It’s amazing how things change over the years. For nearly a decade, my wife and I traveled the world with only a backpack to store our stuff. My dSLR was always at my side, and I often waited for hours to get the perfect shot.

That was then.

Now, on a recent family vacation to Montana, I brought my usual camera bag – complete with extra lenses, batteries, and a tripod. After lugging it through the airport, I promptly put it into the trunk of our rental car … and left it there for the entire trip. 

Instead, I chronicled the entire journey on my iPhone. While I did miss the experience of framing a shot on my big camera, there’s something relaxing about simply using the thing that’s already in my pocket. 

Montana = Big Sky Country

It’s tough to quantify exactly one reason why the skies seem so big in Montana. Maybe it’s the low treelines or the short rolling hills. Or maybe it’s the lack of light pollution at night. Whatever the reason is, the skies truly do look bigger in Montana.

As for the origin of the moniker, Montana was first nicknamed “Big Sky Country” during a 1962 promotion of the Montana State Highway Department. The full phrase was used on Montana license plates from 1967-1975, and was later shortened to “Big Sky” from 1976-2000. ¹

The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas

When you think of Montana, the first images that pop into your mind are probably that of nature, mountain sports, and hunting. At least, that’s what comes to me when I think of Big Sky Country.

So imagine my surprise when we learned that one of America’s largest collections of Buddha statues was just a short drive away. Located in Arlee, Montana, the Garden of a Thousand Buddhas is hiding in plain sight: along a busy road, below a hillside, and on a huge, flat, and dry patch of Native American land.

Here’s the official description, direct from the Garden of a Thousand Buddhas website:

Dedicated as an International Peace Center, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas supports people in cultivating inner peace and in preserving the ancient culture of Tibet.

The mission of the Garden is to provide visitors of all faiths with an opportunity to generate profound merit, to reduce global negativities, and to bring about lasting peace. Through the use of the ancient symbols of Buddhism, the Garden awakens one’s natural inner qualities of joy, wisdom, and compassion.

Photographing Montana With an iPhone

When we left California, I saw the writing on the wall. Yet, I held out hope and packed my camera bag anyway. I figured I would at least photograph some star trails after my toddler went to bed.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

Now, a few weeks later, I’m still not sure how I feel about being iPhone-only on the trip. On one hand, when I look through my photos, I see the difference in quality. This is especially true during post processing.

At the same time, the capabilities of my iPhone 8 Plus are amazing. I love being able to edit photos on the fly and post them to social media the same day I take them. If I had photographed the trip with my dSLR, it would have been months before I got this post live (if at all). Yet here we are, less than a month later, and I’m getting ready to click “publish.”

Catie + Paul's Wedding

“Why Montana,” people kept asking when we told them of our plans? The answer was simple – our dear friend Katie was getting married at a Boy Scout camp at Lake Seeley. And, since we didn’t feel like going through all the effort of getting there for just one weekend, we decided to make an adventure out of it.

Instead of just going for a few days, we added on 4 days before and 3 days after the wedding. In that time we camped, hiked, ran from mosquitoes, and had some amazing family bonding time.