Getting My Yellowstone Fix at the Draper Natural History Museum
This is the time of year when I dream of geysers and mud pots, raptors and wolves. The world’s first and arguably favorite national park is just around the corner from Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country. But this time of year, it might as well be thousands of miles.
In March, most of the roads are still unplowed, and most of the park’s visitors enter through the park’s North Gate just outside of Gardiner, Mont. When I was cross country skiing along the north fork of the Shoshone River this past weekend, I saw that the East Gate to the park is still buried under feet of snow.
It will be about six to eight weeks before the National Park Service begins to open park roads including the East and Northeast Gate near Cody, and at least a month after that before most of the park’s hotels, restaurants and other services are up to full speed.
So what does this Cody girl do when she’s bitten by the Yellowstone bug before the park opens? I head to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Draper Natural History Museum.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the Draper offers award-winning exhibits depicting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Artfully designed and internationally acclaimed, the museum is named for Nancy Carroll-Draper, a museum trustee and benefactor who championed the museum to integrate natural sciences and humanities. When it was opened in June 2002, I remember how impressed I was by the thoughtful exhibits, including kid-friendly presentations that turn learning about science into child’s play.
The fun starts at the Expedition Trailhead, where kids or kids-at-heart like me can get their first of six stamps on their free-with-admission Greater Yellowstone Adventure passport.
Then comes my favorite part: the Alpine-to-Plains Trail, a 90-foot-tall rotunda that depicts Yellowstone’s ecosystem. Visitors descend a winding path displaying the natural habitat and creatures in the park’s alpine, mountain forest, mountain meadow and plains/basin environments. Along the way, you hear the sights and sounds and even identify the smells that await when you hike through the park.
And just for fun, I always pause at the tile mosaic map of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The 30-foot-wide floor exhibit must be viewed from above to truly appreciate the vastness and diversity of the park’s ecosystem.
Although I’m itching for my first park visit of the new season, I’m content to dream away while exploring the park in the comfort of the Draper Natural History Museum.
Until next time, I’m stamping my passport and loving life here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.