We find monumental beauty and hidden treasures traversing Montana's rugged terrain and vibrant activities with our guest, former Montanan Greg Correll. We discuss Montana's past, including the Louisiana Purchase and the displacement of Native Americans. Saunter through the streets of Helena, Montana's capital, and experience life in the cowboy town of Billings. And bask in the grandeur of Montana's plains and mountains while Greg paints a vivid picture of this awe-inspiring state.
We explore Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, and Native American reserves. From Montana's ghost towns, rodeos, iconic dude ranches, to its imposing mountains to its beloved cattle ranches, Big Sky Country represents Americana. Greg ends with a stunning memory at a Native American powwow.
Greg Correll lived in Montana, and is an artist, writer, and CEO of Small Packages Inc., a New York-based website design, development and marketing company. He is the producer of Places I Remember!
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, and has written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember (Kirkus Reviews star rating, and 'one of the top 100 Indie books' of the year). She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.
Contact Lea- she loves hearing from you! @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; Places I Remember with Lea Lane on Facebook; Website: placesirememberlealane.com.
New episodes drop every other Tuesday, wherever you listen. Please consider sharing, following, rating and reviewing this award-winning travel podcast.
The state of Montana is famous for its natural beauty. Its name is derived from the Spanish Montana or mountain, and indeed the Rocky Mountains are part of that beauty. Only three states -- Alaska, Texas and California have an area larger than Montana's, and only two states, Alaska and Wyoming have a lower population density. So the Big Sky Country of Montana offers lots and lots of unspoiled nature for travelers to enjoy. Montana's national parks, such as Yellowstone and Glacier, are major draws for tourists from around the world. Montana also has ski resorts, fishing and hunting opportunities, vibrant arts and a cultural scene. Before we talk with our guest about what travelers shouldn't miss in Montana, here are a few interesting facts and a bit of history about the state. Most of Montana was obtained by the US through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806 explored Montana. Gold was discovered in the early 1860s and the grazing of cattle and sheep was introduced later that decade, leading to bitter battles with the Native Americans, whose hunting grounds were destroyed. Montana Territory was established in 1864, and though they defeated and killed the US troops of George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, the Native Americans ceased fighting in 1877 and were placed on reservations. In spite of its northern location, Montana is very much a Western state. By 1889, when it became the 41st state of the Union, the cattle drive was an institution and Montana had begun to emerge as one of the country's leading copper mining centers. But today, mainly because of its vast open spaces and natural beauty, Montana's economy emphasizes tourism. Our guest is Greg Correll artist, writer, editor, poet, computer whiz, CEO with Small Packages Inc, a marketing and design company, and the producer of Places I Remember. I'm so happy to talk with you, Greg, and share your memories about a place you love.Greg Correll:
Thanks, Lea.Lea Lane:
Let's start with your special connection to Montana.Greg Correll:
I started going to Montana when I was a young teenager. It was possible back in the late 60s and early 70s for teens to hitchhike across this country. It was an odd moment in our history and I loved backpacking, like most kids who grew up in flat Kansas. The Montana mountains were mythic and pulled us from our eastern flat land to go west. So as soon as I could get out there I did. I want to contrast Montana with Colorado in an important way. Colorado was my first acquaintance with the Rocky Mountains, but Colorado has a sort of squished-together quality. The mountains in Montana are rugged and solitary in many cases and full of beautiful, distinctive formations. Colorado, except the San Juan Mountains in the southwest, are sort of pushed all together, so you don't get the drama. I'll say one particular view was one of the most impressive things I ever saw, and I'd been coming to Montana for years. In the late 70s I traveled up to the northern part of Glacier Park and then I went across going to the Sun Road, which is a gorgeous high road that traverses the park, but you come down in the eastern end. Well, the eastern side of Glacier Park offers a view of those mountains that you don't see even from the west. They're rising literally out of the flat plains straight up, hardly any intervening foothills or badlands or whatever. The drama of it is unparalleled.Lea Lane:
Right. I know that the Great Plains area to the east of Montana is a very different geographical terrain. The contrast is what's special, I think, as you mentioned here, to see it coming up from those plains.Greg Correll:
Yes, the plains of Montana are "better plains. The plains of Nebraska and Kansas and parts of Wyoming etc. are flatlands with only a certain amount of badlands, of interesting lower elevation terrain. But Montana there's a few flat areas but there's interesting terrain everywhere scablands, badlands, small, subtle mountain ranges, gigantic drama. They have a thing called the Chinese Wall just south of Glacier Park. That's astonishing when a large piece of land angles up and then erosion will carve little canyons into it.Lea Lane:
Wow, I remember golden grainfields as well when driving around the plains area. Very beautiful colors. Montana's capital is Helena. The main street is called Last Chance Gulch, which is the city's original name. It's a reminder of the prospectors who invaded the surrounding hills in the 1860s to pan for gold. Today there's a very lively downtown with micro breweries and theater and symphony. What makes Helena special to you?Greg Correll:
One of the first things you notice about Helena is that it's a different terrain than much of the more dramatic mountains around it. The word is friendly pine covered hills, some of them rounded, all of them set in chaotic, picturesque disorder. It feels wild but it feels homey in a way that most of the other cities around Montana don't feel. They're usually set in dramatic flat areas with mountains near them. They're not as embedded in the mountains as Helena is. It's got a little bit of that San Francisco feel of hills throughout the town.Lea Lane:
Let's talk about a few of the other cities. You can give us your quick take. What about Billings in southern Montana, on the Yellowstone River?Greg Correll:
Well, keep it simple. Billings is a cowboy town, of course, and it's not in the mountains per se. There's beautiful badlands near it. Billings is a great place to go if you want to see a rodeo.Lea Lane:
Tell us about a rodeo in Montana.Greg Correll:
Oh man, The good spirit of a rodeo. everybody's ready to say hello, Everybody's ready to engage with you. I never felt isolated or and I was obviously a hippy at the time. It wasn't obvious to me, And it's beautiful to see. I know that.Lea Lane:
What are some of the things that you see at a rodeo. I went to one rodeo in Montana. I remember the clowns. They were running around. They were getting hit in the backside because they would try to distract, i guess, some of the animals that were acting up a little. But that was my memory mostly is a boisterous clown, cowboy, bucking horses and so forth. What else is there to rodeo?Greg Correll:
That's energy. Well, you know, the animals rule the day. It's not the humans that rule a rodeo, it's the animals. So you know, you grow to appreciate what someone is able to do to stay on a beast, but you're really watching the beast. Another thing about rodeos is they love children. Every rodeo I've ever been to had smaller animals, little events, roping at calves, and it's hilarity at a grand scale to watch these kids go out there and try this. It's safe, it's rugged work but it's safe for these kids. That's a wonderful feeling about a rodeo to feel that you're in an inclusive sort of thing. All ages participate, all ages are involved And as far as that goes, at least in Montana, everyone is there. It's rather beautiful to be a part of.Lea Lane:
Is it all through the year?Greg Correll:
There's rodeo season. Some people say about northern Montana that they have two seasons, winter and late July, so rodeos year round would be a problematic thing.Lea Lane:
Well, that sounds like fun. A couple of the other cities I just want to mention Missoula, which is in western Montana, which has a lot of historical buildings, including 1877 Fort Missoula. It has art museums and beautiful trails that go through the mountains near there. And then Bozeman, which is in southern Montana. I spent some time there. It's in the Rocky Mountains and it has Montana State University with a wonderful dinosaur museum. I think the kids would love that when I was really impressed with it. And outside of it is the smallest park in Montana. It's a state park. It has less than an acre of land. It's technically called a ghost town. It's Elkhorn State Park. There are two buildings in it, but the rest is considered a ghost town. Have you been to a ghost town?Greg Correll:
I've been to several ghost towns throughout the West. The most memorable ones were not in Montana, i think partly because the Southwestern part of the United States preserves ghost towns better than Montana can.Lea Lane:
Well, there are over 60 ghost towns in Montana. I read that and I was at one in Virginia City, which was quite a popular one because it's not far from Yellowstone National Park, and it was fascinating. It's frozen in time, there's lots of stores and stuff. It's not like there's nothing to do. There's lots to do, but the feeling is very much that this was once a thriving community. And it's a very special part, i think, of my visit to that state. About the parks: a large proportion of Montana's land is given over to state and national parks and monuments and forests and recreational areas. You can hike at camp and hunt and canoe and, of course, the best fly fishing in the world.Greg Correll:
Glacier National Park holds a special place in my heart. I started going there, as I said, when I was a teenager and I realized how unique Glacier is. The mountains there are different. They're in a sense more like the Swiss Alps. They're giant pyramid shapes that are pushed together along the divide. The divide runs all the way from the south to the north end of the park. Waterton Peace Park is actually a part of this, but it's located in Canada And it's all one contiguous range of mountains that are the most dramatic in Montana. The glaciers, unfortunately, are starting to melt and they're continuing to melt and expect to be melting for quite some time. But the park itself is extraordinarily beautiful when you come in from either the west or the east. Most come in from west glacier. You pass Lake McDonald, a gigantic lake surrounded by three sides by enormous mountains, and then you go up across the spine of the continental divide and enormous switchbacks. One of the things that surprises most visitors is the sheer number of waterfalls. Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness south of it, the Swan Mountain area, all of these mountains are full, full of waterfalls. Living here in the east you can travel to, i can go up the hill here in New York and see a waterfall, or I can travel north into Adirondacks and pick a couple of waterfalls to see. But in glacier there's a waterfall every couple of hundred feet, and some of them can be a couple of hundred feet high. These very high mountains 10, 11,000 feet, and they come right down to the 6,000, 5,000, 4,000 foot level of the road, with hardly any foothills, and so you're seeing just cascade after cascade.Lea Lane:
A lot of that, unfortunately, is coming from melting.Greg Correll:
It's still beautiful.Greg Correll:
Glacier scrapes the moisture out of the air before it goes further east, so they get a great deal of snow, they get a great deal of water.Lea Lane:
Tell me about Yellowstone. I know it's shared with Wyoming. How does that work?Greg Correll:
There's a sliver of the park. That's in Montana. Mostly what you've got is entrance from the north and from the west via Montana, and it's among the most popular ways to get there because you can fly into Bozeman, you can fly into various Spokane, Washington, just across the border. People do that and then they drive down, so most people are coming from the west there. Yellowstone is different. If you're expecting to see dramatic, endless mountain high mountains, you're going to be a little disappointed because Yellowstone exists for its unique features. A whole bunch of them the hot pools that you can see, geysers, the strange sulfurous canyon that is Yellowstone falls, the huge numbers of wildlife in Yellowstone. So it's more of a multi-various experience. You're not going to find the same experience for hiking trails, for instance. In Yellowstone. There are some traditional go up to a mountain and come back down again, but for the most part these trails go in and out the more interesting lower level, lower elevation features of the park.Lea Lane:
Yeah, it's very stunning. Wyoming would take credit for most of it, as you said, but Montana is an entrance to it and worth seeking out. if you have not been, it is crowded during tourist season, i would say. if you can possibly go outside of that, that would be a very big tip Now. at the time of European settlement of the region, Montana was inhabited by various Native American peoples, including the Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Katanik and Crow. Montana has seven Indian reservations and Native Americans constitute more than one-tenth of the state's total population. Nearly two-thirds of them live on the reservations and most of the rest in the cities near them, notably Missoula, Great Falls and Billings. Have you been to a Native American gathering?Greg Correll:
Oh many. First thing you got to know about it is that if you are a respectful and calm human being you are welcome on these reservations, flat out. I've been to reservations in the Southwest and it's different. I didn't feel as welcomed. The Indian reservations in Montana are, if not unique, close to it because they are still living on their ancestral lands as opposed to having been moved to a poorer corner of their lands or even off their traditional lands altogether. The most fun of the reservations to me is the Kutane Salish, who are known as flathead Indians. They used to press them with boards to flatten aesthetically their heads. The Kutane Salish tribe is a very friendly and welcoming tribe and they're located just north of Missoula, going all the way up to Glacier. So you sort of have to encounter the Kutane Salish Indians if you're going north to go to Glacier when you're driving through. I remember the first time I went on their reservation to go fishing up in the Mission Mountains there the pickup truck that I was in was on this lonely little road heading toward the missions and another pickup truck started coming toward me and it was full of Indians, full of residents, and they slowed way down and so I assumed they wanted me to slow down. So we slowed way down and they said hello. They waved and they gave me smiles and there was (a kind of I like the old movies where they'd be cutting tomahawk right You go right to it other than to say you're on our reservation, perhaps, and we need to get a good look at you and you look like a good guy, so have a nice day.Lea Lane:
It was pretty wonderful.Greg Correll:
Now. I've also been to roundups and to powwows and they are wonderful.Lea Lane:
What is a powwow specifically?Greg Correll:
It's a drumming and it's a circular dance and it's done for different purposes and reasons and I think it's probably different between each tribe. But it is a time of costume, song and dance and lots of energy, lots of food, lots of talking and laughing and beautiful native headdress and the women members of the tribe wear elegant, beautiful outfits.Lea Lane:
Well sounds terrific and something not to miss when you go to Montana. There are lots of festivals. Square dance is popular, fiddling is popular. I remember I was panning for sapphires, because it's called the Treasure state. They weren't looking like the twinkly ones you put on your hand, they were like rocks. I don't think they were worth very much, but it was lots of fun to do that. That was something I still remember. I had about six of them. I probably have them somewhere. They're like little blue stones but they're not what you think of. But there's so much fun. There's lots of minerals there and lots of things of that sort to do too. How about dude ranches? I went to a dude ranch wonderful places for families especially, of course. You go horseback riding and you can go on cattle drives. Have you been to one of those?Greg Correll:
I've never been. I knew people who worked at dude ranches in a couple of places in Montana When I was hippie and making my way up there, dude ranches were sort of anathema to me. That was what the safe people did As I become an older safe person.Lea Lane:
You joined us in the dude ranch.Greg Correll:
I might join you at the dude ranch. It would be a lot of fun.Lea Lane:
You can go from simple to luxury. That's a nice thing about Montana. Every kind of accommodation, from camping up to the top, top luxury, five star, seven star resorts because it is so beautiful, you get everybody who wants to enjoy it. The cattle ranch is another place you can stay. That's even more authentic. You can go on trail rides and you can help calve and lamb in the spring. You can ride herd in the summer. You're a part of the team there. That's something that you might want to look into. It's a real working ranch. A lot of them are now open to tourists. I would check that out. What do you say is unique about Montana? All the places you've been in the states?Greg Correll:
I've alluded to the differences in the mountains. I want to make another set of points about it. What most folks don't realize is that there's a great deal more mountain and state park and even national park than just Glacier and the little bit of Yellowstone. Down there. There's the Bob Marshall wilderness area, there are the Cabinet mountains, the Sapphire mountains, the Garnet range, the Purcell mountains. All of these mountain areas have very few people living in them. There's a quality to Montana that I've not found anywhere else, except in certain places in Nevada, which doesn't really count because Nevada is just, for the most part, empty. It's high desert and empty. What you find in Montana is that you can go for 30 or 40 miles on many of the mountain roads and never see another road, never see a turnoff for a driveway. This is like Alaska. This is an empty state full of beauty.Lea Lane:
Big Sky Country. Big Sky Country.Greg Correll:
There's another thing too I wanted to say, which is south of Glacier. there are unusual mountain formations all the way down to the southern end of the state. The Swan Valley, between the missions and the Swan range, is one of the real secret beauties of Montana. It has almost nothing in it, there are very few developments, and it has high mountains, the mission mountains, the holy center of the world for the Kutany salish D and the Swan mountains, which are a gentler and very beautiful range of mountains. Then this lovely valley that goes right up to the north, right up to Columbia Falls and West Glacier. Then you cross the Swan mountains and you've got a very similar thing. You've got a Chinese wall that goes from north to south and the Flathead range that merges with it to the north, these mountain ranges. as you drive along them, it is like a world created just for you that day. The only areas in Montana that have any kind of traffic are up around Glacier a little bit and a whole lot down at Yellowstone. You're not going to see a lot of people on the road in Montana.Lea Lane:
You'll see a lot of animals. You see lots of wildlife That's something I want to mention too. Tremendous amounts of animals, of course, bison in certain areas, but just all kinds of animals all along, because it's a haven, it's a beautiful place for all. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. Greg, can you please share one more special memory of Montana?Greg Correll:
There's a place called Lolo Pass southwest of Missoula. This is a secret about Montana. If you cross Lolo Pass you will find a whole area o along the Bitterroot Mountains there in the southwest, a whole area full of wild natural hot springs that you can sit in like a hot tub. That's worth mentioning. I had to get that in there. Now I'm going to tell you my special memory. I took my daughter, who was four, my first born daughter up to the reservation for a powwow on her birthday, the 4th of July, the last year I lived in Montana before I came east. It was a beautiful day. I was up there with a friend and her daughter. Our kids at one point were invited out to march. Someone said you kids want to come. They went out into the large circle and just circled it and circled it and circled it, stamping their feet, just as it came to a conclusion and the people in the stands were walking down and joining with the people who had been marching. It began to snow. It was the 4th of July and it was warm, but coming off the missions, coming out of the east, a set of clouds came over and it just began dropping sparkling little snowflakes on us in the middle of the 4th of July heat, it was beautiful.Lea Lane:
A rain dance, but a snow dance.Greg Correll:
You suddenly felt like you were in some way physically connected to the tops of those peaks. Just to the east. There was this sense of that Indian idea of being connected to the world and its capabilities and its processes.Lea Lane:
Beautiful, beautiful memory. Well, thank you, Greg Corrrell. Your memories and your descriptions of Montana show that you are indeed an artist and a writer. I'm so fortunate as well that you are producer of this show and I get to work with you and share memories all the time, So a big thank you for that as well. See you soon, (Okay thanks, Lea, bye-bye.