Wandering the West | ParkRecord.com

Wandering the West

by Larry Warren, Record columnist

This fall a busload of Park City residents will be heading to Bozeman, Montana, for the annual City Tour, which was organized to see how other resort cities around the West cope with similar problems.

Bozeman is not exactly a Park City equivalent. It’s more of a university town where a lot of climbing bums hang out in-between headline-grabbing expeditions. Its downtown is lively with coffee bars, cowboy bars, student bars, bookstores and art galleries. As towns in the West go, it’s very progressive, so it’s still a good idea to drop by and see how they do things.

It is also a great stop if you’re coming out of Yellowstone, or are about to enter the park. But linger in Bozeman first, especially on the Montana State University campus, which gives Bozeman much of its energy and progressivism. The obvious stop is the Museum of the Rockies where you’ll learn of the Plains Indians and their ancestors, along with the white settlers, gold seekers and other drifters who happened along the Bozeman Trail that ended in this valley.

The museum’s real claim to fame nationally and internationally is its paleontological collection. The museum has the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex specimen, and one of only two complete T-Rex skeletons ever found. Its curator Jack Horner is one of the world’s preeminent paleontologists. He advised on the Jurassic Park movies, and one of the lead characters was modeled on Horner’s life, and his abilities to find amazing dinosaurs in his native Montana.

Beyond the museum and the coffee bars, head out of town for the countryside that movie-goers saw in "A River Runs Through It." Producer Robert Redford used Bozeman and its surrounding rivers, the upper Yellowstone, the Gallatin and the Boulder, as substitutes for Missoula and the Big Blackfoot River. Fly guides will take you out, or you can latch onto a raft and take a whitewater day trip down them.

To check out the ski atmosphere, take a side trip 15 miles northeast to Bridger Bowl, an Alta-like locals’ ski area, or head 40 miles south to see glitzy Big Sky, Montana’s largest destination winter resort. However, you’ll need to know someone to get beyond the gates of the nearby private Yellowstone Club ski resort.

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If you use Bozeman as your Yellowstone National Park gateway, there are two equally interesting routes into the park. Go south on Highway 191 through the Gallatin Gateway and follow the valley down to West Yellowstone, Montana, and the west park entrance.

Or go east to Livingston on I-90 and then turn south on U.S. 89 for my favorite entry corridor to the park’s northern areas down the Paradise Valley. The valley of former ranches is being chopped up into hobby ranches for the rich, but there’s still plenty of open space to admire the views southeast to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area.

Stop for a meal, a room, or a day spa and soak in mineral hot springs at Chico Hot Springs before continuing down to Gardiner and the classic north entrance to Yellowstone beneath the Roosevelt stone arch.

The Bozeman area is the fastest growing region of Montana. The quality of life, scenery and recreation opportunities are hard to match in many other places. It has just about everything we like in Park City, plus some spooky T-Rex skeletons we can’t come close to.

Writer, filmmaker and author Larry Warren has made the West his beat for the past three decades. He is the general manager of KPCW.

THE VITALS: Park City to Bozeman — 443 miles

Websites: http://www.bozemannet.com ; http://www.yellowstonecountry.net .

Insider tip: If you’re in Paradise Valley south of Livingston, get a beer and burger and Old West atmosphere at the Old Saloon in Emigrant.