15 Things You Might Not Know About Montana

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1. The Freezeout Lake wildlife management area—40 miles west of Great Falls—was established to encourage a habitat for waterfowl production. During migration in early March, spectators can watch up to 300,000 snow geese and 10,000 tundra swan gather before beginning their long trip north. 

2. In the 19th century, gold prospecting in Montana made the state's residents incredibly wealthy. In 1864, four prospectors discovered Last Chance Gulch (currently, Montana capital Helena's downtown). Miners flocked to the area over the next 20 years to look for gold—and the equivalent of as much as $3.5 billion was discovered. By 1888, Helena was home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world.

3. Geysers and grizzly bears and bison, oh my! Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park, which extends from the southern part of Montana into northern Wyoming, was the first national park in the United States. Before the National Park Service was in place, the U.S. Army protected the area until 1918. As such, the army outpost of Fort Yellowstone was established at Mammoth Hot Springs.

4. Speaking of Yellowstone, it existed a full 20 years before Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming were officially granted statehood.

5. Even though the word Montana is derived from the Spanish word for mountain, it has the lowest elevation among the Rocky Mountain states. Its average elevation is only 3,400 feet.

6. The state's mountain crest lines and valleys were carved by glaciers during the last ice age, around 11,500 years ago. The terrain was originally rounded, whereas now it's rugged and concave.

7. The greatest temperature drop in the United States occurred in Browning, Montana, in January 1916. Within a day, a crisp 44 degrees plummeted to a staggering, deadly -56 degrees. And yeah, that’s Fahrenheit.

8. And extreme temperature changes go both ways—the biggest recorded temperature increase in a 24-hour period also occurred in Montana. On January 15, 1972, the temperature in Loma increased by 103 degrees, going from -54 to 49 degrees. Toasty! [PDF]

9. The duck-billed dinosaur, also known as Maiasaura peeblesorum, became Montana’s state fossil in 1985. 

10. Legendary paleontologist Jack Horner made a trip to Montana in 1978 after the duck-billed dinosaur fossils were discovered. The following year, 3/4 of a mile from where the original duck-billed dinosaurs were discovered, one of his volunteers found the first dinosaur eggs at Egg Mountain. The fossilized remnants of babies in nests was the first real evidence that dinosaurs—most likely the mothers—cared for their offspring.

11. Jeannette Rankin of Missoula, Montana, was the first woman to serve in the United States Congress. In 1916, she was instrumental in passing the 19th Amendment, giving women throughout the country the right to vote.

12. During a snowstorm in Fort Keogh, Montana, in 1887, a ranch owner named Matt Coleman found the largest snowflake ever documented. It was 15 inches wide and 8 inches thick. He described the snowflake as being “larger than milk pans.” Pictures, or it didn’t happen!

13. Most of Montana was acquired through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. But the first attempt at a real settlement happened in 1841, when missionaries built St. Mary’s Mission. However, the distinction of Montana's oldest populated town goes to Fort Benton along the Missouri River, which was settled by the American Fur Company in 1846.

14. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition discovered Giant Springs, one of the largest freshwater springs in the United States. In fact, it’s so big that 156 million gallons of water flow through the springs each day. Despite its colossal size, this area is also where you can find Roe River, which was once considered the shortest river in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.

15. There’s a lot of open space in Montana. So much so that 46 of Montana’s 56 counties are known as frontier counties. That means they have an average population of six people or fewer per square mile.