Article by Brad Reynolds, Photography by Sean R. Heavey
Glasgow, Montana is in the middle of nowhere. That isn’t hyperbole; it’s fact. Of all the communities in the continental U.S., Glasgow is the farthest from a metropolitan area.
Now, if you’re a critical thinker, your response to this may be, “How was that determined?” or “Why was that determined?” or “Who in God’s name allocated the time and funding to determine that?”
In short, it wouldn’t have been possible without Oxford. The university’s Big Data Institute developed a world-spanning map to study the relationships between geography, demographics, and disease. Dubbed the “Malaria Atlas Project,” the program took several years to design (with 22 authors credited), enabling researchers to better understand the effects of isolation on health, education, and environmental protection. The technology is revolutionary—a means to improve our response to far-flung, poverty-stricken communities worldwide.
Also, it’s swell for geography trivia.
Using the tools developed for the Malaria Atlas Project, Washington Post journalist Andrew Van Dam and the newspaper’s chief cartographer, Laris Karklis, set out to identify our country’s most isolated community (with at least 1,000 residents). They found that Glasgow is farthest from a metropolitan area—in this case, Billings, which is approximately 4.5 hours away—and that Scobey and Wolf Point, respectively, are the second and third most isolated communities in the contiguous U.S. (Had they broadened the search to include populations under 1,000, one can only imagine how many hits the Treasure State would get.)
The distinction may be a trivial one, but Glasgow’s citizens are running with it. They can now quip that they live in the middle of nowhere—and they can back it up with science! More importantly, it underscores the town’s mystique. You can’t survive in the middle of nowhere without a well-established infrastructure and some charming culture to boot. It may be small, and it may be secluded, but when it comes to personality, Glasgow’s got it in spades.
Where in the World?
From the start, Glasgow has had its share of quirks. In 1887, railroad magnate James J. Hill spun a globe. A local railroader placed his finger on the whirling orb, and it stopped on Glasgow, Scotland.
Thus, the town was named.
To this day, Glasgow has some unconventional flair, evidenced by the town’s welcoming committee. Drive in from the west along Highway 2 and you’ll be greeted by a menagerie of metal creatures—a steel plate eagle, an army ant carrying a rifle and sabre, an assortment of dinosaurs, and other gigantic critters. More than a dozen in total, Glasgow’s hillside sculptures were designed by local Buck Samuelson, who began the project in 1993 and spent hundreds of hours shaping each piece of metal with hand tools, welding them together later.
Although this western hillside maintains the highest concentration of Samuelson’s creations, a lone dino welcomes visitors at the town’s eastern entrance as well. Behind it lies another spectacle—a small airplane “crashed” through the side of the old Hangar Bar.
It’s doubtful these oddities are the reason that visitors visit, but regardless, they amplify the town’s allure. Keep your eyes peeled as you travel up and down Glasgow’s charming streets. Enchantment hides all around you.
The Nuts & Bolts
Glasgow is home to only a few thousand residents, but boasts all the mainstays of a larger city. There’s Reynolds Market, the town’s Montana-based grocery store. There’s Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital with its impressive list of patient services. The Rundle Suites and Cottonwood Inn are both local hotels. The community even has its own fast food restaurant—Flip Burgers & Treats.
Although Glasgow has enough residents to support national chains, it’s local business that makes the community what it is. Shoppers will find sporting goods, clothing, furniture, tools, appliances, décor, and gifts at local retailers. Patrons of Glasgow’s bars and restaurants keep the economy strong. Places like the Busted Knuckle (brewery), the Loaded Toad (coffee shop), and Sean R. Heavey’s photography gallery act as cultural centers.
On the off chance you can’t find what you need locally, hop on a plane at Cape Air; flights travel to and from Billings twice daily, starting as low as $29. You can board in the morning, land in the “big city” about an hour later, and be back in time for dinner and drinks at a Glasgow institution.
Claims to Fame
The Washington Post may have placed Glasgow on the map nationally, but this isn’t the first time the town has earned notoriety for being “number one.”
When Montanans were asked to vote for the best pizza in the state in 2015, it would have seemed that small town pizzerias were at a disadvantage. But six rounds and more than 10,000 votes later, the Montana Mint declared Eugene’s Pizza of Glasgow the winner. Known for its fresh toppings, brick oven, and staff that toss dough twelve feet high (in view of guests), Eugene’s has admirers far and wide, and has even served a few celebrities—most notably, actor James Woods.
The same year Eugene’s won “best pizza in Montana,” Glasgow made it on Wired to Hunt’s Top 10 of best deer hunting towns in America. Excellent deer hunting was (obviously) the main criteria for the list, but nearness to good food, culture, and supplies were factors as well. The Top 10’s author makes his case for Glasgow, calling it “one of the best Western whitetail areas around” and “a hard place to beat” for quality deer hunting and beautiful scenery.
Finally, Glasgow’s Montana Bar is notorious, its wealth of character transcending any need for fancy-pants honors. Established in 1899, this historic Western tavern is one of the oldest bars in the state, with enough memorabilia that it could charge admission.
So yeah, Glasgow may be a town that’s out of the way, but it’s also a town that’s worth the trip out. Spend some time here and you’ll find there’s plenty to do and see. There’s magic at the corner of Middle and Nowhere.