By Renée S. Gordon
History & Travel Writer
Archeologists have proven that indigenous people lived and hunted on the land for a minimum of 12,000 years and the first documented nonnative explorers, the French, arrived in the early 1700s. They erected a series of log trading posts and established a fur trade with the resident tribes. Both the French and the Spanish rapidly laid claim to portions of the land.
The Louisiana Purchase was the impetus for the travels through the region of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery in 1805 and the often erroneously cited idea that they were the first nonnatives in the region. Sacagawea, a Shoshone native, was the party’s primary guide but in Montana Watkuweis, a Nez Perce female, led them over the Bitterroot Mountains. In 1858 there was an influx miner seeking gold and in 1889 Montana gained statehood.
The population remained small in the Big Sky County area and in 1902 Augustus Crail built a 1,000-acre homestead. The Crail Ranch Museum, two historic log cabins and a 2.6-mile trail featuring a native plant demonstration garden are open at scheduled times.
Montana native Chet Huntley, the renowned news commentator, wanted to share the beauty of Big Sky and upon his retirement he decided to create a Big Sky Resort. He purchased the log cabins on the Crail Ranch and with a $25-million investment he began construction on the 10,647-acre Big Sky Resort. Huntley died of lung cancer three days prior to the resort’s 1973 opening.
Most visitors have historically arrived from Bozeman and for greater than 100-years they have taken Karst Stage transportation. In the early 1900s the railroad ended in Bozeman and visitors took Karst Stage for the remainder of the journey. The modern Karst Stage provides airport transportation as well as excursions to Yellowstone and other guided destinations.
The route from Bozeman parallels the Gallatin River, “swift water”, and meanders through the Gallatin Canyon. The river is 120-miles long and is an internationally recognized world-class blue ribbon trout stream. Rafting outfits and hiking trails set off from its banks.
The tiny town of Big Sky is a jewel set in a crown of four mountains beneath what appears to be an unending sky. There are two stoplights and in Town Center there are a plethora of restaurants, breweries, outfitters, and galleries. Live music is performed in the square and you can soak up the atmosphere in the park with a large fire pit and several sculptures.
Before leaving Big Sky stop at Sweet Buns where Chef Christine Lugo-Yergensen specializes in high-altitude cooking and her skills are apparent in her fresh desserts. Take some to go.
Lone Mountain comes into view in the distance before you arrive in Big Sky. The iconic mountain is 11,166-feet tall and has a drop of 11,167-feet. Nestled at the foot of the mountain are the Big Sky Resort Village and the Summit Hotel. The Summit offers a selection of accommodations each decorated in serene hues, natural woods, fireplaces and curated artworks. Every amenity is offered, including nightly turndown service, designer linens and bath products.
Every imaginable winter and summer sport is available making this a year-round destination. The resort has the 2nd steepest runs in the country with 5,800 skiable acres and 400-inches of consistent annual snowfall. The roads are never closed ensuring a great day of skiing no matter what the weather conditions. The longest run is 6-miles in length and the expert only Big Couloir triple-black diamond run drops 1,400-ft from the summit with slopes reaching 50-degrees.
The peak can be reached by a number of trams including the Lone Peak Tram and Swift Current 6. Lone Peak tops 11,160-feet and affords visitors and skiers alike views of three states and two national parks. The swiftest 6-person chairlift on the continent, Swift Current 6, ascends in 7-minutes with heated seats and a bubble top to protect from the elements.
Solace Spa & Recovery Lounge is the perfect place to renew, refresh and reinvigorate. The spa’s menu of services includes specialized massages and an impressive assortment of beauty treatments.
Big Sky Resort seeks to blend a traditional ski weekend with a series of unique adventures and to that end they offer the Montana Dinner Yurt experience. Guests ride into the backcountry via rugged terrain truck or snow vehicle to a yurt constructed for the experience. A gourmet three-course meal is served with white linen, candlelight and live music. There are main course options, but the filet mignon is my strong recommendation. The dessert course consists of a Toblerone chocolate fondue accompanied by fresh fruit and pound cake. Vegetarian substitutes are available. There is time for guests to mingle on the patio around the outdoor fire pit.
Guests at the Summit Hotel at Big Sky can comfortably choose a day trip to Yellowstone National Park because of its history, proximity and popularity. It has been inhabited for 11,000-years. The Apsáalooke , or Crow Indians, were the first of the current tribes to migrate into the region following the abundant food source.
John Colter, a trapper and explorer, was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. When making the return trip, and very near to St. Louis, he decided to return to trapping because society was too confining. In 1807 he became the first white man to document what he saw in Yellowstone. When he later related what he had seen, because of his reputation for telling tall tales, no one believed him. His descriptions of the landscapes and geysers led people to name the area Colter’s Hell.
The government sent an expedition in 1869 that confirmed Colter’s account and three years later in March 1872 President Grant enacted the Yellowstone National Protection Act making Yellowstone the first national park. For the first 35 years army troops were stationed in Fort Yellowstone and cared for the park because there was no National Park Service.
Yellowstone is the world’s most concentrated geothermal area featuring 10,000 such individual areas. There are more than 700 native plants and with the return of the wolves there are all the types of animals that inhabited the region pre-contact. In 1492 there were between 46-60 million bison now there are only 6,500.
Visitors can view 290 waterfalls and the 20-mile long, 12,000-foot deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Yellowstone River is 650-miles long and is undammed. Old Faithful continues to be a favorite and still erupts approximately every 90-minutes. The Old Faithful Inn is adjacent to Old Faithful and is also well worth a trip. The rustic craftsman-style pine lodge showcases stunning architectural elements including an enormous fireplace. Yellowstone Vacation Tours is an excellent way to take this journey.