Montana: Wide Open Spaces

Montana is called Big Sky Country for a reason. It’s expansive and sprawling—and the 4th largest state in the U.S. (Size-wise, it’s slightly bigger than Japan.) Despite being gigantic, only 600,000 residents live here—which would explain why I saw exactly two boats on Flathead Lake yesterday (which is also massive.)

Anyone who summers here knows Northern Montana is a hidden gem. You would have to be a mighty hearty soul to get through a hinterlands winter. (Canada is less than an hour away.)  Yesterday I woke up to a brisk 50 degrees—sweat-uh weath-uh!—and then the nanosecond the sun peeked over the bluff, the temp jumped, like, eight degrees. It got up to around 85 degrees yesterday with only a smattering of ultra-puffy clouds dotting the (big) sky. I rarely use the term billowy, but yesterday’s clouds were billowy to the nth degree.

I hopped on a jet ski yesterday for the first time since the Clinton administration. It was just as exhilarating as I remember—except this time I could see to the bottom of the lake. When you’re tooling around the Lake of the Ozarks, I can’t help but wonder what evil lurks below in the murky depths.

Speaking of, in Flathead Lake trout are abundant—and aggressive. Rainbow trout, bull trout, and the nefarious-sounding cutthroat trout. They’ll eat anything, including each other. We went to an upscale sushi restaurant last night in Bigfork—Saketome (clever, eh?)—and the menu (and ingredient list) was wildly off-the-wall. They managed to implement cashews, strawberries, foie gras, and kiwi into various rolls. So, when I asked why they didn’t offer anything with trout, there was a record scratch moment in the restaurant. I laughed and said, “Just kidding!” My hosts got up and moved to another table. Apparently, fish humor is not a thing in Montana.

I’ve also eaten the oddest assortment of food, including my weight in granola. I think Montanananana-ians add granola to everything. Except trout, of course. That would be gross. Yesterday, for example, I wolfed down a huckleberry hotdog. It was slathered with sauteed onions and a chunky huckleberry marmalade. I asked Stephanie, the Sausage Queen of Montana, what the appeal was. She said the sweet/savory combo was to die for. I asked her for some spicy mustard on top for an added kick. She seemed amenable. (Fun fact: I’m also known as the Sausage Queen.)

Fountains of Wayne

There’s also an obscene amount of money up yonder. Celeb mansions dot the lake’s landscape—including John Lithgow, Maury Povich and Connie Chung, and the King of Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton. (His house—pictured above—has approximately 29,115 windows.)

The last time I visited Montana, I was 10 years old. I don’t remember much except that I was bored. This go-around, I’m channeling my inner kid and making amends. Hiking, bird watching, boating, sightseeing, and shopping were on yesterday’s agenda. Hell, we even went into town last night to watch a summer stock performance of “The Full Monty.” (The newly-ish renovated theater has been around for more than five decades. It’s an iconic mountain arts venue.)

I hope I’ve appropriately sucked up to my friends enough so they invite me back. This place is nirvana—minus the man-eating trout.