The Big Sky Conference, made up of some of the most intriguing gridiron programs in the Football Championship Subdivision, also is home to venues that dazzle nature lovers and history buffs alike.
Anyone who follows UC Davis football on the road gets a bonus if they can stay a few extra days and explore the countryside.
Aggie team doctor David Costa and former UCD trainer Jeff Hogan took advantage of past away games to get some Montana fishing in.
Others, like fan Tim Butler, took the family two years ago to watch the Southern Utah game, then visited Bryce Canyon National Park and explored points north.
“Jeff and I would stay two or three days after the game and go fishing,” says Costa, who has been affiliated with the Aggies since 1991. “In Bozeman, there are two, three places to choose from. I think it’s the center of world-class fly fishing.”
Costa pointed to the Gallatin River, which flows through the city in which Montana State University is based. The Yellowstone and Madison rivers are other venues that piqued the pair’s interest.
Butler, an accountant in Sacramento, says the trip to Utah (when UCD was playing SUU as part of the Great West Conference) was “a terrific, everybody-in-the-family-goes” trip.
“There was so much about the region I didn’t know,” the Davis man told The Enterprise. “The game was fun, but the vacation was terrific.”
From roaming around national parks, visiting historical regions and their monuments to outdoor activities, Aggie participation in the Big Sky Conference is a traveler’s windfall.
Here’s a look some of the adventure that surrounds the league …
Ogden, Utah (Weber State): The first European-descendent settlement in what is now Utah, known at Fort Buenaventura, Ogden later became a busy northwest Utah city and was, at one point, a bustling railroad town. The first Transcontinental Railroad was joined at Promontory Summit in May of 1869.
Power Mountain is one of the many busy ski resorts nearby, and fishing and hunting opportunities abound.
As one might guess, Ogden has several railroad museums, but over the years, the trains have been diverted. Amtrak no long serves Ogden.
Greeley, Colo. (Northern Colorado): At the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, the town was originally an Overland Trail station called Latham.
The Cache la Poudre and Platte rivers form a confluence in Greeley, a draw for area wildlife and human outdoor fun-seekers.
Beginning downtown, the Poudre River Trail is a bike-or-hike adventure that provides even the novice outdoorsman with breathtaking views and engaging flora and fauna.
Old West buffs will have to journey up toward Virginia Dale and Laramie on Highway 287. You’ll be headed into Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid territory, where off-roaders might be able to find the Wild Bunch’s Hole-in-the-Wall hideout (Johnson County, Wyo.).
Want some city fun? Denver is just an hour to the southwest.
Bozeman, Mont. (Montana State): As the sun sets, the Purple Mountains’ Majesty of the nearby Rockies seems to tiptoe into town.
Fishing opportunities, as we’ve noted, are plentiful and Bozeman is the perfect base camp for forays into Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.
For those experienced outdoorsmen, the most remote region in the contiguous United States — the Marshall Wilderness — awaits.
The Rocky Mountain Museum is on campus at MSU and William Clark was one of the first white visitors (1806) to the Valley of the Flowers.
The region, like so many other destinations in the Big Sky Conference, also has a rich Native American history.
Cedar City, Utah (Southern Utah): Prehistoric people (1000 A.D.) left their marks at nearby Parowan Gap and Fremont long before the first Mormon settlers came to the region in 1851.
Iron mining originally put Cedar City on the map, but it was the completion of a railway link in 1923 that made the place a tourist destination.
Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks are day trips from Cedar City, as is Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Missoula, Mont. (University of Montana): This valley has been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age 12,000 years ago.
At the western end of the Great Plains, tribes from the Pend d’Oreille, Blackfoot, Shoshone, Salish, Kootenai and Pawnee nations would travel through the region to eventually hunt bison.
This led to repeated conflict, even before the introduction of the European traveler.
Logging has dominated the region and it, like Bozeman, is a handy starting point for touring the spectacular natural bounty of the state.
Cheney, Wash. (Eastern Washington): It’s the smallest of all Big Sky city populations (10,600). Once again, the railroad played a significant role in the development of this town in the southern reaches of the Palouse. (The city is named for Northern Pacific director Benjamin P. Cheney.)
Agriculture, the railroad and education, according to Wikipedia, have been the mainstays of this farming community.
Grand Forks, N.D. (University of North Dakota): Be forewarned: while a football game at UND is indoor at Alerus Center, the temperature outside averages 12 degrees in November. The record low is minus-43.
That said, Grand Forks gives winter visitors access to cross-country skiing, a handful of performing arts venues and several casinos in which to pass the cold front.
In 1997, when the Red River overflowed its banks, Grand Forks was almost wiped off the map by flooding.
Maybe a day trip into Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, or Minneapolis, Minn., isn’t such a bad idea.
Portland, Ore. (Portland State): Within easy reach of all the outdoor activity offered by Mt. Hood and the Cascade Mountains, a trip to Portland holds some of the Pacific Northwest’s finest dining and cosmopolitan entertainment.
But in an area once inhabited by the Upper Chinook Indians, the Columbia River and its many tributaries provide terrific salmon fishing.
Heading toward the Pacific Ocean makes for a scenic ride. Take a side road … imagine you’re a latter-day Lewis or Clark.
A tip for the whole family: visit the Oregon Zoo, unique among national zoos with its educational element and multilevel displays of unusual animals and birds.
San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly): Rich in Spanish heritage, San Luis Obispo is home to the fifth of Father Junipero Serra’s California missions.
Originally called Llano de los Osos (Plain of the Bears) by explorer Gaspar de Portola, the region has maintained its agricultural identity and is the home of some of the state’s emerging vineyards and most important horse ranches.
A quick drive west puts you at Morro Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Run up Highway 1 from there and you’re at Hearst Castle.
Nearby, too, is the Danish enclave of Solvang.
Don’t forget to visit downtown. A charming stream runs through the business district and past quaint restaurants.
Pocatello, Idaho (Idaho State): A surprise package of outdoor fun, Pocatello features birding, biking, hiking, fishing (even ice fishing), cross-country and alpine skiing and camping and hike opportunities galore.
Mike Creek Nordic Complex accommodates every level of skier. Snowboarders and snowmobile enthusiasts are welcomed throughout the region as well.
But before the snow hits, visitors can birdwatch at Curlew National Grasslands or Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Meanwhile, ATV, bike and hiking trails abound.
Originally a fur-trading post called Fort Hall (1834), Pocatello became a boom town during the Idaho gold rush of the 1860s.
Several downtown museums enlighten visitors to its storied past.
Flagstaff, Ariz. (Northern Arizona): Just a hop, skip and “don’t jump” from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff — like many of the Big Sky’s outpost cities — has plenty of outdoor activities ranging from hiking and fishing and biking to the usual winter sports afforded by a mountain community.
Flagstaff’s elevation (6,903 feet) made it the perfect home for the Lowell Observatory, erected around the turn of the 20th century. It was from this historic telescope that one-time planet Pluto was discovered.
Once one of America’s busiest railroad corridors (in 1890, 100 trains daily would chug through Flagstaff), the city still boasts a jaunty patch of historical U.S. Route 66.
Davis and Sacramento (UC Davis and Sacramento State): As the home fans know, visitors to either city are in the middle of an activity wonderland.
Just a nugget’s throw from Gold Country to the east, it’s a 75-minute drive west to San Francisco.
Commanders from “Duck Dynasty” know that hunting the little quackers is a you-pick-’em decision as the Central Valley provides some of the best duck hunting in the western United States.
Wildlife refuges are everywhere (beginning with the Yolo Basin Wildlife Area in the Bypass and salmon and trout fishing are less than a gallon of gas away.
Visitors to Davis can get everywhere on their bicycles and, with dozens of galleries and restaurants, don’t have to venture out of town for entertainment.
A day trip to Boreal or Kirkwood (or one of the many other ski resorts) is convenient — and the casinos of Reno or Lake Tahoe are just beyond.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected]