After entering through the southeast in late April, I made my way all the way across the state of Montana, stopping for medium-to-long stays in four out of the five biggest Montanan cities: Billings, Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula.
Prior to visiting Montana for the first time ever as part of this road trip, my favorite state was Colorado, with Utah coming in at second. I really enjoyed South Dakota, but I wouldn’t consider South Dakota as a whole as one of my favorite states; just like how I wouldn’t call Nevada my favorite state just because I love Las Vegas, I felt like I couldn’t generalize my experience in southwestern South Dakota and apply it to the entire state.
Now, I can pretty confidently say that Montana is my favorite state in the United States, bumping the other states down one place. I obviously don’t have comprehensive exposure to either Montana or Colorado, but with my limited experience, as well as the knowledge I have about the areas of the states that I haven’t been to yet, I still think Colorado is amazing, but Montana beats it out by a little bit.
I’ve briefly touched on almost all of these points already sparingly throughout my previous Montana blog posts, but I figured I would do a summarized round-up and try to pinpoint some of the key reasons why Montana has taken my #1 spot:
The cities are not congested. Montanan cities have seem to found a sweet spot of equilibrium between density and sprawl. There are enough shops, restaurants, and activities for everyone to enjoy, and there are enough people around that businesspeople are incentivized to set up and make a good living, but it’s also spread out enough that everyone can have their own space.
The outdoors in Montana are unparalleled by anything else I’ve seen in America—and I already think this, even though I haven’t been to the northwestern corner of Montana yet, which allegedly is the most beautiful part. There are many outdoors activity opportunities (as you might have seen from all the hikes I’ve done). There is always interesting scenery to look at, and when you’re out in the wilderness, the air is probably the cleanest, purest, crispest air I’ve ever breathed.
The people are very kind and considerate. All the hikers I’ve encountered radiate warmth, peace, and happiness. Everyone has been proactively friendly to me, initiating conversation, but remaining respectful enough as to not pry too much unless I volunteer the information first.
The culture has a strong sense of community. I can’t quite pinpoint what exactly made me feel this way, but I immediately felt a sense of belonging throughout a majority of Montana (the only exceptions being the main university areas in Bozeman and Missoula, but even then, it was “normal” at worst). It’s as if everyone was genuinely interested in getting to know their neighbors so they can be there for one another when they need each other.
One silly (but meaningful) thing I really liked was the abundance of no-leash parks and hikes—it evokes great joy when a happy dog comes skipping towards you asking for pets, not only because I love animals, but also because it sends a clear message about the culture that people trust each other to be responsible and reasonable—something that is basically impossible in major cities.
Although there seems to be a lean towards conservatism, there is still good political balance across the state. Especially in the past few years, I’ve learned about the importance of politics and how it can shape a community. When it comes to important matters, failure to have differing opinions can be harmful, as we can see in states like California and in cities like Seattle and Portland. In Montana, people seem much more willing to actually share their conflicting viewpoints, discuss controversial topics, and listen to each other, rather than simply trying to shut down everyone who disagrees with them.
This isn’t quite as applicable to me because I don’t think I’m going to move to Montana, but for those who do, it seems like a good place to raise a family, with good in-state education options and low cost of living. There are also some more obscure perks, like no state sales tax.
I have plans to head into Canada for a bit over the summer, and because of how positive my experience has been in Montana, I’m looking to cross the border back into the United States through Montana, which would give me an opportunity to drive through Glacier National Park.
For now, with the current leg of my Montana visit wrapped up, I wanted to share some of the leftover photos I had that weren’t quite good enough to warrant their own individual blog post, but collectively were enough for a round-up.
This first set of photos comes from the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana. This was a relatively small museum with free admission (though I made a donation of US$5 to serve as an admission fee) that seemed to primarily feature art made by the children of Helena. I’m used to going to major museums with famous art pieces, but looking at art made by kids was a very unique experience and gave me some insight on how the current youth perceives the world.
I went through a phase a little while back of being very interested in “luxury” books with full-grain leather covers, gold foil wrapping, and other unique features. One of the things I liked was art painted on the side of the book that morphed perspective when you opened and closed the book. I found something similar at this museum, which isn’t bad, considering it was painted by someone in middle school.
With my adoration of cats, and having lived with three cats with my most recent previous roommate, I liked this multi-layer art piece, which had thread linking the hearts of the girl and the cat. Pudding the Persian liked to sleep by my head on or beside my pillow, and this reminded me of him.
Funny enough, my favorite art piece wasn’t exactly an art piece, but rather, a satire label of the water fountain titled “Ever-Flowing Tears.”
One section of the museum had wireframe models hung up on the ceiling, which I thought were very interesting. I also found it very impressive that a student managed to put all this together and have it come out so well.
My next batch of photographs comes from Spring Meadow Lake State Park, also in Helena.
While in Bozeman, I stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott Bozeman Downtown and was lucky enough to get a room with a balcony that had an amazing view to the northwest. It was snowy on the day I arrived, but once the snow melted, the cloud cover and fog cleared and revealed an amazing layer of snow-tipped mountains.
And finally, I like to share hotel room photos when I stay at a new hotel brand or one that is of a newer generation of interior design. In Helena, I stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Helena Colonial, which was my first ever Delta. It seemed like it was an older hotel, though the interior was still nice and simple. The lobby area of the hotel had a vintage-feeling staircase going up to the second floor, and the building itself was actually quite large.
During my stay, I noticed that it wasn’t really that busy and the rooms weren’t getting filled, but the meeting rooms were bustling—it seemed like companies rented out meeting rooms for corporate events during the day, and I saw that some of them were even being used for Advanced Placement exams for high schoolers.
With Montana complete, here is the latest in my travel map: