Trip Diary: Montana

Last month, I traveled to Montana to attend the wedding of a friend from college. The short story is that it was lovely and I want to go back! I took a ton of photos and there was definitely more to see and do that I didn’t get to.

Slept at: I cannot recommend The Sacajawea Hotel highly enough – I had a lovely experience. The hotel is located in Three Forks, MT, an easy 30-minute drive from Bozeman. There’s not a lot in the town itself, but you’re close to the Missouri Headwaters State Park. Just over 100 years old, the hotel was gorgeously renovated a few years ago. Everything is still in the same arts & crafts style from when it was originally built, but it features all the comforts today’s traveler expects. Free wireless throughout, strong water pressure in the shower, and giant fluffy hotel beds. Upon arrival, I was greeted by name (it’s a small hotel and I was the last guest due in that day), handed a hot, lavender-scented cloth and a glass of champagne. They provide a free continental breakfast, which you order the night before and is brought to your door. You do have to fetch your own beverages from the landing, but that didn’t bother me. The breakfast wasn’t particularly special, but in a town where there aren’t many options it’s a welcome touch. I would gladly stay here again.

On the way back home, I had an overnight in Phoenix due to the way the flights worked out, and I used points from work travel this year to stay at the Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel Tempe. I was there for less than 12 hours, so I can’t say much about it other than the fact that the staff was friendly, the bed was comfortable, and they run a free shuttle to Phoenix Sky Harbor.

Ate at:

After getting into the Bozeman airport on Thursday, I headed to Montana Ale Works for dinner. The food was great and it was nice to start off the trip with some local beer. The place was packed with an after-work crowd that I would have expected to dissipate shortly after my arrival, but everyone seemed to be going strong when I left.

Friday I went into Bozeman at lunch time and wound up having a long, leisurely and luxurious lunch at Plonk, a great wine bar. It was quiet – nearly empty – and my ploughman’s lunch and platter of olives arrived quickly. The bartender didn’t seem to care that I lingered, but had great bartender radar and could tell when I wanted something. He also kept my water glass filled which was greatly appreciated. I drink a lot of water and hate to have to continually ask for refills at places that use small glasses for water.

Friday’s dinner was at Pompey’s Grill, the restaurant at the hotel. As I was on my own, I ate at the bar, otherwise they recommend reservations. The food was quite good, and I was very pleased to see that I could have a petit filet – a 4oz steak rather than the normal 8oz size. This hit the spot.

Dinner Saturday and breakfast on Sunday were catered by the hotel, as part of the wedding festivities. Dinner was great, in particular the roast beef. I am not normally a big fan of that, but wow was this one good. There was also some mashed potato magic – sweet potatoes and I think yukon potatoes smashed together in delicious harmony. Yum.

Sunday after breakfast I went to the Museum of the Rockies, on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman. They are known for two things – a very cool living history farm (kind of like Sturbridge Village or Plimouth Plantation), which was open while I was there. They are also known for their huge collection of dinosaur fossils. I really enjoyed that exhibit – one particularly cool aspect was how much they talked about the researchers in the placards by the various fossils and skeletons. Almost every one had a picture of MSU researchers and grad students excavating the thing you were looking at. I had a great time, though my energy did start to flag not long after getting there. Lunch was at Rice in Bozeman, which wasn’t on my list of places I’d previously looked into, but was good. I had some soup and the house fried rice. Nothing special but it was tasty.

Travel: As you can imagine, not many carriers fly in and out of Bozeman’s airport. As I wanted to take advantage of a voucher, I ended up flying Southwest into Phoenix, and transferring to Allegiant, a regional carrier. (This is perhaps not the most direct route, but it worked well enough for my needs. You can also get to Bozeman from Las Vegas, Denver and Milwaukee, though flight times and prices for those cities didn’t work for me.) One important thing to note if you do go through Phoenix is that Allegiant is not located at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport! They fly in and out of a smaller airport about 30 minutes away – Phoenix Mesa Gateway. I figured this out by accident, several weeks ahead of time. Luckily, I had enough time between flights that I didn’t need to rebook anything. There’s actually a shuttle service whose primary business is moving people between the two airports – Phoenix Gateway Direct Shuttle was very easy to deal with and got me there safely, though the van was pretty busted up inside.

Once I arrived in Bozeman I picked up a rental car from Alamo, my preferred car rental company (at least when I can’t take a Zipcar). I had a promotion for a free day, which combined with a discount I get through work, kept that pretty low-cost.

On the way back, getting from Phoenix Mesa Gateway to the Sheraton was a bit of an adventure. I’d booked with Arizona Value Shuttle, as they were on the cheaper end of the shuttle spectrum for this airport. I would not recommend them, as their dispatch was totally disorganized – I booked in advance but still spent 90 minutes in the van waiting for and then driving around with a couple that had booked at the last minute. My hotel was 15 minutes from the airport – the driver could have dropped me off and come back for them no problem. (And it would have made just as much sense for the rest of his schedule, as we were his last passengers. Scarily, by the time he dropped me off he’d been up and working for something like 18 hours.) This is one of those situations where I should have just taken a cab, which wouldn’t have been that much more expensive.