We have spent a lot of time so far in small towns. Some have been actual towns (like Salida) and some have been more… clusters of a few buildings (I’m lookin’ at you, Cotopaxi). West Yellowstone, since it is right outside the park, had every kind of tourist souvenir you can imagine, but not a lot of places to buy real supplies (like, say, pants or dog food).
After several weeks of this, we were ready for Bozeman. Bozeman, with a population of 40,000 and a university, is a small city more than a town. It’s still small enough, though, that you can bike most places. There were multiple breweries (yesssss!), not one, not two, but THREE outdoor shops, lots of trails, and the first Target we have had since Denver (it’s the little things, y’all). I also went NUTS at the Farmer’s Market, since we hadn’t had much access to fresh produce in a while. I’m still feasting on tomatoes.
We also knew some people there, which was really nice. Shout out to Scott & Ruth for being super hospitable, showing us around, and loaning us their washing machine! 🙂
But, as we realized quickly, there are some trade-offs that come with being around more people.
Views and Solitude
Our spot for the week was the fair ground parking lot. This is something we have figured out about other more populated areas, too: good camping and bigger towns/cities are often mutually exclusive. Often you can find free camping farther from town (like, 45+ minutes) with no one around. But… you’re farther from town.
Parking lots, as you may have guessed, are not especially relaxing or scenic places. They are also hot. At night, drunk teenagers come and do donuts in their pickup trucks. But… you’re close to town.
Every town has its own culture. This varies a lot place to place, and you kinda have to figure it out on the fly. Salida is super welcoming to everyone. West Yellowstone gets so many tourists that the few locals definitely have a love-hate relationship with people from “away.” Interestingly, on a side note, it’s about a 50-50 mix whether people in a given place think we are locals or from out-of-town.
Bozeman people were very friendly, but all the dogs are off-leash all the time. And to their credit, most of the dogs we met were exceptionally well-trained. It is HEAVEN for a dog-friendly dog and their people. Cheat, though, is not a dog-friendly dog. People in Bozeman generally assume that all dogs are dog-friendly. The thought seems to be that if their dog runs up to your’s, and your dog isn’t okay with it, it’s your dog’s fault. We couldn’t take Cheat many places because we didn’t want him making a snack of another dog.
This was a bummer because we like to take him along for runs and long walks, and we couldn’t do that as much. He didn’t get as much exercise as he needed, but he didn’t take any chunks out of any other dogs, so there’s that.
When you are by yourself in the woods, you have to figure out the weather and the wildlife. When you are in a city, you have to figure out the people. In both cases, sometimes that is a net positive, and sometimes it is a net negative. For us, we really loved a lot of things about Bozeman, especially since we had friends to point us in the direction of good stuff (we definitely recommend Montana Ale Works and Stockyard Cafe!). After a week, though, we had had our fill of civilization and were ready to get back to the middle of nowhere.
We’re somewhere east of Helena, MT now. We found a gorgeous spot to boondock that is hopefully legal? Fingers crossed that we can spend the week here!