My First Impressions of Missoula, Montana


The long June day which had dawned in Salt Lake City, my third day driving north, was drawing to a close.  As I wearily rolled along the final stretch of I-90 beside the Clark Fork from Deer Lodge to Missoula under a mostly overcast sky, my entire life’s possessions in my little car, I wondered what my first impression of the “Garden City” would be like.  Would it appeal to me?  Was its beauty real or simply ordinary?  Would the people be hospitable and friendly?  Would a good line of work open up for me there?

I searched the recesses of my memories for what I recalled about the only other time I had been to Missoula before – thirteen years ago, in that smoky summer of 2000 when many fires had burned in the Bitterroots and in Idaho.  I was sixteen years old and hanging around the Super 8 motel along Brooks Street, at the south end of town, impatiently waiting for my dad’s blistered feet to recover from the brutal five-day backpacking trip we had just completed in Glacier National Park.

Along the way to Missoula

Along the way to Missoula, the Pioneer Mountains near Butte presented a striking spectacle.

We had time to kill before starting our next adventure down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and so we spent three days in Missoula.  Unable to drive our vehicle by myself just yet, I had wandered up and down the street, gazing longingly at a single small patch of snow atop Lolo Peak and wishing that I could at least drive to Lolo Pass, just to get back up into the mountain country.  This was the only portion of Missoula that we saw, and my memories of it were not especially poignant.

And yet thirteen years later, I was coming back to live there, strongly assuring myself that Missoula was much more than a little strip along Brooks Street thanks to the research I’d done on it over the months before I moved.

The sky was still overcast as I excitedly ticked off the last few miles along Hellgate Canyon, below the huge grassy slopes of Mount Jumbo.  And then the clouds came to an end as I entered the Missoula Valley.  The sun brilliantly lit up the city, and the dazzling white snowcap of Lolo Peak instantly caught my eyes.  A friendly, peaceful glow shone upon the whole landscape, green in the full flush of spring, and even a last bit of road construction along I-90 before I exited didn’t blemish this favorable sight.

After safely landing at the apartment of my gracious friends, Patrick and Mia, where I would be staying for the following week, I took some time to stretch my legs and savor the long evening.  My tired eyes thankfully lingered over the landmarks I had long awaited to see: the “M” on Mount Sentinel, the snowcapped heights of the Rattlesnake Wilderness, the distant point of Ch-paa-qn (formerly Squaw) Peak, and of course Lolo Peak, still faithfully anchoring the northern end of the mighty Bitterroots.

The view of Lolo Peak on my first evening in Missoula

The view of Lolo Peak on my first evening in Missoula.

I was finally in Montana, the land I had been longing to be back in for years – especially since last fall when I had made definite plans to move up there.  It almost seemed too good to be true: the potential to be part of a unique community and have almost limitless opportunities for exploration.  I was there now.  It was time to get to know Missoula and begin settling down in Big Sky Country.


bio photo1Dan Saxton is a newcomer to Missoula.  He originally hails from New York, and spent the last four years in California attending graduate school in San Diego.  Dan was first introduced to Montana (and the West) at the tender age of six, and has considered it one of his favorite places ever since.  Although Dan is hearing-impaired and uses a cochlear implant, he refuses to view his disability as an insurmountable barrier.  Now he seeks to make a living in Missoula, spending plenty of time hiking and climbing along the way and sharing his experiences with many others!