Mullan Road, 2008
I didn’t expect to like Missoula.
I went out there last year for my nephew’s wedding. It was a chance to see my sister and her husband and all their kids and their spouses, partners and kids together in one place.
I had such low expectations of Missoula that although I carried my camera and hoped I’d find a little time to explore, I booked travel that didn’t leave a lot of discretionary time.
So the joke was on me when I fell in love with the natural beauty of Montana. In her defense, my sister’s been going out to a dude ranch in Montana every summer for years and telling me how nice it is. But all I could ever conjure up in my mind were old images of “Spin & Marty.”
The wedding was held in my nephew’s back yard. It was joyous, as weddings should be. The reception provided time to visit with relatives and friends. Fearful of being branded an effete Easterner—I did have a sports coat on, after all—just before the wedding I’d traded my dress shoes for cowboy boots and left my neck tie in the rented pickup truck. (The only rental vehicle available in Missoula that weekend.) The truck bought me some credibility. But I don’t think I fooled anyone. I stayed for enough of the reception to be seen and then lit out on my own with the camera to catch the last light of the day.
Missoula’s big enough to take a few minutes to cross, but small enough that you can see mountains and wilderness from practically any part of town. It’s a university town and a popular staging point for hiking, mountain biking, skiing and other sports. So there’s a perennial air of youth and physical vitality. There’s also gambling—not the flashy Vegas Strip kind, but more like the low-bet Freemont Street halls—which attracts a certain raffish crowd.
In the golden light of late afternoon I had time to walk the downtown, find the highest point in town for a good shot of the Missoula Valley and scope out the iffier precincts around the rail yards. A brief, but heavy rainstorm slowed me down for a few minutes, but left a crystal clear sky in its wake. (You can see more of the afternoon's take here.)
The next day I drove my sister several hours north to the ranch outside Bigfork where she’d be spending the following week riding horses, singing around a campfire at night and commiserating with her fellow campers that there just aren’t enough good Republicans in government. (I made up that last part. But there’s no denying that a lot of Montanans, and many of the people who visit there, were sorry to see Dick Cheney leave office.)
The Flathead Lake Lodge turns out to be a very nice place. It's log cabins and lodges offer simple, but comfortable accommodations with central heat and plenty of indoor plumbing. I can see why my sister likes it so much. I’d like to spend some more time there myself. But I suspect they’d rustle up a hanging party when they discovered I subscribe to The Nation.