Bruce is a real cowboy.

He has a ranch with horses and a big American flag flying out front, and he has a guitar and he knows how to play it.

I met Bruce Anfinson on a sleigh ride up at Lone Mountain Ranch near Big Sky, Montana. A full moon shone through the forest of lodgepole pines, casting silvery shapes on the snow.  Powerful draft horses pulled us uphill as I listened to the man in the cowboy hat tell his tales—unrehearsed, off-the-cuff stories about life out west.

It’s a different country out here—this Montana. Yes, I figured that out about five minutes after arriving, but now, at the close of my journey to this winter land of log cabins and pine fires, crystal icicles and howling coyotes, I could truly feel how wonderfully foreign yet familiar this great northern state is.

In the light of the cabin’s fireplace, as we ate our dinner of ribeye and berry cobbler, Bruce plucked out a song about cowboy artist Charlie Russell. I remember well the January 1986 issue of National Geographic that detailed the life of this American traveler and painter. As Bruce sang his tribute, I listened to the lyrics, thought of all the other adventurers that have ventured this far north, from Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea to later pioneers, the cowboys and Indians of old to the real cattle men and Native Americans of present.

No question that Montana attracts those who like room to roam—and although my first visit lasted only a week and a half, I have roamed a lot. I clocked a thousand miles on my rental car (that’s a hundred miles a day) and barely made a scratch on the wide open map of Montana.

After dinner was done and the guests all snug in their cabins, Bruce and I chatted until midnight. We talked songs and places. “Music is a universal language,” Bruce said to me—and he’s right—but so is travel. Though we’d never met, we talked as old friends around the campfire, and for an instant, I had a small taste of true cowboy culture—not the pistols and wrangling and dazzling outfits, but a guy who was born and raised beneath the Montana’s big skies.

In the midnight hour, when so many were fast asleep, Bruce played me my very own concert, singing out an ode to the state that he loves.

“Home is Where Montana Is,” he sang, and he meant it. Though I am a foreigner from back east, I knew every lyric he spoke because after ten days in Montana, I have lived all the lines of his song.

Will I ever return? I hope so. I love  all the places my job takes me to but I hate leaving them so soon. As a destination, Montana is too humungous to visit just once, so like a true explorer, I am already plotting another expedition back to big sky country.

For now though, I am content to sing along to Bruce’s song, and though I have left it far behind for now, I remember only how much Montana felt like home.

Winter tree on the way to Big Sky, Montana (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Winter tree on the way to Big Sky, Montana (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

 

Comments

  1. Alice
    Missoula
    February 2, 2013, 2:48 pm

    He went to high school with my mother, and the first concert I ever went to was his (I think I was maybe 6). It’s been really fun reading about your Montana adventures. You really must come back–Glacier in the summer shouldn’t be missed!

  2. Nick Rutten
    Currently Chiang Mai, Thailand
    February 3, 2013, 3:57 am

    It’s people like Bruce that make traveling worth every second and every whatever-currency-you’re-paying-in-at-the-moment.

  3. Katrina
    Thompson Falls, MT
    February 4, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Next time you return to trek across Montana – don’t miss out on some of the byways and back roads. We live in Thompson Falls, Montana which is on Highway 200 in the extremely scenic Clark Fork River Valley. It’s a valley carved by Glacial Lake Missoula thousands of years ago, with marks easily seen in the rocks today. Thanks for coming to Montana – we’ve enjoyed your writing about this amazing place we call home.

  4. Kathleen Kimble
    Missoula Montana
    February 8, 2013, 9:55 am

    I second Katrina’s suggestion. Back roads open you up to great experiences, people, nature of Montana. And it’s easy to find ideas for your next visit. Just view any episode of “Backroads of Montana,” the great series from Montana PBS. mtpr.org (No, I am not connected to the show or station) We used ideas from past shows this summer for an epic 1,500 road trip. Ingomar, anyone?

  5. Shama Vijayan
    India
    February 9, 2013, 12:42 am

    What a beautiful world through the eyes of Andrew Evans! Excellent photography! Tempts one to visit the places.

  6. Grace Tseng
    Taiwan
    February 9, 2013, 3:29 am

    Wonderful people, nice voice , good ranches there.
    Live city , sometimes need to go the country like there,
    Not only good for healthy but also good for soul……

  7. Greg Fortin
    February 9, 2013, 5:41 pm

    Very nice Bruce!! Thanks for describing our amazing state, and sharing your passion for Montana!!

  8. Dave Wilson
    United States
    February 11, 2013, 10:21 am

    Great job Bruce ! You do an awesome job of representing Montana plus your stories are just outstanding. Congrats Bruce and keep on pickin’ .

  9. Rod Steckler
    Vancouver, Wa. (USofA)
    February 12, 2013, 6:50 pm

    Nicely done, pal. Just great to see and hear that you are still kick’n, pick’n, and a grin’n…and weaving your web with stories of the faces and the places that we know as “home”. I enjoyed getting to meet and play tunes with you in Hurlbut’s basement a few years ago…and look forward to my rejuvenation with a return visit to “The Last Great Place”.

  10. Raphael Cristy
    United States
    February 14, 2013, 11:14 am

    Find out more about Bruce and his activities apart from hauling folks in draft horse sleds through the snowy forest up to the cozy roast beef cabin at Lone Mountain Ranch high in the mountains between Bozeman and Yellowstone. Check out his own “Last Chance Ranch” in mountains above Helena by looking at the website http://www.charlierussell.com. He built the place all himself using lumber he milled from his own trees and hauled out of the woods by his own draft horses. There is no truth to the rumor that Bruce sings to’em while they drag the logs through the forests and fields. He’s all business, shouting “gee”and “haw” but they seem to know whatever he’s thinking at ‘em.

  11. Kuljeetbhai Thasariya
    India
    March 13, 2013, 1:04 am

    Montana is amazing place, I have visited this place so much. http://www.firsttop10.com