At the end of last month, I had the opportunity to visit Montana for Collective Quarterly's 2018 Portfolio Showcase. It was SO beautiful up there and I miss it terribly already. The showcase was my first ever creative retreat, and I'm glad I applied for it. It was kinda scary (terrifying) because it was my first time putting my work out there for direct judgement / criticism in a formal setting since graduating from college a few years ago. The environment reminded me a lot of being back in school -- having "teachers" (industry professionals) look at my work and give feedback, attending lectures and panel discussions (and taking notes, lol), eating meals together, and "living" just down the hall or the next building over from other peers for a few days. As intimidating as it was, I'm so glad I took the leap of faith to be a part of it!
The retreat was hosted at Chico Hot Springs in Pray, MT - which was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I rented a car for the first time which initially gave me anxiety, but it ended up being totally fine and 1000% worth it. Driving in Montana is not like driving in NJ or NYC... at all, lol. It was way more relaxing and fun. You are surrounded by mountains on all sides, the speed limit is 80 MPH, and often times there isn't another soul around. The only thing I was worried about was the amount of wildlife near the road - which led to me being a little paranoid about hitting something... but it ended up being fine. Other than that, it was pretty much the dream.
There are tons of fun things to do on site at Chico (natural hot spring pool, The Saloon, Old Chico, etc.) - but I think the highlight for me was going horseback riding through Paradise Valley. I only got to go for an hour during a break between my reviews one day, but it was so worth it. It's probably been 15+ years or so since I've been on a horse. I went through an obsession / phase when I was younger in like 4th or 5th grade, haha! Horses were also the very first subject I learned how to draw and self-studied intently to try to learn how to draw them *well.* While they are no longer really a part of my day to day life.. I still think they are such beautiful creatures, and I think I will always adore them. I wish I had the opportunity to go on a longer ride. Next time!
A 30 minute drive away from the resort is a small railroad town called Livingston. I passed through it on my drive into Chico and on the way back to the Bozeman airport on the last day. One night, I also drove out to photograph the old neon signs (which are probably one of my favorite parts about the area). While most meals were eaten at Chico, I did get to try some food in Livingston from Gil's Goods and Mustang Fresh Food (both of which were so delicious and I highly recommend!). Everything was so affordable and fresh, and the people were so nice. For ice cream, hop on over to Wilcoxson’s! I actually didn’t get a chance to go to the one in town - but luckily the poolside grille at Chico serves their ice cream too. There is also a fine dining Anthony Bourdain pick called 2nd Street Bistro (which I did not get to try but wish I got to!)
Yellowstone (Gardiner entrance) was about an hour from Chico. After my reviews were done for the day, I often made the drive out there. I went 3 of the 4 days, lol. It was so "close".. how could I not?! I knew when I said yes to this retreat that Yellowstone was high on my list of things to see, so I made it happen.. multiple times. Once just wasn't enough! ;) Most of the roads that ran through the park were still closed for the winter season, which was unfortunate... but I still got to see so much wildlife in the small part that WAS open (elk, bison, mule deer, mountain goats, etc.) During the first trip out, I almost got a $100+ ticket for stopping in the middle of the road briefly (with my blinkers on) to take a photo of an elk. The road wasn’t too busy, so I figured I would be okay.. but nope. You'll notice in the vlog around 2:02 the elk perks his head up... welp, that was when the park ranger honked at me. Thankfully, though, he let me go!
Mammoth Hot Springs was the main accessible area I got to explore, and I was awestruck. It was my first time seeing natural hot springs, and I had never seen anything like it before. The tones and textures were mesmerizing, and it was so cool seeing how different they looked on different days (i.e. an overcast day vs a sunny day).
The whole trip was definitely an investment (it wasn't cheap!) - but it was worth it. It was such a unique and special experience in a place I had never been to before. I left feeling inspired by all the work I had seen, the people I got to meet, the conversations I got to have, and the opportunity to explore uncharted territory. All of it combined in the span of 5 short days was actually pretty overwhelming and my brain was definitely in overdrive and exhausted by the time it was all over, but it was a great experience!
When was the last time you invested in yourself or did something that scared you?