That’s Why I’m Moving to Montana

OK, maybe not. Even though it’s gorgeous and warm here in Billings now, I doubt I’d survive my first winter. I wouldn’t die of exposure, mind you, but my wife would kill me.

Evidence of North Dakota's energy boom.
Evidence of North Dakota’s energy boom.

Fargo was not at all what I expected. It reminded me very much of Florida, of all places. Not just because it was warm this morning, but because everything was so new. It has a very boomtown feeling – huge retail strips, big stores and restaurants, and dozens of brand new hotels. Guess the energy boom is really working for North Dakota.

What some people complain about with the plains states, I found utterly fascinating. The flatness was amazing to me – I’ve never been able to see even a mile in any direction before, and seeing dozens of miles was almost scary. And I was fascinated by the agriculture. We saw plenty of cornfields, of course, but also soybeans, wheat, and miles of sunflowers, ready for harvest. We also saw more cattle than any other state, and probably hundreds of thousands of those huge round hay bales.

Once we got clear of the flatlands, we were suddenly in the west of my dreams – sagebrush, buttes, and rolling hills. Still plenty of agriculture, but mostly ranching. And lots of oil wells pumping the prairie. But the most surprising thing about North Dakota was when we suddenly burst out of the flatness and into the Badlands. I had never seen any land feature of such intense beauty, and it seemed to stretch out before us forever.

IMG_0575 StitchMontana was even more beautiful. Once we crossed the Missouri we were following the trail that Lewis and Clark blazed, and I was awed by being where that expedition had been. The country was a wonderful mix of rolling hills, buttes, and flat river bottoms along the Yellowstone that were rich with agriculture. The grade started climbing steadily through 3200 feet till we got into Billings.

Like Fargo, Billings is very much an energy boomtown, and has that same feeling of newness. There are two huge refineries east of the city, and coal trains thread slowly through the Yellowstone valley to and from the coal fields in the Powder River valley of Wyoming. Just an amazing place to me.

I’m looking forward to my first look at the Rockies tomorrow, and then Idaho, land of my dreams. I hope it doesn’t suffer by comparison with what I saw today. And I hope that the dental floss ranches are there.

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