Monday, September 16, 2013

Week 2, Part 4: Montana!

After leaving Smelterville, Idaho, we drove 332 miles to Bozeman, Montana, stopping in Missoula for lunch. I was kind of anxious about going to Montana, because it was a place I'd always daydreamed about visiting and maybe moving to someday. I guess you could say I had high expectations of Montana. After four years living in far West Texas (Marfa), I'd fallen in love with wide open spaces and had been wondering about Montana for some time as another place I might fall in love with. It was sort of like the nervousness one gets before a blind date that a friend has set you up with and talked up. I remember sitting in Marfa, Texas in 2006, talking to a guy who was working in Marfa for the summer who lived in Livingston, Montana, and he told me all about Livingston and it seemed to me that it had a lot of the things I loved about Marfa and a lot of things I missed while living in what had started to feel like a too-small town. Livingston is about 40 minutes from Bozeman, where we were to spend the next three days. 

On the edge of Bozeman
However, I was so exhausted from the first twelve days of traveling and the fullness of the socializing, that when we got to the room we arranged to rent through Airbnb ( from a wonderful couple, Natalia and Narayan, I plopped down in our private little backyard under a cherry tree giving fruit, ate supper with Larry, and announced that I might spend the next three days in that beautiful, private, peaceful backyard. I can't say enough good things about our simple private room--it was affordable, Narayan and Natalia texted us often with great recommendations for places to see and things to do, I totally recommend their room if you ever find yourself in Bozeman. 

Narayan and Natalia's backyard with Chaif, one of their dogs
The next morning, though, I did manage to venture out--and am so glad I did. Bozeman, a small university town, with a population of about 38,000 people has a thriving Main Street, at least a dozen independent coffee houses, at least two independent book stores, a record store, tons of boutique shops, and many great restaurants. We aren't really shoppers, and with a fully loaded truck with our provisions for all four seasons and my Sweetie Pie gear, we can't afford to become so on this trip, so I can't speak much about the shopping opportunities in Bozeman, except they looked ample and diverse. I was thinking about the city of Merced, and have been, a lot on this trip, as I drive through towns with more established universities than UC Merced and wonder what makes the difference between the economic vitality of these--sometimes much smaller--cities, than Merced. I think there's a kind of confidence and a lack of fear of competition, that attracts diversity. Each coffee shop had its own character, attracting a different type of clientele, thus, people from all different backgrounds and interests might feel welcome in Bozeman. On Friday night, there was a Talking Heads Tribute band playing at the local VFW Hall, but there was live music playing at several other venues as well. Saturday night there was an open Contra Dance with a lesson before the dancing.

Near downtown Bozeman, on the way to Artwalk
Friday night was an Artwalk on Main Street, not dissimilar to the Art Hop that Merced hosts four times a year, but this happens monthly in Bozeman.

Somewhat grumpy dog to match somewhat grumpy owner of Vargo's Jazz City & Books on Main Street
We quickly found that Bozeman was as dog-friendly as it boasts--several stores on Main Street have resident dogs and there's seven off-leash parks in the city limits. Our hosts had two great dogs, Java and Chaif, that greeted us happily when we first arrived and said goodbye with plenty of whining.

Chaif pretending not to jump on Larry
We spent half a day in Livingston, and I wasn't as in love with it as I hoped to be. There was a little too much tourism for me, being about an hour from the entrance of Yellowstone and looking a little like a Western-town theme park. Still, the people seemed super nice. We didn't drive down to Yellowstone because we simply didn't think we'd have enough time to see any of it on this short trip and felt we needed a whole week just for Yellowstone.

Just another Montana sky
I hardly took any photos of the Montana landscape because it just felt too vast to capture in photos and the landscape looked just like the hundreds of photos one has seen of Montana. It's breathtakingly gorgeous. The outskirts of Bozeman and most of the rest of the lightly-populated state are peppered with ranch homes surrounded by land, with rivers running through there and there and mountains. The sky is big--though not quite as big as the sky in West Texas. Bozeman did feel like a place I could call home. And we decided, during some of the year that is not yet scheduled, that we'd like to spend a month or more back there, so we could really enjoy the down to earth people and beauty of the town.

Now that we are in mobile mode, as much as I loved Bozeman, I was ready to head on to South Dakota on Sunday morning, so we got up early, ate breakfast, and packed the car to head to our next destination--but there was still a lot of Montana ahead of us--many miles of reservations and herds of pronghorn were in front of this. But before that, we stopped to make a purchase in Billings (there's no sales tax in Montana), and came across a dog rescue organization that specializes in rescuing dogs from surrounding reservations ( that had a puppy adoption event outside the local PetSmart. I fell in love with a particularly friendly puppy and had to pull myself away so we could head on toward South Dakota.

We took a shortcut off the 90 onto the 212 and ended up driving through the Cheyenne Tribe. Larry noticed the houses all looked the same, and small, and that woke us up to being on a reservation. When we stopped for gas in Lame Deer, we saw several dogs running around the area--all looking well fed, but not fenced in--and plenty of evidence of the poverty on the reservation. We felt saddened--and frustrated, not knowing what we could do. I guess that might be something we can ponder as we continue driving across this country and seeing the variety of lifestyles and reconsider our own life purpose on this trip.


  1. That's adorable, thinking of "meeting" a town for a first time like it's a blind date. :) I can really feel you two are embracing the journey, allowing things to BE, moving through the experiences with hearts open. Love your last line.

  2. Be well
    Travel safely
    Chaif awaits your return....Woof!