Horses, dinosaurs, tepees. I steel my kids, Phoebe and Tobin, for the 500-mile round-trip with these three words. My mission is to take them on a summer vacation they'll never forget: a tour of the Rocky Mountain Front that slices 100 miles north from State 200 to Glacier National Park in Montana.
Wild, beautiful, and endangered, the Front is where the jagged, 8,000-foot limestone peaks of Montana's Rockies descend to the prairie. It is home to the Blackfeet Tribe, cattle ranchers, and abundant wildlife, including grizzly bears and bighorn sheep. It has small-town rodeos, relaxed guest ranches, and roadside diners with good pie.
The Front has fueled the imaginations of Montana writers as well as controversies between environmentalists and oil companies over whether to drill for the area's oil and gas reserves. And with those horses, those dinosaurs, those tepees ― and more ― it makes for one of the finest family road trips in the West.
Augusta: cowboys and cottonwoods
From Missoula, we head east on State 200 over the mountains into a land of sky and cattle ― the geography that was formed more than 100 million years ago when thick slabs of limestone were shoved east over the soft shales of an ancient inland sea. As we turn north on U.S. 287, my kids in the backseat, we belt out Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love." At the Milford Hutterite colony ― one of 40 communal farming-based religious communities in Montana ― we buy carrots from girls in long dresses and boys in black pants and suspenders who curiously eye my children in their shorts and T-shirts.