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Best of Montana in Summer: Museums and Landmarks

Check out the three sites you must visit in summer for a lesson in history and culture in Big Sky Country.

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The Missoula Smokejumpers practice at their training base where visitors can look at the preparation and skill required of these elite firefighters.

Visit the Smokejumper Center, Missoula

The Missoula Smokejumper Base is home to over 70 elite firefighters who jump from airplanes to fight fires throughout the West. No jumping or flames are required to visit the Smokejumper Visitor Center, which features firefighting equipment, exhibits about wildfire, and the history of smoke jumping. There's also a fully rebuilt fire lookout cabin and hourly tours (Memorial Day-Labor Day, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.). The tour travels throughout the smokejumper base, and is designed to help visitors understand what the job entails. If you’re lucky and visit in early season (late May to mid-June), you may get to see the smoke jumpers on a training jump right near the base. There’s also a Junior Smokejumper Program that can be scheduled on weekdays for children ages 6 to 12 (minimum four participants required). Through safe and land-based hands-on activities, kids learn about parachute techniques, smokejumper training and tools, aircraft, and firefighting.

Tour the Range Riders Museum, Miles City

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The Ranger Riders Museum is a collection of 13 buildings housing a massive amount of Montana memorabilia, ranging from dinosaur bones to a collection of 400 guns amassed by the late Bert Clark. "Our museum was founded in 1939 by a group of cowboys who didn't want their way of life to be lost,” says Bunny Miller, curator of the museum. Wandering the museum site, which can take a full day, is a walk back in time. Exhibits include a wagon depot that houses Old West transportation, including buggies, antique cars, and, oddly, an iron lung; a country schoolhouse with desks lined up in rows; and the Jennie Lockie Room, with a collection of fine china. The biggest treasures, though, are the vintage photographs depicting the pioneers, cowboys, railroad men, sheep herders, farmers, Native Americans, soldiers (Fort Keogh was a military post here after the Battle of the Little Bighorn), and others who settled the town of Miles City and surrounding southeast Montana. "We have a memorial hall that we call our Hall of Fame with plaques of about a thousand people who were born before 1915 and lived within a 150 mile radius of Miles City," says Miller.

See William Clark’s Signature on Pompeys Pillar National Monument, near Billings

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Thirty miles east of Billings is a rock outcropping rising 150 feet above the Yellowstone River. Impressive as it is, the real attraction is what is written in the sandstone: the signature of Capt. William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame). “You can travel the entire Lewis and Clark trail from St. Louis to Oregon and this is the only place that you can absolutely know that you are standing in a spot where Captain William Clark stood,” says Jeff Kitchens, Pompeys Pillar monument manager. “On July 25, 1806, he carved his name into the tower.” Over 200 years later, Clark’s signature is still there to see, along with Native American carvings and hundreds of names of pioneers, homesteaders, trappers, and even some of Custer’s soldiers. Pompeys Pillar, a national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management, is named for Sacagawea’s son, who Clark nicknamed “Pomp.” Insider’s tip: The pillar is also a prime bird-watching area, drawing species from both east and west to nest in the spring and summer.

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