Thursday, June 25, 2009

The WPA guide ...

There are a zillion Montana guidebooks on the market these days, the vast majority of them very hard to recommend. I've mentioned before that I don't feel that way about the old WPA guide to Montana ... despite the fact that the data is more than 70 years old, I still think it's the best state guidebook out there. It's a volume filled with great anecdotes and really wonderful descriptions -- and not just of the main tourist sites, but of the usually-overlooked places, as well.

Here's a representative paragraph from the tour section of the book, this one describing a stretch of old US 10 west of Hysham. The road is still out there, but it was long since bypassed by an I-94 routing several miles away. The landowner has fenced the area off, so now there's no one to appreciate the setting that the guidebook so evocatively described.
US 10 now winds through lonely badlands. Under an uncompromising sun the sides of the buttes are mottled with brown, buff, and gray. After sundown, as twilight shades into dusk, the masses of guttered rock take on eerie tones of purple and black. Only the bark and scurry of prairie dogs by day, and the dismal howl of coyotes by night, indicate the presence of living things.


  1. Great book. I have a copy in my collection.


  2. Me, too ... though just the reprint edition. If I ever win the lottery I'm going to collect an original-edition WPA guide from each of the states -- that would be one of the best travel libraries possible.