An hour after leaving Buffalo we cross the border into Montana – Big Montana, Broad Valleys, Wide Open Spaces, Quintessential American West, Big Montana Sky. That is how we see and describe the next two and a half days.
With many miles to drive before we sleep we plan a brief stop at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Caught up in a compeling presentation by a ranger/historian our visit turns into an hour plus but we leave with a better understanding of this landmark site.
We leave Interstate travel at Billings heading northwest on state and county roads. This is Montana so the speed limit only drops by a few mph. We note that the valleys here are ringed by mountains and always from horizon to horizon Big Montana Sky. Our destination, Ft. Benton, served as a major supply center for the Northwest and Alaska during the gold rush era. Situated on the banks of the Missouri River this was as far as the steamships could navigate so goods, settlers and fortune seekers passed through the region.
This evening the town has a sleepy quality. After-dinner strollers enjoy the paved riverside walkway while the broad main streets carry little traffic. We’ve made reservations at the Grand Union Hotel, Montana’s oldest operating hotel. An award-winning restoration means we sacrifice no 21st-century creature comfort in the 1882 edifice. Sad to say the hotel’s notable dining room is closed on Tuesday evening; The Banque Club across the street provides a dining option.
A park bench offers a ideal after-dinner spot to contemplate historic events and watch the wide Missouri roll eastward.