Thursday, August 24, 2023

Tippet Rise spotlights Montana's geology along with nature, music, art

Artist Mark di Suvero's "Beethoven's Quartet" is a stunning work. An art tour participant in the left
of the photo gives a sense of the enormity of the monumental piece at Tippet Rise Art Center.




Geologist John Weber earned his doctorate at Northwestern University
and has made a name for himself studying plate tectonics around the world.
Here, he explains shifts in the earth at Tippet Rise, over 3 billion years.


MONTANA'S STUNNING Tippet Rise Art Center is a music, art and nature showpiece reflecting its founders' love of the arts and nature and their desire to welcome the public.

This year, the enchanting center entertained a different group of visitors. The engaging complex invited guests to "Geo-Paleo Tours,'' exploring the ancient geological history of the sprawling 12,500-acre, working cattle ranch.

A man made piece of art, Domo, is one of
three  pieces at Tippet Rise created by
amble Studio of Spain. Here, Cookie
is dwarfed by the massive 2016 sculpture.
POISED AT the convergence of two contrasting regions -- the Beartooth Mountains and the Great Plains -- Tippet 

Rise hosts world class players of classical and cutting edge composers. It is also home to a unique combination of geologic wonders, from fossilized marine life to ice-age gravel deposits. The art center celebrates multiple connections between nature, art, architecture, and music.  
WE HOPPED in two comfy vans with a small group of  a dozen-plus fellow "geo enthusiasts" to study some of the oldest rocks on planet Earth. The sea shells we find on our hikes along the West Fork of the Stillwater River prove the existence here of early marine life in what expert John Weber calls "upturned limestone palisade fins." 
We joined other lucky guests who signed up early to tour the acreage, making a series of stops to meander past grazing cattle and explore the land. We gained insights into ancient geological and paleontological features, glimpsing into the past as we viewed rocks, valleys and ledges with ancient history scattered across the art center’s acreage.
We learned that a mile-deep sheet of ice once covered the Beartooth Mountains we know and love today. Difficult to imagine, but true.

Geology fascinates Karen May,
who uses career experience to enhance
the "hands on" tour at Tippet Rise. 
While hiking and examining maps, graphs and  rock samples, we learned that the melting and slipping of the ice sheets created over time the valleys and streams we see today. The past came alive as we learned of the shifts, turns and eruptions which shaped the landscape we explore on foot, bikes and off-road vehicles.
Through the enterprise of Tippet Rise founders Peter and Cathy Halstead, the
art center undertook these geo tours to complement the concerts of classical music and exhibits of huge contemporary outdoor sculptures.
Expert geologists take participants on a lively,
energetic hike to explore Tippet Rise and its
rocks, limestone cliffs and fossils. Hikers also
learn of volcanic eruptions which shaped the land.


Photographer Bruce Keller enjoys several
hikes in Tippet Rise's 12,000 acres.
We drove past massive contemporary art pieces, learning that millions of years ago, gravel encrusted plateaus spread out on Tippet Rise. These remain on the ranch, eroded from the rising Beartooths. We walked this land on four hikes through the varied land, climbing and touching many intriguing formations.

WEBER showed us fossils that might have gone unnoticed but for his sharp eye. Hard for this musician and writer to wrap the brain around billion year old rocks -- or to grasp that "younger ones'' in our area of the Beartooths are only 75 to 80 million years old, mere kids in the planet's geological evolution.

 One tour participant, a geologist with her master's degree, studies Montana's landscape from her summer home in Bozeman, returning to Seattle in the winter.  She and others considered the nearly four-hour adventure "enlightening, mind boggling."  Another excited tour hiker, a musician and fan of the musical component of the art center, said the "Geology and Landscape" tour is a lovely complement to the art and music, and a much older component of what makes Tippet Rise unique.

Spotlight on Center's art 

A thin shaft of white is likely bone, preserved in the rock.

A dozen geology buffs enjoy several hikes over a period of
hours, moving from place to place in vans, to explore the
Tippet Rise geological wonders, sculpted over the ages.

"WE ARE SO lucky to have this in south-central Montana, and so close to Yellowstone Park," he said. My observant Keller also noted how the "geo tour" is another way the center's founders exhibit environmental consciousness. The Halsteads are "environmentally savvy," he observed, in the way they minimize impact on the land. Buildings are warmed and cooled by geothermal systems and lit by solar power. The place is beautifully designed so that even deep parking lots are camouflaged by the hillsides.  A well organized construction project has brought in trucks and other equipment to build a state of the art sound studio, latest project in the wings.

THE GEO-PALEO tours reflect a partnership between Tippet Rise and the Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association (YBRA). Funding comes from Princeton Geological Association, dating back to a 1936 agreement made at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains near Red Lodge, Montana. YBRA’s distinguished faculty includes Weber, who guided our tour, the last of the season.

The concert season began Aug. 18. A March lottery determined lucky ticket holders for the short season of world class performers. The coveted concerts end Sept. 17. Check the website Wednesdays for rare but occasional tickets. 

Elvin Dhimitri of Opera E Lirica in Rome, gives a
brilliant concert of "The Four Seasons."
UP NEXT: We're in Rome, seeing splendid buildings, fountains and artwork. A highlight of the week was a brilliant performance of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" featuring Italy's most famous violinist, Elvin Dhimitri. The concert rocketed to the top of Cookie's "Lifetime Top Concerts" -- tying for first place with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, with a host of other highlight concerts on a burgeoning list. Then we're off to Madeira, and whale watching off the coast of Oregon. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on life, nature, the arts, family and more.


  1. We are so lucky to have this treasure in our midst. Thanks for this lovely feature. Great photos.

  2. Hope to do the bike tour next spring.

  3. Hoping to get there from New York next summer.