Content Produced in Partnership with Montana's Missouri River Country
With the windows rolled down, the cool Montana breeze blowing in and those big endless blue skies in my rear view, I glance over at my phone and noticed not one alert. For a gal who normally has 50+ alerts in the span of five minutes, I pulled over and restarted my phone. Something was obviously wrong. When the white apple logo changed to my home screen, I noticed that No Signal was replacing the normal four dots of service and a Wi-Fi emoji. Did I not have service in Montana? Aren’t I still in America?!
There’s not one person I know who couldn’t benefit from a digital detox. Even my almost two year old knows how to turn on the TV and scroll through my phone to turn on her favorite song. When the world now operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and our phones light up at every alert — whether from the news or one of the 24 apps we have — it’s nearly impossible for us to completely shut down to relax.
So when I boarded a flight to Montana’s Northeast region, I wasn’t sure what the week was going to look like. But within 20 minutes of cranking the engine on my 4-wheel drive rental car, my phone was sending me a message. In fact, Montana was sending me a much-needed digital vacation — one where my new friends would be cows and I’d get woken up by the roosters outside of my cabin.
Once I got passed the nervous twitch that I’d miss a non-urgent email and remember that I had in fact turned on my OOO, my shoulders started to relax back lower than they’ve been in a while. I was also pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was able to just “enjoy the ride” through Northeast Montana’s Missouri River Country's for a weekend full of sun, wildlife, culture, adventure and relaxation.
Before arriving at my first stop, I was told to stop into Sand Springs for a chocolate milkshake. Driving by field after field of cows and horses, I passed a small building on my left hand side. About five minutes down the road, I pulled out my map and realized that I had actually missed Sand Springs and that that one building was the milkshake building I was in search of.
I’ve never walked into a store before and asked, "Can you make me a milkshake?" But now, at the age of 34, I can cross that off my bucket list. The sweet lady smiled and said, "Of course! Which flavor would I like?" While I thought nothing could make me smile bigger than a road trip in Big Sky Country, I changed my tune as I slurped down that chocolate milkshake and turned the tunes up in my car. Now this was the start of a great road trip.
My first stop was Jordan, a small ranching town of about 386 people on the far northeastern side of Montana. I stopped at a coffee shop in town before driving a few more miles to Harbaugh Ranch, where Bev, my host for the night and her very friendly dog were waiting for me. Within minutes of taking my keys out of car, we were on horseback and Bev was showing me around the ranch. We explored a small fraction of her family owned farm before we headed back to the main barn to complete nightly chores and wash up for dinner.
Nightly chores on the ranch are a bit different than at my house. We had to feed the horses and half dozen adorable cats before moving on to the pigs and the chickens and finally the cows. The hot shower washed off dirt and dust and your average farm smell and I hit the bed, belly full and mind at ease. In fact, it was probably the earliest I’ve gone to sleep in years and I slept soundly through the night until a few roosters woke me up in the morning.
The next day, we visited the Garfield County Museum, where I learned about rural prairie life and the start of Montana’s Dinosaur Trail. I’ve never been to a county museum before and the biggest take away for me was that the museum was like a real life scrapbook of the people who lived in the county. Sure, the dinosaurs were really cool, so much so that I’d love to return with my daughter and husband in tow. But the thing that has stuck with me is the culture and remembrance of the people who currently and who had called Jordan home. There was one exhibit of photos of all the babies the town doctor had delivered, and you bet Bev’s husband’s photo was listed in the year he was born, along with all the other little boys and girls who were born that year. Most of the items in the museum were donated from the community and each item felt super special to be included.
With a big hug to my host Bev, I set off West towards Fort Peck.
Continuing on Dinosaur Trail, I stopped in Fort Peck Interpretive Center to meet Peck’s Rex, a life-sized model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that was discovered only 20 miles from Fort Peck. The museum is a perfect size for the kids in your group- not too big but the exhibits they do have are super interesting and keep kids engaged the entire visit. Beyond the exciting dinosaurs, you can learn about the other animals that call Northeast Montana home, including Grizzly bears, elks and prairie dogs. The building itself will impress the adults in the group, built near the Fort Peck Dam with views of the water from the floor to ceiling windows in the back. If you have extra time you can even hike from the parking lot around parts of the lake.
At this stop I meet up with Carla, a Fort Peck local, for a private tour of the best of best, as I like to call it. From hiking to the best panoramic spot overlooking the Dam to a great burger spot to ending the day by off-roading in a 2x2 in search of a great sunset view point in Charles M Russell Wildlife Refuge. The sunset hunt was one of my favorite moments, just the two of us out in the Refuge with no other sound by the bugs and wind and deer. The full moon rose behind us as we drove back to my car and the sky lit up pink as I made my way to my hotel for the night in Glasgow.
The sunset excursion was such a highlight that I didn’t even turn on my phone to check to see if I had Wi-Fi. I was determined to live in the moment and enjoy the journey.
The next morning I woke up super early to make my way to Malta. Before I arrived in Malta I had to make a pit stop at Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs for a little R&R. I was the only one there when the hot springs opened and I soaked for over an hour in the peace and quiet of the newly renovated space. The wall-to-wall windows let in the perfect amount of light while still keeping the space calm and relaxing. After some water and a quick snack, I packed back into the car and finished the drive to Malta.
My first stop was the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, where I had a private tour (you can have one too) of the small but mighty museum. I learned so much about the dinosaurs discovered in Montana in that one hour that I wanted to plan a return trip to go to one of their summer intensive camps. Before my next museum stop, I needed some grub and went to the much talked about Ray J’s BBQ. After filling up on a hearty serving of pulled pork and brisket, I drove back to the Phillips County Museum to learn more about the people and history of this area.
From famed outlaw Kid Curry to the primitive lives of the cowboys and native Americans, the Phillips County Museum is a thorough and thought out display of life in Northeast Montana spanning prehistoric and historic times. From dresses and jewelry to tools and weaponry, visitors will see how life looked and felt during each time period. I was particularly drawn to the huge collection of election pins and the beautiful beading of the Native Americans clothes in the front room. Give yourself plenty of time to wander around and read all the details and notes. Each item tells a unique history and really adds to your understanding of the area while on your road trip.
My road trip around Northeast Montana was a much needed deep breath and reset from the craziness of my usual routine. Beyond the digital detox, I met some of the friendliest people, saw some of the most beautiful landscapes, peaked an interest in my own history after visiting several more intimate museums and got plenty of uninterrupted sleep. Northeast Montana left a mark on me and I can’t wait to return to the land of No Service.
My road trip around Northeast Montana was a much needed deep breath and reset from the craziness of my usual routine. Beyond the digital detox, I met some of the friendliest people, saw some of the most beautiful landscapes, peaked an interest in my own history after visiting several more intimate museums and got plenty of uninterrupted sleep. Northeast Montana left a mark on me, and I can’t wait to return to the Land of No Service.
Want to plan your own digital detox to Northeast Montana? Here’s how to plan the trip:
Jordan: Call Bev at the Harbaugh Ranch and inquire about staying on the ranch in the two-bedroom cabin. Surrounded by endless farmland and rolling hills, you’ll spend your days horseback riding, herding cattle and feeding pigs. Oh, and you’ll see some deer and turkeys on the property as well.
Glasgow: Cottonwood Inn near the main downtown area is perfect for a cozy night's sleep. Don't forget to head over to Busted Knuckle Brewery to try one of the areas newest craft beers.
Malta: Seventeen miles east of Malta is Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs and an absolute must when visiting the area. Arrive early to have the place all to yourself.