by Charlie Leck [24 June 2007]
Out here they sell Montana as Big Sky Country! Indeed it is. The sky appears bigger somehow, even when one is fast approaching the magnificent Rocky Mountains. I think the sky is bluer, too. Everywhere, there seems to be this big, unending, beautiful, blue sky.
What a sense of spaciousness they have out there. We were recently in the Paradise Valley region of Montana for a few days. It’s just southeast of Bozeman and straight south of Livingston, not far north of Yellowstone Park. Wow! What a magnificent place to relax and just watch the lovely Yellowstone River slither by.
No one will hear me criticizing Montana very often. It’s a place too wonderful for words.
Yet, Montana also sells itself as the “last unspoiled place in America!” Sorry there, Montana, but you’ve got this one all wrong. You’ve prided yourself as independent and laissez faire for far too long, and, somewhere along the way, while you were failing to pass laws to protect yourself, you missed the raft and allowed a lot of spoiling to settle in.
It is an extremely exciting treat to go rafting on the Yellowstone River, bouncing over its gentle white waters, laughing and screaming with pleasure. How extraordinary to think that this rambling river can be the result of melting snows in the mountains. How magnificent! It just isn’t so pretty to look up, once in a while, to the hills and cliffs that bank the river, and see the ugly things that people have built right to the edge of this scenic wonder.
The Yellowstone River has just plain been spoiled between “the park” (everyone in Montana understands what you’re talking about when you say that) and the city of Livingston. The river is well protected from human predators as it flows through Yellowstone Park and I don’t know what it’s like as you travel it up to and beyond Billings, but I doubt it’s any better than it is from Livingston down to the park.
It’s just not right that they’ve allowed any manner of buildings and shacks and junk yards to be built right there along the edge. Someone should have had the foresight to zone out all those ugly buildings from the sightlines up from the river. They’ve been doing that here in Minnesota and Wisconsin, to protect the beautiful Saint Croix River that runs between the two states.
These natural wonders are just too precious to treat them carelessly. They deserve tender love and constant attention.
Montana, however, is this big, gigantic place and that causes its people to have this immense ego. They think Montana is so big and tough that no one can ever harm it. They don’t want laws that inhibit its people. They don’t want environmentalists and whacky greenies telling them what to do. While they’ve boasted about their big, blue sky, someone has blighted one of their most precious and charming wonders.
Just east of Billings, the Yellowstone is joined by the Bighorn River and, further downstream, by the Tongue and the Powder. They all flow together into western North Dakota and meet up with the powerful Missouri River. This Yellowstone River is the same one that was explored by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806. It was an important transportation route for Native Americans and for early white settlers. Image how breathtakingly beautiful it must have been to these folks before the spoiling of it began.
Wake up Montana.