Miles City to Ekalaka (115 miles) The landscape surrounding I-94 at Miles City doesn’t look like much, so you might be surprised at what awaits once you exit onto US 12 east. The road quickly rises past Strawberry Hill into country pocked with ponderosa pine, sage and chiseled badlands on a route offering some unique diversions that include Ismay (pop. 26) or, as the town was known for a month back in 1993, Joe Medicine Rocks State Park, and the forests above little Ekalaka. Bisecting this stark country is the turbid Powder River, whose meandering subservience to agriculture and the coal industry upstream belie its pristine beginnings in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains.
After crossing the Powder on US 12, it’s 20 miles to a sign pointing the way to Ismay. Turn left and navigate the dusty red-rock gravel road 6 miles to the two grain elevators marking this lonely and weather-beaten stop on the old Milwaukee Road railway line. Plucked randomly from a map, this was the second little community in Montana to receive a call from a Kansas City, Missouri, radio station in 1993 wondering if it would be interested in changing its name as part of a promotion marking the acquisition of a quarterback of some renown by the city’s National Football League team, the Chiefs.
The once-thriving community, which needed a new fire truck, voted unanimously 21-0 to change its name for a summer to Joe, Montana in hopes of rekindling its flame, however briefly. The town spent a summer selling Joe Montana memorabilia and made enough money not only to purchase a fire truck but also to construct a community center, which now says Joe Montan after losing an a’ to Mother Nature’s fierce winter ways. Today Ismay, which once boasted two car dealerships and numerous other businesses, has no services and, other than the pigeons congregating on the grain elevators and the occasional passing train, offers little more than what your imagination can conjure up.
ISMAY VOTED 21-0 IN 1993 TO CHANGE ITS NAME TO JOE AS PART OF A PROMOTION BY A KANSAS CITY RADIO STATION AFTER THE NFL’S CHIEFS ACQUIRED QUARTERBACK JOE MONTANA. THE TOWN RAISED ENOUGH MONEY TO BUILD A NEW FIRE HALL AND THIS COMMUNITY CENTER.