Getting Oriented

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Getting Oriented

Paradoxically, the first- and third-largest cities in Montana are in the state's highly rural eastern region. The largest city in a 500-mi radius, Billings is a center for culture, shopping, entertainment, and medical care. Great Falls, straddling the Missouri River near a handful of thundering waterfalls, is one of Montana's greatest historical centers, with dozens of museums and interpretive centers that trace the state's varied cultural influences. Scattered in between these two cities are more than 100 small communities, some with no more than two dozen inhabitants living in the shadow of towering clapboard grain elevators. Although diminutive, sleepy, and dependent on the larger cities, each of these towns has its own distinct Western character, adding to the larger flavor of the region.

Major roads are few and far between. I-94 sweeps westward from North Dakota to Billings, where it joins I-90, which comes up from Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains and snakes west through the Rockies into Idaho. The only other interstate is I-15, which threads north out of Idaho and onto the plains outside Helena before looping around Great Falls and heading to Canada. In the vast stretches of prairie out of reach of the interstates, the key thoroughfares are U.S. 2, also known as the Hi-Line, running east-west across the top of the state; U.S. 212, running southeast out of Billings into South Dakota; and U.S. 87, running north out of Billings.

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