The Basics

Montana Roads

Gravel roads are the rule rather than the exception in this part of the state.

While most of the paved roads are well maintained, they are often narrow and have little or no shoulder. While you may want to slow down on gravel roads, don't expect the locals to do so. The vast distances between towns necessitate speed for those who live here. Remember, until a couple of years ago, Montana didn't even have a posted speed limit. While speed limits are now in effect, it hasn't changed the driving habits of people here much at all.

Be prepared at any time to slow down for riders on horseback. Most horses are accustomed to cars but can spook if you drive too near. Much of Montana is open range. Cattle may be grazing on the road. A head-on with a steer can be just as deadly as a head-on with another automobile.

And speaking of cattle, don't be surprised if you come upon a cattle drive. If you do, follow the instructions of the drovers. They will make every effort to clear a path to allow you through. Usually the cattle just part ways and make a path, but don't go on unless you're given instructions to. Rural unpaved roads have cattle guards at frequent intervals. Good idea to slow down for these. Most often they're not level with the road and can wreak havoc on the suspension, possibly even disabling the car.

Beware of black ice! This is a virtually invisible layer of ice that forms on road surfaces after a fog. Be particularly careful of stretches of road that parallel rivers and creeks. The early morning fog rising from them can settle on the road freezing instantly. If you feel yourself sliding, tap your brakes gently. If you slam on the brakes, its all but over. Gently steer into the direction of your skid (if your backend is going right steer right.

Gumbo

We gave this subject its own headline. It is very important that you read it and heed it.

While Montana isn't the only state that has gumbo, it certainly seems to have cornered the market. If you become a resident, it is one of the first things you develop a respect (a healthy respect) for. Grizzlies and rattlesnakes might be the hazards you're warned of, but gumbo is the one that will get you.

Youll find it mostly in the eastern half of the state. It lies in wait on what in dry weather appears to be an ordinary rock hard dirt road. Your first clue is the occasional sign that reads Road Impassable When Wet. This is a clear understatement. When these roads become even mildly wet, they turn into a monster that swallows all sizes of vehicles and yes, even 4-wheel drive SUVs. Think you'll get a tow? Forget it. No tow truck operator with a higher IQ than dirt will venture onto it until it dries. If you walk on it, you will grow six inches taller and gain 25 pounds all on the bottom of your shoes. Of course, this is if it doesn't swallow you whole first like an unsuspecting native in a Tarzan movie who steps into quicksand.

Bottom line, heed the signs. If it looks like rain, head for the nearest paved road. When it comes to swallowing things whole, the Bermuda Triangle is an amateur compared to Montana Gumbo.

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