Every time I’ve been in Montana I’ve had an incredible wildlife encounter. 

I could tell you hundreds of stories from the Montana version of a traffic jam – a cougar on the road – near the Gallatin River from a River Runs Through It to stopping to admire three big horn sheep licking salt off the street, a mere arms distance away from the car that just so happened to be the same size as the car. But probably my most memorable animal encounter in Montana involved antlers and an intense faceoff.

While driving through Yellowstone, we stumbled upon a herd of elk in a meadow on the side of the road, nonchalantly drinking out of a stream. As with any herd, there’s one designated point person, the “guard dog” if you will, tasked with being the lookout for potential predators, ready to spring into action to alert the tribe at the first sign of impending danger. On this day, though, that watchman happened to be the calf that had somehow found a towel in the woods and was having an absolute blast entertaining himself. Tossing it around and catching it, he was paying no attention to anything else going on around him.

Suddenly, out of the clearing appeared a moose, slowly but deliberately lumbering toward the tribe. What ensued was a fateful standoff between the baby elk literally caught in the headlights and the rumbling giant, either refusing to cower. With a stare down that seemed to go on forever, you could see the herd take off in every which direction, delicately scampering like light bouncing off the trees. And just like that, they were gone. It was a true National Geographic moment.

How you can do it: Literally just be there. You won’t necessarily see the same animals everywhere or on every trip, but keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see something interesting. Its nature at it’s finest and most raw, a reminder of how the world used to be and how it should be – pre-development, pre- urban sprawl. Montana’s an interesting paradox of comforting small town feel yet vastness makes you feel so insignificant, expansive lands that seem to go on forever. It’s the ultimate spot to disconnect and simply appreciate your surroundings, regardless of who inhabits them with you.