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Thomas Cruse: Prospector, Banker, and Rancher

Thomas Cruse

Life of a

Montana Pioneer

Marysville and Helena


John H. Sandy


Thomas Cruse

Born, March 18, 1836, County Cavan, Ireland
Died, December 20, 1914, Helena, Montana, U.S.A.

  • Prospector
  • Mine Owner
  • Rancher
  • Banker
  • Philanthropist

In 1894, Joaquin Miller described Thomas Cruse as a man who “has the highest confidence and good will of his fellow citizens. He is a man of too much solid sense to be injured by his prosperity, and he understands making a laudable and judicious use of the things of this world which it has been his good fortune to acquire.” Further, Miller would go on to say, he [Cruse] is “a devout member of the Catholic Church.”

Thomas Cruse
Thomas J. Cruse, early Montana pioneer. A man of honor and good will while caring for family and friends. Photo courtesy Montana Historical Society.

From the time Cruse arrived in Helena in 1867 until he discovered a rich gold bearing vein in 1876, he made a living digging for gold along Silver Creek and other nearby lands. Some gold was found, buy only enough to meet regular daily expenses. Such was the life of most prospectors who worked placer deposits in the valleys and mountains around Helena.

From his earlier prospecting experience in other parts of the West, Cruse knew that the gold found in streams and valleys at lower elevations came from higher up in the mountains. He noticed that gold found in the sands and gravels of Silver Creek near Helena was associated with the mineral quartz. Find a vein rich in quartz, then gold was in reach.

With this clue in mind, Cruse searched the mountains above Silver Creek to find a mineralized zone rich in quartz. After toiling many months in the field, he found the source of the gold, the Mother Lode. On July 9, 1879, he filed a patented mining claim for a 20.25 acre parcel located northwest of Helena in T12N, R6W, S36, Lewis & Clark County, and opened a gold and silver mine. Cruse named the mine Drumlummon, after his home parish in Ireland.

As often the case, words passing over the Atlantic from the old country undergo a change in spelling. In Ireland, Cruse’s home parish is spelled as one word, Drumlumnum. Back in Helena in 1879, the recorder at the office of mining claims wrote down the name as spoken, two words, Drum Lummon. But in years to follow, common usage became one word, Drumlummon.

Drumlummon Vein
Transverse Section of Drum Lummon Mine. Surface of mountain runs from lower left to upper right. Quartz Lode rich in gold and silver below black line. From the surface of the mountain, Cruse dug a 345 foot tunnel (double horizontal lines) to reach the quartz lode. Illustration (slightly edited for this post) from 1882 report for Montana Company, Limited. Courtesy Montana Historical Society.
Drummlummon Mine Profit
Cost and profit from Drum Lummon Mine, April 1880 to August 1882. Mine owned by Thomas Cruse. Illustration from a report for the Montana Company, Limited. Courtesy Montana Historical Society.

Over time, the Drumlummon Mine yielded a bonanza of gold and silver worth millions of dollars. By 1913, the Drumlummon had produced $15,000,000 in gold and silver, with 60% of the value coming from gold (Knopf 1913, 69).  A booming mining town sprang up near the mine: Marysville, Montana.

In 1883, six years after the discovery, Thomas Cruse sold the mine to a company formed by investors in England for $900,000 in cash, plus 100,000 shares of stock valued at $600,000 (Spence 1959, 192). In total, Mr. Cruse received $1,500,000 from the sale. The amount of $1,500,000 calculated in current value is $41,655,737.

From ownership of shares in the company, Cruse earned additional cash from profits generated by the mine. Even more cash was received from the sale of shares. Sale of the Drumlummon Mine made Cruse a very rich man, with more wealth than anyone can imagine for back in those days.

For old prospectors the urge to gain profit from discovery of gold never fades. In the years after sale of the Drumlummon Mine, Thomas Cruse’s interest in gold mining continued. From 1883 to 1907, he acquired several more patented mining claims mostly in the vicinity of Marysville. In 1883, he filed a claim for the North Star Lode (17.93 acres); in 1889 a claim for the Tommy Lode (19.82 acres); and in 1896, a claim for the Bald Mountain Lode (40.29 Acres). Still more claims were filed at other times.

Extracting gold and silver from ores is an imperfect process. Some precious metals from the Drumlummon Mine ended up in the tailings. Thomas Cruse wanted a solution, and he searched for ways to improve the process. On October 17, 1898, he submitted a patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with a title “Method of Extracting Gold and Silver from Their Ores.” On April 3, 1900 the application was approved and Cruse was awarded Patent No. 646808. While not educated as such, Cruse had the mind of a mining engineer.

Cruse understood economics well. He diversified his holdings. In  1885, he acquired the Montana Sheep Company (later renamed N Bar Ranch) near Lewistown. Over several years following the purchase, Cruse bought more land and expanded the ranch. With thousands of  acres of grazing land, the ranch supported a huge herd of cattle and many sheep.

In 1887, Mr. Cruse launched The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank in Helena. By all accounts, the bank, located on Main Street, was a very successful enterprise, even surviving the nation’s financial crises of 1893 when the price of sliver had collapsed and the economy descended into ruin.

Cruse Bank Helena
Ad for The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank placed in 1892 in Helena Independent a historical newspaper in Helena, Mont. Shows bank officers, interest rate offered on savings, bank hours. The bank operated from an address at 36 N. Main St., Helena.

Cruse also tried his hand at drilling for oil in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in Carbon County near Red Lodge. Nine (9) dry holes were drilled in 1889-1890, before giving up on the venture.

Thomas Cruse Ranch
Thomas Cruse (seated on right) on a visit to N Bar Ranch near Lewistown. Photo by John White, circa 1898. Photo courtesy Montana Historical Society.

Mr. Cruse lived in a mansion at 328 N. Benton Avenue in Helena. In 1900, Cruse shared his home with a few relatives along with hired help. In addition to his daughter Mary Margaret, age 13, the household included, Mary A. Cruse (niece), Frank H. Cruse (nephew), William J. Cruse (nephew), Mabel Lockman (maid), Rose B. Sheehey (governess), John Niehuser (servant), Robert H. Holmes (coachman), and Sam Toy (cook). Mr. Toy was a native of China.

By 1910, Mr. Cruse was alone in the mansion, except for the presence of two servants, Emma Olson and Anna Olson, ages 28 and 35, both born in Minnesota and of Norwegian ancestry, who attended to his daily needs.

Cruse Mansion Helena
Thomas Cruse’s Mansion, 328 North Benton Ave., Helena, Mont. The mansion was demolished in 1963. Photo courtesy Montana Historical Society.

Beyond his amazing prospecting ability and business acumen, Thomas Cruse is probably best remembered for philanthropy. Indeed, the Catholic Church of western Montana was a huge beneficiary of Cruse’s generosity.

The Cathedral of Saint Helena, constructed during the years 1908-1914 in Helena, Montana, owes its existence in large part to Thomas Cruse. During a time when money was scarce in Montana, Mr. Cruse gave $5,940,554 (measured in today’s value) to the Diocese of Helena for site acquisition, building the exterior, and finishing and furnishing the interior.

Cathedral Saint Helena MT
Cathedral of Saint Helena, Helena, Mont. Construction 1908-1914. In 1913, Thomas Cruse donated $3,139,194 (current value of money) to the Diocese of Helena to finish and furnish the interior of the Cathedral. His total donation was $5,940,554 (current value of money). Photo courtesy Megan Lane Photography, Helena, Mont. MeganLanePhotography dot com.


church Helena, Mont.
Cathedral of Saint Helena, Helena, Mont. Photo courtesy Sandy Archives.

No major endeavor is complete without some drama. In January 1909, Bishop Carroll announced that a party who wished to remain anonymous had come forward with a pledge of $100,000 to help build the Cathedral. To win this prize, members of the Helena community had to match with another $100,000 on or before Easter Sunday 1909. A fund drive to reach the match was successful. Many non-Catholics gave.

The name of the anonymous donor of the first $100,000 was never revealed. It’s reasonable to speculate that the first $100,000 (current value, $2,881,500) was another act of generosity by Thomas Cruse. This was likely the case as others in the Diocese of Helena at that time did not have a sum so large to donate.

On more than one occasion, Bishop Carroll publicly gave thanks to Mr. Cruse and others. The magnificent Cathedral of Saint Helena, Gothic Revival in style and modeled after the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria, still stands tall and proud, reaching toward Heaven in the sky above Helena.

On a personal side, a slice of Thomas Cruse’s life reads as a tragedy. In 1886, after less than one year of marriage, his wife Margaret (Carter) Cruse, age 25, died. Years later, his only child Mary Margaret Cruse died at the young age of 26 in 1913.

As the years passed and a new century began, Cruse started to think of about his mortality. He had accomplished much in life and he wanted his memory to live on in Helena, the community he helped to build and loved, after his passing.

By 1910, he had reached the age of 74. The window of his life was closing. In 1913, he contracted with Link & Haire Architects of Billings and Butte to design a magnificent family mausoleum to be placed in Resurrection Cemetery in Helena. After the design of the mausoleum was completed on August 5, 1913, construction began. In a few months, the new mausoleum was competed.

With construction finished, Cruse placed the remains of his wife (Margaret) and daughter (Mary) in the family mausoleum, both disinterred from Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery, on Townsend Avenue. Wife and daughter would rest in eternal peace in the elaborate monument Cruse had just built in Resurrection Cemetery.

As if by Divine design, Thomas Cruse died on December 20, 1914, at age 78, a little more than a year after his daughter Mary died. The Cathedral of Saint Helena, built with many cash donations from Mr. Cruse, was formally dedicated by Bishop Carroll, a few days later, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1914. On the following day, December 26, a funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral for the departed Thomas Cruse. Cruse would now follow his wife and daughter on their journey to Heaven.

Thomas Cruse mausoleum
Thomas Cruse Family Mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery, Helena, Mont. Constructed of marble and rising 43 feet above ground level, the mausoleum is a fitting symbol for a family’s great life, lived during early days in the Montana wilderness. Photo courtesy Carroll Van West.

The many accomplishments of Thomas Cruse are well documented. About his character, less is known, through this side of the man can be inferred from the broader picture of his life. Clearly Cruse was an ambitious, hard-working, man. That he would toil for months digging by hand with primitive tools through 345 feet of solid rock to reach a gold-bearing quartz vein deep in the side of a mountain northwest of Helena is hard to comprehend. A lesser man would never have thought of, much less undertaken such an arduous task.

A credit to his background as an Irish-Catholic immigrant of little means, Cruse gave generously to charity once he became rich from gold and silver mining and other business ventures on the Montana frontier. At the same time, as might be expected of a rich man, he lived in a large, beautiful home. In a brief biographical account, one writer said that Cruse visited New York City often and stayed at the city’s finest hotel. Another account says Cruse spared not a dime at his wedding celebration in Helena in 1886. By 1900, and earlier he was well-known figure in Montana. In a “Local and Personal” column on June 19, 1908, the Billings Gazette newspaper reported, “Thomas J. Cruse, a banker of Helena, was a Billings visitor yesterday.”

A part of Cruse’s life is a mystery. After his wife died in 1886, after less than one year of marriage, why did he remain a single man for the rest of his life? Following her death, his complete energy appears to have been directed to business dealings. Perhaps, coming from a life of near poverty, the urge for wealth consumed his life. Then again, in deep sorrow from the death of his wife, he may have completely reordered his attention, this being an unconscious way to lessen the pain and thoughts of his lose.

A footnote: Bishop Carroll is a person of particular interest who figures into the life of Thomas Cruse. Sure, Cruse was a rich man, but Bishop Carroll was always ready ask Cruse for more cash every time he needed money for building the Cathedral of Saint Helena. When the Bishop asked, Cruse handed over a check. Was Bishop Carroll aware of other people he could reach out to for donations or was Cruse just a soft touch? Or perhaps Cruse’s donations were  really a willing commitment coming from the heart and soul of a man who wanted to please the Almighty.

Adding in another layer of the unknown, in 1914, after Bishop Carroll was done scrambling for funds for the Cathedral, he found more money for the Diocese of Helena to buy a magnificent mansion at 720 Madison Avenue in Helena’s Mansion District. Did Cruse buy this house in the final months leading up to his death on December 20, 1914? After the purchase, the mansion on Madison Avenue became a residence for Bishop Carroll and the chancery for the Diocese. Perhaps, this is confirmation that Thomas Cruse was really pleased with the good work Bishop Carroll had just done in building the Cathedral, and the home on Madison Avenue was a gift to Bishop Carroll, a way of showing gratitude for a job well done.

Home of Bishop Carroll
The mansion at 720 Madison Avenue, Helena, Montana, was purchased by the Diocese of Saint Helena in 1914. This was the home of Bishop John Carroll from 1914 until his death in 1925. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The story of Thomas Cruse is a tale of rags to riches. For those with an interest in this amazing man, this Web page offers an abbreviated timeline of his personal life and business pursuits in Montana.

– A Timeline of the Life of Thomas Cruse

1856 emigrates from Ireland to American, time in New York. (TC, age 20)

1863 moves to California and spends some time in Nevada and Idaho. (TC, age 27)

1866 arrives in Virginia City, Mont. (TC, age 30)

1867 arrives in Helena, Mont. (TC, age 31)

1876 makes discovery of rich gold deposit in mountains northwest of Helena Mont., near present day Marysville. (TC, age 40)

1879 files patented mining claim (Drum Lummon Lode) on July 9, 20.25 acres Lewis & Clark County northwest of Helena, Mont. (TC age, 43)

1882 reaches agreement with Joint Stock Association, London, to sell the Drum Lummon Mine for $900,000 in cash and as a part of the deal Cruse received 100,000 shares in stock valued at $600,000. The sale, finalized in February 1883, gave Cruse a total of $1,500,000 (current value, $41,655,737). (TC, age 46)

1885 buys Montana Sheep Company (renamed N Bar Ranch) southeast of Lewistown, Mont. (TC, age 49)

1886 donates a site for Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Marysville, Mont.

1886 marries Margaret Carter at Cathedral of the Sacred Hearts, Helena, Mont., on March 2. (TC, age 49)

1886 buys a mansion from T.C. Power located at 328 N. Benton Ave., Helena, Mont. (TC, age 50)

1886 daughter Mary Margaret Cruse born on December 27. (TC, age 50)

1886 wife Margaret (Carter) Cruse died in childbirth on December 27, at he age of 25. (TC, age 50)

1887 founded The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank, Helena, Mont. (TC, age 51)

1889 drills for oil in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in Carbon County, Mont. (TC, age 53)

1903 after Rt. Rev. John B. Brondel (first Bishop of the Diocese of Helena) died, Cruse paid for all his medical and funeral expenses, as the Bishop was a poor man having only $5 to his name

1905 donates $25,000 (current value, $720,135) to buy site for new Cathedral of Saint Helena.  (TC, age 69)

1909 donates $28,000 (current value, $806,820) to Building Committee Fund for Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 73)

1911 donates $27,000 (current value, $750,246) to build one spire for the Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 75)

1913 sells N Bar Ranch (TC, age 77)

1913 Mary Margaret Cruse, daughter, dies on November 22, age 26.  (TC, age 77)

1913 donates $119,850 (current value, $3,139,194) to finish interior of the Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 77)

1913 donates $10,000 (current value $265,594), through his niece, Mrs, H. M. Rae, for purchase of the pipe organ

1914 donates $10,000 (current value, $258,565) for 15 bells for Cathedral of Saint Helena, inscribed “in memory of Mary Margaret Cruse by her father, Thomas.” (TC, age 78)

1914 Thomas Cruse dies on December 20 (U.S. Census data and other publications indicate age 78, but official Certificate of Death, Lewis & Clark County, Mont., records death at age 80.  (TC, age 78)

1914 Thomas Cruse funeral Mass, Cathedral of Saint Helena, on December 26. (TC, age 78)

1914 Thomas Cruse interred, Thomas Cruse Family Mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery, Helena, Mont. (TC, age 78)

1963 Thomas Cruse Mansion at 328 N. Benton Ave, Helena, Mont., demolished.

Community Recognition

  • Cruse Park, Helena, Mont., named for Thomas Cruse
  • Cruse Avenue, Helena, Mont., named for Thomas Cruse

 Learn More – Read

Cruse, Thomas. Method of extracting gold and silver from their ores. U.S. Patent 646808 filed October 17,1898, and issued April 3, 1900.

Darlington, John. The Drum Lummon Gold & Silver Mine, Montana: Report. London: Waterlow & Sons Limited, Printers, London Wall, 1882.

Day, Victor. The Cathedral of Saint Helena. Helena, Mont.: The Standard Publishing Company, 1938.

Graetz, Rick and Susie. Helena Capital Town. Helena, Mont.: Northern Rockies Publishing, 2004.

Grosskopf, Linda A. On Flatwillow Creek: The Story of Montana’s N Bar Ranch. Los Alamos, N. Mex.: Exceptional Books, 1991.

Jackson, W. Turrentine. “The Irish Fox and the British Lion: The Story of Tommy Cruse, the Drum Lummon and the Montana Company Limited (British).” Montana the Magazine of Western History 9, no. 2 (Spring 1959): 28-42.

Knopf, Adolph. Ore deposits of the Helena mining region, Montana, Washington, D.C.:  U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 527, 1913.

Miller, Joaquin.  An Illustrated History of the State of Montana. Chicago, Ill.: Lewis Publishing Co.,1894.

Searles, Daniel. “Story of the Drumlummon Mine.” The Butte Miner (1 Feb. 1903): 13

Spence, Clark C. “The Montana Company, Limited: Case Study of an Anglo-American Mining Investment.” The Business History Review 33, no. 2 (Summer 1959): 190-203.

Wren, Patrick J. “Thomas Cruse: Forgotten Man of Montana.” Master’s thesis, Carroll College, 1959.

Marysville, Montana
Today Marysville, Montana a ghost town. Still a few people live in the area and commercial activity is part of the community. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson. Courtesy U.S. Air Force, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Great Falls, Mont.

For Research on Thomas Cruse

The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena has a treasure trove of documents relating to the life and business affairs of Thomas Cruse. All are part of The Thomas Cruse papers, 1879-1956.  This document in on the Internet:
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Montana National Forests


National Forests are a huge resource in Montana. The state has 16,893,000 acres of national forests. These forests cover 18% of the total land area in Montana. Most of the national forest lands in Montana are in the western mountainous parts of the state.

national forests MT
National Forests, Montana. Courtesy National Forest Service.


The National Forest Service manages ten (10) national forests in Montana. By name, the national forests:

  • Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest
  • Bitterroot National Forest
  • Custer National Forest
  • Flathead National Forest
  • Gallatin National Forest
  • Helena National Forest
  • Idaho Panhandle National Forest (smidgen in Mont.)
  • Kootenai National Forest
  • Lewis and Clark National Forest
  • Lolo National Forest

The national forests in Montana are often spread across large geographical areas. But the forests are not always in a single block of land. Segments of the the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest are large tracts, separated by land holdings of other parties, for example.

Trees dominate the landscape in Montana’s national forests. In addition, many species of shrubs and other plants are common. The forests are also a refuge for an abundance of wildlife, including mammals and birds. Lakes, rivers, and streams in the national forests have a variety of fishes.

Most of the trees are conifers, about 17 types, including pines, spruce, and firs. Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, and ponderosa pine are common conifer species. One estimate says that 66% of the trees in western Montana forests are conifers. Conifers have needle-like leaves. Conifers give forests a dark-green appearance.

About five (5) species of hardwoods (broadleaf trees) grow at lower elevations. Hardwoods have broad leaves. Areas with broadleaf trees tend more toward lighter green. Aspen is especially beautiful in the fall season, when its leaves are brightly colored yellow and orange.

As for mammals, mule deer, white-tailed deer, lynx, mountain lion, elk, and black bear are common. In some forests, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, grizzly bears, and gray wolves, may roam the land. Each national forest in Montana tends to have its own special mix of wildlife.

Among the various fishes, anglers especially seek several species of trout: Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Western Cutthroat Trout. Mountain Whitefish is another common species. Less common are Arctic Grayling, Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, and Lake Trout.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Website shows the range for each species. Consult FWP’s Field Guides. Research will reveal the kinds of wildlife and fishes which inhabit various geographic areas of the state.

Douglas fir is a common conifer in Montana’s forests. Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Indian Painbrush
Indian Paintbrush. Photo courtesy National Park Service.


great horned owl
Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy NPS.


Beaverheed NF
Fun on a lake in Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest. Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Flathead NF
Flathead National Forest. Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Beaverhead NF
Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest, Photo courtesy National Forest Service.


Kootenai cabin
Rustic cabin in Kootenai National Forest in Montana. Cabin owned and rented by U.S. Forest Service. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

For the public, Montana’s national forests are highly valued for recreation. Opportunities for picnicking, camping, bird watching, hiking, skiing, fishing, biking, boating, horseback riding, hunting, scenic drives and more are found in national forests.

Before heading out to a national forest, get good maps for the areas you want to explore. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) sells maps for each national forest. Cost is $14 per map plus a handling charge.

Lolo NFS map
Map Ninemile Ranger District Lolo National Forest.

Some maps may be available at National Forest District Offices at various locations, such as the Missoula Ranger District Office (24 Fort Missoula Road) 406-329-3750. Commercial vendors, such as sporting goods stores in western Montana also may carry and sell maps of local national forests. The National Forest Service provides online Interactive maps which are useful, too.

Use NFS Website to find Websites of national forests in Montana (listed above). A navigation box labeled “Find a Forest or Grassland” appears on the right side of the National Forest Service’s Homepage.  Forest Service Websites have information on recreation opportunities, maps & publications, and more.

The Forest Service does not charge for general access to Montana’s national forests. But a recreation fee may be charged for specific facilities, such as campgrounds and cabins, and special services. At Custer-Gallatin National Forest, the fee in 2020 for use of Canyon Campground, $7. For Porcupine Cabin, $45. Other fees may apply.

In some cases facilities are free. Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana has around 600 basic campsites with little or no development. All are free.

When fishing or hunting in Montana national forests, regulations of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks apply. A non-resident fishing license, 12-years of age and older, is only $42.50 for two consecutive days. A Montana fishing license is easy to snag at most local sporting goods stores.

Nothing will break a family’s budget, when using national forests in Montana.  Fully explore if fees are charged before you go. And remember, if fees are charged, you get some nice facilities and services as part of the deal. Reservations can be made on a site called

More generally, visitors to national facilities can buy an Interagency Annual Pass.  This pass is good for visiting federal sites in Montana and other states. $80. A best deal is an Interagency Annual Senior Pass for $20, if 62 or older.

If you are planning to visit national parks, consider: The standard entry fee for a seven-day pass at Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks is $35. Seniors, 62 or older, can save big with an Annual Senior Pass, only $20.

Forest Service pass


Interagency Senior Pass

Check for details on the NFS’s Website:

Selected National Forest Service Offices in Montana:

  • Beaverhead-Deer Lodge NF, Butte (406) 683-3900
  • Custer Gallatin NF, Billings (406) 255-1400
  • Custer Gallatin NF, Bozeman (406) 587-6701
  • Helena NF, Helena (406) 449-5490
  • Kootenai NF, Libby (406) 293-6211
  • Lewis & Clark NF, Great Falls (406) 791-7700
  • Lolo NF, Missoula (406) 329-3750
  • Bitterroot NF, Hamilton (406) 363-7100
  • Flathead NF, Kalispell (406) 758-5204

Montana’s national forests may be overlooked by some visitors. But the potential for enjoyable recreation is almost limitless. Visit your national forests!
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Saint Mary Lake


The glacial landscapes in Glacier National Park were created by large alpine glaciers that covered the region thousands of year ago. As glaciers moved down mountain valleys massive amounts of rock and earth were pushed down slope. Streams flowing from the glaciers carried the sediments to lower elevations.

During geologic time, Divide Creek and Wild Creek, flowing from glaciers in high mountain valleys, deposited huge amounts of sand and gravel in Saint Mary Valley forming a natural dam across the valley. The dam blocked a small stream in the valley. Saint Mary Lake soon formed behind the natural dam.

Saint Mary Lake GNP
Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Saint Mary Lake borders Going-to-the-Sun Road on the south near the east side of the Park. The lake is about 9.9 miles long and, at one point, as much as three-quarters of a mile wide. The lake’s elevation stands at 4,472 feet above sea level. In some areas the lake is around 300 feet deep.

Saint Mary Lake is surrounded by high mountain peaks, making for a beautiful view from most every shoreline. The mountain peaks by themselves are spectacular, carved in ancient geologic time by glaciers that moved down tributary valleys.

Wild Goose Island GNP
Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

The mountains all have catchy names to remember: Red Eagle Mountain, Mahtotopa Mountain, Citadel Mountain, Gunsight Mountain, Goat Mountain, to name a few. Some mountain peaks rise more than 9,000 feet almost touching the clouds floating high above Saint Mary Lake.

During the summer, Saint Mary Lake displays a stunning azure-blue color. This contrasts with the dark green forests which the line the shores and varied-colored mountains which tower above and around the lake a short distance away.

During the winter, deep snows cover mountain peaks. Saint Mary Lake, frozen to a depth of four feet or more, is blanked with snow and becomes a winter wonderland, much like the subject in a child’s fairytale.

As if this splendid scenery were not enough, nature created another gem in the center of the lake. Wild Goose Island. This tiny island stands a mere 14 feet above the lake’s surface and measures only about one-half acre in size. A few trees survive the harsh landscape of the island. Birds often seek Wild Goose Island as a place of refuge.

Wild Goose Island
Wild Goose Island. A treasure of nature in Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park. Illustration captured using Google Earth. Courtesy Sandy Archives.

Glacier National Park officials built Wild Goose Island Lookout off Going-to-the-Sun Road as a place enjoy the scenery and photograph the lake and its surroundings. The lookout is a landscaped gravel area and makes an ideal place to experience the wonderful panorama of Saint Mary Lake.

The lake has more than scenery to offer. Boat tours are eager to take visitors out on the lake. The tours begin from Rising Sun boat dock on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Along the way passengers get a close-up view of Wild Goose Island. A few folks launch on the lake in private boats. Fishing is another common activity. Lake trout, Cutthroat Trout, and Rainbow Trout inhabit the waters of Saint Mary Lake.

Sun Point Nature Trail is in this same area. The trail follows the north shore of Saint Mary Lake west from Going-to-the-Sun Point, a peninsula that juts out into the lake. A little further west is St. Mary Falls Trailhead leading to a couple of scenic waterfalls, St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls.

Sun Point Nature Trail
Sun Point Nature Trail, Glacier National Park. Excerpt from map of Saint Mary Lake. Courtesy National Park Service.

Saint Mary Lake and tiny Wild Goose Island are the subjects of countless magazine covers and photographs. Nature truly blessed Saint Mary Lake, its beauty unrivaled anywhere in the world.

If visitors want to spend extra time at Saint Mary Lake, accommodations are close by. Rising Sun Campground and Rising Sun Motor Inn are on Going-to-the-Sun Road a few miles west of the village of St. Mary.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Wildlife Refuges


Wildlife refuges are areas, lands and waters, set aside to conserve fish, wildlife, and plants. Refuge managers aim to maintain and improve natural habitats.

National wildlife refuges MT
National Wildlife Refuges in Montana. Grass Lake NWR not on the map, near Billings, is a recent addition. Map courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Montana has 24 wildlife refuges/districts, operated and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuges are amazing places to visit if natural environments are of interest.

Red Rock Lakes
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.


C.M. Russell Refuge
C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Nine of the refuges are found in western mountainous regions and fifteen more are in the central and eastern parts of the state. All kinds are environments are represented, such as wetlands, prairies, uplands, badlands, and river breaks.

Visitors at refuges experience many kinds of birds, mammals, and plants. Some favorites:

  • Buffalo at the National Bison Range
  • Black-footed ferrets, bighorn sheep, and cottonwood trees at C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
  • Greater sage grouse and golden eagles at Grass Lake National Wildlife Refuge
  • Moose and trumpeter swans at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
  • Canada geese, wild turkeys, red-winged blackbirds at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge
Trumpeter swan USFWS
Trumpeter swan at Red Rock Lakes. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.


Bison (buffalo) at National Bison Range. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Choose one or more refuges that appeal to you and study the area(s) before you go. A F&WS online map shows locations of refuges and links to refuge Websites.

Be sure to bring a pair of high-quality binoculars for viewing nature close-up. Take along Montana nature field guides too.  A copy of Montana Nature Set: Field Guides to Wildlife, Birds, and Wildflowers of Montana by James Kavanaugh may suffice.  Buy on Amazon dot com.

Enjoy and learn about nature in the great Montana outdoors.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Montana on my Mind


Montana on My Mind is a really cool video with music performed by the Scioto River Band, Columbus, Ohio. Lead singer is “Cat” Leigh. A woman with a wonderful voice for sure. In the video “Cat” yearns for a trip to the West with hopes of experiencing, wildlife, a mountain pass, wild rivers,  huckleberries, aspen larch and pine, wheat fields, horse culture and so much more.

After watching and listening to this one, you’ll want to pack your bags and leave yesterday. Montana has adopted an official state song, not this one. But Montana on My Mind is the first and only one you’ll want to listen too. Enjoy.

The song Montana on My Mind is available for download from iTunes. The Video is hosted on YouTube.

Get in the mood for Montana travel

Listen and watch “Montana on My Mind performed by Scioto River Band (Columbus, Ohio) and sang by Catherine “Cat” Leigh. Version re-mastered by Abbey Road Studios, London, England.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Best Museums


Montana has many wonderful museums. Collections cover a wide range of “subjects.” There are art museums, paleontology museums, and even a mineral museum and an old car museum. But most of the museums focus on local/regional histories. One museum in Helena does a fine job on covering the history of the whole state.

The great variety and scope of the state’s museum collections is amazing, given that so few people live in Montana and its cities are not large when compared with most other states.

Most certainly it is never possible to even scratch the surface if you are interested in seeing all the museums, as there are too many to visit even with countless trips to Montana. However, regardless of the towns or cities on your travel itinerary, an excellent museum will likely be nearby to entertain or educate.

For the best part, museums will give you background information for understanding and enjoying the things, architecture, cultural history, natural history, events, and creative endeavors that you will experience during your travels in Montana. Essentially many museums are there to showcase the state’s history, explain and interpret why it has developed as it has. In addition, some museums focus on the wonderful things and activities Montanans are currently engaged with on a regular basis.

Two museums, particularly, are outstanding. The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming just across the Montana state border, southwest of Billings. Both museums have huge, wonderful, and carefully curated collections.

The collections in Helena are large in scope and character ranging from original C.M. Russell paintings to the story about first peoples, the Native Americans. Subject matter covers mountain men and fur traders, mining and prospectors, early pioneers and the settlement of the state, natural history, wildlife, conflicts with native Americans, and more are all here.

Historical Society Museum MT
Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena. Photo courtesy State of Montana News Room, Montana dot gov.

Buffalo Bill who was a world-famous showman in the American West in the late 1800s is the central thread of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. But there is a whole lot more. This museum is really five separate thematic museums under essentially under the same roof covering: western art, culture of the plains Indians, firearms, natural history, and the man Buffalo Bill.

Museums Cody WY
Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The separate museums all have a name: The Whitney Western Art Museum; Plains Indian Museum; Draper Natural History Museum; The New Cody Firearm Museum; and the Buffalo Bill Museum. Every collection is world-class. Separately and together, these museums rival museums in much larger cities around the country. As a bonus, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has the resources to put on major special exhibitions. In 2020, the museum showcases 100 years of the Cody Stampede and the Equestrian West, for example.

Not widely known, the Montana Historical Society Museum has a magnificent, non-circulating, research library on Montana history which is open to the public. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West also has a special library centered on topics which support the mission of the museums. This library may be open for people doing advanced research. Always inquire before you go.

Montana’s history is, in some ways, alike that of Wyoming; as such, the museums in Helena and Cody can be viewed as complimentary. Of Course, Wyoming has Buffalo Bill while Montana has C.M. Russell, both geniuses who came out of the same era, days when Wyoming and Montana lands were on the western frontier.

Both states played a central part in the glorious story of mountain men and fur trading in the early 19th century. But Montana alone can lay claim to a huge part of the famous Lewis & Clark Expedition that explored the great Northwest in 1804-1806. Plus, Montana had the precious gold and silver and the men and women who sought to gain riches from the earth.

Visit Montana’s museums, one or more. Amazing rewards await those who chose to come by for a few hours or more. It should be noted that the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena is run by the state and open free-of-charge. Donations accepted. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody is a private operation. Visitors pay a fee to enter. Generally, $19.50, or less, depending on the age of the visitor. Seniors get a small break and for children free.

Both museums have extra-nice stores that sell books, art prints, and a variety of souvenirs. Your purchases at these stores help to fund the good deeds of the museums. Money earned is used on maintenance and to make the museums ever better.

Art Montana publishes an excellent directory of all museums in Montana, listed by city. Choose museums in the list, then a city, and pick out a museum to visit.

Horace Greely once said, “Go West, young man.” A wiser man might have said, “Conquer the West y’all, visit a Montana museum.”
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Ghost Towns


Adventure and the lure of riches brought thousands of prospectors to Montana (before statehood) in the late 19th century. In 1862, pay dirt was hit at Grasshopper Creek in southwest Montana. In a matter of months, thousands of miners flooded to the region. A town called Bannack City was born.

After the gold ran out, Bannack’s miners moved on to the next big strike. The mining camp built when the miners first arrived was abandoned. Wisely, years later, citizens made Bannack a state park, Bannack State Park. Bannack may be the best-preserved ghost town in the west. Every year, thousands of visitors explore Bannack State Park.

In 1863 more gold was discovered along Alder Gulch near present day Virginia City. Today, Virginia City is a “living ghost town.” Virginia City retains its historic roots, even while small businesses seek new-found riches in the pockets of visitors who come to Virginia City every year, hoping experience a little of Montana’s colorful past.

Virginia City MT
Merchants find treasure in the pockets of tourists at a Virginia City, Montana, ghost town. Photo courtesy Sandy Archives.

In 1864 gold was also discovered near Helena in an area fittingly called Last Chance Gulch. By some accounts, this strike produced about $19,000,000 of gold in four years. No ghost town here: Last Chance Gulch is now a prosperous and thriving main street for the city of Helena.

A few years later, in 1870, miners found silver in the Elkhorn Mountains south of Helena. The town they left behind after the silver declined is a well-preserved ghost town called Elkhorn. Some 50 of the town’s original buildings still stand. An old cemetery is nearby, a place where interred bones of miners and their families rest in peace. Some of these miners likely made tidy sum of money for their mining efforts. Elkhorn is now part of Elkhorn State Park.

Elkhorn Ghost Town MT
Elkhorn Ghost Town, near Boulder, Montana. Photo by Tech Sgt. Chad Thompson, courtesy U.S. Air Force, Malstrom Air Force Base, Great Falls, MT. Air Force Reference VIRIN: 150719-F-XA056-013.jpg

Mineral riches were also found in other areas of western Montana. Granite County near Philipsburg boasts a few ghost towns that attract many visitors. Buildings of early mining settlements still claim a part of the landscape at places called Garnet, Southern Cross, Granite, Black Pine, and Red Lion.

At the Granite County Museum in Philipsburg, a replica of an underground silver mine was built in 1996 to give visitors a picture of a mining shaft and to show the equipment used to move riches from the earth.

Ghost towns make wonderful places to visit. They are a window into early days of the west. The architecture of the buildings that still exist serves as testimony to the hopes and dreams of many who came west in the early days before the true pioneers arrived to settle the land in a more permanent way. Every visitor to Montana should experience a ghost town, fun and much to learn from.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Trail of the Cedars


Trail of the Cedars is a nature trail. It is a short loop trail accessed from Going-to-the-Sun Road near Avalanche Creek Campground northeast of Lake McDonald. The trail is about one-half mile long and passes through old-growth forest of western red cedar and western hemlock. Abundant ferns are mosses add to the natural beauty of this area.

trail cedars Glacier
Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

The western red cedar is nature’s gift to man. Western red cedars live for a long time, 500 years or more, and reach great heights, up to as much as 150 feet above the forest floor. Western red cedars have a broad base, up to ten feet in diameter. Mature trees are giants.

Western red cedars have grey to reddish-brown bark. Branches sprout soft, green leaves, not needles as is characteristic of conifers. A peculiar feature of western red cedar is an unusual scent, some say like spicy pineapple, emitted from leaves when crushed. At the Trail of the Cedars, these trees add special diversity to Glacier’s wild landscape.

About mid-way on the Trail of the Cedars a footbridge passes over Avalanche Creek. This point on the trail is very scenic. Avalanche Creek is a vigorous mountain stream cascading down from high mountain peaks in a narrow gorge. A waterfall is visible from the footbridge.

Avalanche Creek gorge
Avalanche Creek gorge, Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

In this same area, a short two-mile trail branches off from the Trail of the Cedars and goes to Avalanche Lake. As the trail to Avalanche Lake rises in elevation, the forest cover changes dramatically, becoming a mix of spruce and fir trees. Deer and other wildlife are often seen along the trail.

The Trail of the Cedars is part boardwalk and part paved. It is wheelchair accessible, so everyone can enjoy. Trail of the Cedars is a nature lovers paradise. Due to popularity of the trail, parking is limited. Go early in the day to snag a parking spot. Besides, nature is always at its best during early morning hours. Be rewarded. Don’t miss this special place in Glacier National Park.

As an aside, more western red cedar forests are found in other areas of northwest Montana. Red cedars are abundant in the Purcell and Cabinet Mountains near Libby. Ross Creek Scenic Area, southwest of Libby, is another great place to view these magnificent trees.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Going-to-the-Sun Road


Okay, so you are going to Glacier National Park. Your journey will take you through the center of the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road, an iconic mountain highway.  Going-to-the-Sun Road runs west to east from the town of West Glacier to Saint Mary, Montana, over a distance of about 53 miles. The road passes through America’s most spectacular wilderness country.

Glacier Park
Wonders in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy U.S.G.S.

Glacier is a land of mountains. Pushing up toward the clouds, mountain peaks near Going-to-the-Sun Road reach elevations as high as 10,014 feet (Mount Siyeh) and are often in view. That gorgeous mountains, pristine alpine lakes, and alpine valleys and meadows are all bundled together is a huge part of the allure of Glacier National Park.

Going-to-the-Sun Road was constructed in the early part of the 20th century, and it opened for the public in 1933. After eleven years of construction, 1921-1932, the road was completed. Drivers will experience a narrow, winding road, with some hairpin curves along the way. This is a two-lane and paved road, an engineering masterpiece.

Going to the Sun mountain goat
Mountain goats welcome visitors to Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

Going-to-the-Sun Road features spectacular scenery in every direction, mountains, forests, waterfalls, alpine lakes, rock walls, and alpine valleys. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, grizzly bears, and other wildlife live here and can often be seen not far from the road.

Historic lodges and engineering marvels, such as tunnels and bridges, add to the wonder of it all. Many scenic outlooks along the road allow motorists to stop, take pictures, and simply enjoy.

From the Park’s entrance near the town of West Glacier (3,198 feet in elevation), Going-to-the-Sun Road follows McDonald Valley for several miles in a northeasterly direction, gradually gaining in elevation until the road reaches about 3,572 feet in elevation.

At this point, the road veers sharply to the northwest toward an area called the Loop. Here the road runs northwest for a short distance before it abruptly turns back to the southeast and continues in a southeasterly direction toward Logan Pass.

At the beginning of the Loop (elevation 3,572), the road starts its ascent up the side of the mountains. Along a path of several miles, Going-to-the-Sun Road increases in elevation, as it hugs to the side of the mountains, until it reaches Logan Pass at 6,646 feet elevation.

From the head of the Loop, going in a southeasterly direction, Going-to-the-Sun Road starts to get scary for some drivers. Along the shoulder of the road (passenger side of car), a steep cliff goes down slope, several hundred feet in many areas.

On the driver’s side is the rock face of the mountains. Drivers need not worry as a low speed limit and guardrails protect vehicles from going off the road. However, as if anyone needs a reminder, drivers must keep eyes centered on the road. Passengers can enjoy the awesome scenery.

At Logan Pass, Going-to-the-Sun Road starts a gradual descent to Saint Mary Lake at about 4,718 feet in elevation. The road runs along the north shore of Saint Mary Lake for about 9.9 miles before ending near the Park’s Saint Mary Visitor Center at an elevation of 4,495 feet.

Logan Pass is not unusually high in elevation by Montana standards. Near Red Lodge in south-central Montana, the Beartooth Highway starts from Red Lodge at 5,568 feet in elevation and ascends into the mountains until the highway reaches Beartooth Pass at an elevation of 10,947 feet.

Going-to-the-Sun Road MT
Going-to-the-Sun Road. Map courtesy National Park Service.


Some have suggested that Going-to-the-Sun Road is less scary if driven from east to west. If this is the case, the face of the mountains is on the passenger side of the car and the steep cliff side (the drop-off) is one traffic lane over from the driver and thus seems less worrisome. Regardless, drivers must be extremely careful and keep eyes on the road ahead.

Going to the Sun Road
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of the Interior.
Going-to-the-Sun Road
Going-to-the-Sun Road follows along the face of the mountains more the 1,000 feet above the valley below. Arrow points to traffic moving on the road. Photo courtesy Sandy Archives.
Going-to-the-Sun Road
Tunnel cut through side of a mountain on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Photo courtesy Sandy Archives

Accidents occasionally happen on the road. In July 2018, a two-vehicle collision snarled traffic for hours west of Logan Pass, near Triple Arches. No personal injuries in this one, but traffic from the West Entrance was stopped from entering the Park, and traffic that had reached Logan Pass in the east was turned back.

The wonders along Going-to-the-Sun Road are almost endless. A short list of things to experience and enjoy, traveling west to east, over the distance of 53 miles, includes:

  • START OF ROUTE: Apgar Visitor Center at west entrance to the park
  • Mile 3.0: Fabulous Lake McDonald, a 10-mile long glacial lake
  • Mile 10.9: Historic Lake McDonald Lodge
  • Mile 12.8: McDonald Falls
  • Mile 16.2: Avalanche Creek Campground
  • Mile 20.8: Start of The Loop at Goose Curve where the road veers sharply left to the northwest
  • Mile 23.3: West Side Tunnel, cut some 192 feet through a mountain
  • Mile: 23.9: Head of The Loop where the road bends back and continues in a southeasterly direction toward Logan Pass
  • Mile 29.8: Triple Arches, a 65 foot long stone bridge built across a gap in the mountain side
  • Mile 32.0: Logan Pass Visitor Center on the Continental Divide at 6,646 feet elevation
  • Mile 32.9: East Side Tunnel, a 408 feet long structure cut though a mountain
  • Mile 39.2: Saint Mary Lake, a 9.9-mile long glacial lake
  • Mile 43.0: Wild Goose Island in the middle of Saint Mary Lake
  • END OF ROUTE: Saint Mary Visitor Center and the town of Saint Mary
Triple arches Glacier
Triple Arches on Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park. Thousands of cars cross this engineering marvel every week. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Due to deep snow blocking the roadway, a section of Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed during the winter months. A few reports say the snow can get over 80 feet deep at Logan Pass.

Officials at the Park do not give an exact date when the full length of the road will be open. They say opening is typically late June or early July. Usually the road remains open until the third Monday of October. However, portions of the road at lower elevations are open year-round giving travelers access to some locations and activities inside the Park. In alpine environments all depends on the weather which can change quickly, causing officials to close the road at any time.

Visitors flock to Glacier, some 3,049,839 came in 2019 alone.  Many who travel on Going-to-the-Sun Road spend a half-day or longer to drive the full distance of the road. So much to see and do. When the journey is over, visitors take home memoires that will last a lifetime.

Lodging is limited along Going-to-the-Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. Guest rooms are available at Lake McDonald Lodge, Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins, and Motel Lake McDonald on the west side of the Park. Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins offers rooms near Saint Mary Lake on the east side of the Park.

Campgrounds are another option on Going-to-the-Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. Three campgrounds are on the west side of the Park: Apgar (194 sites); Sprague Creek (25 sites); and Avalanche (87 sites). The east side of the Park has two campgrounds: Rising Sun (83 sites); and Saint Mary (148 sites).

On any journey surprises are always best. However, in this case a quick read in advance is recommended. The book is Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park’s Highway to the Sky, by C.W. Guthrie.

 Lose of a Young Person’s Life in Glacier NP

A tragedy occurred on Going-to-the-Sun Road on August 12, 2019. A car was traveling westbound from Logan Pass when rocks from the face of a mountain broke loose and fell to the road below hitting the car. A 14-year-old girl was killed and four others in the same vehicle were injured. NPS reported that the rockfall would have filled the bed on a small pickup truck.

Safety is always first on the minds of Park officials, but nothing could have averted this catastrophe. Of the sorrow and pain felt by the family, no words can convey.

Travel notice

Glacier National Park is requiring “ticketed entry” for travel on Going-to-the-Sun Road between the park’s west entrance near West Glacier and the east entrance near St. Mary from May 28 to September 6, 2021. This is an online reservation system.

Travel notice

Road crews start plowing winter snows from Going-to-the-Sun Road around the first week of April. Work continues until mid-June or mid-July when the full length of the road is finally open from West Glacier on the west side of the park to St. Mary on the east side. The road is partly open to Lake McDonald Lodge on the west side to the park and to Rising Sun Campground on the east side of the park earlier, typically in mid-April. The National Park service posts details of the road’s opening dates on their Web site.

Travel tips

The speed limit on Going-to-the-Sun Road is 45 miles per hour at lower elevations, 25 miles per hour at higher elevations (alpine areas).

There are no gas stations on Going-to-the-Sun Road. So, fill up in small towns near the west or east entrances to the Park: village of West Glacier or village of St. Mary.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Snapshot of Livingston


Montana’s small towns are not of the cookie-cutter variety so often found in other states. Why is this? Simply put, most small towns in Montana have retained their heritage and historical roots. Urbanization and rapid population growth have not arrived, at least not yet.

Livingston (pop. 7,784) fits this picture very nicely. Someone who left Livingston for greener pastures 50 years ago and came back to visit in 2020 would feel right at home. A good thing in a fast-paced world for sure.

It is worth contrasting Livingston with Bozeman, a city a few miles to the west on IH 90. So much about Bozeman is fast paced, while Livingston is more about take your time and enjoy life.

In history, Livingston was a hub for the railroads as they pushed rails to the West Coast. Due to industrial activity associated with the railroads, the city flourished. The city was also a destination city for many who wanted to experience the wonders of Yellowstone. Not much has changed, but the railroad industry has moved on.

Many beautiful buildings were built in the downtown area in the early 1900s, and they remain today, used for commerce and cultural activities. Go to the Murray Hotel for starters. The Murray was built in 1904. The building and its amenities retain a historical flavor, from the time when first built. The public library in Livingston is a Carnegie Library. Check it out.

hotel Livingston MT
Photo in this ad courtesy Murray Hotel.

Livingston is located in the upper Yellowstone Valley. Yellowstone National Park is 56 miles south of Livingston on U.S. Highway 89. The wild and pristine Yellowstone River flows near the city. The Absaroka Mountains tower over Main Street looking to the south of the downtown. A picture postcard setting for sure.

Livingstone is proud of its rich history. The artifacts and exhibits housed in the Yellowstone Gateway Museum showcase and tell the story of the city’s rich industrial, ranching, and cultural beginnings. Learn about Native Americans, Lewis & Clark, and the pioneers. This museum is a genuine treasure.

Livingston is not overrun by chain hotels and restaurants. In Livingston, visitors experience homegrown businesses, lodging, art galleries and small shops such as the Elk River Books. Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop is a first stop for many, even if wading in the trout-filled Yellowstone near town is not of interest.

For upscale dining, go to Second Street Bistro in the Murray Hotel. Beef, chicken, lamb, and produce are locally sourced, says the manager of the restaurant. On the menu: Bistro sirloin and fries pan-seared Yellowstone grasslands flat-iron, herbed french fries, red wine demi pan sauce, whole grain dijon mustard. $28. Gil’s Goods is another eatery adjoining the Murray. Great breakfasts, pizzas, and sandwiches served at Gil’s.

Livingston ranks high among the many small towns in Montana. Enjoy!

Read more about the Yellowstone region.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Yellowstone National Park


Millions of people will visit Yellowstone National Park this year. And why not? This park is America’s Wonderland.

Most come to see nature in all its glory at Yellowstone. As for wild animals: elk, black bears, grizzly bears, gray wolves, buffalo, moose, mountain goats, and bald eagles live and thrive in Yellowstone’s wild ecosystem. To see these magnificent creatures in a natural setting is stunning.

Be patient and observant if you are eager to experience wildlife. Wildlife come and go on their own schedules and are found in different areas of the park. Their lives and activities reflect seasonal patterns of nature. It’s good to have a pair of quality binoculars for best viewing.

Then there is the landscape. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River rivals the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The canyon of the Yellowstone River is a huge slice cut out of the earth, caused by action of the river over millions of years. When you see it close-up, it’s hard to imagine how the forces of nature were able to create the canyon.

One feature along the canyon is nothing short of spectacular. This is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. It’s magical, the waterfall and canyon converge in space, making the Lower Falls one of the most photographed scenes in America.

Panoramic landscapes in Yellowstone are uncommonly beautiful and inspiring. Hayden Valley (central Yellowstone) and Lamar Valley (northwest Yellowstone) are the stuff of travel posters. Yellowstone Lake (southeast Yellowstone) is another huge attraction.

Other features found on Yellowstone’s landscape are very different from anything found elsewhere in America. Features on the landscape such as geysers, fumaroles, hot springs, and mud pots are significant attractions. In part, Yellowstone owes its appearance to volcanic activity deep below the surface of the land. Emblematic of it all is Old Faithful geyser near the western edge of the park.

Yellowstone is also a mecca for outdoors activities, such as camping, hiking, boating, and fishing. Some visitors take guided trips while others take part in programs led by park rangers. Yellowstone officials like to say they have something for everyone.

Yellowstone National Park is unrivaled for its natural bounty, a sensory experience cherished and remembered by all who come. Outdoor activities in nature are a bonus. Memories are made in Yellowstone.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Experience Horse Culture


Montana is the West. As you might expect horses and horse culture are found throughout Montana, in both rural and urban areas.

Horses by themselves are amazing animals, so beautiful, and horses bring great enjoyment. Broadly speaking “saddlery” is part of the deal. Most people have no idea. But if you are a tourist, you can see all the gear that goes on a horse before the ride begins. Make a visit to Three Forks Saddlery, in Three Forks, Montana, a small town near Bozeman in southwest Montana.

A learning adventure at this place for sure. Just go to experience the scent of all the leather, amazing.

Three Forks Saddlery sells gorgeous saddles, bridles, and saddle pads. Much more here too for cowboys and cowgirls, even if you never get near a real horse. How about a set of spurs to hang on a wall in the den back home? Denim wear, western hats, bags, western shirts, and more.

Three Forks Saddlery is a sliver of horse culture in Montana. A visit to Three Forks Saddlery or a saddlery in some other town in Montana should be on the list of to dos for all visitors. Even, young folks might enjoy. Three Forks Saddlery.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Mineral Museum in Butte


Montana has lots of marvelous attractions, many so interesting. The Mineral Museum operated by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology on the campus of Montana Tech in Butte, Montana is a must see.

The museum claims to “amaze and inspire.” This statement coveys so much about a place that is even much more. The numerous exhibits at the Mineral Museum offer a window into the science and beauty of rocks and minerals.

The crown jewel at the Mineral Museum is a 27.5 ounce gold nugget, officially named The Highland Centennial Gold Nugget, discovered in the mountains a few years ago near Butte. The museum staff are also especially proud of a large smoky quartz cluster. Measuring two feet in diameter, it’s called The Rheanna Star.

The Mineral Museum is an international collection as specimens come from many parts of the world. A large amethyst quartz geode is from Brazil, for example. As an added attraction, the Mineral Museum has a small collection of dinosaur bones. Over many years, museum staff have amassed a collection of around 13,000 specimens, acquired by donation and other support.

The museum has a gift shop on site. Visitors can buy gifts from a wide selection of rocks and minerals. If you can imagine, admission is FREE.

Hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily during the summer months, June 15 – September 15. Winter hours, open on Wednesdays, only.

You don’t have to be a naturalist to appreciate the displays found here. Here’s a chance to see minerals as they exist in nature. A few exhibits will help you understand and appreciate gems stones you may own for jewelry. There’s very high public interest in this museum, some 42% of visitors are from out-of-state. So impressive.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Scary Night Drives in Remote Montana


Do UFOs snatch motorists who drive late in the night on lonely backroads of Montana during summer months?  Not likely, but if you find yourself out on U.S. Highway 12 between Roundup and Harlowton at 2:00 A.M. in the morning be alert.

It’s exhilarating and, at the same time, spooky to be out on the road, U.S. Highway 12, at this late hour.  Likely, you’ll be the only car driving on this stretch of highway.

The night sky, bright with undimmed stars, moonlight some nights, and seemingly empty landscape offer a driving experience remembered long after.

Head for this or other remote backcountry roads in Montana at late-night hours and find out for yourself, if you seek a different kind of adventure that few ever experience.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Little Bighorn Battlefield, Montana


A new technical paper on Little Bighorn Battlefield is ready for readers. Just released. Abstract of paper is  shown below. This technical paper is a preprint on deposit in the Institutional Repository at The University of Alabama.

Characterization of Geographical Aspects of the Landscape and Environment in the Area of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Montana

John H. Sandy

Abstract:  On June 24, 1876, a large military force of the United States Army 7th Cavalry converged on the lower Little Bighorn Valley in the Montana Territory, aiming to capture a large number of Native Americans. A major military battle ensued over the following two days. The landscape near the Little Bighorn Battlefield is both gentle and very rugged. The upland to the east of the Little Bighorn Valley is highly dissected by a complex drainage system, consisting of ravines, coulees, and ridges. Elevations from the valley floor to the upland change as much as 340 feet. The slope in parts of the upland is greater than 10 degrees, and in rugged areas of the bluffs and along some ravines and other erosional features in excess of 30 degrees. The Little Bighorn Valley itself is a gentle northward sloping plain, with the Little Bighorn River flowing to the east side of the valley adjacent to the upland. Local vegetation of the area is highly diverse, bearing a close relationship to the physiographic features, hydrology, and climate of this area. Certain characteristics of the Little Bighorn River and the bordering riparian zone add to the diversity of the landscape. A brief analysis suggests ways that elements of the landscape and environment affected the course of the battle.

Keywords:   Little Bighorn Battlefield, physiography, weather, topography, vegetation, Montana, military history, Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, U.S. Army, George Custer, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull


Visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy