I’ve always referred to them as ravines, canyons, and great big dips. The deep riverbeds in northern Montana are known as coulees - pronounced coo-lees. It’s the kind of geographic feature that made both my heart and stomach jump when I was a child. My eyes would get big in anticipation of that funny feeling in my stomach as the cars would drop into a ravine and then slowly climb out on the other side. I think it would be appropriate to pronounce it cool-eeee!
The hoodoos, though, that’s all new to me. How many years of wind and water must it take to wash away the weakest parts and leave the stronger more stubborn structures standing?
The weather here can be ferocious, but it leaves behind unexpected surprises such as these formations known to locals as Rock City.
Oh, how I would have loved the opportunity to play here as a child. My imagination would have run wild!
As an adult, I recently spied monster serpent heads, gigantic freezer biscuits with distinct layers, and pillared furnaces all formed of rock.
As a child I would have climbed on the formations and created stories in my innocent and inexperienced mind.
However, as a weathered adult, I see a correlation between the unique formations that have outlasted the elements, years, and even humans who have entertained themselves here and my own existence.
As years and experiences have worked their influence on the child of my youth, the weaker parts have washed away leaving a stronger version of myself. That version shows lines such as scars and wrinkles that I often would prefer remained unseen, but they tell the story of a life lived - a life that endures the winds of change, the harshness of challenges that beat against it like the hailstones of a summer storm in northern Montana, and the cleansing and washing away of those things not needed. What remains is me.
Whether I resemble a giant freezer biscuit or a pillared furnace, it’s just me, unique because my weather has been different than that of my neighbor - and my neighbor is unique because her weather has been different than any other.
The next time you drive through a rugged landscape or spend time with someone who has endured a lifetime of experience, remember, there is beauty in the leftovers. Those things that remain tell a story that may take some time to appreciate, but that’s okay, because it took a long time to write that story.
How do you find your way to Rock City?
Take the Valier-Cut Bank Highway north from the only stoplight in Valier. When the highway curves near the 3-mile mark, continue straight on the gravel Rock City Road. When you run out of gravel, continue straight on dirt and when you run out of dirt, continue straight until Rock City appears on the cliffs above Two Medicine River. The drive is about 10 miles. Just keep going north. You can’t miss it!
From Cut Bank:
Take U.S. Highway 2 west and turn onto the Cut Bank Highway 358 and continue south to Rock City Road. Go straight at the hard right turn in the highway.
You won’t need a four-wheel drive unless the weather has been damp and the road is muddy.
Plan to spend some time exploring the rocks and the river below. Grizzly bears have been known to inhabit the Two Medicine River bank and rattlesnakes also frequent the area, so be alert!
And … don’t forget your camera!