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BILLINGS MONTANA

October 14, 2011

Once, Driving West of Billings, Montana  (Poem)

By Susan Mitchell

I ran into the afterlife.
No fluffy white clouds. Not even stars. Only sky
dark as the inside of a movie theater
at three in the afternoon and getting bigger all the time,
expanding at terrific speed
over the car which was disappearing,
flattening out empty
as the fields on either side.
                                             It was impossible to think
under that rain louder than engines.
I turned off the radio to listen, let my head
fill up until every bone
was vibrating—sky.
                            Twice, trees of lightning
broke out of the asphalt. I could smell
the highway burning. Long after, saw blue smoke twirling
behind the eyeballs, lariats
doing fancy rope tricks, jerking silver
dollars out of the air, along with billiard cues, ninepins.
I was starting to feel I could drive forever
when suddenly one of those trees was right in front of me.
Of course, I hit it—
branches shooting stars down the windshield,
poor car shaking like a dazed cow.
I thought this time for sure I was dead
so whatever was on the other side had to be eternity.
Saw sky enormous as nowhere. Kept on driving.
________________________________

Billings, Montana

Pink Northern Pacific Caboose in Billings
Photo Use Policy

Generally, most people from out-state who end up in Billings are there because they are “passing through” on their way to Yellowstone National Park or Glacier National Park, or some other mountain destination in the state. Billings gets a lot of this traffic due to the simple fact that it is on the main Interstate highway in the state and because it’s the first place of any consequence that people driving into Montana from the east will see. The reverse is also true – for people leaving Montana from the west, Billings provides the “last outpost” before the very long drive down I-90 through the rest of Montana and into the Dakotas.

For this reason, most people never really poke around Billings to see what is there. People who are in the mood to shop will enjoy Billings, since pretty much everything can be found in town in the wide variety of stores available. Billings also has a nice indoor mall. Billings also has the best, at least in my opinion, movie theatres in the state – having both a newer stadium seating theatre along with a second run movie theatre that prices at around $2.

The Billings area is also home to the only true zoo in Montana – Zoo Montana. Zoo Montana is a rather unique zoo. Located just 10 miles to the west of downtown, it contains a variety of animals. When I first arrived at the zoo, I was expecting a zoo full of Montana type animals. Instead, while some Montana native species are at the zoo, Zoo Montana is home to a number of rare species, including a Siberian Tiger.

While in Billings, one excellent place to visit is the Western Heritage Center. The heritage center contains numerous exhibits about Native American history and the settlement of the Billings area. The Heritage Center is located in the old Billings Library.

Other things that people may find of interest include the Yellowstone Art Museum, which has a nice selection of collection of contemporary and historic art of the Rocky Mountain West. This museum is located in the old jail on the edge of the historic district of Billings.

Downtown Area of Billings
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The historic district of Billings, which is all located around the railroad, is a rather interesting place. Many old, brick buildings in this district have been nicely restored, including the original Northern Pacific Train Depot. Just watch out for the absolutely awful pink colored Northern Pacific Caboose. On a sunny day, it’s a real eye killer.

If music is what you’re in the mood for, believe it or not, Billings also has a symphony orchestra. Classical music is in rather short supply in Montana, so having a symphony orchestra here in the state is a rather nice bonus.

Billings, for the sportsman, also has some good opportunities around town. The hunting is excellent out on the prairie and around the foothills of the mountains for a wide variety of game, including elk. The rivers and lakes in the region offer a nice variety of warm water (catfish, bass) and cold water (trout) fishing opportunities. The Yellowstone River itself as it passes through Billings has a mix of both fishing – as it is at this point that the Yellowstone is converting from a cold water fishery to a warm water one. Both brown trout and catfish can be caught from the Yellowstone in and around Billings. Other nearby rivers include Rock Creek and the Bighorn River, both of which are less than an hour away.

The city of Billings also has a fair park system along parts of the Yellowstone River. However, the best potential park of all in Billings is also sadly the most neglected. Just to the north of downtown lies the Rimrocks. The Rimrocks are a rocky escarpment that rise straight up about 400-500 vertical feet above the valley that downtown Billings is built in. From the Rimrocks, you have a beautiful view of Billings and the surrounding area.

Unfortunately, Billings has done absolutely nothing to make this a nice place to go visit. Indeed, the city seems to completely neglect it. While having the airport right behind the park and a bunch of power lines running over it doesn’t help any, some simple effort into cleaning the park up could really make this a nice place. But, as it is right now, although you get a beautiful view, the hordes of garbage, illegal off-road vehicles and broken bottles make a visit to the Rimrocks less than inspiring.

Overall, if you will be passing through Billings, do make a point of visiting the downtown area. Downtown Billings is quite nice and has many things to do and to see. The historic district is also a place you may want to visit if you are into history and older, restored buildings. Just watch out for the blinding pink caboose!

Panoramic view of downtown Billings 1915.
Downtown Billings.

WELCOME TO BILLINGS - BILLINGS DOWNTOWN SKATEPARK

BILLLINGS, MONTANA AT DUSK

RIMROCKS AROUND BILLINGS, MONTANA - They are a 300 to 800 foot geologic sandstone formation.

________________________________

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM

The Yellowstone County Museum is near the Billings airport. It’s small, but all the good historical stuff is here. In downtown Billings, on Montana Avenue, the Western Heritage Center features super exhibits about the homesteading era in Montana.

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - INDIAN HEADDRESSES

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - BEFORE THERE WERE HORSES DOGS WERE USED TO CARRY GOODS

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - WOMAN'S SADDLE CROW' TRIBE

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MSEUM - DAILY USE SADDLE

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - MEN'S COSTUME

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - WOMAN'S COSTUME

 

 

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - RESERVATION HAT WORN BY NATIVE AMRICANS

 

 

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - JACKET OF SMOKED MOOSE HIDE DECORATED WITH ORNATE BEAD WORK AND FRINGED

 

 

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - CHUCK WAGON

 

 

 

 

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY MUSEUM - CHUCK WAGON (DETAIL)

 

 

PHOTOS BY:

LEONARD EPSTEIN

JANELLE BURGESS

 

 

VIDEOS BILLINGS, MONTANA

 

 

 

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