I’d long dreamed of visiting this part of the US, of seeing the wide open spaces, the rugged peaks of the Rockies and witnessing the marvel of Yellowstone’s supervolcano. What I hadn’t bargained for, though, was the welcoming characters and towns I’d find in these wild places.
The day I arrived, Casper, Wyoming was packed for the college rodeo (yes, rodeo is a college sport just like gridiron). The National Historic Trails Center and the ranch outfitters gave me a crash course in history and a pair of boots to blend in before I hit the road.
Driving north I was quickly reminded that Wyoming is the least populated of the lower 48 states. The landscape is barren, the flat horizon broken onlyby the silhouettes of a few pronghorn and the occasional prairie dog.
Passing through Buffalo, a town of 4,500 and the home of best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten (how far north are we exactly?), I reached Cody, the Rodeo Capital of the World. No sooner had I arrived than I was watching the flat plains disappear behind me as the high country of Yellowstone rose rapidly ahead.
A grizzly bear sighting, dense conifer forests and geyser eruptions soon confirmed I was deep in the Rocky Mountains. I crossed the border into Montana with a pit stop in Big Sky, a ski town popular with the rich and famous, and arrived in Bozeman. Perhaps the most pleasantly surprising of all of the towns I came to, Bozeman combines the adrenaline of mountain sports with a booming tech and design industry. One thing’s for sure, you won’t run out of coffee roasters or breweries on the main street.
In Missoula, a visit to the Smoke Jumpers Center (wildfire fighters who parachute into remote locations to fight fires inaccessible by road) really cemented my anticipation for the wild still to come. Further north I entered Glacier National Park via the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Standing on a rocky rise above Saint Mary Lake, surrounded by towering peaks, I’d never felt so small. Sheer rock faces carved by glaciers, foggy valleys hiding moose and bears, huckleberries adding a sweet scent to the air...this was what I came for.
I’d heard people talk about a ‘mountain high’ before, but this was my first. On my final morning, while paddleboarding on Whitefish Lake, I shared my elation over the mountains with my guide, John. “You think this is beautiful now,’’ he said. “You should see it covered in snow.” And with that, I was planning a trip back come Christmas. Standing on a rocky rise above Saint Mary Lake, surrounded by towering peaks in Glacier National Park, I’d never felt so small.