The din of an airplane is muffled by the encompassing darkness. You can’t tell where the ground ends and the sky starts. Pinpricks of light on the ground are as scattered as the stars in the sky, and it feels like you’re sweeping through pure, empty space. A few minutes later, as the moon rises higher, a wrinkled mountain range is visible, illuminated by soft white moonlight. Pure wilderness surrounds isolated homes, on slopes and white-crested peaks. It’s silently, desperately beautiful.
Few headlights fly past on the lone highway. Sloping mountains are barely lit in the blackness of night by the moonlight. Everything is hidden from sight, blanketed under the dark sky. It’s up to the imagination what it looks like.
I took a trip to Montana recently to look at a college that interests me, and also to take a mini-vacation on a long weekend I had. It was beautiful, and it inspired me to do some writing based on my photos or scenes I can remember from the trip.
The landscape is is bathed in a soft morning glow as the sun climbs higher in the sky. Peering out the window, mountains and sky from the night before are still there, but in full, glorious color. A few clouds streak across the expansive, massive sky. Peaks rise high and jagged in the distance in all directions, piercing the vast blue. Rocks fade to emerald trees, which slope down the hills to golden plains for miles nestled between the encompassing mountain ranges. The lone highway streaks straight north into the open plains, traveled only by a few cars.
A small town lies against the base of the peaks, in one small corner of the massive bowl created by the surrounding mountains. Maybe 5 miles across, everything of notice is here, slowly waking in the growing light.
Sidewalks weave between brick buildings and green fields, stretching up over the crest of a hill and then heading down into the heart of the town. Students wander between buildings, a low chatter rising into the air. The occasional biker whizzes by. Maroon brick walls rise high above in some places, and sleek glass in others. In every opening between the buildings, mountains are visible in the near distance, their snowy peaks poking out between tree-lined walkways. The crisp, clear air gives the scene a sense of solid reality.
The small town is a flurry of motion. Despite its location, everyone has something to do or somewhere to be. Students biking down the gently sloped roads, store owners opening up for the day, locals going about their day, tourists marveling at the action in such a small place and the looming peaks poking into the sky above the short buildings. The buildings create a low skyline- only a few are over 2 or 3 stories high, which contributes to the feeling of the town being a busy hub in the middle of nowhere. Looking down the main street, the business quickly fades into rural homes and then open plains. But the bustling interior of the town gives an illusion of somewhere much bigger.
The twilight sky slowly darkens and cools the air around the town as its lights blink on to ward off the darkness. Still as busy as ever, its streets are crowded with locals and travelers alike, breaths puffing in the cold air, scarves and jackets bundled heavily.
Inside one of the old brick buildings, the atmosphere is warm and comfortable, laughter echoing around the wooden beams crisscrossing the high ceiling.
The twisting road leads away from the town and into a valley of the surrounding mountains. Lush forest covers the hills and the road is lined with golden grass as it twists beside a mountain river. Rounding a curve, the dense forest opens up over a lake- in the background, stunning snow-capped peaks. The massive sky is as blue as ever, streaked with a few clouds. A crisp wind rushes across the lake and into the trees behind. The empty road fades from pavement to dirt as it continues its uphill journey, and I remember a longing to drive that road as far as it would take me, just to find out where it led in such a beautiful place.
The return trip from the mountains brings us back to the edges of the small town bordered by the mountains. Only a few miles away, more peaks rise on the opposite side, and I wish I’d had more time to explore it all.
A drive into the mountains on the other side the next day brought us to the nearest ski hill. Too early for snow, yet late enough for everything to be a gorgeous golden color. Clouds rolled in over the peaks as the sun rose in the east, illuminating everything on the mountain against a gray background.
A winding trail led up the gentle slope, under the unmoving ski lift. It was eerily quiet for a place that would likely be very busy in the middle of winter- no other people around, closed lifts, silence instead of swishing skis. But the emptiness made it feel special, secret, secluded.
The drive back down from the mountains to the tiny airport was bittersweet. I know I’ve found one of my favorite places, and I’ll never forget my first visit.