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Big Sky: 53 miles S of Bozeman; 48 miles N of West Yellowstone

According to legend, the Sioux and Nez Perce once engaged in a bloody battle in the lower Gallatin Valley. On the third day of the fighting, the sun was blotted out and a booming voice told the warriors to forget old wrongs and stop fighting because they were in the Valley of Peace and Flowers.

These days, the sun mostly shines around here, and the only booming voices heard are those calling you for your tee time or your dinner reservation. The transition of Big Sky from peace and flowers to year-round resort was not entirely without dissension, however. When legendary NBC newsman Chet Huntley -- a Montana native -- proposed the Big Sky ski resort, there was an outcry from the budding environmental movement. But Huntley's dream was realized in 1973, and the resort has blossomed into a world-class facility, with a second ski area -- Moonlight Basin -- opening in 2003.

The valley is a narrow, shining slice of Montana edged by the Absaroka and Gallatin ranges to the east and the Madison Range on the west. The Big Sky Resort covers two of the western peaks -- Lone Mountain, elevation 11,186 feet, and Andesite Mountain, 8,800 feet. Moonlight Basin's runs are also on Lone Mountain, and connect with those of Big Sky.

There are several distinct "villages" in Big Sky. The canyon area along U.S. 191 has a haphazard collection of motels, taverns, restaurants, gas stations, and whatnot. The Meadow Village, 2 miles west of the highway, includes a community of condos, a few overnight lodging places, and the golf course. The main base area for the ski resort is at the Mountain Village, 8 miles west of the highway, with condos, restaurants, and hotels. The Moonlight Basin development is just above Mountain Village.

The valley's summers bring excellent fly-fishing, horseback riding, and white-water rafting. This beautiful scenery may seem familiar -- the Gallatin River was the setting for the film A River Runs Through It.