The oil industry is booming in North Dakota and Eastern Montana (Photo courtesy of the Williston Wire)
DRIVING THROUGH the flat, deserted plains of rural North Dakota, I began to realize I just might be sleeping on the side of one of those lonely dirt roads that night. It was day six of Chad and Greer’s PR Road Trip Extravaganza, we hadn’t brought a tent, and not one hotel in Williston, where we had planned to spend the night, had a vacant room.
“What is the deal?” I asked Chad. We had been driving since St. Louis, where we rented a car to drive back to Big Sky, hitting all of Big Sky’s major regional markets along the way: Minneapolis, Fargo, Minot, Wiliston, and beyond. 1,000 miles in, I wasn't sure how much longer I could take in such an enclosed space, and while we had booked rooms in St. Louis and Minneapolis in advance, neither of us were anticipating rooms in the smaller towns to be hard to find.
But a quick internet hotel search revealed we were wrong. Not one room was available in Williston, and wouldn’t be for weeks. I was perplexed until a reservationist enlightened me in just two words: oil boom.
After new rock fracturing technology became available in 2008, oil companies began rushing to tap into the Bakken, an oil-rich rock formation in the Williston Basin. But towns haven't been able to grow fast enough for the influx – workers live in temporary homes and hotels for months at a time. Every room was booked for weeks with live-in oil residents.
The next day on the road, I called sold-out hotel after sold-out hotel in every town along our route. We had an early morning meeting in Williston the next day and didn’t want to be too far away, but we were running out of options.
Finally, a Super 8 in Minot, two-and-a-half hours away from Williston, showed some mercy: one room left. We’ll take it!
Rolling up to what must have been the last available hotel room in all of North Dakota and Eastern Montana that night, we were definitely the odd men out. Every other vehicle in the parking lot was a work truck, and every guy in the lobby was wearing heavy boots and work pants. On the road the next day, our rental minivan joined a fleet of oil tanker trucks on the highway. Traffic jams and crowds took over every small town along the way – scenes you don't see in our own small, lively but uncrowded Big Sky.
Living in a resort town, life sometimes seems to begin and end with outdoor recreation. I forget that more than just the sky and outdoor adventure are big in this region – industry is on the rise. Still, I like to think Montana’s natural wonders go well beyond oil, and I hope these new workers get the chance to explore their surroundings – Montana’s mountains aren’t far away, and there are still hotel rooms in Big Sky just waiting to be booked.
Find your own vacant hotel room among the natural wonders of Montana this summer