Backstory: Discovering ‘The Sag’

On our way to Fort Benton last spring, my wife Lisa was driving on the last leg of our trip, and we found ourselves on a road we’d never been on before — Highway 80 between Stanford and Fort Benton.

I almost hate to admit that it was new to us. My wife is a native of this state and I always figured I’d been most everywhere as a reporter and curious traveler. But we had never been there — had never seen Square Butte or the odd freestanding walls of volcanic rock sprouting from the hills, or the steep, broken country you pass through when the highway follows the crooked path of Arrow Creek.

My dog-eared DeLorme. Don't leave home without one.

My dog-eared DeLorme. Don’t leave home without one.” credit=” 

So, as Lisa drove, I broke open my trusty DeLorme Montana Atlas & Gazetteer to see what I could see. I’d been looking at the atlas for a few minutes, studying names and geographical features, when my eye fell up on the intriguing words “Shonkin Sag,” not too far on the map from where we were.

“The Shonkin Sag,” I said, trying the unusual phrase out on my tongue.

“The what?” Lisa asked.

“The Shonkin Sag,” I repeated.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but it’s got to be interesting.”

I’m not even sure why I thought that, but I was right. As soon as we got to Fort Benton I opened my laptop, got onto Google and looked it up. There wasn’t a whole lot to be found, but the main source of information was a retired physicist in Red Lodge who had obviously made an intense study of the Sag, as it is also known. I got lost in Gerald Davidson’s exhaustive exploration of the Ice Age marvel, and I soon decided that I just had to write about it.

And so of course I did, as you can see elsewhere on this site.


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