Montana's Museum of the Rockies

Famous for dinosaur bones, Bozeman’s prime family attraction also highlights the science of Yellowstone National Park. 

Big Mike, a T. Rex at Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, image

Big Mike, a T. Rex cast in bronze, greets visitors to Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies.

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The popular Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., could have coasted forever on its famous dinosaur collection, which features the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex skull, an array of Triceratops skulls spanning the ages from nub-horned juveniles to massive old-timers, and a life-size model of two feathered Deinonychus attacking a meaty sauropod. The place is so stuffed with paleontological wonders—some 35,000 bone specimens spanning 320 million years of evolution—that even the coatroom displays a mammoth skull. But instead of resting on its fossils, the museum has chosen to evolve.

Visitors this January will find new attractions that center on two particularly prized Bozeman-area populations: kids and dogs. The 5,000-square-foot Children’s Discovery Center, a permanent addition, lets youngsters delve into the sciency side of Yellowstone National Park. “We’re all about kids,” says Nicole Becker, the museum’s program coordinator. “They can spend all day here now and want to come back.” The other fresh arrival is Wolf to Woof, a temporary exhibit on all things canine.

Among the Yellowstone-region treasures in the Discovery Center is a scaled-down fishing bridge where pint-size anglers use poles to catch cutthroat and lake trout made of fabric. At a miniature Old Faithful, young visitors pump up a steamy geyser until it blows. The park’s animals show up here, too, but in unusual guises. Each critter consists of everyday objects: A grizzly bear’s hump is a catcher’s mitt and a fox’s tail a feather duster; a Valentine’s Day candy box fills in for the face of a gray owl. Art-minded adults can savor depictions of park flora—sagebrush, lodgepole pines, fireweed—that all but transport viewers outdoors.

Like Yellowstone itself, the museum has become a refuge for canny canids. At Wolf to Woof, running through January 30, visitors see how centuries of selective breeding transformed wolves into dachshunds and bulldogs. A special station lets you experience scents the way a canine does. (To dogs, bacon evidently smells like BACON!) You can listen to the sounds of dog language, from whimpers to aggressive barks, and look through eyepieces to see the colors that a dog sees.

The exhibit seems tailor-made for Bozeman, says Patrick Leiggi, administrative director of paleontology and exhibits. “This is a canine-oriented town,” he says. “I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone here who doesn’t own a dog.”

In late February, the dogs give way to Frogs! A Chorus of Colors, a traveling show for the hip-hop crowd that features live specimens from all over our watery planet. Stars include the South American cobalt-blue poison dart frog and the marvelously camouflaged Vietnamese mossy frog. And whenever you decide you’ve had your fill of exotic amphibians, you can always find a few colossal reptiles standing by.

Photography by Janie Osborne

This article was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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The Museum of the Rockies also has a 104-seat planetarium and displays on history, geology, and Indian culture. Admission: $13 (adults); $9 (students); free for children 4 and under. Hours: Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 12:30 p.m.–5 p.m. Discovery Center hours: Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun. 12:30 p.m.–4 p.m. (406) 994-2251, museumoftherockies.org.

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