This is a fascinating museum that focuses on the natural history of the area around Yellowstone National Park. The exhibits are filled with the artistry of talented taxidermists. This would normally not be my thing, at all, but here the preserved animals are presented in a way that helps visitors understand how the whole ecosystem fits together. Famous animals are also preserved here, along with stories about their lives, which has a kind of scientific charm. There is also the advantage of being able to stand very close to a grizzly bear or wolf and get a clear look at it without fear of being attacked.
Where this museum really gets interesting though, is when it addresses head on the issues that get people really riled up in this part of the country; things like climate change, wildfire management, and the reintroduction of wolves and grizzly bears to the area.
Let’s start with the wolves. There is a terrific exhibit that includes not only the taxidermy version of wolves for a safe close up view, but information on the hunting of wolves, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, and an entire wolf hide for kids (including big kids) to touch.
One of the most interesting exhibits to me though, was one that invited visitors to leave a comment about what they were seeing. Did they agree with the reintroduction of wolves into areas in the lower 48? Where did they see humans in the overall hierarchy of who gets to use the land? As a person who celebrates ecological diversity and is a total fan of the celebrated trophic cascade that happened in Yellowstone following the reintroduction of wolves (video link here has received more than 38 million views), I was surprised to see how many people were vehemently anti-wolf, for a variety of reasons. It was a healthy reminder that I was deep in wolf country.
There was a lot of information on bears as well, and a chance to see the differences between black bear (which are common to the area where I live in New England) and grizzlies. The differences in skull size alone was sobering.
Here again, I took advantage of the opportunity to get a really close look at the size and physical features of these magnificent animals.
Another fun and interesting aspect of the museum was the presentation of fossils (or casts) of animals that once roamed this area, but are now extinct. The Bighorn Basin is a treasure chest of fossilized remains and while that’s not the main attraction here, the ones they chose to present were easy to imagine in the landscape. They included a Short-faced Bear, an American Cheetah, and a Sabre Tooth Tiger, along with an obligatory dinosaur.
The museum is also home to a living laboratory exhibit, where visitors can watch as staff and volunteers conduct research in the laboratory, as they process specimens, film, video and photographs.
Overall impression: I learned a lot here in a fairly short amount of time. The collection of objects and learning stations are very well organized and thoughtfully presented. My favorite part was how accessible everything was, so that I was able to stand very close to the objects presented. The exhibits also challenged me to think, and posed questions that I hadn’t considered before. This was a really fun visit!
Cost: Admission is included in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West ticket (see previous post).