South Dakota to Bozeman, Montana: In which I get a little nuts with statistics, and we meet a new old friend
Day 3 was an easier trek in that we were on the road for less than eight hours—the last “long” day of our trip. Our route took us through Wyoming, which was beautiful, and startlingly empty. A quick bit of research confirmed this (I still had 3G in the middle of the prarie): save for Alaska, Wyoming is the least densely populated state in the U.S. with 5.85 inhabitants per square mile. Montana is close behind with 6.86. For comparison’s sake, my home state of Michigan has 173.9 per square mile! These may seem like dry statistics—and I apologize if I’m boring you—but I was intrigued. I’d never been out West before, never seen the vast emptiness of it, and it was a very real reminder of, “not everyone lives the way you do,” perhaps the greatest (or simplest) lesson of travel.
As we made our way to Montana, the landscape became mountainous. As we passed into the Montana border we also entered Crow Country—as in the people, not the bird. Billboard PSAs specifically targeted the Native American population. “Don’t kill your heritage by smoking,” or something slightly more eloquent than that. We stopped for lunch at a Taco John’s, where we saw an honest-to-goodness cowboy who was 6’6” without his hat, easily.
We passed through Billings, which is the most populous city in Montana with approximately 104,000 people. (Here I go again with the facts.) For comparison, Ann Arbor has 114,000 people. To be in this West, with so much land and so few people, felt new, and I was surprised by how much I liked it.
We chose to stay in Bozeman because of its proximity to Yellowstone, and because Neal’s brother had lived there for two years. He had great recommendations for hikes nearby, as well as places to eat. Dinner that night was at Montana Ale House, an enormous restaurant and bar that resembled a converted train station. It could have been the name, it could have been that I was parched from our day on the road, but I’m pretty convinced that Yellow Humpy Hefe was the best beer I’ve ever had.
While we stood at the bar, waiting for our table, we noticed a little old man in a Michigan shirt and hat. I was disproportionately excited. “Let’s say ‘Go Blue!’ to him,” I told Neal, imagining this sweet old man to be an alumnus, who’d certainly have many interesting stories to share.
So we gave our greeting, and he looked at Neal and said, “Good morning!” then he shook his head, muttered, “what am I saying?” and took his seat. It turned out our friend was either senile, or old and confused, or possibly just drunk. Hopefully, the last one.