Montana is a state that is at odds with itself; it is physically, politically, economically, and socially pulled in opposite directions. Back in 1880 when Montana was still a territory, the majority of residents lived in the west, as they still do today. When Montana was admitted into the union in 1889 and the state boundaries were drawn up, somehow the plains in the east were included with the otherwise mountainous and floral-rich west. In many ways, western Montana is an extension of the Pacific Northwest while eastern Montana has more in common with the northern Great Plains of the Dakotas. To further the divide, residents of the eastern corners of Montana travel more often to nearby Belle Fourche, South Dakota and Williston, North Dakota for shopping and entertainment, and are more in tune with Dakotas’ media and political affairs; and northern Montana residents gravitate more towards Canadian cities like Moose Jaw, Regina, and Lethbridge.
Taking the Spanish word for mountainous as its name, Montana is naturally full of stream-fed mountains and valleys. But there are also millions of acres of forests and the eastern region is lined with vast prairie stretches where northing but wheat and the occasional cattle ranch can be seen. Montana’s hydroelectric potential is also second to none, with the annual flow of its four major rivers enough to drown the whole state in six inches of water. Its Fort Peck is among the world’s largest hydraulic earthfill dams. And its Great Falls has one of the largest freshwater springs in the world with more than 1,500 lakes and 16,000 miles of clear fishing streams pumping out about 400 million gallons of water per day. Gold and silver also litter Montana’s mountains, helping it produce about $1 billion worth of precious metals each year – a figure surpassed only by the $2 billion contributed annually by the agricultural production of the state’s farms and ranches.
Montana is not known as the “Treasure State” for nothing, basking in its rich endowment of minerals, timber, rainfall, rivers, and abundant wildlife.
Montana was first inhabited by Native American groups like the Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Assiniboine, Gros Ventres, Kootenai, and the Salish. The first Europeans to explore the region were French traders Louis and François Verendrye in 1743. It became part of the U.S. after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and was explored by Lewis and Clark in their 1805 expedition. For the next 50 years, hunting and trapping was conducted in Montana, in particular at the trading post set up at the mouth of the Big Horn. The discovery of gold and copper in the late 1850s brought more attention and migrants to the state. Soon afterwards in 1864, the Montana Territory was established. During this period, the territory was the scene of the last effort of Native Americans to keep their land with final battles between the U.S. army and the natives taking place in Montana towns like Hardin and parts of the Nez Perce Wars taking place in Montana’s Lolo Pass.
After the Indian wars ended, Montana became a state in 1889. In the early 20th century, more settlers arrived after the Homestead Act was revised making it easier for settlers or “homesteaders” to obtain free land. During the 20th century, Montana extracted much of its minerals and resources, leaving behind some serious environmental wreckage that the state is still reeling from today.
Generally, most of Montana’s attractions are natural. A quarter of the state is made up of national forests and protected wilderness areas where bears, wolves, elk, deer, antelope, and some 500 other wildlife species reside.
Montana’s chief attraction is the Yellowstone National Park, which provides numerous recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking, fishing, and boating. Visitors can also explore the geysers and geothermal areas. In the winter, the park offers snowmobiling and snowshoeing opportunities.
The Glacier National Park in Montana’s north offers much the same as Yellowstone. Hiking is the most popular activity in Glacier, which has about 700 miles of trails that pass through varying altitudes and beautiful sceneries of mountains, lakes, river, forests, and wildlife. Opportunities for backcountry camping, fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing are also offered.
Also of special interest are Lame Deer, Antelope, and Trout creeks, which are all noted for their excellent hunting and fishing.
There is also a dinosaur museum, the Museum of Rockies in Bozeman that is a must. The museum features exhibits, displays, and fossil preparation rooms where visitors can watch scientists at work. Montana was once roamed by dinosaurs 140 million years ago and many important discoveries of fossils and eggs have been made in the state that have changed long-standing theories paleontologists have had about dinosaurs.