NatGeo: Hi-Line

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

The Montana Hi-Line: so very cool…there is something almost mythical about it. I haven’t traveled the length of it yet, but my few trips up there have been awesome (yay Chester!).

The folks at National Geographic emailed me the other day and asked if I would help spread the word about a Hi-Line feature coming up in their January issue – can do! Here are some of the photos used in the article; all photos are from William Albert Allard of National Geographic; click here for some more pictures at the NatGeo website.

Click the pix for larger views:

“A demolition derby in Shelby, Montana, plays out against a backdrop of grain elevators. Up here, agriculture is what turns the wheels of social and economic life.”

“Two sorrels belonging to Buster and Helen Brown have gone AWOL in the snow.”

“Five generations of Gundersons have lived on the place that Anna Gunderson homesteaded in 1910. Her descendants come and go; the land remains.”

Montana Hi-Line

Here’s an excerpt of the article:

Settlers arrived late to northern Montana, after the more easily farmable places had already been claimed. They followed the railroad, which Jim Hill’s crews had completed in 1893. That rail line, in turn, had traced an old wagon trail across Indian lands. Congress updated the original Homestead Act in 1909, 1912, and 1916, shortening the residence requirement to three years and raising the allotted acreage to 320, or 640 for a cattle operation. Those changes, plus advertising hype from the railroad and misleading encouragement from the crackpot mavens of something called dry farming, brought plenty of aspirants into the region, though time would show that the acreages were still far too small. Between 1909 and 1923, settlers filed 114,620 homestead claims in Montana, many of those within a day’s wagon ride of the Great Northern line, which crossed the state at about 48 degrees north latitude. Population and service businesses, if not rain, followed the plow.

And so towns grew along that line, some named for faraway places and things: Glasgow, Malta, Harlem, Havre, Inverness, Dunkirk, Kremlin. Some were named for people, such as Culbertson (a fur trader) and Shelby (a minion of Jim Hill). A few were more locally evocative: Cut Bank, Chinook, Poplar, Wolf Point. Eventually pavement as well as rails linked those communities, forming a portion of U.S. Highway 2, America’s northernmost cross-country ribbon of blacktop. Within Montana, this stretch of road and railway and towns and surrounding landscape became known as the Hi-Line.

It’s a part of the state that never appears in the Marlboro ads or the ski brochures. Its beauties are severe and subtle and horizontal, rather than soaring and picturesque. It’s not for everybody. But the Hi-Line contains scenes, lives, and voices with dramatic force all their own. One of those voices belongs to Lloyd Kanning, a sturdy 76-year-old with a full head of white hair and pale blue eyes, who has been driving a tractor since the age of ten. “Farming,” Kanning told me, as we sat in his living room in Shelby, “is like fighting a war.”

The article and photos will be in the January 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine, which will be available on newsstands December 27.



  1. I believe that Helen Brown is my twin! My sister saw this magazine, and called me, and said “You have a twin!” Anyway that you could find Helen’s email address (or mailing address) for me?
    We look soooo similiar, and ironically her picture was in the “Twins” issue!

%d bloggers like this: