Bright sunshine, warm temps and long and leisurely summer days are what we look forward to all year. Sometimes though it’s great to take a break, get indoors and explore. Here are four fun indoor activities in four different communities in Central Montana.
Carousel Rest Area of Shelby
Located on US Hwy 2, this carousel, technically the Carousel Rest Area of Shelby, is great for the kiddos, and adults come away with some pretty big smiles too. Oh yeah, we’ve ridden it!
The story – one man took this project on, found an abandoned carousel and bought it. The tedious process of restoring the animals and the inner works that make that beauty go around soon began. It didn’t take long for the Shelby community to join in to assist in the work and also help in fundraising.
This restored 1936 merry-go-round has 900 lights and the animals are all hand-painted, a true labor of love completed by the Shelby community in 2018.
Bring your camera and get some photos of the beautifully restored animals on the carousel or a take a quick snap of the kids on the pedal-powered cars where they can burn off a little energy. After your ride on the carousel, enjoy a scoop of Montana-made Wilcoxsons ice cream available for purchase (at a very reasonable cost).
The Montana Dinosaur Center (formerly Two Medicine Dinosaur Center)
Bynum, Montana – it’s a town that a lot of Montanan’s would need to grab a state map to find. However, it’s on US Hwy 89 just north of Choteau on a fairly well-traveled route.
The rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains form the scenic backdrop as you travel Hwy 89 and then the landscape sweeps down to the grassy plains.
The folding and shifting that produced this varied landscape also exposed rock formations from nearly every geologic era including the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods when dinosaurs lived. Many rock formations with dinosaur fossils came to the surface and some were exposed in the rocky badland areas near here. In Bynum you are definitely in the middle of dinosaur country.
Outdoor digs are offered through The Montana Dinosaur Center but you can learn a lot from visiting the Center. Gaze through the window in the bone prep lab to get a glimpse of the tedious work done to prep and restore delicate fossils. Displays vary from tiny baby dinosaur bones to a 137’ Seismosaurus skeletal
model that spans the main hall. New dinosaur species found are also displayed along with a “family” of Tyrannosaurs including a teenager, a small adult and large adult. A gift shop in the facility has fun and educational items.
Don’t forget to purchase a Dinosaur Passport, even if you only plan to visit one dinosaur facility on Montana’s Dinosaur Trail. Passports are only $5 and include interesting facts about dinosaurs found near each of the 14 locations on the trail. And, you’ll get a passport stamp for every facility you visit on the trail.
In a town of about 200 people, you just might be surprised at the offerings here. Winifred is located about 38 miles north of Lewistown, a beautiful drive through ranching and farming country on a paved road. On the way you’ll pass some tiny towns, most with signs giving their names, but only a few remaining homes and no-longer-used elevators.
The Winfred Museum is different from many of Central Montana’s local repositories of area history. Most of the area’s small-town museums end up in old vacant buildings. Perhaps that’s fitting but old buildings are difficult to maintain and make accessible. Winifred’s Museum is in a fairly new building that also houses the city offices and US Post Office.
We love homesteading history to get a glimpse of the hardy folks who settled the land. However, it seems like kids and adults are both drawn to the collection of over 3,000 Tonka toys at the Winifred Museum.
It’s almost as if the facility was built for the Tonka toys. Each toy is well displayed in glass-covered cases, and just think, over 3,000! The community thinks it is the largest collection of Tonka toys in the world but they haven’t verified that. Still, that’s a lot of Tonkas!
Winifred is one of several communities with close access to the Missouri River and the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument. One of three ferries takes people and their vehicles across the Missouri just 15 miles north of Winifred.
The museum is open during summer months.
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls
Area historians like to point out that the Lewis & Clark expedition spent more time traveling through present-day Great Falls than any other area along the historic trail. Credit their extended length-of-stay to the series of five waterfalls they needed to portage.
A large diorama comes into view as you enter the lobby of the Interpretive Center. Design replicas of prickly pear (cactus) poking in to moccasin-covered feet give us memories of walking on the open prairie as kids and not paying attention to where we were stepping. Portaging the wooden dugout canoe on a July day could make anyone perspire. The faces portrayed on members of the expedition show the strain of making one of five portages after months of paddling upstream on the Missouri River.
A large “compass rose”, made with floor tiles, credits donors who helped make the Interpretive Center dream come true and shows pictograph images of the wildlife seen on the trek westward. And, these displays are just in the lobby of this fine facility! There is so much more.
Managed by the US Forest Service, the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center chronicles the expeditions’ interaction with area Plains Indians as they worked their way towards the Pacific Ocean. The two-story facility overlooking the Missouri River and one of the waterfalls has several hands-on displays geared for all ages, also samples of wildlife and flowers seen on the epic journey.
There are subtle changes as you tour – the floor covering color changes from blue (while on the water) to green (when they were traveling on land). Displays have Native American language alongside English.
We recommend starting your tour in the theater just off the lobby where you can watch a film of reenacting parts of President Thomas Jefferson’s mission to explore the Louisiana Purchase. He hoped it stretched beyond the 49th parallel. It did not.
The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is open seven days a week from 9 – 5 during summer months. Shorter hours are in effect after September.