Circle – A Great Place to Be Around

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In 2011, Mercury CSC created the “warm season” in-state ad campaign for the Montana Office of Tourism centered around Montana’s High Plains. I was very honored to be chosen as the spokesperson for the campaign. I helped write the copy for the three thirty-second TV commercials, and we recorded my voiceovers at Peach Street Studios and Peak Recording in Bozeman. Andy Adkins filmed me taking pictures in Harlowton and at the Crazy Mountain Inn in Martinsdale. Below is the commercial we did featuring the C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge and Circle, MT. (The others were on Bighorn Canyon and The Wild & Scenic Missouri.)

I became a fan of Circle, after shooting a New York Times travel story in eastern Montana. Although it’s only 46 miles from Glendive on Highway 200, and a mere 59 from Terry on Hwy 253, I’d never made it to this speck of a town.

Photography by Lynn Donaldson

Photography by Lynn Donaldson

Circle has about 600 residents and is the McCone county seat. If they ever remake The Last Picture Show, they can skip hiring a set builder and just come to Circle; it’s a visual throwback to another era. Even some of the trucks that are parked haphazardly around town would make good props.

Circle Collage 1

When I visited, the Circle Chamber of Commerce’s website listed “85 Things To Do Around Circle For Less Than $10”. The list included “Play Horse Shoes in the Park”; “See the Vintage Clothes at Family Heirlooms”; “Buy A Shot of Liquor from Midland Lumber & Home Renovation Supplies”; (???!!!!) and “Have Your Blood Pressure Checked at the McCone Clinic”. I couldn’t decide where to start.

Circle Collage 2

The first business I pulled up to, Farm Equipment Sales, is one of the best John Deere Implements in Montana. My oldest son LOVES tractors…so, oddly enough, I find myself frequenting John Deere stores. I bought several Johnny Tractor illustrated books, four green and yellow sippy cups, a toy lawn mower, a wheelbarrow and several teething rings shaped like ears of corn for my twin babies. (Who knew you could go hog wild with the joint checking account in a town like Circle?!)

Circle Collage 3

I loved the LunchBox, where you can get deli sandwiches, wraps and espresso drinks—as well as tan and have your nails done. Talk about consolidating errands! Nearby, Joanne’s Boutique stocks clothing, jewelry, cowgirl hats and even Montana-crafted, hand-thrown pottery.

I just love the DIY mentality of whomever fabricated the cement dinosaurs gracing town. No, they’re not authentic-looking. In fact, they more closely resemble Dino from “The Flintstones” than the state-of-the art replicas down the road in Glendive…but they’ve got heart. You can tell a Circle native rolled up his or her sleeves and said, “By gosh, this is Dinosaur Country. We need some dinosaurs around town!”…then walked directly to hardware store and got busy. Here’s one by a gas station that certainly makes a good photo op.

Circle Collage 5

This “installation”, my favorite pile of dinosaurs in Circle, is in the yard of the McCone County Museum. I’m pretty sure that they’re supposed to be fighting, but I can’t help but think, “Cretaceous Caligula,”.

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Speaking of the McCone County Museum, it’s brimming with 7,000 items of historical interest—including over 200 mounted birds and animals displayed in their natural settings. It also has the one-room Cow Creek Schoolhouse, a prairie church, and the old Northern Pacific Depot. I really loved a room displaying portraits of McCone County ranchers with their brands and saddles. And, of course, the Cretaceous Caligula scene depicted on the lawn out front is a high point.

Circle Collage 6

Circle’s website says, “In four hours of light traffic you can be in Billings, MT or Bismarck, ND.” So when I got to the edge of town heading southwest on Highway 200, this sign sent shivers up my spine. I knew I was settling in for one loooooong drive back to Livingston. (Anytime a sign puts you 67 miles east of Jordon, you’re a long way from anywhere.) Thankfully, the drive is nothing short of magnificent, as it winds through jaw-dropping, wide-open country.

Circle Collage 7

Who says you need to travel to exotic lands and faraway places to experience the changes and meaningful encounters travel brings? Circle is plenty far. And let me tell you…if you hit the right farm implement, it’s no bargain trip either.

McCone County Museum
406-485-2414
Open May 1 – September 30
Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm

Joanne’s Boutique
201 Main Street
Circle, MT 59215
406-485-2577
Open Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 6:00pm
Saturdays – 10:00am – 2:00pm

LunchBox
902 B Ave
Circle, MT 59215
406-485-2386

4 Comments

  • bateson@midrivers.com' Christopher Tarran Bateson says:

    I stumbled upon your piece on Circle Mt and it caused personal pause and reflection. Why did I come here and why did I stay and run that greasy spoon and beer joint called the Wooden Nickel for 30 years? The answer is hard to express. Capturing the panorama of this mid-rivers country is very difficult, in both pictures and words. You start to see it on the drive east on MT200, as you come out of the Musselshell drainage and enter into the “Big Dry Country”. It continues east through the Redwater and on to Lambert and Richey until the divide between the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers gives way to the confluence and North Dakota. This country was settled first by horse ranches and sheepmen, homesteaded late, and the last refuge of many a desperate and wanted man. The invention of the automobile and the end of WW1 spelled an end to the big horse operations, the Dirty 30’s ran off all but the hardiest of homesteaders and this country was left with only the tough and determined. Arable land is hard to find, irrigation almost non-existent and the grazing ain’t that great. Making a go of it, in agriculture or any other business required grit, and still does. People help their neighbors in need, whether they like them or not. Maybe I just wanted to walk among them. Thanks for a flattering story on our community, but as I’m sure you know, the real meat is much deeper and there is a bigger story down there. Sincerely, Chris Bateson

    • Lynn Donaldson Vermillion says:

      Thank you for all the great details in your wonderful comment, Chris. I am writing you from Fort Peck Reservoir & came here via Glendive& Sidney & was sad to have to miss Circle on this trip. I so love eastern Montana–especially in May & June. TLPB has two Contributors near Circle Anne Miller in Jordan & Rich Peterson in Poplar. I will definitely be sending them there more. (The owner of Meadowlark Brewery in Sidney told me there is a fairly new & great restaurant & bar there called Round Town that we will cover.) Again, thanks for your wonderful comment. That’s where the REAL local knowledge is spread–from readers who know places way better than I do. Stay tuned & thanks again!

  • dish_2001@yahoo.com' Diane Shore says:

    I think someone needs to come back to Circle & see how much has changed & not for the better & how much has not changed. It is a sweet little town however the population is getting older & no one seems to care what the town looks like anymore & it’s a shame cause some good clean up & a paint job on about 75% of the homes & buildings here would sure make it sparkle. Business people here have strived to keep open & keep the interest going but it just isn’t working anymore & a lot of businesses have closed & a lot more are struggling & to get people interested in coming here to work or live is dwindling now that the oil stuff isn’t as prevalent as earlier. So much could be done here but that mighty dollar just keeps shrinking & bigger businesses know there isn’t any reason to come here. Just my point of view. I’m not a native of Circle although I raised my children in Choteau & Montana is my home.

  • m.j.carr@comcast.net' Melissa Carr says:

    I’m sorry Diane has such a dim view of our town. I recently visited after several years of being away and am always so impressed with the sense of family and love that I grew up with which is still evident. There are new businesses opening and doing well. Flat landers are tough stock and we are proud of it.

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