MISSOULA, Mt. -- Holiday Inn
Now that's Montana.
The 228-mile stretch of I-90 from Livingston to here shows you what Montana is famous for -- big land and big sky and endless sunsets and not enough humans to form a Wednesday night basketball league.
John Steinbeck only saw Montana for less than three days but he got it -- and he described it beautifully in "Travels With Charley."
I'm Montanan by marriage, so I've been lucky to spend about two summer months of my life in this state. I hear winter is no day at the beach, especially on the colder east side of the Rockies, unless you like to snowshoe, ski or ride snowmobiles for five months of the year.
You obviously need to get out of your car and into the creeks and rivers and mountains and meadows on foot to really appreciate Montana.
But driving northwest across the southwestern corner of Montana toward the top of Idaho and Spokane along the Steinbeck Highway gives you the basic idea.
Even at 80 mph the broad valleys and mountains ranges just went on and on yesterday as the slowly sinking sun and light rain clouds constantly shifted and played.
Gray-brown mountainsides and valleys are dotted or smeared with dark pine trees. Flatlands by rivers are yellow with what? Oaks? Cottonwoods? Steinbeck would have known.
By the time you pass Butte and get to within about 25 miles of Missoula, the mountains squeeze in on I-90 as it threads its way through the Sapphire Mountains.
It's one of a dozen steep jagged mountain ranges in Montana you've never heard of but make you realize what they call mountains back east are mostly just hills.
(If you want to know why I am following Steinbeck's "Charley" route around the USA, or want to start at the beginning of my extreme act of drive-by journalism, read this.)