The Best of Montana and Wyoming with Carter G. Walker

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1. Tell us a bit about the ranch in Wyoming you visited every year.

It’s quite possibly my favorite place in the world and has been since I was 8-years-old: Eatons Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming. I love it as much for its natural beauty (nestled along Wolf Creek in the Big Horn Mountains) as for its timelessness. The dudes today still do the same thing as the dudes in the 70s (when I was a little girl) or the 50s or even the 30s. It is heaven on earth in my book, and a magical place to spend a week with people you love.

2. What destinations in Montana and Wyoming would you recommend for the first-time traveler?

First-time travelers will likely want some of the comforts of home without sacrificing the full flavor of the West. There are plenty of towns – Cody and Jackson Wyoming; Bozeman and Missoula, Montana, come immediately to mind – where travelers can stay in comfortable, often familiar (or even luxe) accommodations with relatively easy access to activities like skiing, horseback riding, and hiking, not to mention glorious mountain surroundings.

From Jackson, for example, day trips into the sky-scraping Tetons or nearby Yellowstone National Park are a given. You can head over to the rodeo or watch the nightly shoot-out, but then fill up on world-class sushi at any number of fine restaurants. These towns in particular offer a unique taste of the West without the culture shock of, say, Butte.

3. What are the scenes like in Jackson Hole and Cody, Wyoming?

Two very different towns, Jackson is Patagonia and sushi while Cody is buckskin fringe and prime rib. Jackson is visually more spectacular with the Tetons in plain view and skiing opportunities around every corner. Cody is high mountain plateau, wide open spaces and magnificent valleys beyond town. Jackson offers a higher scale of luxury in terms of accommodation, dining and shopping. But Cody’s Buffalo Bill Historical Center is world class and unmatched anywhere in the West. Cody is old school cowboys, tried-and-true Westerners. There is some of that in Jackson too, but less so. Jackson appeals to an interesting assortment of ski bums and art collectors. Both towns are well worth visiting and each presents a unique slice of Wyoming.

4. What’s the best time of year to visit?

Both places have such different personalities depending upon the season, and really all of them can be captivating. Summer is enchanting and all too short. Who couldn’t fall in love with a mountainous wonderland under bluebird skies? Because it’s fleeting, summer in Montana and Wyoming verges on mania. The long days and starry nights are filled with farmers’ markets, rodeos, county fairs, and more trails than you could ever hike. The only downside, if it can be called that, is that this is primetime for travelers in the West and although there is plenty of room for everyone, you’ll need to seek solitude if that’s what you’re after. On the flip side, winter is long and quiet and sublime. The crowds are gone; the wildlife is often in full-view; and the outdoors is still powerfully enticing. Fall and spring can be fabulous too—think bugling elk or blankets of wildflowers on the plus side, mud season on the down side—but much less predictable (and trickier to pack for).

5. Describe Montana’s Glacier Country.

How about high, wide and handsome? Though the description was made famous by Joseph Kinsey Howard’s 1943 masterpiece on the state, it could easily apply to Glacier Country. The geography of the region is spectacularly rugged and supremely dramatic. These are postcard mountains and coffee table book lakes. The whole area is an outdoorsman’s paradise with hiking, boating and fishing opportunities as only a starting point. And in summer, when the cherries and huckleberries ripen, the region can provide some epicurean adventures as well.

6. One of Montana’s nicknames is “Big Sky Country.” Does that fit well?

Of all of Montana’s nicknames (the aforementioned “High, Wide and Handsome,” “The Treasure State,” “The Land of Shining Mountains,” etc.) none is more fitting that “Big Sky Country.” The truth is that everywhere in the state—from the mountains to the plains—the sky is huge and puts everything else into larger-than-life perspective.

7. What about “Cowboy State” for Wyoming?

Perfectly apropos. The bucking bronc on Wyoming’s license plates somehow captures the spirit of the state. The cowboy mindset is real here—for better or for worse—and plays out across Wyoming day in and day out in everything from art and culture to politics.

8. What’s your favorite weekend getaway spot?

Such a tough one. It depends upon the time of year, but I will never turn down a trip to Butte. I absolutely LOVE Butte, Montana. I love it the way I loved Mark Stisser in junior high. He wasn’t the best looking guy on the field and he had a terrible reputation and plenty of baggage, but that boy had more personality, more charm, and a greater joie de vivre than the rest of the football team put together. (Still does, if you must know.) Butte is like that. You know you shouldn’t love it, what with the Superfund sites and the mining scars and the regular bar brawls, but you just can’t help yourself. The city is like nothing else in Montana. There is a phenomenal history here from the stunning (if crumbling) architecture to the indefatigable spirit of the people. Walking the streets of Butte, popping into the old brothels and mansions which today are museums, dining on pasties and ale, I never feel more like a Montanan than I do in this rough-and-tumble town.

9. What are some of the area’s the best-kept secrets?

The truth is, this whole part of the country is a well-kept secret if you’re just willing to venture—even slightly—off the beaten path. For example, more than 3 million people visit Yellowstone National Park every year, but fewer than 2 percent of them ever get more than a mile from any road. That leaves millions of acres (2.2 million to be precise) of pristine wilderness ripe for exploration.

And as for other well-kept secrets, I would venture to say that just about all of eastern and much of central Montana could be so categorized. Makoshika State Park in Glendive is fascinating and ruggedly beautiful. Medicine Lake National Wildlife refuge is like a wetland oasis in a sea of tall waving grass. The solitude of the place will take your breath away, and for birders, this is paradise.

Fort Benton, not far from Great Falls, is an absolute gem with one of the state’s most glorious old hotels and a restaurant that rivals just about anything in the state. The area is rich with history, offers plenty of riverine activity and is long on charm. Yet, plenty of Montanans who have spent their entire lives in the state have never been.

In Wyoming, I see Buffalo as one of the best under-the-radar destinations. Where else can you stay in the hotel that inspired a classic—“The Virginian”—and sit in the stands for an all-girls rodeo? Buffalo is fantastically authentic.

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