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Montana: Big Sky Country

Summer vacation is almost here! For those kindred spirits who are looking forward to sunshine and outdoor adventures, I wanted to share some of my favorite places that I have traveled to over the years. For this month’s post, I am taking you on a photographic journey from a trip I took to Montana where I ventured out west by train to visit “Big Sky Country” in 2010.

I recently wrote a post about the beauty of driving to destinations versus flying. If I am traveling, from the moment I walk out the door to embark on my trip until my return, each step of the way is a part of the adventure. Witnessing the change of scenery from the comfort of a train was an incredible experience: from the dense cities to wide-open spaces that led us to the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Committing to this type of excursion was not taken lightly. The estimated travel time from where we embarked in New York Penn Station to arriving in Whitefish Montana took several days and multiple stops along the way. However, we wanted to see parts of our country that one would normally never see while flying, which was why we decided to travel by train. For the first half of the trip, we left the bright lights of Manhattan behind as we journeyed through the mid-west and arrived in Chicago the next morning.

Before heading out for the second leg of our journey by train, we took a boat tour through the “Windy City”. The boat tour was a wonderful way to view this unique city’s beautiful architecture while floating along the Chicago River. For more information about boat tours in Chicago, click here.

When it was time to depart, we settled into our rooms on the Amtrak train. We ate our dinner while watching the sun set across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin.

The next day, we woke up as we sped through Wisconsin and North Dakota. The landscape of the northern Badlands was otherworldly. Geographically speaking, these sedimentary layers of the earth were created millions of years ago from ash, sand, and mud. After the ice age ended and the glaciers receded, these ancient mountains were much taller but over time they have been carved and reshaped by weather and erosion. Each beautiful line is a layer of time, which shares the story of how North America was created and then molded into what we see today.

As we continued through to Montana the scenery became greener and more mountainous. We passed by alpine towns and vast pastures with black cows that spotted the large fields where they graze. Rivers and other bodies of water snaked along the way and reflected the distant mountains. It was a lovely ride to our final destination in Whitefish, Montana. A beautiful city outside of Glacier National Park.

Our itinerary for the rest of the trip was filled with various activities to get the full experience. We had arranged for our group to spend several days on a dude ranch where we learned about the cowboy way of life from a genuine cast of characters.

On one of the most memorable nights on the ranch, we were invited to a cookout where we rode our horses to a beautiful location in the alpine woods to share a delicious meal. One of the ranch hands was a gifted guitar player who serenaded us with live music until it was time to turn in for the evening.

In the next chapter of our adventure, we wanted to spend time in Glacier National Park. Admittedly, I have a fear of heights, but the best views of this serene and immense landscape are from the top. We decided to take Going-On-The-Sun Road, which is about a 2-hour drive along the scenic mountainside. At first, I was unsure if I would be comfortable at such a high altitude. Yet, as we made our way, I was proud of myself for being able to push past my fear. Especially since the reward was well worth it when we encountered these stoic mountain goats.

At the end of our trip, we spent a few days in the Big Fork area. We chased waterfalls and were able to see some wildlife like the Bighorn Sheep with their commanding presence. These majestic animals were a nature photographer’s most poised subject. Their horns can weigh up to 40 pounds and make up a significant percentage of their overall body weight. During mating season in November, the male rams use their horns to establish dominance by colliding head-on with one another. Luckily, when we visited, they were more focused on grazing in the lush fields.

In 2012, I exhibited several images from this trip in Gallery Dobrich in Bulgaria. I titled this collection, “Heart Of The West.” I wanted to share with the viewer this feeling of freedom and the spirit of the American West. This trip changed my perspective and opened my awareness to a completely different way of life. The friendliness of the people we met, mixed with their genuine appreciation and passion for protecting nature, was instilled in me long after returning home to the east coast.

These extraordinary and meaningful days spent while wandering through the rugged and glorious state of Montana remain fond memories of an epic journey. There are so many diverse places, people, and mindsets within our own county. Travel is a way to expand one’s own beliefs and ideas that are also strengthened by stretching one’s awareness.

Follow along with my Instagram page @indiablakejohnson where I will be sharing more images throughout the month of June from this memorable trip to Montana.

Thanks for reading,

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Jun 02, 2022

Wonderful to see this series of photographs—stretching from Penn Station in Manhattan to the Big Sky Country of Montana. Your pictures and stories make me want to jump on the next train heading anywhere but NYC. The cityscapes and landscapes are really good, but what I find best are the portraits of people and other animals. If I were to assign best-in-show status to a few of the pictures (I realize that nobody has asked me to do that!) I'd say the Eagle, the Big Horn Sheep, and the cowboys.

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