Located on East 2nd Street is the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. The space originally started as an exotic zoo until a concerned group took action and took over the space, founding the Beartooth Nature Center in 1987. Their mission is now to “provide lifelong sanctuary to non-releasable native wildlife and share a message of conservation and education” (yellowstonewildlifesanctuary.org).
The sanctuary is home to a wide variety of wild animals native to Montana. All of these animals are unable to be reintroduced to the wild for various reason–many because of human interference whether they were attempted to be kept as exotic pets or taken out of the wild and acclimated to human interaction. Each animal has a unique story and circumstance.
The staff and volunteers at the sanctuary not only maintain the animals and their habitats, but work to educate the public about these animals and the importance of conservation. The sanctuary runs a variety of camps and other educational activities for the youth and people of all ages.
The areas surrounding the different habitats feature beautiful gardens and grassy areas, and even a designated picnic area for guests. The sanctuary while maybe not the ideal outcome for any wild animal, is realistically the best case scenario for the ones that ended up here. The staff is friendly and the area pretty and well maintained. It is definitely worth the stop to see some beautiful animals and get educated about them in this area located in the gateway to Yellowstone.
This year marked the 88th year of Red Lodge’s annual parades that fall on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of July. The parade precedes the annual “Home of the Champions” Rodeo on the same three days.
Each parade held throughout the three days has a unique theme that speaks to some aspect of the town of Red Lodge. This year, July 3rd’s parade was “agriculture” themed–featuring many horses and other agricultural aspects.
While definitely not the most flashy Independence day parade out there, this small town event is not lacking any character or heart. Residents line the street and the whole town essentially comes together in celebration of the town, its history, and its legacy.
More than just a popular tourist spot, Red Lodge is a community. There are several outdoor spaces dedicated to residents to enjoy some outdoor activities, or just take some time to escape and enjoy some fresh air.
The Lion’s Club Park is a centrally located community spot, right behind Broadway Ave. and the Art’s Guild building. On old train track sits on the edge of the space, and the open field features goal posts for a quick pick-up game.
Further down Broadway and a couple of blocks to the east towards the old mine sits a quiet area known as City Park. Less of a recreation spot, this park is a very scenic spot right next to the creek that runs through the town. This is a great spot to get out and experience nature without having to travel far at all. This is an ideal spot to picnic or even to just take a couple minutes to breathe in the crisp air and listen to the water run.
On the opposite side of Broadway from City Park is a small but significant skate park. It is a popular spot for local kids to hang out and skate, bike, and scooter. Though there are not very large features at the park, it is a valuable spot for some of the younger locals to improve their skills and get in some activity.
My first stop in Virginia city was the free museum. With everyday items, clothing, and plenty of newspaper clippings, this museum had everything about the history of Virginia City.
There were glass cases filled with fossils, stuffed “freak lambs”, old newspaper clippings, and even a skeleton. Most of these artifacts came from families that lived in Virginia City.
Robert Gohn owned several businesses in Virginia City. He was born and raised there. He became blind in 1920 from a dynamite explosion, but he continued to work. He knew most people by name and could tell when they walked through the door at his bar, ready to serve their favorite drink. When asked about Robert Gohn, Virginia City natives are quick to tell you anything you want to know.
The free museum had everything from newspaper clippings about his death to the exact cup he would drink his whiskey from on display.
There are other taxidermy animals on display including a white bear, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, and many more.
This museum is a definite stop when visiting Virginia City. If you want a crash course on the city, the people that founded it, and everything that went on since it became a ghost town. stop here.
Tucked away in a quaint wooden building on the east side of downtown Ennis is the RiverStone Gallery. It is owned by husband and wife Lexi and Bern Sundell. Lexi has been painting since her teens learning from her uncle who was very skilled in oil paints. Bern has been painting all his life. Together they opened a gallery featuring both of their artwork.
Lexi and Bern both love working with very bight colors. All of their paintings feature bright tones with interesting textures. In their gallery over the summer they get people from all over the world coming into the store. Ennis being on the way to Yellowstone National Park allows for this international exposure.
Their gallery is well lit with light hard wood floors and nice presentation lighting. The studio also has excellent natural light filtering into it which allows the bright colors of the paintings to really pop in the sunlight.
Bern has been approached by the Made In Montana company to have his images placed on items such as mugs and canteens to be sold in souvenir shops all around the state of Montana. Below are some of the items that the couple sell wholesale.
On highway 287, lies the main strip of Virginia City. With a population under 200 people, this small town sits all within a mile. The main strip has displays, which you can walk a few feet into, to see what a store would have been like in the 1800’s.
On this first trip, I walked into each display on the main strip. One interesting display was the Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Co. Inside was a mannequin using the telephone switchboard.
There are also some tourists spots. For example, there is a theater that puts on summer shows for tourists, a candy shop that displays taffy being made in the window, and even a free museum put together by donations from the citizens of Virginia City and other surrounding towns.
On the corner of 12th and Broadway lies the Red Lodge Antique Mall and Gun Room. Inside features an almost overwhelming amount of historic antiques and collector items–from big ticket items to handmade signs to small coins from brothels found and collected from around the US. The store is a must see for anyone that collects antiques.
At the front of the store I met local David Thompson, who works in the antique section and makes a lot of the custom signs that are also sold there.
In the back of the Antique Mall is the second part of the store, The Gun Room. Rifles line the walls as well as old photographs that tell stories of the West and Red Lodge’s history. There I met Dave Hurtt, or “Gun Cave Dave”. Dave is somewhat of a walking encyclopedia for all things related to Montana, Red Lodge, and western movies. He had no shortage of stories to share about Red Lodge’s past, including tales of bank robbery, rodeo stars, production of bootleg liquor during prohibition, and the town’s first Sheriff, John “Liver Eatin Johnston”. His grandmother’s cousin was Charles Sterrat–an actor in hundreds of western movies. Dave has Sterrat as his middle name and keeps his spirit alive by dressing in an old western fashion (or in his words: “a gay Custer”).
When prompted, “Red Lodge, Montana” could bring up a variety of connotations. A small mining area, a ski resort town, a summer tourism hot spot, a stop off the Beartooth Highway, a gateway to Yellowstone…but there is a bigger picture. Red Lodge is a community with a very rich and interesting history. Upon exploring it and talking with some of the residents there for the first time, it seemed as though there was something new and exciting around every corner. The local stores are packed with interesting artifacts and imagery, and the people that work in them have colorful personalities as well as an investment in the town they live in as well as its history.
A town that has fluctuated in its main industries and population since its founding in circa 1882, Red Lodge seems to be a place that is constantly changing. It is an important town to the state of Montana, facilitating a growing tourism and skiing industry, built upon its rich historic past.