Manhattan, Montana: Population = 1,631, elevation = 4,245 feet, Average January low temp = 14.1º, Average July high temp = 83.4º, Average snowfall = 86.1” (Climate data from nearby Bozeman, MT)
Once we pass Billings, we are mostly ascending into the Rocky Mountains. We are skirting the big peaks by driving through the valleys between island ranges. The first major range is the Crazy Mountains (Crazy Peak 11,214 feet). There are a few fun legends as to why these mountains have this name. My favorite, and probably most plausible, is the one involving Chief Plenty Coups. He went to these mountains on a four day vision quest. On his quest, he foresaw the coming of the white man and their cattle. When the white men did arrive and asked about the mountains, members of Plenty Coups’ tribe tried to explain, using sign language, about the visions and the Great Spirit. The white men thought they were crazy.
Summer can be a hard time to travel. The weather up here in the Northern States is fine and everyone is having their town festival, fair, 5K, bike race, car show, or some other version of outdoor get-together and eat and drink and watch stuff. So rentals are hard to come by. The towns along Interstate 90 through Montana are no exception. We couldn’t find a AirBnB for the right price in Bozeman or Belgrade. But then we found a great home in Manhattan. The owner, Joe, is an easygoing, affable, outdoorsy man’s man kinda guy who converted a simple house so it looks like a log cabin inside. We shared a beer with him and heard the tale about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on a cliff. If true, a good story, if not true, a good storyteller.
Manhattan is a nice quiet little town, except for the frequent trains, blatting off their whistles all hours of day and night. It is about 9 miles from Belgrade and about 20 miles from Bozeman. The food is OK, there are locally brewed craft beers in the bars, and the people are nice and friendly. We stopped by for the first Farmer’s Market of the year and had snacks and chats with locals who said the Market gets bigger later in the year.
From our base camp in Manhattan, we set off to explore the neighborhood. Belgrade (population 8,254, elevation 4,459) is just a 10 minute drive down the Interstate. They are a little bigger and have a lot more businesses, bars and restaurants. There are a lot of steakhouses around here. Montana is cattle country. Frankly though, when the steaks are running north of $25 a copy, we prefer to just buy some and grill them up ourselves. Ribs though, that is another matter. It takes time, equipment, and lots of experience to put out good BBQ ribs. We found the Bar 3 Bar-B-Q, hiding in the shadow of a grain elevator, serving up St. Louis ribs and brewing beers.
The next stop on the our trail was Bozeman (population 43,405, elevation 4,820). Where Billings is a working man’s town, Bozeman is more of a college town. The gentrified downtown is home to many fine shops, trendy and eclectic restaurants, and more than a few breweries. The bicycles are many and fearless. Tattoos and piercings are to be seen everywhere. On everyone. Just off the college campus, we found the Museum of the Rockies. They have a planetarium and a few other exhibits, but my favorite exhibit was the dinosaurs. Apparently, this was a great place for dinosaurs to come to to get fossilized.
From Bozeman, if you get on highway 191 and head South, you are following the course of the Gallatin River all the way to Yellowstone National Park. We decided to take a little drive on a nice day and see where the river went. We saw tall grassy mounds, deep pine forests, and sheer rocky cliffs along the river. A few brave souls passed by clinging to big rafts bouncing over Class 2,3,and 4 rapids.
Eventually we came to the Big Sky ski resort. We had been seeing an impressive peak looming over all else above us. Then the signs pointed the way to Big Sky. The resort is a massive campus sprouting lifts all around. There must be hundreds of named ski runs. As an ex-skier, I squint at the jagged peaks way up there in double diamond territory and shudder just a little. Not even on my best day…
Next up: Missoula, Montana