Our recent road trip through Montana was filled with such delights… snow-capped mountains, long glacial valleys, big skies, and — in many places — no one else except for us. This image above, for example, was taken along US Route 93, just north of Kicking Horse Reservoir. And as you can see, there wasn’t another soul visible for miles. It makes for a wonderful, restful, and welcoming respite (and there were honey bees!) from the hectic pressure-cooker pace of our normal life back in Maryland.
For readers interested in the particulars of the place, Glacier National Park begins just on the other side of the tallest peak in this image. The tallest peak visible, Mount Calowahcan (9061 feet/2762 meters), used to be named Mount Harding, and is part of the Mission Mountains (named for the Jesuit Mission in St. Ignatius) on the eastern side of the Mission Valley. Everything visible in the top image is part of the Flathead Nation, the reservation that is home to the present day Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreilles Tribes (see side image). As far as reservations go, it looks better than many we have seen in our travels over the years.
For my foreign guests that don’t know what I’m referring to, the USA has hundreds of reservations for Native Americans located across the entire country, and some of them are huge — with the biggest of them being larger than 27,000 square miles (70,000 km²) and spanning across several states. Many people, even natural-born citizens, don’t know that they are driving across a reservation while going about their normal day-to-day business, as most of them look nothing like the stereotyped versions seen in the popular media. However, some of them — like the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — are stuck in abject poverty (49%) and high unemployment (80%), which plays to the stereotype. I only cover this subject here to provide context (good or bad, reservations are a fact of life in the modern American West); it is not intended to ignite debate and passions about the subject.
For readers interested in the particulars of the top image, this panorama was taken with an iPhone 6S, which has become my instrument of choice for ultra-wide photographs. Why? I find the resulting images to be of excellent quality, easy to create and post-process — much easier than stitching a number of images together, and less distortion and smearing than using an ultra-wide-angle lens. Plus it helps to keep the weight of my photography kit down to an absolute minimum, which is always a good thing.
If you like traveling to the American West, or are thinking of doing so, the very best times of the year are the two shoulder seasons:
- The fall shoulder season that occurs after Labor Day (the first Monday in September) and before ski season begins (varies according to location, but the first week of November in many places).
- And the spring shoulder season that occurs after ski season ends (the second week of April in many places) and before Memorial Day (the last Monday in May).
These are the times of year when motels are heavily discounted and there are many other travel deals to be had… and no hordes to contend with.