An Unexplored Aspect of Montana's 'Big Sky Country' You Won't Find on 'Yellowstone'

In Montana, a stretch of U.S. Highway 2 known as the Hi-Line is colored by grain elevators, railroad cars and century-old homesteading remnants.

Photographs and Text by Janie Osborne

The welcome sign in Rudyard, Mont.

In the midst of Montana's western resurgence in popularity, fueled by hit series like "Yellowstone" and its prequels, lies a hidden gem known as the Hi-Line. This 650-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2 meanders through northern Montana, far from the spotlight. Here, the landscape unfolds in all its glory—vast wheat fields stretching towards the horizon, grain elevators, railway tracks, and century-old remnants of homesteads. The Hi-Line represents more than just a road; it's a living tapestry that encompasses farms, ranches, homes, businesses, and communities. The journey along this route is a unique experience, offering a glimpse into Montana's rich history and the hardworking people who call it home.

Dalton Dahlke, 91, works behind the bar at the Inverness Bar and Supper Club.

This adventure begins in Shelby, where the Marias Museum of History and Art unveils treasures like homesteading memorabilia and the boxing gloves of Tommy Gibbons, who contended for Shelby's world heavyweight title in 1923. As the journey continues eastward, the Sweet Grass Hills, sacred to the Blackfeet Nation, grace the horizon. A 15-mile gravel road leads to Lake Elwell, a hidden oasis surrounded by sandstone and shale formations. Inverness, nearby, boasts the Inverness Bar and Supper Club, an establishment that has retained its charm for generations.

The Hi-Line Theater in Rudyard, Mont., “looks mostly like it did when it opened in 1949,” said Conrad Wendland, its new owner.
Mr. Wendland, a fifth-generation Rudyard farmer, making popcorn at the concession stand.

Further east, Rudyard is home to the Hi-Line Theater, a vintage movie house that transports visitors back in time to 1949. On the Hi-Line, farming is a way of life, characterized by dryland farming, where farmers rely on techniques like plowing, fertilizing, and crop rotation to optimize conditions. Yet, farming here is a gamble, with factors like weather and market prices influencing success. It's often said, "This is 'next year' country," reflecting the resilience required to thrive in this environment.

The Fountain Barber Shop is part of the Havre Beneath the Streets tour at the Frank DeRosa Railroad Museum.
Visitors to the Blaine County Museum in Chinook, Mont., reading about the surrender of the Nez Perce in 1877.

Havre, 35 miles east of Hingham, provides insights into Native American history with the Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump. This archaeological site was once used by Indigenous peoples to hunt bison by guiding them over a blind cliff. Havre also offers a glimpse underground, with Havre Beneath the Streets showcasing businesses relocated after a citywide fire in 1904.

Chinook, 25 miles east of Havre, is home to the Blaine County Museum, which recounts the Nez Perce War's history. This area is rich in culture and heritage. As the journey nears its end in Malta, visitors can explore the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, Phillips County Museum, Nelson Reservoir, and indulge in local delights like the Branding Iron Burger at Joe's In & Out. Despite the miles ahead, it's the connections with locals, stories, and the timeless landscapes that make the Hi-Line a journey worth taking.

The drive-up menu at Joe’s In & Out, an old-fashioned drive-up restaurant in Malta, Mont.

Janie Osborne, a talented photographer and writer based in Bozeman, Montana, captures the essence of the Hi-Line's beauty and history in her exploration of this less-traveled route.

Original Article by Janie Osborne:

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