The Big Sky State

Well friends, I'm writing to you from my couch, huddling by my space heater, underneath 4 layers of clothing and 3 blankets.

The heat decided to die on us 2 days before we got hit with the coldest weather of the year, so here I sit, bundled and blogging.

Georgia can never decide what season it wants to be in. Growing up here has made me somewhat accustomed to 80 degree days in February and 20 degree days in March. Typically days go on as planned, no matter the weather. But unfortunately, being without heat is really hijacking my productivity this week.

So, as long as the thermostat in my house is reading 48 degrees, I'm going to sit here, bundled on the couch with my coffee, and I'm going to write about the only other recent time when I was this cold -- Montana.

Being a Georgia girl, I have this specific picture painted in my mind when I think of NATURE. 

I see red clay, green fields with perfect rows of cotton and corn, thick, pine tree-lined forests that stretch for miles and miles.

I see the mountains--these red-brown, rocky hills that, although they are tall, for some reason seem manageable.  And there's so much color here: all shades of green, brown and red make up our fabric. 

Georgia wildlife is almost dainty. The cutest animals fill the forests--bunnies, foxes, squirrels and deer. The most intimidating creature Georgia boasts is a black bear, and honestly they're also pretty cute. 

Georgia is WARM, Earthy. it feels like home.  

But Montana is different.

When I saw it for the first time I didn't want to close my eyes. The scenery was exquisite. It felt magnificent. 

The colors were an artist's pallet of deep blues and calming yellows. From horizon to horizon all I could see was sky. The mountains were a gray-blue, dusted with years of collected snow that would never fully melt, and there they stood, towering and majestic in the distance. The fields were blanketed with long, golden grass that blew and bent at the mercy of the wind. There were massive rocks scattered at random and sitting alone, as if God dropped one here and there just for fun. The animals are thick with fur and equipped to survive the most brutal of the elements.

Montana is rugged, it feels like an adventure.

The first time I visited Montana was in late August, Michael's parents have a beautiful cabin in a tiny town called Nye.  In the summertime people hike, hunt, fish, and kayak. It's the most wonderful place that I've ever explored. But since that first trip, I've mainly visited in the winter, and I love it most during those cold months.

Winter in Montana is skiing, it's drinking scotch by the fire, it's dressing in layers upon layers simply to go to the grocery store. It feels like the faint of heart perhaps should not tackle it. But to those who do, it's worth it. 

For a lot of the year Montana is covered in snow. Sometimes the winds whip through the valleys and blow all the snow away, only for it to fall again later that night when all is still.

There's this quiet, whisper-like noise that the snow makes when it falls. 

Once the white blanket has completely covered the ground, the tops of the trees, and the rails of the porch, all is quiet. You'll hear the crackle of the fire, and the occasional crunch of snow beneath the hooves of a mule deer passing by--nothing more. To me, it feels like peace.

There is so much rest, fun, contemplation, whimsy and adventure to be had in Montana, and I'm particularly fond of the winter.

So how did this wintry trip even come about?

To me there's something special about an experience. A memory lasts longer, and a lot of times means more than a gift does. I had been wanting my family to see Montana for years. So this year, after much deliberation, we decided that we were all in for a snowy Montana Christmas.

My mom is amazing, and she was the one who really worked out all the plans and the details. Before we knew it, we were boarding a plane for Montana on Christmas Day.

There were 3 things on the docket: Cabin days (for hiking, sitting by the fire, reading, snowball fights, etc.), a day in Yellowstone National Park, and a day of skiing.


The skiing in Montana is beautiful.

We decided to spend a day at Red Lodge Mountain. The best thing about Montana skiing is that it's not as crowded as Colorado or Utah resorts, but it's just as wonderful. At Red Lodge there are almost never lines at the lifts, you can just ski right up to the front (praise hands!!). So for people like me (who may or may not enjoy warming up at the lodge and grabbing a snack more than the actual skiing...) the short lines really helped me stay warm.

There's almost nothing more fun than driving up the mountain, bundled up in all your warmest clothes, next to the people you love, ready to ski all day. My favorite Red Lodge, Montana tradition is hitting Bogart's after a long day of skiing for a hot queso and happy hour drinks.

As wonderful as skiing was, my favorite day on this trip was in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is one of the most incredible places I've ever seen. Two years ago was my first time visiting. There's one road open to cars in the winter, so we got to drive straight through the middle of the park. I was awestruck. There were elk grazing steps away from us. There were herds of bison that walked up to the window of our car and then kept moving as if we weren't even there.

It's a really special place.

But this year we got to do my favorite thing I've ever done in Montana. We took a tour of Yellowstone National Park on snowmobiles.

My sweet grandparents gifted us the tour for Christmas, and it was perfect.

We were slightly worried about the cold. Depending on the day, it can be anywhere from -20 degrees to 45 degrees (which feels almost warm). But our day started around -10 degrees and peaked around 30. I wore more layers than I've ever worn (yes, even more than I'm wearing right now with my thermostat reading 42...) -- 2 layers of long underwear, a wool sweater, my ski pants and ski jacket, the one-piece suit that they gave me at the snowmobile place, 2 socks, layered gloves, insulated boots, and a helmet. It was epic. 

The snowmobiles were two-seaters that had heated seats and handles, which sounds luxurious, but is almost necessary for survival. I was comfortable, and even bordered on too warm once the weather got above freezing. But boy was I glad to have those layers on our way back that night.

While you're wearing all that gear, it's almost impossible to turn just your head. I remember swaying from side to side, trying to take it all in. It was a winter wonderland. I felt like we had been given a backstage pass into the lives of these wild animals--it was breathtaking. We saw bison, coyotes, wolves, elk, trumpeter swans. We walked by hot springs and got to see Old Faithful erupt at noon. It really felt so picture-perfect in the moment. (So perfect, in fact, that I caught a rainbow in the picture I took of Old Faithful.)

We ate our sack lunches in a heated igloo-tent near Old Faithful and hopped back on our snowmobiles to head back toward the bus.

We rode 200 miles that day. It felt like we were a grizzled biker gang, riding through Narnia.

I sat on the back of the snowmobile while Michael drove for the first half of the day. But when I took over the wheel, I remember my thoughts slowed down to a crawl. It was the first time in a long time that my brain didn't feel busy. It was almost cleansing. There was nothing to do but drive the machine and take in the scenery.

We rode in silence for most of the day, because you can't really communicate from underneath those thick helmets. We would tap and point when we wanted our partner to see something special, and other than than we just rode peacefully along. I started to see all the reasons why taking a motorcycle trip would be therapeutic. At first I was so afraid it was dangerous, but after a few hours it felt like second nature.

Our guide was so precious, we really became friends. He's been tour guiding these snowmobile trips for years, and lives near the park all winter just for this. He told us about the rivers, about the wildlife, about how the hot springs send up steam that blankets the trees with thick, crystallized snowsuits.

I think all day we only saw about 100 people, maybe less. I hear that during the summer they get something like 4 million visitors. So if you're an introvert and animal lover like me, you may consider piling on the layers and visiting in the winter. 

I remember thawing out with my family afterwards, just gushing over how amazing it was. What an honor to get sneak peek into that romantic, wild world.

It was so worth it.

In the future, I hope to visit Glacier National Park in the summer, I want to go white water rafting, maybe do some fly fishing, and I'd love to do the 3 day hike from our cabin into Yellowstone.

Lets just say this,

I hope I'm never done spending time in the beautiful big sky state.

Ps. for those who noticed, Michael has a shiner on his head in that last close up of him, because he was trying to roll boulders down a hill and got in a tussle with a mountain lion.

lol jk

He was trying to roll boulders, but he just ran into a branch. We laughed about that a lot.

(proud of my boo.)

XO, Emily

Greetings from Nye, MT! Let me introduce you to my sweet family (from left to right):  Edward & Sarah Folker (my middle sis and her hubby), Michael and me, Caroline Hearn (my youngest sis) & her bf Stephen Wrenn, & my sweet parents, Tim & Robin Hearn.

Greetings from Nye, MT! Let me introduce you to my sweet family (from left to right):

Edward & Sarah Folker (my middle sis and her hubby), Michael and me, Caroline Hearn (my youngest sis) & her bf Stephen Wrenn, & my sweet parents, Tim & Robin Hearn.