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Gateway Highlights: Museum of the Rockies

If you’re coming to Yellowstone National Park via Bozeman, you’d be remiss to pass up the Museum of the Rockies.

Located on the Montana State University campus, the Museum of the Rockies is one of Montana’s premier attractions—outside the landscape of course! Indeed, we feel no visit to The Bozone is complete without popping into the complex, even if only for an hour.

Exhibits

The Museum of the Rockies’ collection can be more or less be organized into two categories: dinosaurs and not-dinosaurs.

The Siebel Dinosaur Complex is justifiably famed as one of the most awesome paleontological collections in the world. Indeed, the museum has one of only two complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimens in the world—along with the largest Tyrannosaurs skull ever discovered. And yes, for any Field Museum fans curious, MOR’s skull is bigger than Sue’s.

Courtesy of MOR
Courtesy of MOR

Other paleontological highlights include a baby Triceratops (shown above) and an ovulating T. rex.

Beyond the dinosaur collection, the museum’s exhibits include Welcome To Yellowstone Country, which documents human history in the Northern Rockies dating back to Native American habitation—both past and present. Of special interest as well is the Paugh Regional History Hall, which includes everything from old cars to houses to textiles.

Of interest on the museum grounds is the Living History Farm, located a short jaunt away from the parking lot. Also known as The Tinsley House (for the family that built and lived in the homestead), the farm documents life on the frontier in 19th century Montana. Indeed, the house was originally built on Willow Creek in 1889 and later moved to MSU in 1989.

If you’re traveling with kids, be sure and check out the Martin Children’s Discovery Center, which includes a bevy of Yellowstone-themed interactive exhibits—including a mock geyser!

Besides these exhibits, the Museum of the Rockies is also home to the Taylor Plantetarium. Admission to the museum includes tickets to the Planetarium—be sure and check the program, as it changes regularly!

The museum also hosts traveling exhibits that run the gamut from ancient history to environmental science to herpetology to wine culture.

Despite the breadth of the collection, it’s all Montanan history on display at the Museum of the Rockies—all 500,000,000+ years of it!

Curatorial Center for the Humanities

Currently, the Museum of the Rockies is undergoing big changes with the construction of its new Curatorial Center for the Humanities. The expansion will add 20,000 square feet to the museum, greatly expanding its storage and curatorial space. Ground broke on the facility April 2016 and is slated to be finished June 2017. It will take an additional year to move the collection over. Officials say the exhibits will be completely revamped once the center is finished.

History

The Museum of the Rockies started as a meeting of minds. Dr. Caroline M. McGill, along with Montana State Univeristy Professor (and history department head) Merrill Burlingame and MSU’s President, Dr. Roland R. Renne, started the museum in 1957. Although all involved were reportedly “agitating” for a museum—Burlingame was deeply involved in the Montana Historical Society and helped establish the Gallatin County Historical Society and Pioneer Museum in 1977—McGill was the real spark. Indeed, before becoming the Museum of the Rockies, it was known as the McGill Museum.

A transplant from Oho, McGill served as Montana’s first pathologist, becoming deeply involved in local antituberculosis chapters. She worked out of Butte and came to know the plight of the town’s miners. When the museum was founded in 1957, she contributed the bulk of its initial collection, which were housed in three donated Quonset huts.

Alas, Dr. McGill did not live to see the museum expand beyond these initial holdings. She passed away in 1959—but here initiative carried over into the museum’s future. You can see a portrait of her above, being hung by Burlingame.

Courtesy of Montana State University
Courtesy of Montana State University

McGill Museum became the Museum of the Rockies in 1965. Under its first director, Less Drew, the museum expanded into its first two buildings. Another huge shift came in 1982, when Mick Hagar became director and brought on Jack Horner (of Jurrasic Park fame) to direct its paleontology department. Horner’s vision transformed the museum utterly, making it a worldwide destination for dinosaur specimens. Among the changes he made as curator: ensuring that choice specimens found in Montana aren’t immediately shipped to the like of New York or Chicago.

Hours, Parking, Ticket, Etc.

The Museum of the Rockies expands and cuts back its hours season by season. Currently, the museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. From May 27 to September 4, 2017, the museum will be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Parking at the Museum of the Rockies is complimentary.

Admission for the Museum of the Rockies is as follows:

• Adults: $14.50
• Kids (5-17) $9.50
• Children 4 and under: Free.
• Senior Citizens (65+): $13.50
• MSU Students (with ID): $10

The museum offers a 10% AAA discount with a valid membership card. Active Military personnel and their family receive a $1 discount per person.

The Museum also offers annual memberships.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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