June 7, 2017

Dispatches from Field Camp – the Montana Sky

Posted by Lauren Lipuma

By Brian Balta

One of the things you can’t help but notice once you come to Montana is the sky. According to my daily topo maps, most of my time is spent in-between contours 5600 and 5800, so literally 1 mile (1.8 kilometers) above sea level. I haven’t traveled enough myself to know if you get the same effect around the world, but once you come to a field camp here the phrase “big sky country,” one of the official nicknames for Montana, definitely fits. Heck, there’s even a 1.8 billion year old orogeny named the “Big Sky Orogeny.” It seems like the landscape just reaches up into the sky in a way I’m not even sure if photography can capture the experience, but here’s an attempt.

Credit: Brian Balta.

This is one of our first days out here. It seems like you can almost reach up and touch the clouds.

Credit: Brian Balta.

These are the Tobacco Root Mountains (in the distance to the left) and the Ruby Mountains (just to the right of center) with clouds filling the sky surrounding them. The Tobacco Roots rise up to several dozen peaks over 10,000 feet above sea level. When it rains up here, you can see it coming in such a fascinating way. The water just seems to drop down from the sky as single tendrils. You can watch the storms migrate from range to range, and often hope they don’t come after you.

Brian Balta is a a visiting professor of petrology at Texas A&M University. Follow his twitter feed at https://twitter.com/theearthstory for more content.