Montana is a state full of spectacular places. Both Courtney and I were continually amazed by its immense beauty, both natural and otherwise. The sheer amount of it is nearly matched by the variety. There seemed no end to the beautiful things to see!
On our way south, we spent some time with my aunt, who lives near Bozeman. Bozeman is a rather picturesque city sprawled out in a huge golden basin surrounded on all sides by rugged mountains. Housing is rather spread out amongst rolling hills covered in green lawns and hay farms. Down town is a cute section full of places to eat and boutique shopping. The beer is often brewed locally, food was out of this world, and there seemed to be free live music somewhere most every night of the week. We had fun the whole time we were there.
One particular place that stands out is Open Range. We spent at least an hour and a half here eating dinner and having drinks, and both were top notch. The place is far from cheap, but the food was some of the best I have had in years. This may be partly because we as a couple can never justify going to such fancy, and expensive, places, but this time we found the food and cocktails well worth it. The ambiance also lived up to the price.
Montana is known as the big sky state, and we certainly enjoyed our share of it. The sky isn’t necessarily “larger” then anywhere else, it just has this amazing combination of distance and texture that combine to form something greater. Numerous types of clouds at varying heights move at varying speeds across a huge, open sky. Especially at sunrise and sunset the constantly moving clouds play a large roll in creating the stunning effects that give the state its name.
Bozeman also has an abundance of natural beauty bellow that big sky. The rolling hills are covered in the golden grass the plains are known for, and the numerous surrounding ranges provide for a wonderful horizon, though some are quite far off. Tucked in among some of the foothill is a particular piece of geology that we, or at least my lady, just couldn’t miss; the Lewis and Clark Caverns.
The caverns are located about 51 miles from Bozeman. The park has a little campground if, for whatever reason, you might wish to camp there, and they have a small restaurant by the gift shop for anyone who wants to grab a meal while you are there. The tours cost $12 and run every hour or so. Check the webpage for specific details as hours and times may change depending on the season. Also, Montana gets some hellish (at least from my desert loving perspective) snow during the winter months so I would never go during the winter, personally. Fall was lovely though…
The tour takes about 2 hours and does involve a bit of a climb, though it is all at the beginning. From the tour office, you walk roughly half a mile with 300ish feet of elevation gain up to the cave entrance. From there the tour goes mostly downward.
The cave itself is beautiful. It contains numerous rooms, the largest of which are towards the end of the tour, and within these rooms are numerous types of rock formations made by calcite and water. Dripstones, stalagmites, and stalactites of all shapes and sizes dominate much of the cave. There are quite a few full columns to look at as well, and a few that got quite close but never quite touched.
My favorites were the many flowstones that decorate the walls of the chambers. The ribs and dots and numerous other shapes that these collections form are just mind blowing to me. Some of them even had some iron deposits in them, which turned them red or brown. One such formation they even named cave bacon because of its similarity to the breakfast meat. Millions of years of dripping water and calcium coming together with, as far as we know, no real direction, yet they form these huge, beautiful formations. It is quite a sight.
The geology is fantastic throughout the cave, but the most entertaining part has to be the beaver slide. Towards the beginning of the tour, to get from one room to another, you must slide down a short, narrow, natural slide. The rock has been polished by many years of human use, and the polished rock is just gorgeous. The quick slide is rather unique and also a good spot of fun. We had a good time at the caves even though I do think the tour took a bit longer then necessary.
On our way home, near the town of Noris, there lies a spot quite popular with the locals, at which we had to stop. This little slice of heaven, called the Water of the Gods or perhaps more officially Noris Hot Springs, is a must visit. Piped into an outdoor pool, the water was a wonderful temperature, and there is plenty of space to sit, stand, or float. You can even grab a glass of beer or wine from the concessions stand, or a slice of pizza or nachos if you feeling a bit peckish.
The park is a ways from town, and it is located in a lovely little valley. Since it was just so nice, we chose to just hang out and enjoy the pleasantly warm water and soak up the view. Especially after a bit of a walk, it was down right glorious.