By J.B. Chandler

Montana is just too big for a map. From the foldable type in my vehicle’s glove compartment to the 150-page map in my backpack, both are too small, too little detail. A map of Montana does not do our great state justice. To truly get around and explore Montana, many tourists have, for many years now, turned to travel magazines.

Ever since those intercontinental railroads were built across the Rocky Mountains, Montana’s tourism has been a calling card. The Pacific Northern, with access to Yellowstone National Park, created posters showing off those geysers. Not to be outdone, the Great Northern Railway built chalets within Glacier National Park to showcase its Alpine glory. The important aspect of these posters was not to tell people about Montana, but to show them. These posters set the standard—the beautiful views sold people on visiting Montana.

In 1951, the Montana historical society started their quarterly Montana: the Magazine of Western History. Touching on the history and people of the Treasure State, this magazine is a great reference, but probably wasn’t used by tourists as a resource. Though, it did get tourists to consider new places to visit, which is huge! After all, the biggest issue with Montana’s modern-day tourists is that many visit Glacier and Yellowstone and forget about the other 140,000 square miles!

Hotel bed taxes began to get levied in the 1980s, to the benefit of the Montana tourism board. This resulted in a regionalization of our tourism boards. Eastern and central Montana finally got their say—and their own travel magazines. Focus shifted toward the Upper Missouri River Breaks and the Sweetgrass Hills instead of wholly centered on our flagship national parks. These travel magazines showcased Montana’s lesser-known—but equally beautiful—areas.

So why are magazines critical to Montana tourism? People have to see the pictures to spark their interest. Describing Muddy Creek Falls in 1,000 words is much harder than just posting a picture of the narrow falls. Perhaps this is why many Montana travel magazines have moved partly or entirely online. Sharing photos on social media can make Montana go viral! Central Montana Tourism, for instance, posts pictures on Facebook to spur interest, and then if somebody clicks and checks out the website, there is information on hotels, restaurants, and places of interest to travelers. But without that initial photo of White Buffalo Falls in the Bear Paws, they wouldn’t have clicked!

The transition from books to posters to magazines to e-zines was simple. Seeing a map or reading a paragraph about our destinations just doesn’t do them justice. Let’s be honest; y’all want a preview of these places before you make the drive. A picture helps you picture yourself there.

The spotty internet service in those yonder hills makes the physical magazine an enduring resource in Montana tourism. With our wonderful sights and great local businesses to serve travelers, it’s not a tough sell getting people to come to the Treasure State. One picture is all it takes!