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Published: June 30th 2016
Last Chance Train Tours
Located at the Montana Historical Society in Helena, Montana.
Our day began with a train tour of Helena called "Last Chance Train Tours
," which operates just outside the Montana Historical Society. The Historical Society opens at 9am, and the first train tour of the day is at 11am. They recommend people arrive 30 minutes before the departure time to find parking and get tickets before it departs.
The train engineer was friendly and knowledgeable, and he cracked a few light jokes here and there to make the tour a bit fun. We started out by going by the governor's mansion--really a modest home--and the capitol building. We then wound through some historical neighborhoods and saw some beautiful, old homes (including the old governor's mansion). He talked about Teddy Roosevelt's famous encounter with a bear cub, and he also provided historical information--like how Helena was selected to be the capital of Montana. As we turned this way and that through the town, people waved. Our kids were delighted to wave back. We arrived back at the Historical Society at about noon.
From there, we wandered down East 6th to the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department. It's their corporate office where my brother-in-law works, but they have a
The Montana Capitol
As seen from the Last Chance train tour.
big, public entry way with shops and displays to explore. The kids were able to touch animal pelts and look at live fish. My sister-in-law treated each of the kids to a stuffed animal to remember their stop, and a woman who works there came out and also gave the kids a free poster and a key chain light. Oliver chose a grizzly bear poster, and Jo chose a poster about fish. I selected a couple pamphlets on state parks to check out, and then we set out by car to Montana Wild
- the education center of the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department.
On the way, we stopped at the Staggering Ox for lunch. The choices were dubbed with creative names--my sister-in-law ordered a Mount St Helen, and my husband ordered the Blackfoot. The sauce I ordered with my sandwich was called "Camel Spit." The sandwiches were good and unlike anything I'd seen before. They're basically served in a tube of bread, and they're enormous! Even Jo, who is normally a picky eater, gobbled up her quesadilla.
Once we were sufficiently stuffed with delicious sandwiches, we finished our drive to Montana Wild. It's
Herd Bull sculpture
located at the Montana Historical Society in Helena
located at the edge of the Spring Meadow Lake State Park. Zach explained that they do a lot of educational programs at Montana Wild, including lessons on things like fly fishing. They utilize the lake for a lot of the classes. Indeed, we saw one group of older kids being led from the lake to the facility. We also passed a few classrooms inside as well.
There was no admission cost to Montana Wild, and there was so much to see! The kids loved seeing the live fish the best. Zach talked to them about what features to look at in order to identify the fish. They looked at cutthroat fish, and then he showed us the sturgeons he works with. The kids got to touch more animal pelts--coyote and mountain lion--and they laughed at the jars of animal scat. There were grizzly paws to examine, as well as some big stuffed grizzlies and black bears (no touching the stuffed bears). Zach explained that they rescue and rehabilitate the grizzly cubs there, but it's not open to the public because they don't want grizzlies to see humans. They go to great lengths to hide food for the
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department
There's a public area in the entry way that we checked out. They had some pelts and skulls for the kids to touch, as well as some fish to check out.
bears, and then release them into the area to dig and forage. They never see the people bring the food. It's important bears never associate humans with food, which is why the various state and national parks have bear-proof garbage cans. As they say, a fed bear is a dead bear. When these injured bears are healed, they're released back to the area they came from. It all sounds very neat! There were some videos playing in Montana Wild that showed some bears being rescued.
We spent a good hour at Montana Wild, and then my young niece and nephew went home for their naps. We took our kids back to the area of our hotel so they could ride on the Great Northern Carousel
. It's a great area for kids! There's a big, open area for kids to explore in front of Exploration Works. Exploration Works is a hands-on science museum for kids, but we didn't opt to go in today. They ran around outside and explored the children's exploration gardens, banged on the outdoor xylophones, and crossed a rock bridge to check out a grizzly bear sculpture. We then wandered into the Great Northern Carousel, which is
normally $1.50/ride, but we got to ride for free with our ticket stub from the train tour. The carousel is simply beautiful. The wooden animals come in all types--from traditional horses to wolves, otters, fish, bears, and rabbits. I recognized a few of the painted scenes on the top of the carousel, like the capitol building and bison. Some kids received a few colorful rings to throw at a clown as the carousel spun around. When the ride was over, we each got an ice cream cone to enjoy. All of it was Montana made, and they sold huckleberry frozen yogurt.
The kids loved every minute of the day, and I think it was a great way for us all to get a taste of Helena--even though we're only here for the day. Here's a breakdown of where we went:
• Montana Historical Society - 225 Roberts Street
• Last Chance Train Tours, departing from the Montana Historical Society
• Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department - 1420 E 6th Avenue
• The Staggering Ox - 400 Euclid Avenue
• Montana Wild - 2668 Broadwater Avenue
• Exploration Works! - 995 Carousel Way
• Great Northern Carousel - 989 Carousel Way
Pictures from each of these stops are down below this post. The pictures of the carousel are on page two.
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