Billings, Montana: Population = 157,048 (metropolitan area = 166,855), elevation = 3,123 feet, Average January low temp = 15.6º, Average July high temp = 89.4º, average rainfall = 33.08”, Average snowfall = 55”
We are doing the 80 MPH speed limit on Interstate 90 and still, people fly by us on their way to Somewhere. I guess when the distances are so great between Here and There, the locals tend to grow a heavy right foot. The landscape changes from flat to steep, plateau to valley, dotted with bushes to covered with pines. We pass over a final ridge and there, off in the distance, I see tall buildings, stark against a backdrop of snow covered peaks. Looks like an interesting shot so I grab my phone, turn it on, unlock it, bring up the camera app… and the shot is gone. In its place is a massive refinery. Columns bristle from a maze of pipes. Flames sprout from a thick dark pillar of steel. A smell like burnt asphalt pervades the area.
In a way, the refinery hints at what Billings is all about. Billings is a working-man’s town; it is not pretty, but it has a job to do. It lies along a river, but, more importantly, it lies along a railroad. There are tracks right up snug to the downtown that carry endless cars full of oil and coal to caches near and far. The downtown tapers off into small industrial businesses and warehouses to the East. Older, drab residential neighborhoods lie South. The newer housing and retail developments sprawl to the West. To the North, high up on the ridge of Rimrock, is an eagle’s eye view of the whole city.
There are a few interesting things to do in Billings. TripAdvisor points out a mansion tour, art galleries, museums. We visited the Western Heritage Center. The building looks historic outside, but sadly, the displays inside were just kind of a jumble of various old stuff they collected. The one high point was “The Real West” collection of quotes and photos from the pioneers. These are a rare, often poignant, glimpses into another time. (I hope you can read the text)
Another interesting thing we found to do was to visit the Pictograph Cave. We learned that a pictograph is painted on a wall, a petroglyph is carved into it. After a long drive to the outback and a fairly grueling (for us) climb up the side of the cliff to the cave, we found ourselves in a half bowl shaped indentation in the limestone cliff. Close examination revealed just a few dots to me. The drawings of what used to be there just make it all the more tragic that the paint has faded away and flaked off.
Running around town, we found a few good restaurants, some fun stores, and a LOT of breweries. On the day before we left, there was the Alive After Five mini-festival. Every week, all summer, they pick a downtown block to close off then they set up a stage for a band, and a row of food, beer, and drink tents. The weather was fine and the band was good. Great people watching.
Montana is an outdoor tourism state. If you are going hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, skiing, or off-roading, Montana is probably going to be lots of fun for you. If you are just passing through and don’t do any of the outdoorsy things, it is going to be a long trip. Big, bustling towns are few and far between. Rentals are scarce and expensive. Sorry Montana, but I am looking forward to Washington.
Next up: Manhattan, Montana