fossils · Museums

Museum of the Rockies

The Museum of the Rockies reportedly has one of the best fossil collections of any museum in the country. I had wanted to check the place out for years.

Outside the museum there’s a large bronze T-rex skeleton. A cryptic sign to his side reads, “Don’t climb on Big Mike.” Inside I was given stickers to identify me as I paid my admission, they were in the form of a fingerprint that was doodled on to look like the head of a T-rex.

The first exhibit, and a rather large one, was a set of vivariums, all with bizarre frogs in them, many even I hadn’t seen before, with a few familiar faces peering through the poison dart frog and American bull frog habitats. They were adorable, even the odd pug-faced one. I realize frogs are great indicators of the health of an ecosystem and are studied by many universities but I still wasn’t expecting this.

I moved on and found a little local history section of the museum, complete with horse buggies, a Model A, a surplus army buffalo hide coat, buffalo hide mittens that looked like they’d been sloughed off Big Foot, and a number of strange devices you had to guess what they were. Here in their mock up of an 1880 kitchen I recognized a familiar tool, one part of my own kitchen, a set of hand crank egg beaters. Maybe I am old fashioned but I still far prefer these to the electric beaters most people have which are big, clunky, need room to store, and are a pain in the ass to clean. Besides, how else am I to work up my arm muscles if not making home-made whip cream?

Next I came across a section in the museum where photography was expressly denied. In the pamphlet it read, “Learn about the people who came before us.” I am not sure they could have worded that any worse but I winced going in. There were wax figures of Indians, and descriptions of their gods and beliefs. I don’t know… I can see why photography was forbidden. I had a strong feeling this would piss people off. Sort of like if I made an exhibit of an alter and put a plaque up about the crazy shit Catholics believe…

Finally I got into the dinosaurs, and fish, and sharks, and various other fossils. The largest T-rex head was here. She was impressive (though if I remember right had a male name, “Big Al” or something similar, poor dear.) One of the more impressive displays was that of the growth of a triceratops. They had the smallest little baby to the biggest adult. They also had baby miasaurs, and a baby pachycephalosaur which stole my heart. In the good old days paleontologists thought these baby dinosaurs were completely different species because they looked so drastically different from their parents, especially pachycephalosaur, whose babies were once called Draco Rex because they look exactly like a dragon. I was thrilled. I had known growing up that if you want to go into the paleontology field you get schooled here.. where research continues to be ground breaking, no pun intended. Montana remains the most fossil rich state in the union and routinely provides rarities like nesting sites and baby dinosaurs, rare sharks, and other dazzling little oddities. There were three women working in the lab here, dissolving rock in acid and extracting the bones. Another woman took some children around for a tour, making a big show of a dinosaur found with raptor teeth scattered all around it. Apparently it’d been lunch at some point in time.

I had fun, this place was neat, although I must admit they really overdid the feathers on some of the little dinosaur statues. One of them looked like a reptilian drag queen. C’est la vie.

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