Too much visual information

A friend of mine who used to go to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival every year told me that on the drive back to Montana, after four or five solid days of music, he couldn’t even listen to the radio. He was filled to the gills, exhausted, all the listening space between his ears depleted.

I felt the same way, but in a visual sense, after three days of driving through the heart of Montana in this green, glorious spring.

Coming home Saturday afternoon, I just wanted to close my eyes and process the countless images crowding my brain without, for a little while at least, taking in anything new.

We had things to do in Livingston and Fort Benton, so our trip took us on a grand loop from Billings to Livingston on I-90, Livingston to Belt on Highway 89, and Belt to Fort Benton on Highway 228.

Leaving Fort Benton, we took a big detour on gravel roads through wheat country northwest of Square Butte, one of the most striking landmarks in the state, to visit Lost Lake. The lake is a geological marvel in the middle of the Shonkin Sag, a place I first visited last year and wrote about in a story that was posted on the first day of Last Best News.

Lost Lake is where an ancient precursor of the Missouri River, pushed south of its existing channel by continental glaciers, poured over sheer black cliffs of volcanic rock. It created a spectacle, geologists tell us, to rival Niagara. Even now, in its dry state, it is heart-thumpingly magnificent.

It amazed me when I first saw it and it amazed me again Saturday that Lost Lake is so little known. I was with my wife, brother and sister-in-law, on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and we had the place to ourselves. I’m here to tell you, folks, it’s farther than Lake Elmo but it’s worth the drive.

What else did we see? Well, to spare you a series of inadequate word pictures, I have included a gallery of photographs taken along the way.

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Some things couldn’t be photographed. There’s no way, at least for me, to do justice to that amazing, wide-open country we saw on the way to Lost Lake. There, immensity’s the thing, and though a photo can put that scenery in a cage, it can’t capture it.

Likewise with most of the drive along 228 between Belt and Fort Benton. Belt Creek was running fast, wide and very muddy, spreading out to drench every level meadow along its route, with remnant snow banks clinging to its flanks. I couldn’t find a scene that looked as vibrant through the viewfinder as it did through my eyeball.

And I wish to hell there was some way of photographing the call of a meadowlark. They serenaded us for hours Saturday afternoon.

Did I mention the green? This has been the kind of spring the railroads would have gushed about when they were luring all those immigrants to the land of milk and honey 100 years ago. “You just shovel up a bit of soil, drop in a few seeds and up come the crops! With no irrigation!” You could almost believe it this year.

Cruising through places like Geraldine, Monarch, Ringling, Belt, Montague and Neihart, I’d turn to my wife and say, “I could live here.” That’s probably not true. I’m a city-slicker at heart, or at least a fairly-big-town-slicker, but all those burgs with the big views, the friendly feel and the beautiful quiet surely look like good places to hunker down in and concentrate on what matters.

And what does matter? Why, I don’t know for sure. I’d need to settle in for a while and think about that.

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