There is a grandness to Montana that surpasses mere size and encompasses something more of the spirit. With its soaring Rocky Mountain peaks rising above high plains carved by mighty rivers, Montana seems a place of legend, a marvel of vastness, wilderness, and epic history at the very crown of the continent. One might even say that Montana is more than a state — Montana is a state of mind.
A sense of monumentality unites Montana, whether it’s the glaciated peaks of the west or the eroded badlands of the east.For such a remote place, Montana has been a traveler’s destination for centuries. During summers, Native American hunting parties journeyed into Montana, returning to their mountain homes with stories of a rich, mysterious land full of buffalo and holy sites. Cattle drivers, following the seasons northward, summered in Montana and returned south with tales of abundant game, endless grasslands, and high adventure. Immigrant farmers and ranchers were drawn to the expanses of Montana and brought the newcomer’s conviction of fresh beginnings and wry aspirations. Nowadays, Montana attracts writers and artists who find in the state a “sense of place” both nurturing and hostile to the people who endure here.
Montana is often described as if it were two states — an eastern prairie and a western mountain range — but more than a common government links these regions. A visitor first notices the space: A sense of monumentality unites Montana, whether it’s the glaciated peaks of the west or the eroded badlands of the east. It’s called Big Sky Country; out here nature limbers up, stretches past the horizons, and takes up room.
But as much as space, the people define Montana. Today’s Montanans derive from many strains: immigrant farmer, sheepherder, Native American, miner, logger, shopkeeper, rancher. They were all people who came to a hard land and stayed, making from Montana a living only of sorts, but always a home. Montanans are self-reliant and quick to see humor, with personalities so expansive that so few really do fill the state.
History is not very old here. Montanans are still experiencing their past, not as Western history, but as Western ethic. We invite you to experience this: Stop to investigate Montana’s towns and cities, its streams and parks. Follow a hunch, dawdle along a side road. The land fairly explodes with small epiphanies of beauty. Take the long way around to a spot where a moment of history can be relived, where a lazy picnic can be shared, or where the obscure and the out-of-the-way can be found for its own sake.
Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Montana.