Based on my one day excursion through southwestern Montana, the region is characterized by majestic ranges separated by wide valleys (some comparable to the parklands of Colorado). This geography appeals to me, allowing one to admire the beauty and grandeur of the mountains without feeling hemmed in by their mass.
Leaving Livingston this morning, I headed north on US 89, passing between the Crazy Mountains to the east and the Bridger Range to the west. Following the Shields River, I soon found myself in a broad valley of sage grasslands, speckled with ponds, lakes and marshes; a small flock of American white pelicans had settled on one of the lakes and a bald eagle soared overhead. At US 12, I turned west and crossed the southern end of the Big Belt Mountains before dropping into the Missouri River Valley where, just north of Townsend, the river has been dammed to form a large reservoir. Continuing westward on US 12, I entered a large basin nearly ringed by mountains; Helena, Montana's Capitol, sits at the west end of this valley. Staying on US 12 West, I crossed the Continental Divide at MacDonald Pass (6320 feet) and descended along the Little Blackfoot River to Interstate 90. Heading south and then eastward on this highway, I was driving through the wide Clark Fork Valley, passing the scenic Flint Creek and Anaconda Ranges to the west. Just past Butte, I recrossed the Continental Divide and descended eastward to Cardwell; here I turned south on Route 359, fording the Jefferson River and then climbing along the east side of the spectacular Tobacco Root Mountains.
Before heading to Bozeman for the night, I visited the Missouri Headwaters State Park, just northeast of Three Forks. There the Missouri River forms from the confluence of the Jefferson and Madison Rivers (elevation 4045 feet), joined by the Gallatin River a short distance downstream; though I had long pictured this confluence to occur within a deep, cool mountain valley, it is in the middle of a broad intermountain basin. The inspiration offered by this historic location was embellished by an osprey that fished in the uppermost waters of the Missouri River, a spectacle no doubt witnessed by Lewis & Clark themselves.