This June, I went to Montana for the first time to visit dear friends who had moved there several years ago. When I bid them farewell in California, I had promised to visit them following their move. Time flies and years went by…
I thank my friends for being not only the catalyst to have led me to one of the most beautiful and raw places in America, but to also have given me a carefree respite bringing out the more whimsical/philosophical aspects of myself that were latent for years under the pressures of life. I thank my friends who were such nurturing hosts to myself and my husband, but who also brought back to me precious memories I had long thought lost to me…
Though I am back in California, but a part of mean remained in Montana with them… waking moments bringing back the sounds, the scents and the bliss of being together again with old friends… in a new paradise.
From Missoula, the National Bison Range is on the way to Flathead Lake/National Forest and Glacier National Park, and is very much worth a visit. On this range will be a helpful Visitors Center where you pay a small park fee, collect your driving map and proceed down the driving paths to view the bisons from your vehicle.
Along our drive, we were met by many friendly sight-seers, an antelope (?) that galloped along with us for quite a while and a bison in the middle of a dirt bath. (We also saw so many dandelions that were larger than any we’d ever seen in California.)
and we continue on our way…
After our visit with the bisons, we continued on towards Flathead National Forest. On our way, we drove through some beautiful farmlands and natural landscapes. We passed by one particular landscape with a single barn atop it, that instantly reminded me of an animation/story that I had really enjoyed… but since I was driving (and there was nowhere to park on that high speed stretch of road), I had to continue onwards.
The Secret Garden in Howl’s Moving Castle
Serendipity blessed me and the next day I found a photograph of it at a Farmers Market by Montana photographer, Bryan Moore of D.S. Light Recordings.
Sunrise in Ronan, by Bryan Moore (at the time of my visit, the grass was all green, spotted with flowers)
next, we arrived at…
Flathead Lake is a remnant of an ancient glacial damned lake and the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. It has been called a “Fine Sheet of Water” and when we visited, that was indeed what we saw. Though our local Lake Tahoe has more water (a depth of nearly 1650 ft) while Flathead Lake (a depth of 380 ft) is more shallow, Flathead Lake’s sheer size with its mirror-like flatness was an impressive, yet surprisingly tranquil sight.
At Lake Tahoe, where the Californian sunshine beckons you to wade into the water… Flathead Lake instead beckons you to find a spot along it’s beautiful edge to sit and linger in quiet, to watch the boaters quietly float on it’s still surface and smile at the swallows (?) with their mid-air acrobatics flitting over the lakes surface.
After much time sitting on one of the docks, we continued to drive along it’s edge back towards our friends awaiting us at home.
stopping at an unexpected gem…
On our way back down towards Missoula, along Flathead Lake, we stopped by this local town in search of a potty break and some sustenance. We were pleasantly surprised to discover an old downtown alongside a river, which was also an enclave for local artists. Being a lover of all things artistic, it was the perfect place for us to replenish ourselves and soak up the local ambiance…
(it was also here, while thumbing through a photography book by a local photographer that I learned if we headed further north in Montana, one could even see the Aurora Borealis… a lifelong dream of mine to someday witness)
and we return to spend our last day with our friends in lovely Missoula…
Missoula, from reading other websites, was oft described as rustic and rough, not yet contaminated by hipsters, turned out to be surprisingly hip… with many local breweries, independent coffee shops, bakeries with personality and more.
As my friend, now a local, pointed out to me… some businesses that were closed for an undefined period of time, often in the summer. Those business owners, she explained, were off adventuring or hunting and they would close up shop in the summer from time to time. This was common practice in Missoula and nothing to be frowned upon. I envied this carefree and flexible mentality where such choices were greeted with a knowing smile in Missoula, while in the populous areas of California would likely be met with many negative Yelp reviews.
While we leisurely strolled through downtown, we visited their historic courthouse, browsed through the Saturday Market where we met the photographer Bryan Moore (photo above), walked along the bridge over the river and through their festival grounds which was hosting the popular Missoula Marathon. We ended our visit with a relaxing visit to the local Missoula Public Library, where I was impressed by their whimsical interior at the children’s area and the many science exhibits present (various forms of ferrous magnet exhibits). Their library is set to undergo renovation and expansion in 2020 and I hope they can still somehow retain a part of that classic and whimsical feel that I experienced that wonderful afternoon with my friend.
Tips for Getting to Missoula by Air
We flew into Missoula, nearest to friends. It is one of the largest cities in Montana with a conveniently small airport where security is quick to get through. It is serviced by many rental car companies, though we discovered all rental cars booked up quickly due to the Missoula Marathon that was happening the time we were to arrive. We found the lowest rates on Google Flights, flying both AA and Delta. The AA flight was quite a bit less comfortable than Delta, keep in mind if you have any flexibility.
By checking the airport website, you can see if there’s any major events coming up that might affect prices/rental car availability.
The Missoula Airport is the most convenient location to pickup a rental car, but if you are like us and booked too late, you last bet would be the Dollar Rent-A-Car that is just a couple miles from the airport.
(When I called Dollar official phone line to ask if there was another local rental place after everything was rented out, the Rep told me nothing at all for 90 miles. That was apparently false, but it’s understandable that the Rep is not familiar with Missoula and maybe they don’t have a convenient way to look up nearby locations.)
I discovered the off-site, but close by, Dollar location from the Missoula Airport website.
MSO – Rental Car Link: http://flymissoula.com/parking-transportation/rental-car-center/
MSO – Shuttle/Transportation Link: http://flymissoula.com/parking-transportation/taxis-shuttles/
Montana Adventure Shuttle: https://www.mtshuttle.com/
( Within the Shuttle/Transportation page, I contacted Montana Adventure Shuttle and was very pleased by their phone service. Even though I did not end up booking through them, I could see that if I wanted a low-stress sight-seeing/activity filled day, they would be a very good option to go with and likely a service I will use on my next Montana trip. )