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Articles and Essays

John Clayton has published articles and essays in such magazines as Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal, Horizon Air, Montana Magazine, and High Country News. His occasional columns on the American West have appeared in dozens of Western newspapers through the High Country News "Writers on the Range" series.

Ansel Adams photo of Fountain Geyser

Ansel Adams in Yellowstone

Big Sky Journal

(Summer 2016))

Dog with funny name

"I’m thinking of naming my dog Obamacare"

A humorous essay from Writers on the Range

(June 2016)

Articles and Essays

John Clayton has published articles and essays in Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal, Newsweek, Salon, National Parks Traveler, Mountain Journal, Horizon Air, High Desert Journal, Montana Magazine, and High Country News, among others. His occasional columns on the American West appeared in dozens of Western newspapers through the High Country News "Writers on the Range" series.

In Big Sky Journal (forthcoming): In 1914, as the fad for silent movies overtook the nation, Hollywood’s biggest character was Jim Stokes, the Two-Gun Man. In the film “The Bargain,” Jim wore a six-shooter on each thigh. He rolled his cigarettes one-handed. He rode a brown and white pinto named Fritz. He was good bad man, in a storyline with morality to match the action.


That fame also enveloped the actor who portrayed him, William S. Hart. Hart’s own story, his rise and fall, has a theatricality that would be marvelously fitting if it didn’t feel so tragic. But like a country music song, it ends with a sort of redemption—and a surprising Montana twist.

[coming soon]

The noble horseman


At Nieman Storyboard (Nov. 2022): In the 1990s, when I was a young writer hoping to improve, I did a very ‘90s thing. I joined a listserv. I added my email address to a list of writers who received, every evening, the latest missive from a moderated discussion board. It was called WriterL, the “writer listserv.”

I think about it often—or, at least, as often as I assume other writers think about their graduate school experiences. WriterL was like my MFA in Creative Nonfiction, except that it was just a few minutes of my Inbox every day for fifteen years

WriterL the book


In Big Sky Journal (fall 2022): At 2:00 a.m. on June 7, 1896, a Great Northern train pulled into the station at Blackfoot, Montana, bringing three Yale graduates to some of the last great stretches of the fabled American West.

By the 1890s, Americans of European descent had been heading to the West for decades. Some, such as Harvard graduates Theodore Roosevelt and Owen Wister, had come from a similarly elite background. But these three Yalies had a unique combination of diverse interests, youthful spirit, and access to levers of cultural influence. Over the next five weeks, they would engage vigorously with the landscape and its inhabitants. What the Yalies saw—and what they didn’t see—matched the triumphs and blind spots of the West’s subsequent history.

Journey of the Yalies


The Glidden Auto Tour, famous in its day, made its final run along Montana’s barely passable Hi-Line Route. In Montana Quarterly (fall 2022):

The nine-day Glidden Tour of 1913 was the first automobile-based planned road trip through Montana. Discomforts and mechanical problems limited participants to an average of only 178 miles per day. 

But the Glidden Tour glitters because it was the first Montana event to see the road trip as a destination itself, rather than a mere journey. And one surprise is how wrong its vision was of how road-tripping should work.

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When touring was tough

MTQ Cover.jpg

In Big Sky Journal (summer 2022): The Mountain West in the 2020s has been characterized by increasing crowds. In 2021, Montana’s Flathead County grew by 3.5 percent and Billings was briefly ranked as the top emerging market in the entire nation. By February 2022, the median value of a single-family home in Montana’s Gallatin Valley was $896,000. In 2021, Yellowstone National Park’s 4.9 million visits represented the most ever and a 44 percent increase over 2011; Glacier’s 3.1 million visits were a 63 percent increase. In many areas, restaurants, campsites, and trails are oversubscribed.

This sudden influx has historical precedent. An early-1900s trend, often summarized by the catchphrase See America First, brought waves of tourists and transplants who defined the region’s culture and economy for decades. If we’re wondering what happens next, we could start by looking at what happened then.

See America First

Glacier see america first.jpg

In Montana Quarterly (fall 2021): Like the horse, railroad, tractor, and cellphone, the all-electric vehicle (EV) is a technology that will transform life in Montana. We are about to see how that transition will play out.

            “Electric pickup trucks like the F-150 Lightning will be a game-changer,” says Kyla Maki, who works on electric vehicle and alternative fuels for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. In May, Ford announced the 2022 release of an all-electric version of America’s most popular pickup truck, starting at about $40,000. 

            With up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, the truck could have cost parity with gas-powered pickups. In early reviews, Motor Trend said that it will also have improved ride and handling, going from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds. The only question, then, will be the question hanging over the entire EV sector in a vast, sparsely-populated state. 

            How will you charge it?

[Unavailable online. Please subscribe!]

Montana's electric vehicle frontier

MTQ EV_edited.jpg

The "Named Highway Trilogy" 

I wrote about the very first automobile roads, which had names instead of numbers. And I did it as a trilogy, because much great art, like "The Naked Gun," comes in trilogies.

  1. We meet the granddaddy of named roads, and investigate its curious recent Wyoming resurgence.

  2. Going very deep on named roads, this episode, like The Naked Gun 2½, is arguably the funniest of the three, and the most relevant to today’s politics.

  3. A Grand Unifying Theory of named roads: all roads lead to Yellowstone

stuck in mud.jpg

Dashiell Hammett's Montana

In Montana Quarterly (summer 2021): A literary giant, Dashiell Hammett invented the American private detective novel. His books The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man became legendary movies. Some say his stripped-down style surpassed even Hemingway in defining both American prose and American masculinity. And his first novel was set in Butte...

[Continue reading at the Montana Quarterly site]

Hammett in MTQ_edited.jpg

Father of the Elk, Stephen Leek

(November 2020)

castle geyser stereo.jpg

Seeing double in Yellowstone

Le Raye in MTQ_edited.jpg

The unbelievable journey of Charles Le Raye

Big Sky Journal

(Flyfishing, 2021)

Montana Quarterly

(spring 2021)

Unavailable online
crow hunters.jpg

When White People Stopped Indigenous Elk Hunts In Jackson 

Mountain Journal

(October 2020)

bannock hunters.jpg
165a_John Muir at Muir Woods.jpg

Racism and Race Horse

Was John Muir racist?

(October 2020)

(August 2020)


Essay: "A place no longer special"

Why does Yellowstone lap over into Montana?

The ultimate Yellowstone

bear story

THINK Journal

(Winter/Spring 2020)

Big Sky Journal

(late winter 2020)

Big Sky Journal

(summer 2020)

Unavailable online
muir first stream.jpg
015a Old_Faithful_Inn_interior_wide (Mar

John Muir's first mountain stream



Wyoming's "parkitecture"


(Autumn 2019)

Big Sky Journal

(winter 2020)  

(March 2019)

K_lake mcdonald.jpg

Lake McDonald's hidden history

It's my


Jackson Pollock's Wyoming

Big Sky Journal
(Autumn 2019)

Montana Quarterly

(summer 2019)


(July 2022)

Natural Rivals cover.jpg

Lessons from a previous environmental catastrophe

Mission 66 in Wyoming

When rivals collaborate

National Parks Traveler
(July 2019)

(fall 2019)

John Clayton's blog 

(June 2019)

castle geyser.jpg

John Muir in Yellowstone

The meaning of Yellowstone's bears

Thomas Moran's quest
(August 2018)

Big Sky Journal

(Summer 2018)

Big Sky Journal 

(early 2019)


How I conquered my addiction to memoirs about drinking

Slack thread under a photo of Betsy Ross' new flag design

Bio-pics of forbidden love

a humorous essay for

Points in Case
(June 2019)

a humorous essay for

Points in Case
(July 2019)

a humorous essay for

Points in Case
(August 2019)

Points West magazine article

Camp Monaco: Buffalo Bill Cody's last hunt
(October 2017)

Montana river scene
Snow-covered house

Last floats
of the Bighorn

"Dear restaurant, Please tell me about my grass"

Montana Quarterly

(Winter 2018)

An essay for Writers on the Range (October 2017)

Ansel Adams photo of Fountain Geyser

Yellowstone and the world's first national forest

(June 2017)

Steve Mather with Horace Albright

What it means to work the wilderness

an essay for 

High Desert Journal

(April 2017)

Dog with funny name

Montana's conservation-vs.-preservation divide

Montana Quarterly

(fall 2017)

More previous work
Previous work
Points West magazine article

Understanding the 1988 Yellowstone fires

Points West, the journal of the Buffalo Bill Center for the West (spring and summer, 2016)

Montana river scene
Snow-covered house

John Steinbeck's Montana

"How to survive a Montana snowstorm"

Montana Quarterly

(Winter 2015)

An essay for LastBestNews (December 2014)

Photos from public domain or copyright John Clayton.

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Additional work
Ansel Adams photo of Fountain Geyser

Yellowstone's boundaries and Zinke's quest

(August 2017))

Ansel Adams photo of Fountain Geyser

A.A. Anderson and the Yellowstone Forest Reserve

(August 2017))

Ansel Adams photo of Fountain Geyser

Ansel Adams in Yellowstone

Big Sky Journal

(Summer 2016))

Steve Mather with Horace Albright


a humorous essay for 

Outside Bozeman

(July 2017)

Dog with funny name

The odd history of campgrounds in national parks 


(October 18, 2017)

Steve Mather with Horace Albright

The man who invented dude ranching

Magic City Magazine

(Summer 2017)

Dog with funny name

The biggest-ever federal land grab

(May 2017)

Steve Mather with Horace Albright

Steve Mather and the founding of the National Park Service

Magic City Magazine

(July 2016)

Dog with funny name

"I’m thinking of naming my dog Obamacare"

A humorous essay for Writers on the Range

(June 2016)

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