Field Trip Friday: YAM, Art of the Brick, and Yellowstone County Museum

On Fridays, I (sometimes) post about our field trips exploring near home. Pack a lunch and hop in the car-- here's what you need to know to plan your own field trip.

I was at one of my kids' soccer games last week--don't ask which, between games and practices, we have soccer four days a week. Better than last year when it was five days a week. At one of these games, my friend Lesa mentioned a Lego exhibit at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings.

We eat, breathe, and talk Lego around here. The boys are obsessed. That's all they want for every holiday and birthday. We own one zillion Lego bricks. We had to go to the "Art of the Brick" exhibit, it was made for us.

Because you will ask: The exhibit runs through January 4, 2015.

And it was pretty cool, even if you are merely the mom of Lego-obsessed boys and don't really care about Lego yourself. The exhibit, by Nathan Sawaya is traveling around North America and Australia. We feel pretty lucky it came to Montana.

It was the first time I heard my boys exclaim, in an art museum, "This is so cool!" They were genuinely excited and impressed. It may be a gateway art.

Outside the exhibit rooms, the museum set up a few tables with lots of bricks. The kids played there for 45 minutes while I looked around the rest of the museum. I had to tear them away. And remember, this is exactly what they do for hours at home every day.

As long as we were in Billings we decided to check out the Yellowstone County Museum. I've been wanting to see their two-headed calf for years and never got around to it.

Obviously, the calf was rad, but the rest of the museum is really neat, too. Even though Billings is the largest city in Montana (population nearly 105,000), the museum has a small town feel, with lots of great stuff. And the view over Billings is pretty spectacular.

Our last stop was at Bricks and Minifigs, a Lego store. They sell the regular box sets of Lego, but they also have bulk bins where you buy by the pound. We were more looking than shopping this time, which no doubt encouraged the kids drooling and lustful feelings.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: The Yellowstone Art Museum and Yellowstone County Museum
Why: Traveling Lego exhibit and two-headed calf.
Where: Billings, Montana! Both are on 27th Avenue. Follow the links above for specific directions.
Who: Lovers of kitch.

Permalink 09/18/14 07:28:00 pm, by Mel Email , 426 words, Categories: Museums/Nature Centers, Anders, Finn, FTF ,

Mini-roadtrip to explore Montana in fall

Elk are bugling, school kids are back to the classroom, and life is returning to non-summer normalcy. But it doesn’t have to. In September, we try to squeeze in at least one more camping trip, one more hiking and roasting marshmallows adventure, before the snow starts to fall. And the bonus is September is the perfect time to visit those places that seem a little too hot during the summer months.

In keeping the summer spirit alive, opt for a mini roadtrip. From Bozeman, you can explore three of Montana’s historical and beautiful state parks with just an hour’s worth of driving each way. Spend your weekend playing outside and exploring the state instead of sitting in a car.

To follow this weekend itinerary, visit Missouri Headwaters State Park on Saturday after having a leisurely morning at home. Then drive on to Lewis and Clark Caverns where you’ll spend the night in the campground, a tipi, or one of their cabins. After a morning exploring the park, head to Madison Buffalo Jump for a quick stop on the way home.

Missouri Headwaters State Park

At the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers, Missouri Headwaters offers a history lesson, outdoor interpretive signs, picnic spots, short hiking trails, a small campground, and a rental tipi. Your crew can lunch at the same place Lewis and Clark stayed in 1805 on their historic trip up the Missouri River. Lugging a huge, wooden boat upriver is not required. Four miles northeast of Three Forks, off of Hwy 205, then onto Hwy 286.

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Montana’s first state park is a showstopper. Stalactites, stalagmites, columns and cave bacon decorate this large limestone cave. A two-hour guided tour takes visitors through two miles of walkable cave trail.

While the cave is the main event, there is more to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. There are trails to wander of foot or bike; a new visitor center with interpretive displays to help the whole family learn about the park—both above and below ground; picnic areas, a large campground, showers, and tipi and three cabins.

If it’s a warm day, head down to the Jefferson River to wade and cool down.

Travel 19 miles west of Three Forks on Montana 2 or 15 miles east of Whitehall on Montana 2.

Madison Buffalo Jump

You won’t see bison streaming off the edge of a cliff, but you can imagine how it might have looked and felt when prehistoric people "called" bison to jump to their death below the cliffs. Interpretive displays help visitors understand the dramatic events that took place here for nearly 2,000 years.

This small park has one mile of hiking trail that takes visitors to the top of the jump. It’s just seven miles off Highway 90 at the Logan exit on a gravel road.

Know Before You Go

Entrance to all Montana State Parks is free for residents (anyone driving a car with Montana license plates). Nonresidents pay $5 per park entrance or can purchase a $25 annual pass.

Pets must be on a leash.

Reserve a campsite, tipi, or cabin online.

The Lewis and Clark cavern tour is a two-mile, two-hour walk with some stooping and bending required, rising 300 feet and descending 600 stairs. Wear rubber soled walking shoes and a sweater for the 50°F cave temperature.

Cave tours are $10 for adults and $5 for children 6-11.

Cave tours close for the season on September 30 and water is turned off from October 1-April 30, so flush toilets, showers, drinking water, and the RV dump facilities are available only during the summer.

If you want to keep it educational, download lesson plans from the parks’ webpages. You can also download park brochures and maps.

Permalink 09/11/14 03:39:00 pm, by Mel Email , 611 words, Categories: Montana, Hikes, Museums/Nature Centers, Things to Do, Family ,

Hiking to Storm Point in Yellowstone National Park

Driving directions, trail info, and more can be found at the bottom of the post.

While I have strolled along this lovely trail several times, Heather never had. So, after we checked into our cabin at Lake Lodge, we went for an evening walk.

Storm Point trail is really lovely. There are meadows of wildflowers, a beach with tiny sulfur vents, bright purple rocks, lakeshores that look like Scotland, forests, and mushrooms.

The trail passes Indian Pond at the start (and end) of the trail. Indian Pond is so named because it was a historic campsite for Native Americans. I've never attended, but the Park Service leads interpretive hikes along this trail discussing the cultural and natural history of the area. One of these days the timing will work out for us to join one of the interpretive walks.

Heather and I played on the beach, balancing on driftwood logs and tracking sulfur vents. We checked out some of the many mushrooms that seem to have invaded Yellowstone this summer. We sifted through the purple, orange, and striped rocks that litter one particular beach. And we caught each other up on what's going on in our lives. These easy trails are just right for that.

The wet, muddy trail to Storm Point.

Heather reaches the beach.

Beach pebbles.

Summer snowshoe hare.

It's like hiking in Scotland (or so I imagine).

Purple rocks.

Looking at rocks on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Tiny mushrooms.

It's springtime in August in Yellowstone.

Asters with hot springs.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: A short walk to Storm Point. The trail is a 2.3 mile lollipop route, but the "stick" part of the lollipop is short.
Why: Get close to Yellowstone Lake, stroll through several different ecosystems.
Where: Drive 3.1 miles east of Fishing Bridge Junction. Look for the small parking area on the right and the sign for Indian Pond.
Who: Anyone who can walk 2.3 miles--it's flat and easy.

Read More

Five Yellowstone hikes for kids and families

Storm Point (and more) in August 2012

Need a trail guide? This is the book I use.

My go-to, favorite hiking book for Yellowstone is Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park.

Want to Spend the Night?

Yellowstone campground review

Permalink 09/01/14 12:28:00 am, by Mel Email , 370 words, Categories: Yellowstone, Wyoming, Hikes ,

Hiking Natural Bridge in Yellowstone National Park

Driving directions, trail info, and more can be found at the bottom of the post.

We were supposed to go backpacking last weekend, Heather and I. And climb Electric Peak. We had the permit and everything.

But, then it rained. A lot. And snowed in the mountains; it snowed on Electric Peak, which is already known for its propensity to attract lightning.

So, Plan B was instituted. I drove to Jackson and stayed with Heather and Mike for a night, soaked in hot springs, and ate the best raw, vegan Pad Thai ever. It was like a spa vacation. The next morning, Heather and I drove north through Yellowstone, spending one night at the Lake Lodge Cabins and another at Roosevelt Cabins.

Along the way, we stopped at a bunch of little day hikes that we've been curious about, but never investigated, in our effort to get to something bigger or longer.

The Natural Bridge hike was one of those mini-hikes we'd passed by in the past. It's flat, it's easy, and it's really pretty. This may be a busy trail, but on a rainy day we saw only a couple people and a whole lot of mushrooms.

The trail leads to the bridge and up and over the top--making a lollipop route. There is also a bike trail (one of the few in the park) that begins on the main road, just south of the marina.

This big buck and his friend weren't at all afraid of us.

Heather is a happy hiker on the flat, easy trail to the natural bridge.

There were so many mushrooms along this and other trails in Yellowstone.

See?

The Natural Bridge!

Gray jay aka camp robber.

When Heather walked down these steps behind the bridge it reminded me of walking through Mayan ruins with her in Belize.

Check out the tree growing out of the top of the bridge.

Larkspur- my favorite!

Proof that I should never be allowed to buy something turquoise or bright green again.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: A two-mile (round trip) hike to Natural Bridge in Yellowstone National Park.
Why: To stretch your legs and check out a natural bridge.
Where: Park at the marina at Bridge Bay. The trailhead is across the road from the parking area. The trail leads to the campground, then turns left toward the bridge.
Who: Families with kids, bike riders, stroller pushers, geology enthusiasts, nature lovers.
How: Start walking.

Read More

Five Yellowstone hikes for kids and families

Need a trail guide? This is the book I use.

My go-to, favorite hiking book for Yellowstone is Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park.

Want to Spend the Night?

Yellowstone campground review

Permalink 08/30/14 07:29:00 pm, by Mel Email , 449 words, Categories: Yellowstone, Wyoming, Hikes, Wildlife ,

Following the trail of Lewis and Clark in Montana

Between May 1804 and September 1806, 31 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains to the shores of the Pacific Ocean looking for a water route to the west. On their way to and fro, they went right through Montana.

You can get a feel for the route of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery without having to pull a wooden boat up the Missouri River. Stop in at some of their important waypoints and learn a little about the history of the western United States, while getting your family outside.

Check the National Park Service’s Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail webpage before you go for information, activities, and planning information for the whole trail.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center

Located on the edge of the Missouri River in Great Falls, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center’s mission is to impart a personal sense of President Thomas Jefferson’s vision of expanding America to the west. The center focuses on the challenges the expedition faced as they portaged the great falls of the Missouri River and explored the “unknown,” but you’ll also learn about the daily experiences of the expedition, the environment, and the native people.

Join a ranger for a program or explore the many hands-on exhibits in the Center. Bring a picnic and wander around adjacent Giant Springs State Park, a scenic and historic site. First recorded by the Lewis and Clark in 1805, it is one of the largest freshwater springs in the country. Adults (16 and older): $8.00/person Children (15 and younger): Free. Federal Annual, Senior, Access, and Military passes are accepted.

Lewis and Clark Challenge Course -- Museum of the Rockies

The Lewis and Clark Challenge Course (outside on the museum's north lawn on Kagy Blvd.) could use a little maintenance, well, a lot of maintenance, but it’s worth going to see the replica of the boat the Corps of Discovery pulled and paddled upriver. It's huge and heavy, and gives puts into perspective the work the Corps had to do. The interactive series of 14 stations used to offer visitors a chance for a hands-on experience of the Lewis and Clark adventure, but it's mostly nonfunctional now. Free with your Museum of the Rockies membership or entrance fee.

Headwaters of the Missouri State Park

When Lewis and Clark reached the headwater of the Missouri River, near present day Three Forks, they had some naming to do. They named one river for their President (Thomas Jefferson), one for the Secretary of the Treasury (Albert Gallatin), and the other for the Secretary of the State (James Madison).

In 1805, they camped here while preparing to start their journey up the Jefferson River and then into the mountains. The Missouri Headwaters area was also a geographical focal point important to the Flathead, Bannock and Shoshoni Indians, and early trappers, traders and settlers. Take a hike along the bluffs, camp, join a ranger program or cast a line into the legendary rivers. Entrance is free with Montana license plates.

Pompey’s Pillar National Monument

Checking out William Clark's signature on Pompey's Pillar.

Pompey’s Pillar was named for young Baptiste Charbonneau, infant son of Sacagawea, the Shoshoni woman who accompanied the expedition and contributed greatly to its success. Nicknamed “Pomp,” the infant was born on the expedition. It’s the only place along their actual route where you can see physical evidence of Lewis and Clark’s passing—and inscription from William Clark on the rock.

During his return trip to St. Louis, Clark climbed the pillar and carved his signature and the date in the sandstone. Clark wrote, “This rock I ascended and from it’s top had a most extensive view in every direction on the Northerly Side of the river high romantic Clifts approach & jut over the water for Some distance both above and below...I marked my name and the day of the month and year."

The Monument opens in early May, but even when it’s closed, visitors can walk 3/4 mile to the pillar. An interpretive center is open 9 am to 5 pm daily when the Monument is open. Entrance: $7/vehicle (Free with your National Park pass). It’s 30 miles east of Billings off exit 23.

Permalink 08/08/14 12:03:00 am, by Mel Email , 690 words, Categories: Anders ,

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