Montana scenery never gets old. The change of seasons is something amazing to see. Though it seems like winter ended just a few days ago, we’re already headed into June with greenery surrounding us and the days getting even longer. Waking up at 4:30 to see the sky already lighting up behind the mountains is certainly a sight to behold.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a few short trips across central Montana. The first was a trip around the Belt mountains to Judith Basin. We had a local ranchers meeting in Hobson at the Stevenson ranch. I stopped at Stanford to pick up our Association President and ended up taking a little longer than I should have finding his place. The roads were muddy with recent rains, but everything was so green and with low clouds it actually made for great scenery driving in and out of narrow canyons.
Once I made it to his place, we headed off through forest ground on the way to the meeting. A few thousand acres of timber around his place burned late one night in the late 90s. The scars on the land still exist, fallen logs litter the ground, and new saplings pressing their way toward the expansive sky. Many people don’t recognize the importance of .managing our forests, utilizing controlled burns, and reducing the fuel on the ground to reduce the intensity of fires when they do flare up. These ranchers lost a few buildings and livestock in the blaze and have since rebuilt and continue on their way.
Attending local meetings with ranchers is always a tiring task. Everyone is catching up with their neighbors, enjoying a cold beer. The noise level in a shop or barn can become unbelievably loud as the folks gather, laugh at each other’s mishaps and join in on the entertainment. Not to mention there’s almost always good food to be found within reach. It may be a tiring event but I so enjoy getting to meet everyone, hear the stories behind their operations, and listen to their tales. Sometimes it’s a matter of figuring out just where the events unfold and the embellishing begins. I’m not sure some of these ranchers expect that I have a background in the cattle business or hands-on skill and study working with cattle and horses. Maybe the communications guy with the association isn’t always supposed to have that role.
My next day trip was up along the Rocky Mountain Front to Conrad. We picked up a sponsorship from the local John Deere dealer for a new gator. We’ll tote it around the state all summer and fall and one of our local rancher groups will get to take it home after our December meeting. Sign me up for that deal!
To go north out of Helena, we must drive through a canyon along the Missouri river. The Sling green up in Montana is short-lived and still with a hint of brown scattered about, nothing like the green I grew up surrounded by in the South. But this time of year, this canyon through the Little Belt mountains is unbelievably green. Mix that with the leftover snow on the higher slopes and the whole drive looks like one big painting in the landscape with so many shades of red, Gray, and brown.
I could have taken the interstate all the way to Conrad, but in Montana where the state highways are often empty and where the speed limit of 70 is a mere guideline, it’s just about as quick to take the more scenic routes.
As soon as you leave the canyon, the rocks open up to rolling hills of green pasture, only broken by the occasional creek (pronounced crock in these parts) and rugged fence line. A guy can drive for miles and miles without seeing another soul. I love these drives for their view, but also the occasional town that’s not more than a dot on a map. There’s the customary shop/store/cafe in these places. Many will have a gas pump. These make great stops along the way. The person taking care of the place is usually up for a quick chat, the usual greeting and a “What brings you this way?” It’s usually the type of meeting anyone will enjoy. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say there are some gatekeepers who recognize I’m no local and let me be on my way. Never know what to expect. The closer you get to the Canadian line in Montana, the land starts to level out. There’s a great area of wheat, canola and barley farms in a region known as the Golden Triangle. It’s patchwork quilt of fields, green and brown. There’s not much moisture here during the growing season, so if you don’t have easy access to irrigation from snow runoff, it might be easier to dry land farm. Letting a field go fallow allows the soil to retain moisture and makes for a better crop the next year. Stubble from the last crop is left standing until it’s burned off or plowed under before the next planting. The fields in production this season are as green as can be. I can’t wait to see the wheat waving in the wind as we get closer to harvest. That was one of the most memorable sights during my time in Oklahoma.
The next several weeks are packed with travel plans. This past weekend I was off to Arkansas to visit family and friends (I have not missed the humidity, one bit) before it’s back to the grind with several miles on the Montana highways. Our mid year meeting is coming up in Miles City and will definitely make for a great time with parades, ranch tours, concerts, street dances, and a ranch rodeo. Somewhere in there we’ll fit in a few meetings.