, and waterfalls crash from on high down, down, down to the Earth – roaring and angry. And now for my climate pitch: Go now before the glaciers disappear, as predicted, in 2030. Look at pictures of the glaciers from 25 years ago versus today, to see how they’ve all but melted. It will break your heart. Go now — do NOT miss this.
My fondest memory from my first trip to Montana was surely horseback riding with the Metcalf family while staying at their Rocking M Bunkhouse on a working ranch. Again, I had the chance to live out my Wild West fantasies right in Big Sky with a ride through Moonlight Basin’s 8,000-plus acres of rolling hills, tree-covered forests and fields. I do love a good horseback ride, and hopping up on the saddle out here is, in a word, rockin’.
Don’t mess with the bears or the moose. Or else.
7. A River Runs Through It
I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist. In all seriousness, rivers seem to meander through so many nooks and crannies here, particularly in the Big Sky area where the mighty Gallatin roars (or, at this time of year, gurgles happily along). I have not gone fly fishing, but manage to feel far too nostalgic peeking at the men (and occasional woman) who are standing alone in their waders casting out lines into the water with great hope of a bite.
I watched A River Runs Through It shortly after arriving here. I had never seen it before, and while I thought it was a beautiful film, the final sequence, with older Norman fly fishing alone really struck me — as in, I wept like a baby for 15 minutes after the movie ended. There is a love of land and place inherent in that story, perhaps because the land is so very palpable here in Montana — and yes, I, too, love it fiercely.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” – A River Runs Through It
And I am haunted by Montana.