You can stay on the refuge for the night by either driving to a developed campground, or simply pitch your bivy sack wherever you see fit. In this area of the refuge, you'll want to keep your car tires on the gravel if it's going to rain or else you'll be stuck in muddy gumbo until the land dries out.

My second morning out, I stopped in tiny Ingomar for breakfast at the Jersey Lilly. In the early 1900s, the town sheared and shipped 2 million pounds of wool a year, more than anywhere else in the world. Only 27 people live there now. The streets are dirt. False-front buildings with wooden porches and homestead-era schoolhouses sit on the open prairie, but now they mingle with a couple of trailer homes. Ranchers congregate at the Jersey Lilly at lunchtime for old-world pinto beans and the original shepherd's hors d'oeuvres: crackers, oranges, cheese and onion. It's a good spot if you want to linger because everybody seems to have time to chat.

I left Ingomar for the aforementioned Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City. The event, which attracts worldwide attention and a Dionysian crowd, was designed to be a venue for stockowners to sell bulls and broncs to the wider rodeo circuit. But the wild horse racing seems to stoke the greatest frenzy. The horses are tethered to a rope in a pen with three anxious cowboys on the other side. When the gates open, one man holds onto the rope, another wrestles the horse into a headlock, and the third tries to jump on its back for a goofy ride around the track. It's like witnessing an interspecies street brawl, the wildest you can imagine.

The evening is reserved for drinking and dancing. Three bands played on different stages downtown. Every bar door was propped open with packs of people drifting in and out. I slept in my tent at the fairgrounds and tried to shut out the mayhem; I wanted to get an early start the next morning.

On my final day, I headed south on Highway 212 before turning onto Hammond Road, about 28 miles southeast of Broadus, just to see where it would lead. This chalky gravel road runs through sheep and cattle ranches whose owners have to drive an hour to get to town. The landscape ebbs and flows in a leisurely way. I took two hours to drive 30 miles to the connecting highway and never passed another moving vehicle.

Traveling by automobile doesn't part you from feeling that you are awash in wilderness here. In places, the land lumps up into little mesas or ruffles into boulder clusters, but it predominately rolls along like petrified tides, as if you're driving over an ancient ocean floor. Outside my window, I imagined sea creatures swimming by.

Before hitting Highway 323, I pulled onto a BLM road to catch a view from high ground. A pronghorn watched me from a low, muddy trough. Grasshoppers buzzed and birds chirped so loudly I couldn't hear my footsteps.

At the top of the hill, I sat down on an orange-lichened rock. I took a closer look and realized that the rock was a conglomeration of seashells. This ocean of land was, in fact, once the Western Interior Seaway. Drive a short 20 miles from here into Ekalaka and you'll see the 16-foot skeleton of a 75-million year old Hadrosaur that once roamed the area as the sea retreated. You might also meet a gray-haired receptionist, Gwen Shultz, at the Carter County Museum. Gwen moved to Montana in her 20s to be a rural schoolteacher. She married a local rancher and says she's grateful to live out here. It's not a place that changes quickly, she says -- not like everywhere else.