Southwestern Montana is rich in almost every meaning of the word. Early prospectors discovered some of the richest gold deposits ever along the flanks of the Rocky Mountains here. Beginning at Bannack in 1862, then in Virginia City, and then in almost every ravine throughout the area, prospectors found mineral wealth. Gold camps sprang up, the easily panned gold played out, and the settlement moved on.
This early colorful era of Montana’s mining history ended when silver replaced gold as the mineral of choice. Silver demanded mills and smelters for extraction, which required costly investment. Soon the ripsnorting life of the prospector was replaced by a corporate payroll, and panning for gold in a lonely stream was traded for a shift underground with a crew of workers.
Whereas the early transitory life of the placer miner left few monuments, corporate mining from the 1880s to the 1930s built cities of worldwide influence. During the 1880s, Butte , “the richest hill on earth,” was the largest silver producer in the world. At one time Helena  boasted more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the nation.
The boom that fed this early growth has largely turned bust. Nowadays, residents measure their wealth in the majestic beauty of the mountains, the free-flowing rivers filled with trout, and the potent culture of old cities and towns whose rich culinary heritage is still keenly observed.
Montanans know that some of the best recreation in the state is here. The Jefferson River and its tributaries provide blue-ribbon trout fishing, white-water rafting, and streamside campsites. Enormous national forests provide unparalleled camping, hiking, and wildlife-viewing opportunities: The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest alone is larger than many Atlantic states.
The southwestern corner of Montana contains a unique mix of plant and animal life. In an hour a hiker can easily pass from an arid prairie environment of sagebrush and pronghorn, through verdant forests of lodgepole pine, spruce, and fir, and explore alpine tundra life along the many crenellations of the Continental Divide.
Especially notable in this area are the large populations of mountain goats and bighorn sheep along the peaks of the Flint Creek  and Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Areas. Prairie fowl, such as sage grouse, seem out of place when sighted with 10,000-foot peaks in the background.