Winter travel in yellowstone country

New article: 7 incredible winter experiences in Montana’s Yellowstone Country

My latest article out from Matador Network: 7 incredible experiences in Montana’s Yellowstone Country.

There are so many winter experiences you can have in Yellowstone country, it was hard to narrow it down to just seven. I had a great time writing about the places I enjoy in this area. And researching this piece reminded me how many places I still have to hit.

I’m getting the feeling that this winter is going to be epic. Enjoy!

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molt, montana, dirt road, rural

Lonely Montana Backroad

This road leading from the tiny town of Molt to the even tinier town of Rapelje offers views of five of Montana’s most spectacular mountain ranges. In addition to the Crazy Mountains, shown here, one can see the Pryor, Beartooth, Snowy, and Little Belt Ranges.

rural montana road, mountains, eastern montana

The wide open country of eastern Montana reveals miles of rolling, grassy hills, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.

This road is just one of hundreds of Montana backroads. At first glance, these dirt roads look incredibly boring. Long, straight stretches between dilapidated towns with nothing but dirt for miles. As you begin to notice the details, however, you can start to piece together what life is like way out in the frontier. You may see a pickup truck spreading a giant bale of hay out for a hundred or so cattle. You’ll almost certainly see a weathered barn falling apart. And if you pull your car over to the side of the road to get some pictures, you’re likely to see a rancher pull up just to make sure you’re ok.

montana fence, ranch,

Every turn on an eastern Montana dirt road offers surprises to the traveler. Sometimes, the reveal is a forty-mile vista across prairie to the slopes of mountains. Sometimes it’s just the little details like the grain of a weathered fence post.

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me why there are boots on those fence posts (a common sight in Eastern Montana ranch country).

beartooth pass, highway 212, red lodge, montana, landscape

Clouds Settling on Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Mountains have always been inspiring, whether as a call to adventure, or the spark to create. This trip was both.

bear tooth pass, highway 212, red lodge montana

From the top of the pass, the fog I had been driving through morphed into clouds in the valley. The clouds moved in and out of the valley like ocean waves, covering the tower below and then exposing it again.

beartooth pass, highway 212, red lodge, montana, landscape, travel

The clouds gave the landscape a feeling of constant motion. Each moment, the scene would change revealing some new surprise.

 

Finding Inspiration on the Road to (and from) the Wild and Scenic Film Fest

I TRY TO SPEND as much time on the road as possible, whether it’s going across the state to see family, or crossing state lines on an epic trek. There are a lot of reasons I’m attracted to long-distance travel. One of the best is that no matter what I might be worrying about, there’s nothing I can do about it while driving. This allows me to let go of a lot of stresses that I carry with me. It’s the letting go of the everyday that allows stories to come to me.

I’ve been toying with the idea of posting ideas that hit me on the road on my twitter feed with some kind of an #dailyidea hashtag. That didn’t happen when I went to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival last week, but I did want to share some of the places that served as inspiration while I was off gallivanting.

1. Nevada

On the road through Nevada. This is the first time I've been on this road. Who knew Nevada was so beautiful?

On the road through Nevada. This is the first time I’ve been on this road. Who knew Nevada was so beautiful?

I’d never been on this highway before. Long and wide-open, Nevada has a sense of the Old West that competes with Montana’s. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was held in Elko a few days after I passed through. I’m already working on a screenplay set in the old west (kind of a departure for me), but I found myself thinking about famous cowboys and outlaws while driving through this wild landscape. As the dry landscape rolled by, my brain began constructing a bio-pic about Doc Holiday, the sickly dentist who fought along-side the Earp brothers at the OK Corral.

2. South Yuba River, Nevada City, California

I did get out to explore the South Yuba River on a trail that reminds me of an enchanted fantasy tale.

I did get out to explore the South Yuba River on a trail that reminds me of an enchanted fantasy tale.

I’m not sure who could walk this trail along the South Yuba River, and not be transported to another world. Soft ground beneath the feet muffle footfalls into silence. Trees seem to bend in overhead making a magical corridor. Then the trees part to reveal an almost other-worldly green river. This “enchanted” place inspired the film festival that I’m here to be a part of. Almost any magical story could be set here.

And, yes, the South Yuba River really does really look like this.

And, yes, the South Yuba River really does really look like this.

3. Ocean Park Motel, San Francisco, California

San Francisco's first Motel. Imagine what kind of stories could come out of this place.

San Francisco’s first Motel. Imagine what kind of stories could come out of this place.

I hadn’t intended on continuing all the way to the coast when I started out on this trip, but that’s the great thing about travel: Sometimes you just end up places. And this Motel (San Francisco’s 1st) is a destination all its own. Ocean Park opened in 1937, and has been no stranger to drama over the years. According to the newspaper article reprinted by the motel, “In its early years the Ocean Park attracted the ‘hot sheets’ trade…” aka “trysting lovers”. I’m sure that each room could tell true stories that would make any plot I came up with seem bland. But that didn’t stop me from imagining a noir detective uncovering an insidious plot hatched in room #7 (or, perhaps, being uncovered by a gorgeous femme fatale.)

Welcome back, after all these years

Anyone following this blog will know that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. About three years. A lot of changes have occurred in my creative life since then. By far, the biggest change, and the one that will be my focus here, has been my entry into the film industry.

It’s been a pretty natural transition throughout my different creative lives, from fiction, to travel writing, to travel video, and now back to fiction through screenplays.

Photo by: When I was a Bird via Flickr

Photo by: When I was a Bird via Flickr

Movies have always been important to me, and have served as inspiration for my writing. Back when I was writing fiction, I was constantly told that my stories read like movies, and that I should write screenplays. I always refused. What I loved about writing fiction (esp. science fiction at the time) was the world-building. I thought of screenplays as stripped-down shells for the directors to put their visions inside.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It wasn’t until I read my first screenplay, a quirky love story called One Night in Seattle, that I realized the error of my nay-saying. The world in a screenplay is just as full, it’s just far more concise. (If that’s not a skill, I don’t know what is.)

With that little slice of backstory out of the way, this post is just to say that I’m back. This site is where I’m going to talk about my adventures as a screenwriter and filmmaker. I’m still in Billings, Montana, which is a long way from LA in every way imaginable. My focus will be on building a filmmaking community wherever you are, rather than chasing your dream to Hollywood or NYC. Also, I want to show that stories can be found anywhere. Not only do you not need to be in LA to be a screenwriter, but your stories are going to be more authentic and engaging if the places and people you’re writing about are right outside your window.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. I’m just getting started in this business. So, I’ll probably end up talking about my own attempts to “break in”. I’m sure that there will be successes and failures. Hopefully, those successes and failures will be entertaining and inspiring to people who hope, against all odds, to get their stories up on the big (or many small) screen(s).

kyle dempster badass adventurer

7 Things I Learned from the Best Travel Film Ever Made [Matador Network]

7 things I learned from the best travel film ever made

WHEN I FIRST SAW “The Road from Karakol” at 5Point Film Festival, my brain had already been numbed by dozens of killer films about people radder than I could ever dream of being. A film about a superstar mountaineer who rides his bike through Kyrgyzstan to make first ascents? Sure, I’ll sit through that. I expected to see a remix of the usual, highly produced “I went there, and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but I did” movie that we’ve all seen so many times before. Visually stunning, but predictable.

What happened onscreen, however, was a shaky, handheld mess of footage, bad audio, and an opening scene of Kyle standing in front of the camera naked. From there, what unraveled in front of my eyes was a story that was deeper, more real, and more alive than anything I’d ever seen. [read more and see the film here]

*Update: Kyle Dempster passed away in a climbing accident in 2017. He was a nice guy and a true adventurer. I only met him once, but he welcomed me into his circle easily, as someone who grants friendship easily. I miss him, along with the rest of the adventure community.

camping under whitetail peak, bear tooth mountains, montana

9 Montana Backpacking Trips that Will Blow Your Mind [Matador Network]

I had a great time writing this article. Putting the words down was like reliving some of my favorite adventures all over again.

9 Montana Backpacking Trips that Will Blow Your Mind 

THERE’S SOMETHING about waking up deep in the backcountry, having carried all of your gear in to camp near a quiet lake or alpine cirque with panoramic views of the surrounding peaks.

You can find dozens of places like this in the Big Sky State. These are nine of my favorites, the ones I consider the “ultra-classic” Montana experiences.

Montana has incredibly varied terrain, so I’ve included different regions as well as different levels of difficulty and distance. [Read more here]