wholepeace

Montana

In Travels With Myself on July 29, 2013 at 1:18 am

Some things I have noted about Montana. Open range means that many of the exit ramps have cattle gates at the ends of them. These are open grates that cattle won’t cross, and therefore won’t wander up the ramps onto the highway. Montana doesn’t seem to care about things like littering or drunk driving or the usual road hazards. There are very few road signs at all, except where they want trucks to put on or take of chains in the winter, and announcements of “Heritage Sights” and historic points. I stopped at one of these historic points today. Two brown signs pointed toward the other side of the road, so I pulled off into a rough stone parking area. There was absolutely no further indication of what the historic point was or why it was historic.
They have a lot of festivals up here in the summer. I was here in time to catch some of Evel Knieval days in Butte, but passed on it. I was too late for the Testicle Festival at Rock Creek, but could plan ahead if I wished as the dates are set through the end of the decade at least. The sign announcing one’s imminent arrival in Rock Creek is a picture of a longhorn bull looking backward, presumably at his own testicles, which hang nearly halfway to the ground.
In most states outside of the Northeast, I have observed that it is possible to buy beer, wine and liquor at gas station convenience stores. In Nevada, and on the reservation lands of California and Oregon, it is possible to play the slots. In Montana, I stopped at a highway stop where it was also possible to buy an extensive array of firearms, also.
They call Montana the “Big Sky” state; and I have to say that I cannot disagree. I crossed into Montana from Idaho over Lookout Pass, then followed I 90 down through the Coeur D’Alene and Bitterroot ranges to Missoula; but even as I made my way through the smaller passes and between mountains with names like Eagle, and Cherry, and Little Joe, the sky always fought for my attention. It cast a blue mantle around the peaks spread like an inverted ocean above the valleys. It had the effect of a painting in which the viewer has a hard time distinguishing the foreground and the negative space around it. Sometimes the mountains stood out against the sky; other times they shrunk back as the sky came forward.
It is interesting to note that some of the locals here don’t consider these first ranges to be the Rocky Mountains. I 90 doesn’t cross the continental divide until Homestake Pass, about ten miles past Butte, Which is already 230 miles from the Idaho line, and I was told by a fellow at rest stop between Missoula and Butte, that that would be where I would go through the Rockies.
Some of this may have to do with another observation of mine. In the Colorado Rockies, the mountains always seemed close, even while they were still a hundred or more miles away. In Montana, they always seem far away, even when they are just on the other side of several acres of prairie, until I find myself actually driving along a cliff face or through a low pass. The scenery is dominated by that enormous sky and the wide, rolling plains of these high valleys. I forget that I am driving constantly at elevations above three or four thousand feet. To either side of the road, the open range lays out, now gold, flecked with sage, now green and growing; here a small herd of cattle, there some horses; and always the possibility of deer or elk. I had to come almost to a full stop coming down from Lookout Pass so that a doe and a young buck could make up their minds not to cross the road, but to retreat back into the hills.
I got on the road out of Butte early this morning because I had hoped to make it to Billings by midday. The forecast had been for the possibility for strong storms with gusty winds in the afternoon. At one point, I was actually driving along parallel to a heavy shower that I could see just off to the north, literally no more than a few hundred yards. I kept thinking that I would have to find somewhere to pull off the road if it came across in front of me. But it stalled, then seemed to move away. In the end, the storms never materialized, but the winds did. As the day stretched into early afternoon, a strong, steady wind came across the prairie and cut across the unprotected highway, with occasionally heavier gusts that rocked Taliesin and caused me to grip the wheel until I was white-knuckled with the effort.
In spite of that, I made good time over all today. I 90 is a very good road. The interstates out here aren’t the eight-lane superhighways of the east. They are generally four lanes with a divider and generous breakdown lanes. The speed limits tend to be high, around 75 mph or so, with truck speeds often set 10 mph lower. I stick to the lower speeds generally, but when the wind is blowing I slow down even more. I also slow down coming down from the high passes. But most of the trip across Montana has been easy going, and I am now looking at Wyoming for tomorrow as I make my way south toward US 20 and my final turn to the east.

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