horseshoe throw from Canadian border, Montana’s northern lip is one of the most isolated places in the Lower 48. You have a better chance of crossing the tracks with a rattlesnake than the car. The natural views is a huge palette of natural minimalism. Orbiting around you – all you will see is miles of empty land. and the sky. and cows.
In the fall, ranchers move livestock from seasonal pastures to pastures. The cattle driving distance ranges from a few miles to 50 or 60 miles, which can take a week or more to complete. That’s not equal to the number of solid yards that their great-grandfathers and great-grandfathers once laid out, but today’s cattle drives still cover a lot of the ground. Especially when you’re in a solid leather seat on the back of a quarter horse and exposed to the sun, rain, snow, and wind cutting like a blade through heavy coats and thermal layers.
Like a flock of starlings in slow motion, cattle move across oceans of grass, swaying to the rhythm of those bitter winds that sweep across the Rocky Mountains. The movement is graceful, methodical and rough all at once. There is a constant rattling and smell that you either get used to or learn to love. Men and women drive and tend to the herd while riding a horse. Or sometimes on the seat of an all-terrain vehicle, respectfully referred to in these parts as the “Japanese Quarter Horse.”
Cattle driving was popular in the late 1800s, when millions of cows were transported across the American open range from Texas to railroad heads in places like Kansas and Montana. Those cattle were usually headed to cattle ranches and processing in Chicago. These days, cows are sold at auction before making the trip in a truck rather than a train to feedlots in places like Iowa and Nebraska. After the corn diet is finished, it is processed for human consumption near the feedlots. Unless you are feeding on grass, in which case it can be processed anywhere.