Oh Montana!

I returned to Big Sky, Montana after an 11 year hiatus. Lone Peak was there to greet me, as stoic and stunning as ever.

My first time there was during a family ski trip. It was mid March, and I’d never seen so much snow—or so few lift lines—in my life. A week of unmatched powder skiing followed. My 12-year-old daughter took her first ski lessons and had a blast.

Unsurprisingly, the past decade has brought growth to this spectacular mountain aerie. No fabulous ski destination ever stays “small” in the way one secretly hopes. Yet Big Sky seems to have a handle—at least for now—on not becoming an unsightly cluster of condos on top of chalets on top of midrise hotels.

The resort’s four main hotels, located at Mountain Village, are busy undergoing renovations in time for the 2021/2022 winter season. Just down the mountain at Big Sky Town Center is The Wilson, a mountain chic Marriott Residence Inn built in 2019. It offers 129 rooms along with a bar/restaurant, heated pool, fire pit and 6 electric vehicle chargers. The Wilson is walking distance to the town’s main cluster of shops, bars and restaurants.

Roxy’s Market at Town Center is the go to for groceries, while The Cave offers an impressive array of liquors, wines and cute mountain gifts. Each Wednesday during summer season, the Big Sky Farmers Market boasts more than 80 vendors. Music in the Mountains, the free summer concert series, entertains visitors and locals through September.

Big Sky’s world renowned fly fishing was the main reason for my trip. Happily, I got my perfect moment, hooking a fat rainbow trout after a few casting tips from my guide. Unfortunately, it slipped off my line right before the net arrived.

Truth be told, catching the fish wasn’t really the point. Just standing in the cool rushing water was enough of a treat for this Florida girl, eager to escape humidity and hurricane season. Thanks to Gallatin River Guides, I experienced A River Runs Through It with a patient instructor who didn’t mind untangling all my caught lines or waiting for me to catch my breath when we scrambled over boulders to the next fishing spot.

There were other perfect moments to be had at Big Sky. While driving to the fishing outfitter, I had to stop on the highway while a herd of bighorn sheep casually crossed to the other side. Seeing their big brown eyes and gnarly horns just inches from my windshield was a Nat Geo moment I won’t soon forget.

Nightly Perseid meteor showers, which peak in mid August, were another fun sideshow during my trip. After midnight, I watched multiple stars streak rapidly through the heavens from my condo balcony. It was an unexpected delight for a city girl who rarely gets to see the Milky Way.

Like many places, the downside of Montana’s mountain splendor is the very serious lack of affordable housing in Bozeman and Big Sky. Resort employees simply can’t afford to live close to their jobs. The problem is bad and getting worse.

In addition to hearing about the affordable housing shortage, I was also mindful of the negative effects of tourism in such a critically important wildlife area. Fly fishing guides in the Big Sky/West Yellowstone area practice catch and release, but rivers still get overfished during the peak summer season.

I look forward to a return trip to Big Sky—summer or winter—while hoping that too much of a good thing won’t destroy the amazing natural assets that lure people here from around the world. Like every other spectacular nature destination, it’s a wait and see, along with a silent prayer that humans keep themselves in check.

A few more tips and highlights from my recent visit to Big Sky:

Ousel Falls Hike: this short hike (1.6 miles) is perfect even on a hot day. The elevation and dense forest keep things cool while you wander over wooden bridges to see the falls. Stunning pines, gurgling streams, and little places to rest and take in the scenery.

Museum of the Rockies: located in Bozeman and worth a visit for Native American artifacts, dinosaurs, the planetarium and the authentic turn-of-the-century pioneer house located behind the museum.

Mountain Mama’s: this tiny breakfast cafe in West Yellowstone serves up gourmet coffee, killer burritos and huckleberry turnovers. Worth the 40-minute drive from Big Sky.

Yellowstone, the TV Show: You can’t help getting reeled in by this sizzling Western soap opera starring Kevin Costner as a Montana ranch king grappling with greedy developers and Native American casino interests.

Road Trip Detour

Buying street art in NYCSometimes you gotta know when to bail.

A summer road trip from Miami to Cape Cod led me to step away from a good friend, her trusty Toyota Highlander, and her two lovely dogs. En route from Miami to Cape Cod, after leaving Roanoke, VA at 4:30 am, I was filled with guilt – and anxiety- for committing to such a fatigue-inducing trip.

I am a cancer survivor. My mental and physical weariness and the monotony of city traffic were draining me in a BIG way. My traveling companion, a dear high school friend, understood my discomfort. I’m just not as free and easy as I was in my younger days. Or as free and easy as I’d convinced myself I could be, just for the spirit of a summer road trip with dogs, a school buddy and good tunes.

So I listened to my inner needs; I embraced my intuitive need to STOP and REST.

I needed a calm hotel, a soft bed and, most of all, to be OFF the road. I spotted a Marriott Bonvoy in Stamford, Connecticut and jumped out of the Toyota into the asphalt exaggerated heat with my three small duffel bags. I collapsed in the lobby while gathering my wits. I booked a room for two nights but changed it to four. I intended to see Manhattan solo – and salvage a much needed summer escape.

St. Patrick’s CathedralNo agenda, no conforming to other people’s – or dogs’ – schedules. I carved out the ME time I was in such desperate need of after clearing out my family home, the only home I’d ever known, following my mother’s death. As an only child, it had taken a huge emotional toll on me.

Age and weariness – and the stress of discarding and donating 54 years worth of my family’s stuff – had made me a less than ideal travel companion.

The road trip involved too many miles and a sleep schedule that upset my own personal body rhythm. As a cancer survivor, I always need to listen to that intuitive inner guide. So I finally tuned in, turned off and chilled out.

King Cole Bar at St. Regis New YorkWhat followed were the best three days I have ever spent in New York City. Taking the train after a good night’s rest from Stamford, CT, I was revived by the pulsating energy of Grand Central Station. I headed to Soho, Tribeca and the Village. Places I’d heard about but never really experienced.

All I had in mind for the day was a big steak at a French restaurant. No museums, no shopping, no tours, no theater. Just a steak.

I people watched endlessly. I made mental notes of effortlessly chic women who looked cool and comfortable in the 85+ degree heat. I took photos of beautifully staged shop windows on 5th Avenue. I stopped into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and lit a candle, saying prayers for my parents and one to ask for a quick and easy sale of my childhood home.

Here are the highlights of my road trip recovery:

– Brunch at Balthazar’s bar with steak frites and rosé Champagne (plus an extra glass on the house because the bartender read my mind, as good bartenders always do)

– Visiting The Whitney Museum

– Finding a chic black Audrey Hepburn dress with a button down front and ditching my dirty jeans and frumpy t-shirt

– Buying street art from a spirited, witty artist who knew that complimenting a middle aged woman on her dress could lead to a sale

– Cocktails at the St. Regis New York’s legendary King Cole Bar

– Buying soap and facial products from Marianella Soap Bar, a mother/son enterprise I’d supported on Kickstarter

– Capping my last evening in NYC with dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor (13 Doyers Street)

– Wandering into the open air street fun of Little Italy and savoring a real-deal cannoli

Cannoli in Little Italy

Here are my life lesson takeaways:

– I’m a solo traveler at heart.

– It was good to stimulate my brain by navigating one of the world’s greatest cities all by myself.

– I can find — and document — more beauty by being alone and having the time to focus on the moment.

– I meet people easily and relish their stories. I’m learning to listen more and talk less.

I’ll be paying my friend for my share of the trip and cottage rental. I’m pretty sure that she had a much better time without me.

I sense that she’s a solo traveler, too. We’ll be sharing our journeys with each other when we meet up to see The Rolling Stones together in Miami on August 31.