Friday, September 10, 2010

Montana: Home to the Dinosaurs

Waking up, I was not cold. This must have been the first time in ages I was waking up, not terrified to get out of my sleeping bag. The weather outside, while not all that welcoming, was not frigid and heart stopping. I was actually glad to be awake, and excited to get up and out into the world today.

Now that Katherine had a new memory card, we headed back into Bannack to take more photographs. There was little reason to head back inside the buildings we'd covered so throughly the day before, but we did take the walk out to the gallows. It was here, on this site, that the one time Sheriff of Bannack lynched by the citizens who discovered it was him behind the gang or murderous thieves in the area. Vigilantly justice soon roamed far and wide putting an efficient end to those involved in the robbing and murdering that had taken place along the nearby roads.

From the hill top where the cemetery lay we could see the whole town before us. Saying our goodbyes we headed down, and out (not before taking a quick ride on the old merry-go-round (ride at your own risk.)

From Bannack we hit the roads, driving out to Virginia City and Nevada City. Nevada City was another ghost town, now turned into a tourist attraction. The in-authenticity, despite the people wearing period clothing, made it less desirable. It was also a sprawling town, losing the wonder created by having just one main strip.

The reason we had come out here was to pan for gold at the nearby centre. Katherine had been talking about this for months, her desire to pan. When I found out this place offered it I quickly added it to our plans. Unfortunately – it was closed.

Off to Virginia City, two miles down the road. This town was built in the same era, but rather than becoming a tourist attraction, the buildings were still in use. Though, being after Labour Day, things had slowed down some. Still – for the next two weeks, shops would still be manned. This was a town not all that unlike Bannack, one main strip. Here, however, the store fronts still kept themselves painted, and people still walked the raised wooden sidewalks.

One shop advertised itself as a free museum. And to be fair, it mostly was a free museum – but it offered the sale of books I could not turn down. One was a song book about outlaws, and the other was the tale of Bannack's dastardly Sheriff, written by those who lynched him over one hundred years past. How could I resist such things?

As for the museum? Well it was one of a kind. It was the type of road-side museum that I had been promised would litter America. But I tell you, that is a lie. Having driven the highways and byways of this large country, I sought out such places, only to come up with nothing.

This was the type of museum, that aside from having century old cash registers, and historical tools from the local area, also had a 'two bodied lamb' sharing one head in a box, and jackalopes mounted on the wall. This was the place of oddities that I had wanted to see for months. At last, here it was. And I couldn't have been happier. All of a sudden, paying for those two books doesn't seem so bad at all.

When we had had our fill of the museum, which for some reason offered two toilets in the bathroom, but no dividers of any kind, and I had managed to drag Katherine out of the old tymey candy shop, we were back on the road once more.

Our final stop for the day? Bozeman. At two in the afternoon we rolled up and got ourselves a motel. Such luxury – a whole afternoon without worry about where we would sleep, and without sleeping outside. This is how every day was spent at the start of our trip – but out here where miles sprawl between every point of interest? Things had been different.

Secure in our lodging we headed out to the reason I had stopped in this town: The Museum of the Rockies.

The Museum of the Rockies holds one of the best collections of Dinosaur fossils. And while it may not be able to stand toe to toe with the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, it did not fail to impress.

It also wasn't limited to dinosaurs.

Stepping into the museum and paying our 11.50 (after AAA discount) each we were told the entire museum was laid out in a ring. All halls would be walked through in order. And the first hall? A fabulous exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci. Machines in Motion.

This exhibit worked to create the various machines detailed in his codices. Brought to life were his designs for a multi cannoned tank, various failed flying machines, machine guns, canons, and all number of pulley and rope systems.

Here was a man of great genious, his works brought to life. Awkwardly they seem to be making excuses for him. This I am not a fan of. He was presented as inventor of all the ideas, although many of the pulley and gear systems would have already existed. It would have been interesting to see what was in existence, and how he added to that. There was another section which showed his bicycle, and while it was claimed that the image in the codex was mysteriously not by him, the idea was. This is a confusing statement. But, not as confusing as the one which claims he deplored war. Strange for a man who was so obviously a arms researcher and creator. The first machine gun, the first tank, better catapults and cannons. Even his ridiculous contraption to try and walk on water was for military applications.

Still – beyond that, the exhibit? Wonderful.

And then we were into the Montana history hall where photos weren't allowed. I don't know why one would want to take them, anyway? There were some cars from the forties – and, well, that's about all of interest to me. I moved through quickly. Katherine had a chuckle over the two university girls in the section looking at Native bead work.

Girl 1: Oh my god, I'd never have the patience to do all that.
Girl 2: Well it's not like you'd have anything else to do. They didn't have Facebook back then.


Three o'clock was nearly at hand and it was time to head over to the planetarium to view the full-ceiling movie about Mars. Jean-Luc Picard narrated this woefully out of date film. Yes it was interesting, and educational, but when he claimed they'd soon be launching a new lander, scheduled to reach Mars by 2001 – well, we'll just leave it at that.

Then back into the museum proper where it was time to check out the reason we had come – the Dinosaurs.

A number of T-Rex skeletons were in the collection. Montana is a hot bed for fossils, and it is for that reason that there is just so much within these walls. Fossilized eggs, and nests were found. All number of triceratops skulls. Big Al the Albertasaurus.

Dinosaurs – they're fantastic. There's not much more than needs to be said. You look at the skull of a T-Rex and it's impressive, and it's amazing. And then it hits you – these things are real. These things were real, anyway. These dinosaurs existed. Creatures this big, with teeth like this. They roamed around, and did their thing.

And in that moment there's a sense of awe and understanding – which is quickly frittered away, because animals like this – even thinking of them as animals – is just too foriegn.

Instead we wandered over and took a picture of Katherine beside Catherine the T-Rex. Catherine the T-Rex is the dinosaur they found dinosaur tissue within a few years ago. This is what the Christians who now run the dinosaur sculptures in California use as proof man rode dinosaurs 6000 years ago.

After this show was snapped, we went and took a picture of me standing beside Big Mike, the T-Rex.

If only Catherine were spelled with a K, then it would have been perfect. But we'll take what we can get.

Three and a half hour later we finally made our way out of the museum, and back to our car – arms loaded with items purchased at the gift shop. Finally I had seen some dinosaurs in Montana.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to shower and wash my hair. After all this camping, it's been a while.

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