The Last Best Place in America

“For some states I have admiration, even affection, but with Montana it is love.” (Steinbeck)
The Last Best Place in America
By: George Noga – July 7, 2019

           Our first Montana Moments posting was in 2013. We were taken aback by its sudden popularity and we reprised it each summer. After 6 years, we are running out of new material about our summer home in Whitefish, in the Flathead Valley of NW Montana. This post champions Montana as America’s last best place. The next two posts, perhaps the final ones in this series, rank our top twelve Montana Moments.

         Americans have become disconnected from the natural world and the human world and poisoned by political correctness, environmental wackiness and obsessed with safety at all cost. Montana reconnects such people to the real world and to a vanishing civilization where everyone has a different attitude about life and risk. Montana, like a time capsule, whisks visitors back into this mostly forgotten world. In that magical land, where giants once roamed, people live at a pace driven by the beating of their hearts rather then by the pulsation of personal electronic devices.

        In the Treasure State, the cycles of nature are omnipresent. June ushers in a cornucopia of vegetables; in July the Flathead cherries are ripe, followed in August by huckleberries and melons and by peaches in September. The outdoor activities are without equal. In summer there is hiking, fly fishing, golf, rafting, floating, kayaking, mountain biking and every possible water activity. In fall and winter there is hunting, skiing, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and even the Aurora Borealis.

“Like a time capsule, Montana whisks you back to a half-lost world.”

         The human world also is magical. There is a weekly summer rodeo, which includes youth bull riding – beginning at age eight. Guns are a normal part of everyday life; the local PTA once auctioned off an AK-47 for its fundraiser. Youth deer hunting season (starts at age 11) is so popular that all Montana schools close for its two days. Whitefish, with a population of 6,500, has a full time symphony orchestra, live theater, fine dining, cabaret and nonstop festivals. Vestiges of the wild west persist and still continue to exert a powerful influence on Montanans’ culture and attitudes.

            Montana is 750 miles across from North Dakota to Idaho and larger than Japan. There are fewer than 7 people per square mile, making its population density 48th in the US; only Alaska and Wyoming are less dense; it is the same density as America in 1790 and only 8 percent as dense as the USA is today. Montanans are so accustomed to its vastness that anything not on a grand scale seems trivial to them. Even today, most residents think nothing of driving 100 miles to attend a dinner or a dance.

         There are few developed places in our fourth largest state; Billings, its largest city, has but 110,000 people. Everywhere in Montana, within a few minutes drive, one can find a peaceful prairie, quiet meadow, majestic mountaintop or a rippling stream flush with trout, where you can be alone with nature and replenish your soul.

          This is the simple majesty and grandeur – both natural and human – of Montana and what makes it the last best place in America. And even for those who have shuffled off this mortal coil, Montana is the best last place in America.

Next week: MLLG’s top twelve Montana Moments – numbers 12 to 7.
More Liberty Less Government  –  –

Montana Moments: The Canadian Connection

Only 50 miles from Canada, Whitefish has a massive Canadian presence from which Montanans can learn many lessons about sky-high taxes and nationalized health care.
Montana Moments: The Canadian Connection
By: George Noga – July 15, 2018

          Whitefish is 50 miles south of Canada and a mere 4 hour drive from Calgary and its 1.3 million people; altogether, 2 million Canadians live within an easy drive. Given the profuse attractions of Whitefish and Glacier National Park, the massive Canadian presence during summers is no surprise. Alberta’s energy economy and the favorable exchange rate (until recently) bring in Canadian hordes flush with petrodollars.

          Canadians also are attracted by the nightlife and incredibly cheap prices vis-a-vis Canada. They come for weekends, vacations and endless holidays; they even come for their weddings which, due to rock-bottom prices, can cost up to 50% less than home. Mainly however, they come to party because of the absurdly cheap booze. They party so frenetically that in the argot of Whitefish, drunkencanadian is one word.

         Cocktails in Whitefish are one-third the price and twice the size of those north of the border due to Canada’s sky-high alcohol taxes. A scotch costs $2.75 and beer $1.00. During happy hour, our tab once was $32.00 for 27 drinks! Moreover, some watering holes accept Canadian loonies at par which makes cocktails ridiculously cheap. Before leaving Montana, they pack as much food and potables as allowed into their SUVs to beat the oppressively high Canadian prices and value added taxes.

         Not all Canadians come for cheap booze; many come for medical care. There are long waits for procedures in Canada while Montana offers same day service. They are so desperate, they pay out-of-pocket at great sacrifice. I have heard many heart wrenching stories about Canada’s system and most of my Canadian interlocutors passionately forewarn me against Canadian style socialized medicine for the USA.

        The median wait time between referral and treatment in Canada is over 21 weeks, 42 weeks in some provinces and a staggering 4 years in extreme cases. The wait for a CAT scan is 11 weeks and increasing – while Montana has no waiting whatsoever. Over 1 million Canadians (3% of the population) are in line. The long waits are not just inconvenient; they often transform potentially reversible conditions into chronic or permanent disabilities. Free medical care is not much good if you can’t get it.

        While in Montana, I make it a point to ask our northern visitors how satisfied they are with Canadian healthcare. Out of the scores I have thus queried, only two said they were satisfied. The first said he liked the care in Canada but came to Montana whenever the wait times were problematic. The second defended the Canadian system by asserting is was very good at triage, i.e. if you were mired on a long wait list and your conditioned deteriorated, they would move you up on the list.

       So, what can we learn from the Canadian connection? First, Canada has a high cost of living due to confiscatory taxation. The federal income tax rate is 29%; provincial income tax rates are 15%-20%; health care is 6% and a 13% VAT is embedded in all purchases. If you are keeping score, the total is 64% to 68%!

       Second, Canada is a nanny state that doesn’t want its children, err citizens drinking and imposes alcohol taxes that make cocktails 600% more costly than in Montana. That shouldn’t be unexpected from a country whose founding documents tout “peace, order and good government” instead of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

       Finally, we learn much about the disaster that is Canada’s national healthcare. When anything is in great demand, it must be rationed via either time or cost; that’s an immutable economic law. Since healthcare is free, it can’t be rationed via cost; that leaves time. Bingo! How comforting it must be for Canadians to know that if their condition seriously deteriorates, they may be moved above the other 1 million poor, desperate souls waiting in line for treatment that is instantly available in Montana.

The next post is TBD

Whitefish Discovered!

If you can’t be happy here, you can’t be happy anywhere.
Whitefish Discovered!
By: George Noga – July 1, 2018

       This is the first 2018 post in our remarkably popular summer series about life in the Flathead Valley of NW Montana. Unfortunately, our initial posting this year is a jeremiad. I regret to report that Whitefish and its environs have been discovered by the masses, much to the lament of both locals as well as us summer residents.

        My wife and I have a proclivity for finding idiosyncratic destinations long before they are unearthed by the multitudes. In the 1980s we were habitues of Santa Fe, NM while that city different still retained all its cachet. When the hordes descended and Santa Fe became overly commercialized, losing much of its erstwhile charm, we decamped to still-virginal Telluride, CO. Alas, when it too fell victim to the throngs, we stumbled onto Whitefish, MT and instantly were smitten. Now, after 12 summers in Whitefish, gaggles of visitors are again swarming in. It too is now discovered.

         Whitefish, and NW Montana, remains a priceless gem but its setting, especially in summer, is becoming tarnished. Its crown jewel, Glacier National Park (“GNP”), has seen a record crush of visitors flocking to the park. Last year visitors to GNP were up a staggering 30% over 2016 necessitating a first-ever (brief) closure of the park over the July 4th weekend.  Even the usually slow shoulder months of June and September now attract herds. And all this happened despite dreadful forest fires and smoke hazards much of last summer that closed off parts of GNP for weeks at a time.

      Inside GNP, parking at popular Logan Pass now is closed to cars during peak months. Parking at trailheads often is a futile search. Traffic on iconic Going-to-the-Sun road creates monstrous traffic jams. All lodges inside the park are booked a year in advance. I now caution visitors about coming from July 1 through Labor Day.

        Whitefish has not escaped unscathed. With a population of only 6,500, it simply can’t handle even a few thousand more visitors at a time. In recent years, new hotels and RV parks have opened and can accommodate thousands more people. The added traffic has made parking in Whitefish a challenge – despite the recent addition of a new downtown parking garage. Indeed, nearby Kalispell and the Flathead Valley are the fastest growing parts of Montana. Traffic at Glacier Park International Airport is up double digits and surpassed 500,000 last year – a lot for a four-gate airport.

        One of my Montana readers emailed me last year: “George, if you keep this up (meaning all the favorable posts describing Whitefish) too many people will come.” It looks like he was right, although it is not due to my lame blogging efforts. After this post, I may get back into the good graces of my Montana readers, none of whom particularly likes the swarm of visitors. Nevertheless, I must end on a sanguine note.

        As packed as Glacier National Park has become, it still remains infinitely better than Yellowstone, Yosemite and all the rest. And although it is true that summer crowds in Whitefish and Glacier create inconvenience, NW Montana remains truly the last best place in America. Local residents have a saying that I have heard expressed on numerous occasions: “If you can’t be happy here, you can’t be happy anywhere.” After twelve summers in Whitefish, it is a sentiment with which I cannot disagree.

       P.S. After this post was written, the Whitefish City Council formed a committee to consider whether tourism has reached a tipping point whereby further increases in visitors should be discouraged because it erodes the quality of life and what makes Whitefish so special to locals.

Next on July 8th, we feast on a collection of micro and ultra-short topics.

Derby: A Unique Montana Tradition

Derby is special because of the eclectic group of participants. Some players openly smoke dope, while other participants are deputy sheriffs who pretend not to notice.

By: George Noga – July 25, 2016

    During summer I lighten up my blog with anecdotes about my summer home in Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is sited in the Flathead Valley of NW Montana only 50 miles south of Canada and 100 miles east of the upper panhandle of Idaho. I belong to the Whitefish Lake Golf Club that has a half-century tradition called Derby, which is open to anyone; I have been playing Derby for the past seven or eight summers.

    Each Thursday at high noon, anywhere from 15 to 27 golfers are divided into three man scramble teams made as equal as possible by the commissioner, the member in charge of Derby. The commissioner is chosen to maintain the Derby tradition and serves for life. The teams compete with only modest stakes of one dollar per person per hole. This could happen at almost any golf club in the USA, you may be thinking.

    Your thinking would be wrong; Derby is unique. For starters, all 15 to 27 golfers play as one group and manage to play 18 holes in about 4.5 hours – an average time for the course. Usually three people hit simultaneously; it is a miracle no one has been injured. Imagine the scene with 27 golfers and 15 golf carts barrelling down a fairway toward an unsuspecting foursome of visiting Canadians. Note: I spent several summers playing in Derby before I learned  that drunken Canadian was two words.

    What makes Derby special is the eclectic combination of participants. Players range in age from 18 to over 80. Some earn minimum wage; others are multi millionaires. Some are scratch golfers; others are high handicappers. Some lack higher education; others are professionals with doctorate degrees. There are Americans, Canadians and Native Americans. Many are Montanans; others like me hail from throughout the USA.

    Some players openly smoke dope while other participants are deputy sheriffs who pretend not to notice. Other players imbibe liberally from adult beverages in ubiquitous coolers in many golf carts. Some do both. There is a cohort of Mormon participants that conveniently ignores strictures against drinking and gambling. Some players have Derby nicknames too ribald to include herein. The repartee is incessant and priceless.

    Everyone clearly revels in the camaraderie despite what, on the surface, appear to be wide chasms among the various cohorts: young and old, rich and poor, accomplished golfers and duffers, dishwashers and attorneys, dropouts and PhDs, potheads and law enforcement officers and Mormons coexisting with gambling, drugs and alcohol.

    Two factors combine to make Derby an enduring tradition: (1) shared love of golf; and (2) Montana. Derby probably wouldn’t work outside Montana as there clearly is something very special in the air up here. If you golf and visit NW Montana, consider playing in Derby; you will understand why there is nothing quite like it anywhere.

    But if you should visit the Treasure State, please don’t stay too long; Montanans are fond of their bumper stickers reading: Welcome to Montana – Now Go Home. Recently, the population of Montana surpassed one million for the first time and the news was greeted universally throughout the state with great sorrow, gloom and melancholy.

The next MLLG post from Montana will be distributed in about a week.

The Infantilization of America

It is illegal to blow up a balloon before age 14 in certain blue states; meanwhile in Montana, kids 8 years old routinely ride bulls in rodeos; if  these kids were to move from Montana to Illinois, they must wait 6 more years to legally inflate a balloon.

By: George Noga – July14, 2016

     A nanny state is being imposed by progressives who believe they know better what is good for us; they began by infantilizing children but are bent on infantilizing all Americans. Age 16 has become the new age 10. Following is a small sample of nanny state regulations promulgated by the federal government and by certain blue states.

  • Amtrak will not accept unaccompanied minors under 13. Ages 13-15 can travel alone only by complying with rigorous preconditions. In effect, no one under 16 can travel alone. In Japan, 8 year olds frequently travel unaccompanied.
  • Children under 14 cannot be left at home without babysitters or legally blow up a balloon in some blue states.
  • OSHA bans see-saws, monkey bars and merry-go-rounds in playgrounds; all tree limbs lower than 8 feet above ground must be sawed off to prevent climbing.
  • Children are not allowed to walk to school in some places. One mother was charged with neglect when her children walked after missing the bus. Another mom was arrested for allowing her 9 year old to walk 1/4 mile to a McDonald’s.

   These strictures do not constitute mere advice or suggestions on the part of government nor are they attempts to reason or to persuade. They bear the full force of law. Miscreants and scofflaws are subject to the government’s monopoly on the legalized use of force. SWAT teams can and do take children from parents and subject them to the full panoply of horrors common to state agencies.

   Amidst all this infantilizing, it is comforting to know parts of the real America still exist. One such place is our summer home of Montana. During summers there is a weekly rodeo near the small town where we stay and a regular event is youth bull riding. Kids as young as 8 ride bulls; to be sure, the bulls are young with their horns cut back and the kids wear helmets. Still, the 500 pound bulls are undomesticated.

     At the same rodeo it is common to see teenagers with serious hunting knives (think: Crocodile Dundee) strapped openly to their waists. Imagine the same sight at a blue state junior high school football game. Within an instant panic would set in; heavily armed SWAT teams would fast rope in; and the stadium would be evacuated.

     In Montana a youth can get a hunting license at age 11 – and the first one is free. Youth deer hunting season is the Thursday and Friday preceding the opening of regular hunting season in October. So many youths go hunting that all schools in Montana have been forced to close during the two days of youth hunting season.

    Infantilization of children is child abuse. Emotional development of victims is hobbled; they are at increased risk of self harm; and they have academic problems and poor social skills. They are averse to responsibility and often fail as adults. Children are but the first victims; it is the aim of progressives to infantilize all Americans and to turn America into a nanny state with government as the nanny and all of us as children. As with all liberal doctrines promising benefits, the end result always is grave harm.

      I’m not sure I would want my eight year old to ride a bull or my eleven year old to go deer hunting. I am absolutely certain however that I prefer to live in a place like Montana that leaves such decisions up to parents rather than to the state.

The next post in about 10 days describes a zany Montana golf tradition – Derby!

More Montana Moments

By: George Noga – September 24, 2013
        I didn’t see it coming. My lighthearted September 10 posting, Montana Moments, drew an exceptional number of favorable comments from readers – enough to elicit a sequel. I love northwest Montana and probably would move there if I were younger. Make no mistake, however; things there are different. Just how different are they?
        Recently in Florida I saw a small boy riding a tricycle in his yard with his parents hovering nearby. Even though his head couldn’t have been more than a few feet off the ground and it is hard to fall from a tricycle, he was wearing a helmet. This is not something you would see in Montana where young boys wearing helmets often means they are riding 500 pound bulls.
“In Montana eight (8) year old boys ride 500 pound bulls.”
      Every Thursday during the summer there is a rodeo behind the Blue Moon roadhouse in  Columbia Falls, Montana. In a typical week, up to ten boys as young as eight (8) compete in bull riding. I once was seated next to a woman who volunteered she was nervous because her son, who just turned 8, was riding a bull for the first time. There are precautions: the bulls are younger, the tips of their horns are cut back and the boys wear helmets. Nevertheless, ample danger remains from a contest pitting a 50 pound boy against a cantankerous 500 pound bull.
       Nor is it uncommon at these rodeos to see young kids with Crocodile Dundee type hunting knives sheathed and strapped to their belts and freely mingling with the 1,000 to 2,000 folks normally in attendance. Imagine for a moment the utter consternation that would ensue if a few kids turned up at a Florida junior high school football game wearing similar knives.
“Toy guns are not necessary in Montana; kids get real guns.”
      Let’s progress from knives to guns. Throughout much of the USA (especially in blue states) it is impossible to find a toy gun in a store. In Montana toy guns are not necessary as kids age 6  and even younger get real guns, and just not BB guns or pellet guns. This is not vastly different than the norms when I was growing up. All of us boys had BB guns by age 6, pellet guns by age 10 and .22 rifles by age 13. In the Orlando of the 1950s and 1960s no one considered it threatening to see 12-14 year old boys walking around residential subdivisions with .22 rifles.
       An 11 year old can  obtain a Montana hunting license and a youth’s first hunting license is free. Montana has special hunting seasons set aside strictly for youth ages 11-15. Youth deer hunting season is coming up October 17-18. In past years the two days of youth deer hunting season (always the Thursday and Friday before the regular deer season opens on Saturday) were so popular that few students attended school. Recently the state of Montana recognized this and now there is no school held during youth deer hunting season. For comparison, I checked on youth hunting in Florida. Generally and with only a few exceptions youth starts at age 16.
        Ultimately it comes to this. Would you like to live and raise a family where people are comfortable with 6 year olds having guns, 8 year olds riding bulls, kids wearing hunting knives at public events and 11 year olds hunting elk? Or, would you rather live where parents force tykes to wear helmets while riding tricycles in their yard? I may not have chosen for my son to ride a bull at age 8 but I would like to live where parents are free to make those choices.

Montana Moments: Vignettes From the Treasure State

By: George Noga – September 10, 2013
       We just returned from our eighth summer in Whitefish, Montana (population 6,400) and I wanted to share some of my favorite Montana moments. Life in Montana is  quite different (in both a positive and refreshing way) from that to which we have become accustomed in Central Florida. In many ways it is reminiscent of life in America as I remember it growing up in the 1950s. However, the first thing that impresses you about Montana – other than the ubiquitous Ron Paul signs – is its size.
       A friend who knows we summer in Whitefish told me he bought a ranch east of Billings whereupon I promply interjected that we would have to get together over the summer. He retorted that it would be a 500 mile drive. Driving Montana east to west is over 700 miles and takes 12+ hours. I made the mistake visiting Europeans often make; they are used to a European scale. If they are in Glacier National Park (near Whitefish) they look at a map and conclude they can drive to Chicago the next day – actually it is 1,600 miles and over 24 hours of driving.
       During our first summer in Whitefish we were unable to find national newspapers like The Wall Street Journal or USA Today. One day we drove by a large general store and I asked my wife to run in to see if they carried any of the aforementioned papers. She asked the perky 16 year old young lady who waited on her if the store had USA Today. The teenage girl pondered the question for a few moments and replied: “We don’t consider ourselves part of the USA.”
“There is no crying in Montana.”
      Nearby Kalispell, a larger town of 20,000 souls, has its quota of big box stores – the kind that has alarms that go off should customers leave without having the anti-shoplifting tags removed. The alarms go off frequently and the explanation is nearly always the same. The customers are packing heat and simply forgot to leave their guns in the car.
       Once I was about to begin a round of golf with a group of my golf buddies (all from Montana) when the starter unexpectedly permitted a group of women to go ahead of us even though they did not have a tee time. When questioned about this by one of our group, the starter replied that one of the women had cried and he felt sorry for her. One of my Montana friends promptly asserted: “There is no crying in golf“. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the other two Montanans exclaimed in unision: “There is no crying in Montana“!
“Welcome to Montana – Now go home.”
     Perhaps our favorite Montana moment is the local police blotter which is published faithfully and in its entirety by the local paper. Following is a selection of entries from just one week.
  • A man reported his rabbit ran away and has yet to return.
  • A lethargic alpaca was reported to be without food; the animal warden found him healthy.
  • A man was seen yelling and waving a shovel as he rode his bicycle.
  • Someone reported a suspicious person in a store; it turned out to be an employee.
  • A man claimed his brother stole his gun; he later found it under his blanket.
  • An angry man claimed that when he attempted to grab a dollar bill from the ground, it was jerked away by a boy who had attached it to his fishing pole.
       Perhaps you now can better understand the many charms of Montana and why most locals fervently seek to discourage others from moving here. They want to put up signs at all the state borders that read: Welcome to Montana – Now go home.