Difference between revisions of "Montana"
Revision as of 07:10, 26 June 2008
Montana is a state in the northern/northwestern United States, in the Rocky Mountains region. Often called Big Sky Country for its famed big, blue skies, Montana is a state of contrasts, from the flat regions to the East and the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the West. Billings is the largest city in Montana and is a reference point for travelors. Visitors usually come from Yellowstone National Park to Billings to explore the western region of the U.S.
Montana is generally divided into two main regions: Eastern Montana and Western Montana. The Rocky Mountains separate the smaller western portion from the larger eastern portion. Western Montana is characterized by higher rainfall and more mountains making for some very picturesque scenery such as that found in Glacier National Park. Eastern Montana is flatter and more arid with sandstone buttes and long muddy rivers that add character to the plains.
The state of Montana Official State Travel website  splits the state into 6 regions for exploring:
Montana is the 4th largest state by land mass in the United States at 145,552 square miles, however the state ranks 44th in population with just under a million residents, most of which are clustered around cities and towns. The state features wide open spaces, lonesome highways and dramatic scenery, both to the east and west of the continental divide.
Residents of Montana often classify themselves as either easterners or westerners, depending upon their geographic home. The west is often considered more picturesque, but is also more populated and heavily touristed. The eastern half of the state is more sparsely populated, with low lying plains, bluffs and cliffs. Attitude-wise, the west is generally considered more liberal and modernized, while the east, with it's large ranching and agricultural operations, is considered more conservative.
The state economy is primarily based on agriculture, ranching, logging and mining as well as tourism.
Most visitors to Montana will drive, however the state is easily accessible by air. Some major points of entry are Billings (BIL), Missoula (MSO), Helena (HLN), Great Falls (GTF), Bozeman (BZN) and Kalispell (FCA).
A pretty popular and creative way is Amtrak's legendary Empire Builder. The train has 12 stops in Montana (from east to west: Wolf Point, Glasgow, Malta, Havre, Shelby, Cut Bank, Browning/Oct-1 thru May 1, East Glacier/May 1 thru Oct. 1, Essex, West Glacier, Whitefish, Libby), and takes passengers to Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Chicago from Montana's Hi-Line and Glacier National Park. Tickets should be purchased in advance, and it is generally cheaper to do so. Staffed Amtrak stations in Montana are Wolf Point, Havre, Shelby, East Glacier (when open), and Whitefish.
Montana is a large state - a trip via interstate from the far eastern town of Wibaux to the western border town of Mullan, ID is over 700 miles, an estimated 12 hour trip. Because residents must often drive long distances to get from one place to another, they generally love their cars - especially their SUVs and other 4-wheel drive vehicles that do well in the often hazardous winter weather. Visitors can, however get around in other ways.
Amtrak's Empire Builder serves Northern Montana stopping at Libby, Whitefish, West Glacier, Essex, East Glacier (seasonally), Browning (seasonally), Cut Bank, Shelby, Havre, Malta, Glasgow, and Wolf Point. This is through route between Seattle/Portland, St. Paul, and Chicago.
Air service within the state of Montana to the cities of Havre, Lewistown, Miles City, Glendive, Sidney, Wolf Point, and Glasgow has been temporarily suspended when Big Sky Airlines withdrew service. Service is expected to be reinstated in June or July, 2008. Service to these communities was provided to the hub at Billings.
Service to and from major hubs (such as Seattle, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Denver) continues from airports at Billings, Belgrade(Bozeman), Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, and Kalispell.
The easiest and most convienent way to get around Montana will probably always be by car. Destinations are spread wide even within a single city, and within cities, parking is usually ample and cheap, if not free. Rental cars are widely available, and the option to pick up in one city and drop off in another is available, though expensive.
Montana is bisected by three major interstates.
A few US Highways provide mainline travel through interesting areas of the state.
Montana has a recreational opportunity for every adventure seeker, every season, and every mode of transit -- by land, by boat, by bike or all terain vehicle, there's something to keep you occupied in Montana.
Montana is now home to some of the best skateparks in the country with some pretty unique features. For directions, descriptions and more information visit Skate Montana
For a state generally associated with cattle chomping green grass underneath big blue skies, Montana has quite a bit to offer outside of meat and potatoes. Within cities and settled areas you should find a good variety of the ubiquitous fast food drive thrus, homey cafes and diners, delis, steakhouses, mexican cantinas, noodle and asian grills and the odd Indian or Sushi restaurant.
In rural areas, however, your selection may be much more limited. Every small town will have at least one eatery, even if it's a cafe stuffed in the corner of a post office, or a burger joint in the back of the town bar. Quality will vary, of course, but the experience might stick with you. If you are looking for meat and potatoes, look no further than the local cafe, diner or steakhouse. The beef will be fresh, most often locally raised and slaughtered, and cooked however you want it -- but if you say well done, your server might cry.
For local flavor and distinctly Montana eateries, try the Staggering Ox, with locations in Helena and Missoula, or MacKenzie River Pizza Co, with locations in Billings, Bozeman, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, Kalispell, Belgrade, Whitefish and Butte. The Pickle Barrel is excellent and famous for sub sandwiches with the original location in Bozeman, other locations in Missoula, Great Falls, Livingston, and Billings.
Buffalo chili, cowboy beans, Indian fry-bread and steak is a type of cowboy food that many love to experience while in the Big Sky Country whether in Billings, Hardin, Laurel, Red lodge or Helena. Try some chuckwagon food in and around the state like Pappy's MT Catering and other quality businesses who cater for large groups and gatherings in Montana.
During the summer months, primarily late June, July and early August, look for huckleberries and famous Flathead cherries at farmers markets and roadside stands throughout Western Montana. If you're looking for adventure, ask a local a good place to go pick your own huckleberries -- but beware, they may keep it a closely guarded secret and take some bear spray, they love the treat, too.
Montanans, as a general rule, love their beer. Increasingly, Montanans love their microbrews, espescially those brewed locally. Some famous microbrews are brewed in Montana, including Moose Drool, a brown ale brewed by Big Sky Brewing Co. and the best selling microbrew outside and inside of the state. Microwbreweries in Missoula, Kalispell, Billings and other cities and towns allow for cheap tasting and filling of a growler -- usually the best bang (or buzz) for your buck.
Outside of microbrews, domestic favorites vary from Coors to Budweiser, with light varieties in between. Bars good for bar hopping can be found in the downtown districts of most cities, espescially Missoula, Billings and Bozeman, and they're generally a good guage of local color and culture. Outside of large cities, most small towns have at least one bar, and they often serve food of varying quality. A general rule of thumb -- if the town has a post office (the Montanan's definition of a town in rural areas) then there should be a bar or a honky tonk in which you can quench your thirst.
Montana is safer than most when it comes to violent and personal crime, but the state still suffers from one of the highest highway and road death rates in the country. Long distance travel over great amounts of time resulting in fatigue, hazardous winter road conditions and alcohol consumption frequently contribute to the high number of deaths on Montana's highways yearly. This is not to say it's unsafe to drive in Montana -- just beware. If you are unused to driving winding mountain roads or driving in extremely hazardous snow/wind/ice/rain/sleet conditions, do not do so. Wait for the weather to clear -- it may result in a good story, those 12 hours you spent at a truck stop with some friends waiting for a pass to clear.
If you do find yourself stranded in winter conditions, it's important to remember two things -- first, be prepared. Always carry water, snack foods, a small first aid kit including a space blanket and a cell phone, if possible, for emergencies. Although, there is cellphone coverage along most of the highways, but it can be very unreliable in places, especially the numerous mountain passes. Many rural roads have no cellphone coverage, so don't rely on always having quick emergency communication. Second, if you become stranded, stay in you car, turn on your hazard lights, and wait for help.
There is a lot of wildlife around the state, including deer, elk, moose, bears, buffalo, and coyotes. Always remember that these are wild, and do not tolerate people with cameras getting close, much less trying to put their kid on the buffalo. Most animals will avoid humans by our scent or noise, although beware of deer along the roads. When camping, always keep food in your car, or hung from a tall tree. Tents are like tissue paper to a hungry bear.
Outside of environmental and road hazards, use common sense, and you should be fine.
Montanans treasure their state, loving it for the recreational opportunities, wide open spaces, and the friendly nature of their neighbors. They, in general, welcome tourists and travellers, and will be glad to let you in on cool places to go, the best hike to take, or their favorite fishing hole. In addition, Montanans are very proud of being 'rednecks,' and will often be seen sporting 'redneck proud' T-Shirts, caps, or bumper stickers. This is not meant to be derogatory in any way, but is an expression of pride in Montana's rough and wild cultural heritage.
Be advised, however, that any disrespect of land and nature will not be tolerated. When enjoying everything Montana has to offer, please respect the lands, waterways and wildlife by following common sense. Don't litter, pollute or otherwise upset the landscape any more than you must, and though it is a cliche, do not feed the wildlife.
Most of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, so you'll obviously not just want to visit the small section that's in Montana. Wyoming has many other scenic beauty as well, as does Idaho to the west, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, & Saskatchewan that border Montana to the north. The plains states of North Dakota and South Dakota are to the east