Small Things in Big Sky Country

by Allie on June 10, 2011

Welcome to Montana sign

We are headed to my friend Jeep’s place for a few nights, to stay in his vacation home that he generously offered up for our use. Most of the year he lives in California, but he spends part of the summer in Montana. Late May is not summer – or even summer-like – a fact we will be made chillingly aware of shortly.

We are headed to Condon, a small town with one restaurant, one bar, one convenience store, one small grocery store, a community hall and a post office. The post office is what makes it an official town. The establishments are spread out along a six-mile stretch of Highway 83.

Crossing the state line from Idaho, things don’t look immediately different. There are mountains, pine trees, rocks, and snow. Repeat.

But we soon see an official sign that says something to the effect of “Every white cross marks one traffic fatality”. While it is common to see memorials or crosses by the side of the road in other states, this is the first place we’ve been where it is an official program (The White Cross Highway Fatality Marker Program was created by the American Legion in 1953, and soon was adopted as a statewide program).

White cross on Montana highway

A white cross for "Teresa"

The small white crosses are a sobering reminder to keep our speed down and to drive with caution. Often there are only one or two crosses marking a spot. The crosses are infrequent enough to grab our attention.  At one intersection there are nine, broken up into groups of four, three and two. Is it a little ironic that a state with an almost 60-year old program of marking traffic fatalities didn’t have an official speed limit until 1999?

We stop in Missoula and use our phones to find a grocery store where we can stock up on provisions. (This is a big change from our international travels – we can use our phones and GPS to get information! It makes things soooo easy!) We find The Good Food Store, and experience déjà vu when we walk inside, because it feels like a Whole Foods, except the staff has fewer piercings and tattoos.

Glossy fruit and vegetables radiate promises of health and vitality. The store carries California cherries, dragon fruit from Vietnam, even coconuts. Kefir yogurt, fresh tofu, goat’s milk, and organic spinach fettuccine (in bulk!) is all available. This is not what we were expecting in Montana.

I text Jeep to tell him where we are, and he replies that Missoula is the “most like California town in Montana”, and that we need to drive 30 minutes out of town to get to Montana, as “they call Missoula little California”. Humph. I can almost hear him chuckling through his texts.

Stocked up, we hit the road again and quickly leave the dense settlement of Missoula behind. We are on wide, straight, open roads and after awhile we notice another unique feature of Montana – though we are driving through forested land, the trees have been cleared about 15 feet back on both sides. I ask Jeep about this later, and he says there was a study done that showed there were fewer accidents when people could see the deer, and when the deer can see the cars. Sensible thinking.

Montana highway

Montana - where you can see the deer, and the deer can see you

Thirty minutes after sunset we arrive in Condon, and turn down a dirt road to get to Jeep’s place. We set to work and turn on the well and electricity, and put away groceries. We traveled 10 hours today, and we are exhausted. Lights out, more Montana tomorrow.


NEW! We created a new photos page, just for our USA road trip photos. Canada will make an appearance too, but this is in no way a slight to Canadians, or meant to imply that they are the 51st state. So put your hockey sticks away, please. Thanks.

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