We were fully exhausted from Yellowstone. The massive amounts of people really got to us, especially me, so when we headed out of the park into more of Montana, I wasn't that sad. We both felt content with our time within the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the summer, but were ready for a break from the National Park crowds.
I had two towns to take a look at in Montana, especially if I do go back to school. We headed to Bozeman first, where we took a few days to research our next leg of the trip, rest, refuel, and check out the surrounding areas.
Bozeman was a cute city that fits that not-too-small-not-too-big category. We did a driving tour of most of the town, being able to quickly read if a city would be a place we would enjoy or not, and then we walked around the downtown.
The Montana State University was a good size and has more STEM focused programs and graduate studies than the University of Montana in Missoula a few hours away. Upon first look, I could see going back to school here just fine. The downtown was small but seemed progressive for the area, and the surrounding neighborhoods had a good economic diversity. While walking around the town, I started to envision a life here, enjoying the ample outdoor activities on the weekends, living in one of the cute houses by the University, studying and finding community within the age diverse area. Taking a future pup for a walk. Starting a summer garden. It was easy to quickly get attached to this imaginary life. Both Eric and I are starting to tire of moving constantly, and are looking forward to establishing a life again somewhere.
One thing that I didn't care for here, and a few other towns had the same complaint, is the lack of cultural diversity. White, as far as the eye could see. It is an aspect of a potential home town that I did not realize would weigh on my mind so heavily. As much as the mentality of most of the Bay Area was toxic and terrible, I always loved the diversity it held. Perhaps this is just the trend in northern America? We'll see.
I have realized that we will probably not find that perfect place. Although I had dreams of coming across a town that just wow'd me, or stuck a chord of belonging, it hasn't happened, and probably wont. This is actually a good thing because it makes the decision of where to go next a bit more flexible. We have at least confirmed that our preference for a long term home is in the woods. Wet, lush, green woods. I am not an oak chaparral person. Nor a desert person. Nor a grasslands person. This realistically only leaves a few great options, some of which we have not visited yet, but it is something to consider.
After a sub at the Pickle Barrel and a heaping amount of fresh Wilcoxson huckleberry ice cream, we headed south for a few nights to Big Sky.
Originally we were planning on fly fishing on the Yellowstone and climbing up north, but after talking with the guys at Troutfitters, we changed our plans to head to Big Sky and stay in the Gallatin National Forest to accomplish both goals. Spending time trudging through thick evergreen forests to roaring creeks to find small trout pools was a blast. We spent time practicing our cast in small and large rivers, with lots of branches and logs caught by myself, and a few adorable fish caught by Eric. It was relaxing for Eric, and mostly for me, but watching a school of fish in the crystal clear waters just scoff at every lure and fly I threw was only fun for a few hours. So I napped on a rock while Eric fished to his heart's delight.
We didn't climb much, due to weather, but we were happy to have an easy approach to some fun routes within the Red Cliff campground. It was wonderful to take time and practice the skills we learned down in Moab, and it was satisfying that one major goal for this trip was a success; learn how and actually go sport climbing on our own. Check. I hope to have more days to climb and fish at such a relaxed pace as we had here. A perfect break from the 'have to's' and intense attractions within the National Parks.
Heading out of the forests in Big Sky, we drove up to the state's capitol, Helana, intending on staying the night in Wal-mart and exploring the town the next day. That was a big nope! What a dinky, sketchy place. Our first thought was “um, there seems to be a lot of 'lone wolves' living in their trailers out here.” Based on quick observation, Helana has more manifestos per capita than any other place we have visited. We left, quickly.
Then we drove through the downtown and realized it was exactly the reason we shoot for towns with Universities. Seriously, the Pita Pit looked like the most happenin' thing around, and everyone was very sad looking. The ever changing youths in an area with a University we find at least keeps a city thriving culturally and economically. This had neither.
So we drove two hours more to Missoula to get out of Helana, and waste some time since it was still 92 degrees at 8pm. Climate change is SO real, and we have experienced it's effects in every state we have visited over these two years. If I had a dollar for every time we've heard “The weather is never like this! It's been a weird 'insert current season'!” I would be so rich.
Missoula.... existed. It wasn't great, it wasn't terrible. If the University of Montana was the only school that accepted me for a perfect grad program it would probably be ok, maybe. The downtown was very much in flux, transitioning out of some rough economic times, and the surrounding area of the university was nothing special. Not a lot of age diversity either even with such a large school. Also, it seemed like a place where urban sprawl for the sake of it is … encouraged? On the plus side for Missoula, you would never have to drive across town to get to your favorite dive bar+liquor store+casino combo. These happening places attracted exactly the sort of crowd you would expect. Depressed and housing-fluid. Besides the driving tour, chores, and Wal-mart time, we had to find a coffee house for some last minute internet before retreating back to the woods. This lead us to a middle class neighborhood where a new coffee place opened next to a playground. It was house/7-11/cafeteria for the residents. It was weird but it worked for what we needed. I also had the sweetest (as in sugar) iced chai ever which left me a bit jittery after that stop.
All of this combined gave Missoula a trashy vibe, but not in a charming way. I don't know, maybe I am wrong, but Missoula was decidedly a no for us.
Good to know.
Stocked with food for two weeks, up to date with family, and ready to see the extreme beauty that we had heard about for Montana, we gladly set out for Glacier National Park.
7/10 would randomly putz around Montana again (but not Helana.)