It seems like when I am out of the area marketing Central Montana I am asked why we call ourselves Big Sky Country. For travelers who have been to Montana, they understand. But sometimes my response is…you just have to experience our skies.
My favorite sky is filled with puffy white clouds, what I refer to as cotton ball clouds. But, every now and then we have some amazing moody skies too.
Follow along as I remember travels in all four seasons, starting with spring.
Last April I was on the Rocky Mountain Front about 10 miles west of Choteau. We were doing a short horseback ride with Joe Haas and A Lazy H Outfitters. The area had experienced a lot of snow that winter, including several inches the month of March. Joe’s horses had been in winter pasture and it was muddy, probably too muddy to load a horse trailer. A few days of wind before we were scheduled to ride made it possible though.
I had forgotten a hat and thankfully I was able to borrow one. The day’s ever-present sun was warm and after several hours it felt more like summer. We rode in shirtsleeves and were plenty warm even though we rode past snowbanks. Green scrub juniper contrasted with the rocky soil. Very little grass had poked through and wouldn’t for at least another month or two.
We rode west, horses pointed at the spectacular snow-capped Rocky Mountains and that view – big blue skies always present with enough clouds scattered to keep me gazing skyward.
It was a day to remember and perfect for photos. I was glad my horse didn’t mind my constant clicking away because each view seemed to get better. Spring in Montana!
Three months later we were in the peak of summer in Central Montana. I had been in Lewistown for work and was driving back to Great Falls. It had been a long day and I was eager to get home. I marveled at how green the countryside was though, mile after mile.
It just seemed to get prettier as I drove and finally, forgetting how tired I was, I turned on to MT Hwy 427 at Raynesford, another favorite drive of mine because of some beautiful barns on the route.
I didn’t need to drive far before I saw a view that was well worth a stop.
Rolling foothills of the Little Belt Mountains, a winding road and a big frame of blue sky and clouds quickly appeared. It was certainly worth the twenty minutes it took me to detour off the main highway!
I was tempted to stay on this paved road but I knew it would take me farther away from home. There was a roadside pullout a couple miles beyond where I took this photo and I turned around and got back on the main highway.
Then my view changed. I was seeing the prominent square and round buttes, the Highwood Mountains and Otter Creek that crosses under the highway multiple times. More photos! Summer in Central Montana.
The season of fall in Central Montana is sometimes overlooked and I think it’s just that kids are back in school, daylight is shorter, and maybe vacation days are long gone. An early evening drive though can be absolutely stunning.
One October I was in Chinook and went for a drive south of town to the Bear Paw Battlefield. In sixteen miles, all on a paved route, you are in the shadow of the Bear Paw Mountains, an island mountain range. This is ranching country, rolling grassland and endless views.
The Battlefield has a special feeling for me.
In October 1877 the Nez Perce were fleeing the US Army with hopes of reaching Canada. The last major Indian battle occurred at this site and the band of Nez Perce surrendered here. You can walk the rolling hills of the battlefield and read the interpretive signs located along the way.
The tall grass at the Battlefield had turned golden although I could still see some patches of green in spots. It was quiet except for an occasional bird call and a gentle breeze rustling through the grass. I just stood still and took it all in.
That’s when I glanced up at the sky. It didn’t have great big puffy clouds but it was the perfect cap to the view over the Battlefield. Big, blue and endless.
My favorite winter skies are when we have snow-covered ground and an early morning or evening sun. Central Montana gets snow and loses snow over the course of traditional winter months so when those fluffy flakes create complete ground cover, I’m ready to start taking photos.
A year ago I was waiting for a Saturday with no urgent chores and it finally came! A friend and I headed south of Great Falls on US Hwy 89 into the Little Belt Mountains.
Snowshoes and poles were packed and in about an hour we drove into the Winter Recreation Area near King’s Hill Pass. Cross-country trailheads are in the same area and it looked like a group was just heading in to the trees. We veered left and took one of the snowshoe loops.
When you are in the trees it’s easy to just focus on the trail. But there is an opening where you come around a bend in the trail and it’s like viewing deck!
Another couple on snowshoes was standing there taking photos and I joined them. The snow was deep and stark white, the trees in the Lewis & Clark National Forest were vibrant green and there was that endless big blue sky. A photo op that everyone of us captured!
As each season comes to a close, the one constant is our big blue sky.