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Dillon: 65 miles S of Butte; 141 miles N of Idaho Falls, Idaho

In early Western parlance, a "hole" was a valley surrounded by steep mountains. And Big Hole is, well, a big "hole," in this old sense of a valley. It is a vast expanse of hay meadows, sagebrush flats, and ranch land ringed by towering mountains in the distance. These hay meadows have also given the Big Hole its nickname of the "valley of 10,000 haystacks," which may be a rare case of Rocky Mountain understatement.

While there are plenty of haystacks, there aren't many people. This region is the least densely populated area in western Montana. Beaverhead County, which is as large as Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, has only about 9,000 residents, and most of those live in Dillon, the county's largest town.

Dillon is primarily an agricultural center, still dependent on local farmers and ranchers rather than tourism or industry. The population temporarily jumps from 5,000 to roughly 20,000 people around Labor Day during the event known as "Montana's Biggest Weekend." Among the draws are a county fair, which is wrapped around a PRCA Rodeo that draws some of the country's best cowboys, as well as national musical acts. If you plan on attending, book a room at least 3 months in advance.