When you drive through the towns of Southeast Montana, like Billings, Glendive and Miles City you’ll notice two things. One, the skies are big. Like, really, really big. Big Sky Country isn’t just a moniker for the endless daytime blues. It also means that when the sun goes down, the stars are big, too.
If you look at a light pollution map of the United States, eastern Montana has some of the darkest skies in the country. Head to Medicine Rocks State Park near Ekalaka to marvel at the Milky Way and the Plains Indian art. At Makoshika State Park, Montana's largest state park, you can see the night skies hanging over the badlands near Glendive. Visit Southeast Montana’s Facebook page for an up-to-date list of upcoming astronomy events at local state parks.
The second thing you’ll notice is the culture. In Miles City, you’ll be more likely to see a horse trailer than an RV. Stop into the Historic Montana Bar, which has been serving drinks since 1908. Complete with steer heads mounted on the walls, cherrywood tables and the original bar brought by steamship in 1912.
“Strike up a conversation at the bar,” Visit Southeast Montana’s marketing manager Brenda Maas suggests. “There’s no more authentic experience than talking to the locals and getting the inside scoop. Everyone is so friendly here. It’s the best way to get to know the real Montana.”
That cowboy heritage is perhaps best viewed at the annual Bucking Horse Sale, fondly referred to as the “Cowboy Mardis Gras.” Cowboys come from all over the country to test their bronc riding skills, purchase horses and have a good time. There’s live music, parades, rodeo events and more. Stay tuned for 2021 dates.
For a more sobering, but equally important piece of Western history, head to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument on Interstate 90 southeast of Billings. You’ll learn about the battle between the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes and Colonel Custer’s 7th Cavalry – one of the last armed American Indian efforts to protect their way of life. In the summer rangers lead educational tours, but consider booking a private tour from Indian Battle Tours to get the American Indian perspective. Either way, fuel up at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post with can’t miss fry bread and Indian tacos.
When you stop for dinner at the end of the day, look for the “Taste our Place” logo on restaurants like Local Kitchen & Bar in Billings serving inventive pizzas and Montana raised meat like the bison in the Bison Hash. This means you’ll be getting a taste of Montana’s finest whether it’s locally raised beef or Big Sky Country distilled spirits.
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