Best Montana smart phone apps

Smart phones are here to stay. When I first began work out of college I joined the world of telecommunications. The penetration rate for cell phones at that time was less than 20%. That meant less than 20% of the people in the United States owned one cell phone on average. Today the penetration rate is well over 82%. And over 50% of all web traffic comes from mobile telephones.

Montana, though much rural than most states, has even taken to the tiny devices. Even in my role as an agricultural photographer, I see mobile telephones used every day. Farmers and ranchers both use them to do their jobs. Some even use them to "surf" the Internet while sitting in the seat of their tractors while precision-based farming and GPS steers the tractor for them. It is shocking how far technology has come even in my short life time.

To help those of you who are unfamiliar with all of the apps out there, I thought I would write a brief article with some suggestions for the best Montana smart phone apps. These are apps I consider indispensable as a Montanan as I travel across the state making photos of Montana. Some, of course, are more useful than others, but like all apps, you need to give them a whirl before you know whether or not they are keepers.

Just a note: These are all Android apps. I know many of you use iPhones and Apple tablets, so I'm confident there is an Apple alternative for just about every one of these apps, but you'll have to search for them using the app store on iTunes to see for yourself since Apple doesn't provide a nice lean link like Google does for Android apps.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the best smart phone (and tablet) apps a Montanan can have:

MDT Travel Info

Formerly called MDT Mobile, the MDT Travel Info app provides traveler information for those traveling across Montana, including instant on road conditions, construction projects, road incidents, still camera images, and weather information.

Montana State Parks Outdoors Guide

This nifty app provides state park enthusiasts a friendly way to enjoy the parks. It contains everything you need to plan a trip to any of Montana's state parks, navigate them once you get there, and share your experiences afterward. 

Billings Gazette

The Billings Gazette is one of the state's best newspapers and it provides news from across the entire state and region. Billings Gazette app provides updated news, sports and more local information. The news alert feature is handy because it alerts you when there is breaking news.


This is another news app for Montana news junkies. Unlike the newspaper apps, it provides most of its news in a video format. It provides perpetually updated news, breaking news, local, state, and national sports coverage, local weather forecasts for the greater Great Falls region, and news and information about local and state politics.

NBC Montana News

This is another news app that is video oriented. Pulling information from all of Montana's NBC affiliates, the NBC Montana News app provides news, weather and sports in an instant. You can even watch live newscasts. You can also get up-to-the minute local and national news, weather and traffic conditions, and stay informed via notifications alerting you to breaking news and local events. 

Montana Wildflowers

Have you ever wandered through Montana's forests or plains and seen a wildflower and wondered what it was? Well, if so, this app is for you. This app helps find and identify plants, and when you give the app information about a plant, such as its location, flower color, and the time of year you saw the flower, the app will quickly show you which plants match your selections.

Montana Grizzlies

Are you a fan of the Montana Grizzlies, then this is a must-have on your smart phone. It provides breaking news, stats, video-on-demand, and live video stream. It also provides photo galleries, pre-game previews of the match-ups and recaps after the big game.

Montana State Bobcats

If you are a fan of the Montana State Bobcats, then this is the app for you. Like the Montana Grizzlies app, it also provides breaking news, stats, video-on-demand, and live video stream. It also provides photo galleries, pre-game previews of the match-ups and recaps after the big game.

Great Falls Tribune

This app comes from another one of Montana's finest daily newspapers...the Great Falls Tribune. With this app you will always have the latest and greatest access to news from Great Falls and central Montana. The app also provides national news stories, and you can even add news stories happening right in your own communities.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

This is another fine Montana newspaper, but unlike the rest, it focuses its news on the Gallatin Valley and the communities near Bozeman and Livingston. The app provides local news and information from there, including sports, entertainment, and opinions. It also has a classifieds section, local weather, and obituaries. And like many of the news apps, you can share news stories via Facebook and Twitter.

Visit Great Falls

Wondering what to do if you are visiting Great Falls this weekend? Well this is the app to have. While many might think it is suited for those traveling a great distance through Great Falls, it is is valuable if you live there also, The calendar of events ensures you will never miss an important event in central Montana's largest city.

Montana Fishing

Do you like to go fishing in Montana? And who doesn't. This app works even when you don't have access to the Internet. It provides information about the best fishing holes, information about water flow data from the USGS office, maps, and regulations. This app is indispensable if you do any fishing at all in Montana.

National Park Service - Yellowstone National Park

Everyone loves visiting Yellowstone National Park. But this app, developed by the National Park Service, makes visiting Yellowstone easier than every before. It offers great information about the campgrounds, roads through the parks, sights, and things to do. There's plenty here for even the most experienced Yellowstone visitor in the crowd.

Glacier National Park

The National Park Service doesn't have an app for Glacier National Park like it does for Yellowstone National Park (shame on you, National Park Service), but there is a nice independently produced app out there that provides great information for the first time Glacier National Park visitor OR the person who visits its several times a year. Check it out.

REI National Park Guide & Maps

REI, the American retail and outdoor recreation services company, has an app that does things that the National Park Service and private apps done. This nifty app has detailed maps and guides for people visiting either Yellowstone National Park or Glacier National Park, especially if you are a hiker.

Billings Clinic ExpressCare

Billings Clinic is the largest healthcare provider in Montana, so it stands to reason a majority of us will visit one of the many clinics and medical centers at some point in our lifetime. The Billings Clinic ExpressCare app is a great tool for those who do visit one of their facilities for health care.

Stockman Bank

Stockman Bank is another Montana institution, with more branches in more city than any other bank. You aren't a true Montanan unless you have a bank account with Stockman Bank. And if you do, this app makes accessing your money easy. It even allows you to make mobile deposits without having to find a deposit box or ATM.

PRCA ProRodeo

It's no secret that rodeo is Montana's favorite sport. And any rodeo fan who visits more than one rodeo a year owes it to themselves to have this app on their telephone or tablet.

Montana Guide by Triposo

This is a privately produced app that gathers together the best travel information for all of Montana in one place.

Weather Underground

Weather is always fickle in Montana, so if you are visiting the state you need to have a great weather app, and Weather Underground's weather app is the best in my humble opinion.


Montana is huge and because of that it has many radio stations. There's no better way to tune into local information than to listen to local radio stations via this app, TuneIn.

So you can see, there are a lot of great smart phone apps out there for Montanans and visitors to Montana to enjoy. Unfortunately, the state of Montana's Office of Tourism doesn't have one. I'm not sure why. Wouldn't it be great to have an app that notifies us when we're driving near a historical marker or asks us if we would like to make dinner reservations when dinner approaches? I think so. I hope the Office of Tourism does something about this. Soon.

Putting Cleveland back on the map

A screen shot of Google Maps showing Cleveland, Montana is back on the map...where it should be.

If any of you tried to search for Cleveland, Montana using Google Maps in the past you might have been confused. Instead of directing you to a dusty little town in south central Blaine County, Montana you instead ended up on top of Mount Cleveland, the tallest mountain in Glacier National Park. This strange happenstance began nearly three years ago. And I wasn't happy.

I do a lot of shooting near Cleveland, Montana. Many of the cowboy photos and cowgirl photos you see from me were made near Cleveland, Montana. So when Google decided to unceremoniously remove Cleveland, Montana from the map...literally...I wasn't very happy.

Truth be told, it isn't hard arguing why Cleveland should stay on the map. Cleveland no longer has its saloon, which was the only place doing business in "downtown" Cleveland for many years. Cleveland's greatest claim to fame, I'm told, is that it once held the world's shortest parade. Seriously. Cleveland, however, does still have a small school serving approximately eight grade school children. It also has its rodeo grounds, which alone should qualify it to stay on the map in a place like Montana. Beyond that, however, there aren't many remnants of old Cleveland.

If you use Google (ironic, I know) to look up the history of Cleveland, Montana you won't find much. Not much at all. We do know Blaine County, where Cleveland is located, was named after James G. Blaine, the "Plumed Knight" and former governor from the state of Maine who later went on to become the Secretary of the Interior. In 1884 Blaine ran for President of the United States on the Republican ticket. He lost to Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. Four years later President Cleveland signed a bill granting statehood to Montana. But Blaine County would not become a county until it broke off from Chouteau County formally on March 2, 1912. And let's be honest, Chouteau County hasn't been the same since. :)

A cowboy chases after an Angus calf on a ranch very near Cleveland, Montana. → License Photo

I suspect Cleveland was named after the man who was President when Montana achieved statehood, but I can't be certain. It could have been named after a rancher who lived there for all I know. But if it was named after President Cleveland, can you imagine what might have happened if Governor Blaine had won that Presidential election? Maybe Blaine County would have been called Cleveland County instead. And maybe Cleveland would be called Blaine. And legions of NFL fans searching for information about the upcoming Cleveland/Cowboys football game would not have to sift through dozens of my photos of cowboys from Cleveland, Montana before finding what they were looking for. But I digress.

One of the big reasons I wasn't happy Cleveland was removed from the map is because it was hard to provide a geographical reference for my photos when geotagging them on some websites. If I took a photo of a cowboy near Cleveland I could no longer type "Cleveland" into a Google application and automatically have that app direct me to Cleveland, Montana. No, I had to manually search for Cleveland. And in the grand scheme of problems our world faces, that's not really such a big deal. But when you take thousands of photos in and near Cleveland, Montana it quickly becomes a pain in the ass for this photographer.

But that wasn't the big reason I was mildly upset. The biggest reason was because I was concerned Cleveland might one day be forgotten. I know there some residents near Cleveland would probably be happy if the rest of the world couldn't find their beautiful place on the map, keeping it from the prying eyes of others who might destroy things as we know it. But for me, I saw it important to preserve the legacy of that small dusty town that sits in the shadow of the Bear Paw Mountains that has been so good to me.

So what did I do? I began contacting Google. Again, and again, and again. And as they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Was I the only one who contacted Google? I'm not sure. Probably not. But lo and behold, Google finally put Cleveland back on the map.

And I am happy again.

Odd photo job leads to mystery

A high resolution photo of a horse print, which hangs in Eddie's Supper Club in Great Falls, Montana.

When you are a photographer you get calls all of the time from people with requests to photograph strange things. That was the cast recently when a movie production company contacted me and asked me to photograph a facsimile or lithograph of a painting hanging in Eddie's Supper Club in Great Falls, Montana. They want to reproduce it, frame it, and use it on the set for the movie they are making.

Photographing the lithograph was easy. Editing it in Photoshop was a bit more challenging. It had been hanging in Eddie's Supper Club for many years and the colors were faded and it wasn't very sharp any more. But with some work I was able to restore it and ship it off to the customer. But I was curious. Who was the original artist? Where did it come from?

If you are unfamiliar with Eddie's Supper Club, it is an old restaurant located on the east side of Great Falls. When it was built back in the 1950s it probably was on the edge of town. Since then the city has grown and it is now surrounded by residential neighborhoods. But one thing is for sure, not much inside the restaurant has changed. And that's good.

When I asked the owner of the restaurant where it came from all she could tell me is that it was one of four lithographs purchased from Franklin Vaccine Company. That seemed like an odd company to be purchasing prints from, so I did more research, but came up empty. Franklin Vaccine Company used to make medicine for horses and it has been out of business for many years. Given how little information about Franklin Vaccine Company exists online it is possible it's not even the company's real name. Actually I think it might be O. M. Franklin Serum Company, whose founder was inducted into the National Cowboy Museum, but not for painting--for developing the first successful vaccine for blackleg, a deadly cattle disease--but I don't know. One of my leads seemed to indicate they commissioned a painter every year to make a calendar and that the artist might be Raphael Lillywhite. But if you look at Lillywhite's paintings the styles don't really match. So who knows.

Whatever the answer is, I suspect it may never be found.

UPDATE: Eddie's Supper Club in Great Falls, Montana closed its doors in June 2017. The whereabouts of the above lithograph is now unknown.

25 Montana Instagrammers you should follow

I didn't really start using Instagram until recently. The photo sharing site is owned by Facebook and I've never been a fan of their terms-of-service and business practices. But as a professional photographer it was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid Instagram's impact on the landscape of photography so I succumbed and finally signed up to join Instagram this past year.

If you are new to Instagram yourself (not likely) or just want to inject some Montana love into your Instagram account then this is just the place for you. I have collected 25 of my favorite Montana Instagram accounts that everyone in Montana should follow. They are photo feeds that belong to Montana photographers (amateur and professional alike), travel bureaus, and businesses. But all of them share one thing in obvious affinity for the great state of Montana.

So, in no particular order, I give you the 25 Montana Instagrammers you should follow:

1. Ami Vitale has one of the most epic accounts on Instagram. The fact that she hails from Montana only makes it that much better. We won't hold the fact that she uses Nikon cameras against her.

2. Glacier Country Tourism has a wonderful feed of photos and of the best Montana destinations on Instagram. And in real life, too.

3. Bozeman based Simms Fishing Products has such a wonderful stream of photos on its Instagram accounts it makes me want to fly fish. And I don't even fish at all.

Smile for the camera. Photo: @kingpin_angler #forgettheforecast #keepemwet #simmsfishing

A photo posted by Simms Fishing Products (@simmsfishing) on

4. Everyone thinks about Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, but the official Instagram account for Montana State Parks reminds us there are many beautiful state parks in between, too.

5. Myke Hermsmeyer is an endurance sports and adventure photographer based in Montana and his photos show places in Big Sky county many of us will never see in person.

6. The Southwest Montana tourism district maintains a nice Instagram feed of photos and is a must follow if you are a Montanan, whether you live in southwest Montana or not.

7.  Montana Maggie captures and shares beautiful Montana photos almost daily on her Instagram account almost daily. It's one of the best photo feeds out there.

Same view different year

A photo posted by Megan🌲🏔🙋🏻🏔🌲 (@montanamaggie) on

8. Krissa Muonio is based somewhere in Montana west of the Rockies. And her photos are stunning.

9. Holly Horning is lives on a ranch and her photos shed some wonderful light on ranching life from the perspective of a real Montana cowgirl.

10. Sarah Calhoun's Red Ants Pants is an inspiration for any Montana entrepreneur and their Instagram account is a must for anyone who considers themselves a true Montanan.

11. Donnie Sexton is the official photographer for the Montana Office of Tourism and her photos on Instagram are always a treat.

12. The Great Falls Tribune maintains a wonderful photostream of timely and relavent photos on Instagram and is well worth following.

13. No list of Montana Instagrammers is complete without the official photo feed from Yellowstone National Park. They regularly post beautiful photos from inside everyone's favorite national park.

14. The Yellowstone Country travel district's Instagram feed features photos of the many beautiful and scenic places through out the greater Yellowstone region and the many activities that happen there regularly.

15.  A native of White Sulphur Springs, Annie Bailey is a graphic artist and photographer who conveys her love for the state through her photography.

16. The official Glacier National Park account on Instagram is filled with photos from staff and visitors to the Crown of the Continent and all of the beauty it holds.

17. I don't know Heidi Howeth's story, but I fell in love with her photos on Instagram the moment I first saw them. You will too.


A photo posted by Heidi (@heidihoweth) on

18. I don't usually like to give kudos to California interlopers, but the photos of Montana made by Morgan Phillips are stunning and well worth following on Instagram.

19. This is the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Instagram account, which includes many great photos of Montana wildlife.

20. The Billings Montana Trailhead Instagram account is chock full of great photos from Montana's largest city.

We love our downtown! Amazing photo by @elbryceito. #VisitBillings #MontanaMoment

A photo posted by Billings, Montana's Trailhead (@montanastrailhead) on

21. This Instagram feed of compelling photos and stories belongs to Chris Eyer, a mule packer who works in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

22. Everyone knows I'm a big fan of Central Montana. And you should be a big fan, too. Follow their Instagram feed for photos from the heart of Montana.

There's work to be done, even if it's snowy. Pam Voth photo #centralmontana #MontanaMoment

A photo posted by Central Montana (@centralmontana) on

23. Big Sky Brewing Company is a homegrown Montana original, and its Instagram account oozes Montana about as much as a swig of Moose Drool beer. Yeah, I know. I said "swig." Deal with it.

Rock 1, Snowbike 0. #powderhound #montana

A photo posted by Big Sky Brewing Company (@bigskybrewing) on

24. I'm not sure if there's someone who loves Montana as much as Tia Troy, which makes her Instagram account a must follow. But if there is, follow them too.

I think it's safe to say that this is one of the top views in #Montana. #GlacierMT #MontanaMoment

A photo posted by Tia Troy (@montanatia) on

25. The Visit Montana Instagram feed is the official Instagram for the Montana Office of Tourism and features photography from photographers, amateur and professional alike, from across Montana.

Who is down for the #YurtLife? Photo via @runyourpack. #MontanaMoment

A photo posted by visitmontana (@visitmontana) on

AND you didn't think I would let you out of here without pimping my own Instagram account brimming with Montana photos, did you? If you don't already follow my Instagram feed, please check it out.