A year ago today, after spending 13 weeks in beautiful Big Sky Country, we packed up our car headed (after a week of vacation and sightseeing through Utah and Colorado) and returned to a more “routine” way of living. I’m pretty sure a year has never gone by so fast, and can’t believe it’s been that long since our adventurous summer spent hiking and toting bear spray. My husband Casey, who is an Occupational Therapist, had been dreaming of trying out travel therapy. Not to mention, the opportunity to “move” out west without commitment was exciting. We certainly had an experience of a lifetime, and since it’s been a full year I’ve been reflecting on it more recently.
6 Life Lessons Learned in Montana
1. Large amounts of retail (and other conveniences…i.e. air-conditioning) are simply not needed (and hardly exist in some places.)
We were an hour from Target and a suitable (but still pretty small) shopping mall. Amazon Prime was rarely 2 day shipping. The grocery stores were lukewarm at best. But I quickly learned, these things don’t matter. Even specialty grocery items that I’m used to buying I learned to do without. And guess what, we were probably just as healthy eating that yogurt that wasn’t quite what I usually buy! In fact, possibly more so. Without large shopping centers traffic was non-existent, and we could very quickly get to the gym, walking trails, and more. Every weekend and most weeknights were spent in nature beneath a wide open sky.
And yes, we lived with no air conditioning. We were really surprised when we drove into town that most houses and apartments had no air conditioning! Butte is a very historic town, and most of the buildings are old and haven’t been revamped with modern conveniences. First, there really isn’t need for it. The summer was mild and beautiful and even on the days that were hot it would cool off every night. If we got hot in the evening it simple motivated us to go on a long walk where the breeze was usually blowing. (Ok, a couple times when we really wanted more relief we may have went to that tiny mall to cool off.)
2. First impressions aren’t everything.
When we first drove into Butte, the small town where Casey’s contract was based and where we would be living for 13 weeks, our impression was that it was a small town that wouldn’t have much to offer. In fact, it only got worse when we stepped into the apartment we had rented. It was not at all as advertised, and we ended up moving out of it and into a small guest room. This only fed into our poor initial impression.
However, while the town is smaller than most we have lived in, we ended up loving it! While there were very few of the chains we were used to back east, the town had local restaurants galore (which we preferred anyway!) There were at least five good brunch options alone (which happens to be my favorite), including The Hummingbird Cafe, which offered much healthier options than your typical cafe. (Seriously, if you ever end up in Butte, you must check it out.) It took us a few weeks to let go of our initial impressions and disappointments, but I’m so glad we did. If we wouldn’t have we would’ve missed everything this small town had to offer. Including gorgeous sunsets every other night near summer’s end.
3. The Art of Creating Your Own Schedule
Or maybe I should say difficulties? Regardless, I was kind of a just a tag-along on the whole Montana travel experience. While some extra rest and relaxation was in order and thoroughly enjoyed, I had some goals set for the trip and got to experience what it’s like to set my own schedule. In fact, this little blog probably wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t found the time in Big Sky Country to finally start learning the ins and outs of blogging.
4. An hours drive through Big Sky Country is a lot different than an hour in traffic to the city.
If there is one thing I find annoying it is a long drive through traffic. However, one thing I absolutely love is a drive through gorgeous countryside. I really need say no more. Currently, I sit in urban and suburban traffic (for the first time in my life) on a daily basis for anywhere from one to two hours each day. Conversely, when living in Butte we could drive up to Helena, almost 70 miles away, in around an hour, enjoying beautiful mountain views the whole way. So this is really more of a lesson learned in hindsight. It’s just so interesting where an hour of driving can take you in various locations across the country.
5. Beauty for Ashes.
I was blown away when I saw my first August sunset from a hilltop near Butte’s Montana Tech University. I later learned that the vibrant hues of pink red and orange could be attributed to the smoke particles in the sky from forest fires throughout the region. While they can be devastating at times, forest fires are important to the ecosystem as they allow nutrients that would otherwise remain trapped in dead plant matter to be released into the soil, allowing fresh vegetation to benefit. One of the more pleasant aftereffects of these fires were the sunsets. The sunsets literally looked like the sky was on fire. It reminded me to find beauty in ashes.
6. Take a chance on something less conventional.
This is probably the biggest, most important lesson I learned the entire trip. In general I’m way too practical and a complete perfectionist (which I’m working on.) Convincing myself to quit my job and leave my cozy life in the beautiful mountains of Tennessee for a 13 week travel contract was no easy feat. It’s hard not knowing what will be next and giving up many things in a life you truly love. However, getting to experience 13 weeks in a new part of the country simply can’t be beat. Different paths will always have different benefits and you will likely leave something absolutely amazing behind. However, it’s worth it to take a chance and get to see/do/be something else amazing in a different season of life.
Step Outside and Try Something New
Leaving our stable, comfortable life to set out for Montana and the unknown following the 13 week contract was a bit nerve wracking and even felt weird to try to explain. However, it was absolutely worth it and I’m so glad we stepped out of our comfort zones. In any experience, good or bad, there are so many lessons we can take away, and I’m learning part of the key to finding the lessons is allowing time for reflection and thought in my life. Reflection doesn’t always come easy. It may not seem “productive” on the surface. But, it certainly plays an important role in living with intention. What’s something you have done that was unconventional and encouraged you to “step outside the box?” Or perhaps, there is something new you have been wanting to try and are looking for the courage. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and step outside!
The Best of Montana (and Wyoming)
Bonus: Here are a few of our favorite things we saw/did while in Montana. Again, due to our close proximity to Wyoming those are included as well.
- Glacier National Park – This is EASILY the top of the list.
- Yellowstone National Park – We had the chance to go to Yellowstone 3 times and loved it! Yellowstone offers so much more than the geysers (including hot springs you can soak in…check out the pictures below. Hint: Imagine having a relaxing natural hot springs soak and then looking over to see a giant snake. Amazing experience.)
- Quake Lake – Very interesting and sad story about a lake that was formed by an earthquake.
- Bannack State Park – An old deserted ghost town near Dillion (don’t forget the Patagonia outlet on this trip.)
- Beartooth Pass – Actually, can this tie with glacier? Bear tooth pass is a scenic drive near Yellowstone. We went on Memorial day weekend and it was still covered in snow and absolutely gorgeous.
- Butte – Walking on the Copper trail, catching amazing sunsets, and an occasional brunch.
- Berkley Pit – This was not a beautiful site, but rather an eye opening trip to the effects of mining on the environment.
- Bozeman – Taco trucks, anyone? Seriously, they were delicious. Bozeman sits right outside of Yellowstone and was such a fun town to explore.
- Missoula – Lovely town with a river running through it that is complete with a man-made swell (wave). And, this is really insignificant when you have the beauty of Montana, but they did have some more shopping (a girl needs a new backpack for adventures every now and then.)
- Gates of the Mountain – I missed this, but my Casey got to go fishing on the river here and the pictures were stunning!
Montana Moments in Photos
Beartooth Pass (through Montana and Wyoming) = our first impression of Montana wilderness!
First Trip to Yellowstone:
Grand Teton National Park (Thanks, Wyoming):
Glacier National Park:
A few random early summer Montana Moments (the grass is still green!)
Bannack State Park (deserted ghost town):
Late summer trip to Yellowstone:
Wildfire sunsets and evening walks: