Computer Museum Tad Over My Head, Still Great Fun

As a reader on the web, it’s pretty likely you’ve heard of computers, but did you know that computers came from somewhere and they have a history of their own? Apparently they don’t just come from the store or the Fed-Ex guy, as I had previously believed, but there was a whole mega-tastic back-story behind this technology and this museum brings it all in to focus.

You can only see most of my delight because the necessary flash to capture my expression is forbidden in the museum.
You can only see most of my delight because the necessary flash to capture my expression is forbidden in the museum.

There has been a definitive world computer museum in Bozeman, Montana since 1990, and it’s the world’s oldest continually operating museum dedicated to the history of the Information Age.

I know, pretty awesome, don’t you think?

It’s even more interesting to me, because our clan only exists on the web, as far as you know, so technology it’s pretty much all we are.

Bozeman is a growing town and it’s pretty progressive, so don’t be put off by the fact that the World Computer Museum lives in a strip mall. If you want to be put off by anything, let it be the fact that their web site looks like it hasn’t been updated since computers were invented. Weird ain’t it?

I’m sure it was cutting edge at some point — if I’m being generous –but these days, man, I just don’t know. My site hasn’t been revamped since 2003, but it still looks miles better… I guess these guys are more about the ancient past of computers than the whole current events segment of the market.

No biggy, not like computers change that much anyhow.

When we went in they had some pretty astounding exhibits. In addition to their regular bits of old Tandy’s and Supercomputers weaker than an iPhone, they had actual historic relics from computing going back several centuries. Imagine that; computational devices that pre-date the Internet, electricity, and even my own birth!

The admission price is awesome at $3-5 a head, and it’s bigger inside than it looks from out front. If you’ve lived through any amount of computer development, which I’m not sure if I have on account of my age, you might be as interested as my parents were in watching the differences between old computers and video game systems, calculators, and even it’s precursor,mechanical devices that did math.

If you wanted to sprint through it, you could do it in a couple minutes. If you want to actually spend a second looking at the exhibits, you could easily spend an hour or two in there harkening back to simpler times (according to the simpler machines) and learning about what got us to where we are.

For latest exhibits, current hours and rates, and some seriously out-of-date examples of what HTML should never be, check them out online at www.CompuStory.com.

ABOVE: These are my puzzled brothers, equally curious why the wall of technology behind them can't compare to the storage capacity of our camera's thumbnail-sized SD card. For posterity's sake, our SD card cost about $25 and holds 2Gb. As of writing this, you can buy 16Gb for about $29.
ABOVE: These are my puzzled brothers, equally curious why the wall of technology behind them can’t compare to the storage capacity of our camera’s thumbnail-sized SD card. For posterity’s sake, our SD card cost about $25 and holds 2Gb. As of writing this, you can buy 16Gb for about $29.

 

Exploration Works Museum Tricks Kids to Learn During Play Time

If you have an occasion to go through Helena, Montana, and I can’t see too many reasons why you would, but I’m not here to judge, only to help you make the most of your time, you should spend at least a few hours at the Exploration Works Museum. It’s as great as any of its kind of place, far better than most, and the location just can’t be beat.

The fun to be had at a place like this can only be measured by the science learned herein.
The fun to be had at a place like this can only be measured by the science learned herein.

Unlike many children’s museums which are run on a shoestring budget (if not a hamstring budget), these guys have a gorgeous new building with open, green architecture. I know, I know, us kids don’t care about that stuff, but it’s just an indicator of how much effort they put forth on the whole place.

Downstairs they’ve got everything from magnetic magic to costumes and all kinds of optical illusions, allusions and delusions. You could spend your whole day down there wandering from one exhibit to the next without even realizing there’s an upstairs, but there is!

Upstairs you’ve got a whole new world of stuff to learn, I mean play with. Not learn, because learning is hard. Playing is fun, but they get you that way because you end up doing both. Oh those wily folk at Exploration Works, how do they do it?

mt-explorationworks2LEFT: Don’t let the frown fool you, fun was had by all, even when certain not-to-be-named members of our exploratory crew took it upon themselves to trick other (also un-named) members unto the sad humiliation that is dressing up like a girl — ah, revenge is so sweet! — at fantasy camp.

We spent a bunch of time on the interactive origami exhibit, and the geometric madness stuff and it got to the point where the only way the parents could tear us away from learning stuff we didn’t even realize we were learning was by promising us ice cream and a carousel ride.

You can see the Great Northern Carousel from the window, so convincing us that it was time to go wasn’t too tricky.

So not only did they teach us fun stuff, but they had the audacity to do so right next door to another amazingly fun place to spend some quality time adjacent to our parents!

It was just fun enough that I’m willing to let it slide, this time.

Exploration Works is located in the heart of the newly revitalized downtown area of Helena, Montana at 995 Carousel Way. If you’re in the area already and have questions about field trips or birthdays, or if you just want to go there, check them out online at www.ExplorationWorks.org.

And no matter what you do, don’t let on that you’re actually having fun while you’re learning, nor that you’re actually learning stuff while you’re having fun playing. That only encourages parents to do more of that stuff, and we can’t live under their thumbs.

Power to the children!

ABOVE: All I know about magnetism, aside from the fact that my news crew kept all the electronic gear clear of it, is that it's basically awesome, and something you can use to entertain yourself for hours, even if you are accidentally learning stuff along the way, a fact I won't attest to, even though I would if I wasn't so busy being rebellious.
ABOVE: All I know about magnetism, aside from the fact that my news crew kept all the electronic gear clear of it, is that it’s basically awesome, and something you can use to entertain yourself for hours, even if you are accidentally learning stuff along the way, a fact I won’t attest to, even though I would if I wasn’t so busy being rebellious.
ABOVE: As if there was any lingering doubt as to the awesomeness of Exploration Works in Helena, Montana, let it be put to bed by a look out the front windows. In case you don't know what you're seeing, it's the Great Northern Carousel building. Yeah, I know, like I already said, it's pretty awesome.
ABOVE: As if there was any lingering doubt as to the awesomeness of Exploration Works in Helena, Montana, let it be put to bed by a look out the front windows. In case you don’t know what you’re seeing, it’s the Great Northern Carousel building. Yeah, I know, like I already said, it’s pretty awesome.

 

Virginia City Players Best Live Show This Side of Puppets

If you’re a good 100-miles off the beaten path in Montana, you may find yourself in a place like Virginia City, the near-sibling to Nevada City, both of which are historic and interesting. More than that, the drive out there from Bozeman (which is much shorter than you might think) is really beautiful. If you do find yourself in Virginia City, and you’re looking for an ounce of fun, you should check out the Virginia City Players.

The world is a stage, but no more than on the actual stage, which also happens to exist within our world.
The world is a stage, but no more than on the actual stage, which also happens to exist within our world.

The theater is at the end of town, but as far as attractions go, it shouldn’t be at the end of your list.

I’ve got a really short attention span, especially for non-puppet entertainment, but these guys managed to keep even my limited attention span rapt for the entire time the show ran.

The first half of the show is a masterfully abridged version of an otherwise unbearable play (in our case it was “The Count of Monte Cristo”). The lengthy story is hammered down to a brilliant 40-50 minutes, and it’s wonderful.

Then comes intermission and you get to go to the bathroom, gobble some popcorn, find out what kind of weather is going on outside, and make it back in time for the second half of the show, which is a Vaudeville show.

The Vaudeville half of the show is all about singing, dancing, joking around and having great fun to the delight of the audience.

Personally, I was a bit upset by the Vaudeville half of the show, because there was a guy in it I didn’t care for. I leaned over to my dad when he came out singing and dancing, and asked, “Isn’t that the bad guy?”

I’m a forgiving sort, but when I see the bad guy from the previous hour trying to woo me with his entertaining ways, I’m no fool, I have to find out what he’s really about. It turns out that my hour-old fear of him should be forgotten. Crazy, right?

Seriously, this is the truth. I honestly didn’t like that handsome blond devil who was the exact devil in the previous half of the show… I’m not crazy here, right?

My Fear-Dar isn’t wholly developed, so let’s at least be proud that I can spot a villain when I see one.

The theater is old and historic, has nothing but good seats, and runs shows constantly during the peak season with actors from across the state and country. As far as live theater goes, there’s little you could wish for better than this. The parents loved it, and us kids did too (ages 4-9 at the time!)

And my dad wanted me to add in that he had a chance to talk with the theater manager, the organist, and at least a few of the actors, and he was really impressed with their professionalism, delight in career, and dedication to making their productions the very best for people like us, whomever we may be.

The Virginia City Players are located at the downhill end of town at the Virginia City Opera House (next to the train station). You can call them at 406-843-5247 (toll free at 800-829-2969), or check them out online at www.VirginiaCityPlayers.com.

ABOVE: After the show we got to meet with the organist at Virginia City Opera House and get an inside look at how it is that the musical magic comes to pass.
ABOVE: After the show we got to meet with the organist at Virginia City Opera House and get an inside look at how it is that the musical magic comes to pass.

 

Café Gelato at Qwivals So Much More than a Snack Bar

If you’re driving on Highway 93 in the area south of Missoula, Montana, there’s a certain family fun center you just shouldn’t miss. It’s got a name as unique as the super-fun offerings they have inside, but maybe you don’t have kids, you’re in a big hurry, or just some sort of general fuddy-duddy. I can’t speak to who you are or what made you that way, but I can tell you that if you’re in the area and hungry, forget what you know about afterthought cafés, because Café Gelato is well worth the stop whatever your reason.

A drink and a toasted sammy, nothing more I could need to earn my smile.
A drink and a toasted sammy, nothing more I could need to earn my smile.

So let’s say you’re just rambling through and you don’t have time to play. I get it, my own parents are the same way sometimes. I weep for them — or at least I say I do, but really I’m weeping for myself because I wanna play!.

The parking is more than ample, even if you’re rolling in with a fifth-wheel in tow. You have no excuse not to stop if you’re hungry, but let me instead give you your motivation for actually popping in.

The food… is… awesome!

We weren’t that hungry when it came time for us to stop for a snack, but Sandy warned us that if we ever tasted her toasted sandwiches we’d never eat at Subway again. Well I’m not one about to ruin a lifetime of going to America’s favorite cut-rate sub shop, however short my life so far may have been, so I had the Perky’s Pizza instead.

The pizza was not only made fresh upon order, and it was not only delicious, but dare I even say it, it was as perky as its namesake.

Daddy went for a custom toasted sandwich (off-menu, made to order, and no problem,) he liked it so much I thought he was going to get down on one knee and propose to that meaty sub.

We had our foods, our snackies, and our drinks-a-plenty, and then it was time for the gelato.

Ever heard of gelato? It’s Latin for “heaven on a spoon” I’m pretty sure.

ABOVE: They make their own Gelato fresh on-site, and they do it with varieties of recipe as diverse as your crew, and as innovative as a whole world of Gelatoers can manage to muster. The outcome means victory for anyone fortunate enough to let their tongue go to war with it. Nummers!
ABOVE: They make their own Gelato fresh on-site, and they do it with varieties of recipe as diverse as your crew, and as innovative as a whole world of Gelatoers can manage to muster. The outcome means victory for anyone fortunate enough to let their tongue go to war with it. Nummers!

They have a cool (literally, get it?) dozen fun flavors of fresh gelato they make themselves right there on site. Flavors are seasonal and wax n’ wane, but often include standards like tiramisu and orange, as well as more unorthodox new favorites like Oreo and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

All that’s on top of a snappy variety of salads with your choice of the same works they put on the sandwiches as well.

If you’ve got a hunger, and you’re in the area (or at the place!) you need to take a quick break to bask in the foody glory of Café Gelato. The prices are as low as you’ll find anywhere, the quality is a point of pride for them, and the portions are generous.

Café Gelato is located inside of Qwival’s Family Fun Center at 1625 Hwy 93 N, in Victor, Montana.

ABOVE: The sign says "Drink Mountain Dew: It'll tickle your innards." If that doesn't speak to their sense of fun (as much as this picture shows how free they were with their painters), then I don't know what could ever spell it out for you.
ABOVE: The sign says “Drink Mountain Dew: It’ll tickle your innards.” If that doesn’t speak to their sense of fun (as much as this picture shows how free they were with their painters), then I don’t know what could ever spell it out for you.

 

Great Northern Carousel Struggles to Outshine Own Eatery

We’ve seen so many carousels from coast to halfway-to-the-other-coast, and this one is as good as any, but better in a number of ways. Sure the one at the San Francisco zoo is the oldest, and the one in Missoula is the most unique, and the one at the roving carnie-fest was the scariest, but this one is unique for many of its own reasons, not the least of which is the ice cream parlor it hosts, and struggles to outshine.

Not always easy to pick your favorite horse among so many great ones, but always fun.
Not always easy to pick your favorite horse among so many great ones, but always fun.

The Great Northern Carousel was established in Helena as an anchor to the downtown revitalization project put in motion a few years back. Sure, you can build a fancy hotel and beg a bank or two to come in and make the run-down industrial district lively again, but how can you do it without a b’jillion dollar carousel and world-class, classically styled ice cream parlor?

If you’re asking me, the answer is that you can’t.

Of course I’m partial to carousels and ice cream, but I think we all are deep down inside, and that theory seems to be holding true.

To the credit of the complex, they also have Exploration Works Museum across the courtyard, and that can only help. Those guys are awesome, and host mad gaggles of fun, but I think these twin successes are symbiotic… wow, when did I get this vocabulary? Almost makes you think somebody might be ghost-editing for me with three-million published words under his belt. You know better though, but the question is still out there.

The menagerie-style carousel was mostly hand-carved by Ed Roth of Long Beach, California, and painted by Bette Largent or Spokane, Washington. Did I mention it’s affordable? Well it is. It’s not the cheapest in the world, but it is as amazing as any you’ll find anywhere, and not just because I’m a soft critic. The quality is superb, the artistry is unsurpassed, and the fun just keeps going around in splendid circles.

It’s entirely enclosed for year-round fun, and is housed in the same place where you can get a wickedly wonderful variety of hand-crafted ice creams, cautiously topped nachos, and manually jerked sodas… I mean, the pop is still off the fountain, but that counts as far as I can tell from my research.

They’ve got a birthday zone for your party needs, and your whole gang can even ride the ponies. It even has an old-style ring-machine (where you grab rings from the thingy as you go by each time,) and it’s only the second one I’ve ever seen. The rings are simple plastic, but if you catch the last one, the brass ring (go for the brass ring!) you’ll earn yourself a free ride on the next go-round.

ABOVE: If the joy of one child isn't enough to sell the experience, consider any other kid you can find in the photograph. Or if you will, just trust me when I tell you it was a greatly amusing ride.
ABOVE: If the joy of one child isn’t enough to sell the experience, consider any other kid you can find in the photograph. Or if you will, just trust me when I tell you it was a greatly amusing ride.

Helena was not our favorite city on the tour, but there were two places that made it absolutely worth the trip out, and both of them are right there. The Great Northern Carousel is one, and the other is Exploration Works Museum which you can see from the windows.

Stop in, take a spin, and then enjoy a snack. We did, and we never looked back. Not because looking back after spinning might disagree with us (after the miles we drove on our trip, you should know our constitutions have been tempered by trial.)

For hours, directions and everything else you could want to know, check them out online at www.GNCarousel.com. The “G N” stands for “Great Northern”, but the Carousel stands for fun!

ABOVE: If riding ponies whips up an appetite for you like it did for us, consider the in-house snack bar a fine next stop for hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, or our favorite, the locally made artisan ice creams.
ABOVE: If riding ponies whips up an appetite for you like it did for us, consider the in-house snack bar a fine next stop for hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, or our favorite, the locally made artisan ice creams.
ABOVE: By now I'm sure you don't need any more reasons to believe me when I tell you that riding the Great Northern Carousel in Helena, Montana is a fun thing to do, but if you're still looking for the sort of vareity sufficient to seal the deal, check out the horses in this picture... Not horses at all. These are a rhino and bunny rabbit, and among many of the unique offerings that aren't horses on this amazing carousel ride.
ABOVE: By now I’m sure you don’t need any more reasons to believe me when I tell you that riding the Great Northern Carousel in Helena, Montana is a fun thing to do, but if you’re still looking for the sort of vareity sufficient to seal the deal, check out the horses in this picture… Not horses at all. These are a rhino and bunny rabbit, and among many of the unique offerings that aren’t horses on this amazing carousel ride.

 

Splash Montana Water Park Killer Outdoor Version of Missoula Currents

I’ve never pretended I felt anything less than total love for Missoula. It’s hands-down my favorite city in Montana, and maybe even my favorite city anywhere. They’ve got a killer carousel, the greatest public park I’ve ever seen, their public parks have squirty water features for summer play, and the people there are as kind as you’ll find anywhere in the world. So let’s add one more feather to that already-foppish cap; Splash Montana Water Park.

Fun in the sun can even by had by vampire-folk like us.
Fun in the sun can even by had by vampire-folk like us.

To cover the basics, it’s an outdoor water park and the close cousin to Currents (also in Missoula). If you ask me — which of course you have, I mean, you’re here aren’t you — it’s got pretty much everything you could ever want in an aquatic theme park, but without all the needless markup for profit so common in places of its kind.

Prices are only $3.25 for kids under 11, ranging up to a max of $5.50 for grown-ups (even less if you’ve got a resident discount card) and it’s not like they’re so affordable so they can woo you in and soak you for premium add-ons. Once you’re in and wet, there’s no more money to be spent.

mt-splash-montana2LEFT: They even have a courtesy phone for local calls. I chose to call my puppy dog Sweenie outside in the car, but he didn’t pick up. Not sure if it’s the lack of opposable thumbs or just him being a stuffed animal again.

Even the courtesy phone is free of charge, so if you’re placing a local call home to tell Ma or Pa it’s time to come get you, it doesn’t cost an extra cent. Seriously, not one extra cent.

They have a couple of monstrously huge water slides, a lazy river pool that swirls you in circles (with inter-tubes, I might add), a kiddy spray area, and a sound assortment of other features, like a waveless lap pool for aspiring pro-swimmers.

Just like it’s indoor cousin Currents, it’s got more than enough space to sprawl, but since it’s outdoors, it’s more spread out (though only open summer months). Even on its busiest days (I’m told we were there on one of those) it’s still quite comfortable, and there’s no real line to get tubes or find your own private space to splash (even if your brother detests such moisture, as fully TWO of mine did.)

If you like being out in the sun, you’re in for a real treat. If, on the other hand, you fear the sun, as we all do in my famously pale clan, you need only slather head to toe in sunscreen every few minutes, and you’ll be slightly less likely to burn to a crisp.

To learn more about them, check out their web site or just swing by for a visit.

ABOVE: If you can look at a picture like this and not see how much fun there is to be had, you must be browsing with images turned off, because Splash Montana has tons of fun stuff.
ABOVE: If you can look at a picture like this and not see how much fun there is to be had, you must be browsing with images turned off, because Splash Montana has tons of fun stuff.
ABOVE: Just like Splash Montana's indoor sister-park, Currents, the zero-depth entry pool is nicely complimented by a grizzley slide.
ABOVE: Just like Splash Montana’s indoor sister-park, Currents, the zero-depth entry pool is nicely complimented by a grizzley slide.

 

Moss Mansion Tour Surprisingly Interesting for All Ages

Billings, Montana is a really great city, and not just because every third hotel has a water slide, but because there’s so much history stuffed into such a small area, really making Billings worth driving that far out for. One exceptional example is Moss Mansion, and not just because it’s a really cool old house, but because of the man who built it and the family he raised to live there.

The Moss Mansion is cool, but the tale of the Moss family is the real story here.
The Moss Mansion is cool, but the tale of the Moss family is the real story here.

You can get an hour-long guided tour of the Moss Mansion Historic House Museum most days and hours of the week just by popping in and wanting to. The tour doesn’t just capture early turn-of-the-century life as the Preston Boyd Moss family lived it, but gives you a glimpse of the dynamo that was Mr. Moss.

He didn’t just live in Billings. He was Billings. He practically lived and died Billings essence, and if you’d have cut him, he’d have bled distillated Billings entrepreneurship.

Sure, visitors get to see the original draperies, fixtures, furniture, Persian carpets and artifacts displayed in the majestic 1903 red sandstone home, which was designed by New York architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, designer of the original Waldorf Astoria Plaza Hotels, Williard Hotel, and Copely Hotel, but they get to see much more than that.

They also get to see nappy old hair braids the girls of the house used to look pretty at dance socials.

The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but what’s more historically important to me is that, even though this was the most important family in the region, the kids still had to share bedrooms… Me and my brothers share a bedroom, so maybe I’m richer than I thought I was all along!

The house is fantastic; don’t get me wrong, but what I’m really saying is that the man behind the house is the real story. Mr. Moss became a prominent banking figure when he came out, organized the first dial telephone company in the area, founded a newspaper that was the forerunner to the Billings Gazette, and even started the central heating plant and the Billings Utility Company.

He set up massive irrigation projects, not because he thought it would make him richer, but because he believed in the area and knew it had to be done if the city was going to grow. He developed a sugar factory and the Billings Polytechnic Institute (now Rocky Mountain College).

Heck, even in the early 1900s, Mr. Moss and an associate ran 80,000 head of sheep and several thousand head of cattle. That’s got to count for something, right? I can’t even get the heads at the petting zoo to cooperate with me, so to get that many to go his way is amazing.

The cattle followed him, sure, but the citizens believed in him.

I could talk for days about how eerily awesome the house is, or all the spectacular things he did, but you should check it out for yourself. To learn more about the history of the great man, check it out online at www.MossMansion.com and plan on spending the time for a quick visit when you’re in town.

Moss Mansion Billings Montana
ABOVE: Sometimes we report so much fact it’s almost exhausting… of course it is exhausting, but that’s hardly the point… or maybe it is, I can’t think about it right now.

 

Easy-to-Hunt Ghosts at Bannack State Park

Montana has a real surplus of a few things. They’ve got more sky than they know what to do with (a “big sky” if you will), empty stretches of well-maintained roads, and they’ve also got more ghost towns than any state should ever have need for, especially on a per capita basis. But if you like ghost towns, and I sure as heck do, the best one in Montana is easily Bannack State Park.

These are not actual ghosts, but us kids. You can tell because we are visible and we exist.
These are not actual ghosts, but us kids. You can tell because we are visible and we exist.

And if you want to hunt ghosts, there’s no better place to find them than the biggest, best, and best preserved ghost town in the state, if not just in a state park. Bannack state park has the whole ghost town thing locked down like nobody’s business, and they do it for free (if you have in-state license plates) or for like $5 per family (if you have out-of-state plates as we do).

John White discovered gold in Grasshopper Creek in 1862, and the rush for the wealth was on. The place took it’s name from the nearby Bannock Indian tribe. The last residents finally left the town in the 1970s because there wasn’t anything left to do here, and it wasn’t yet an official ghost town (you know, they had to leave it first), when the state finally acquired the last private holdings.

At one time the town got as big as 3,000 people, but now it’s only occupied by a handful of ghosts, most of them fairly reclusive, though their homes are open to the public.

And as an added bonus, if you show up at the right time on the right days, you can hitch a ride on the antique pickup truck to take a behind-the-scenes look at the old (still standing) gold mill. Know how much extra it costs? None, and they don’t even ask for a tip.

Here’s some info about park hours:
 

  • During the month of May, the Town Site is open from 8:00am until dusk.
  • Memorial Day through Labor Day the Town Site is open from 8:00am to 9:00pm.
  • September 1st through October 30th the Town Site is open from 8:00am until dusk.
  • November 1st through April 30th, the Town Site is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm.

 

To get the latest information about dates, hours, rates and latest attractions, check them out online at www.bannack.org. And like many attractions we endorse, feel free to tell them we sent you, but don’t expect any special treatment because of it, because although we went as guests, they only treated us as wonderfully as they’ll treat you, and that isn’t exactly memorable for them, but you’ll get top-shelf treatment out of it, and I stake, steak and s’take my reputation on it.


ABOVE: Show up at the right times and you can take a behind-the-scenes tour, and you get to ride in this vintage pickup truck. It’s fun if you can get there at the right times for it.


ABOVE: What gives with this place? It’s like nobody has made any repairs in literally decades.


ABOVE: For a ghost town, there’s a lot of stuff still intact, like windows and buildings. Even though this is a picture of a boy outside, boys are allowed inside too.

 

Qwival’s Family Fun Center Offers Fun Name, Funner Time

If you aren’t a Montana native, it would seem a bit unlikely you’d be traveling south away from Interstate-90 along the general Missoula-ish swath of the state. Maybe you’re passing by that way because you’re looking for adventure, or your taking a different route to find your way to stones yellow or jelly. I can’t speak to your motivation for driving in such directions, but I can give you advice once you commit to doing so.

A slide by any other name still makes me scream WEEE!
A slide by any other name still makes me scream WEEE!

As far as family fun centers go, this place is about as much fun as you’re going to find. They’ve got everything we’ve ever found anywhere else, plus a few extras in case you, like me, are not easily satisfied.

Their miniature golf course – which I call “regular sized” on account of me being miniature myself – is really quite exceptional. Of all the putt-putt courses I’ve ever seen, this one is easily in the top two. It’s got slopes, slants and obstacles a-plenty, and you don’t have to take it from me, because you don’t have to pay to get in and see it.

Outside they also have go-carts (I mean the real deal), if you’re big enough for them (which we weren’t, because we were pre-kindergarten when we went) as well as an an assortment of bouncy houses to climb and enjoy as well.

Water Wars at Quival Family Fun CenterLEFT: The careful observer will notice a green water balloon in mid-flight in this picture. Capturing such an instant in time is apparently quite a feat for our photographer. More difficult still is avoiding the water that immediately struck the opposing force du agua, which looked impossible from my vantage.

If the heat gets too much for you, which Montana summers very well may, you should take one of your many options to cool off. One good way to do that is with Water Wars.

For pennies on the pouch, you can get a bag of water balloons and wage your own dampest dessert jihad. You fill your balloon, pull it back in your sling-shot, and fire it at your opponent. If you’re lucky, your opponent will have perfect aim, and you’ll get the luxury of a quick soak to cool you off.

If that still isn’t enough, you can head inside to the arcade, café or bumper cars.

The bumper car area is exactly what you think it is. It’s an indoor, air conditioned bumper car arena where you can bump, scuttle and scurry from bumpy-scuttles to the best of your ability.

The arcade has all kinds of games (some with tickets you can redeem for prizes) and others where you might just win a prize. It was fun because brother Brendan dropped a token in the stuffed animal machine, and won a critter on his very first try. I thought it would make for a good day around the office, but he won the wrong prize (he got an animal when he wanted a Spiderman) he was pretty bitter… come on, brother-boss, you got a plush friend for a quarter, what’s your beef?

And if you’re still bursting at the thermostatic seems, you can hit the gelato bar for a classic cool-down, and I recommend it highly. If you aren’t too hot, I suggest you pretend that you are, because it’s totally worth it. We’ll cover the café in a separate article, but for now just know it’s a good value for exceptional tummy stuffings.

For hours and information about Qwival’s Family Fun Center, check them out online at www.Qwivals.com.

Qwivals Family Fun Center Mini Golf
ABOVE: It’s not that we made up rules for our mini-golf game, but that we chose to ignore all existing rules and NOT make up any. It really turned to chaos quite quickly, but that was the fun of it. It had to be the fun of it, since it was all we left room for, in the absence of everything else.

Bumper Cars at Qwivals Family Fun Center in Montana
ABOVE: This was our first experience among the staff with Bumper Cars. Eldest Patrick wisely stayed clear while me and my other staff colleague took turns gently bumping into one another. It wasn’t a lack of horsepower so much as some fundamental absence of ability to understand the control mechanisms for the vehicles… it was fun though.

 

Western Romance Adventure Dinners Gives Best, True Cowboy Experience

Easily the single best experience we had in all of our many Montana adventures was the evening we spent just east of Billings in the fine company of Pappy and his family at the Western Romance Company Cowboy Dinner. It’s a horse-drawn wagon ride, an evening of authentic cowboy cooking, and fellowship with the single best people we met on the whole of our trip to Montana.

This is what a true wagon looks like when it comes to pick you up for dinner.
This is what a true wagon looks like when it comes to pick you up for dinner.

We’ve never hesitated to tell the often-painful truth about the people we meet along our many travels, and I’ve already said that the people we met in Montana were almost universally the kindest, warmest people we’ve ever met. Billings was already an exceptional town for us, but the good folks at Pappy’s Western Romance Adventure Dinner were hands-down the best of the best (of the best).

Unlike many of the things I proclaim emphatically, in this case, there are indeed two ways about it. If you want the full experience of the cowboy roundup, you can do the normal Western Romance Dinner like we did, which is what I’m going to talk about, or you can have a Happy Pappy Holdup, which isn’t scary at all, but fun, because it’s a good old fashioned holdup, where he and his boys will catch up with your tour bus and get cowboy-style all over your ladies… that part I can’t speak for cuz I ain’t got no lady unless you count my mama.

On a side note I’d like to say that if you’re a tour operator yourself and you’re heading through Billings, you’d be plain crazy not to check it out. They can do a simple holdup, a full dinner deal, or almost anything else you can imagine. And if you want to know more about that, check them out, drop them a line and see what you can arrange to get your own Happy Pappy Holdup for your guests. But let’s just cover the Western Romance Dinner for now, since that’s what we did, and what we know best.

Now let’s get back to it.

Wagon Meet N’ Greet
Finding the place is super easy, as it’s right off the exit (and the first two rights, swinging you back down right next to the freeway) and from there you meet the crew and start getting warmed up for the big event. Show up early, because early is better than late, you can bask in the afternoon sun, decompress from your day, and get into a good head space for the magic experience you’re about to have.

Mount Up & Ride Out to the Round Up
You’ll see the horse drawn wagon ride up to you, and Pappy will greet you in true cowboy form. I mean it, the guy is really a real cowboy. He doesn’t just look the part he is the part. So much so that when Hollywood came looking for cowboys, he was found. My good friend Happy Pappy was one of the cowboys in the bestest cowboy movies ever made, “Far & Away,” “A River Runs Through it,” “Legacy,” and “Ballad of Little Jo,” just to name a few. Happy Pappy, being a real cowboy and all, makes sure you get to sit in the wagon and ride out with full cowboy detail, out-rider and all. That makes for a really superb beginning.

Explore the Camp
Once you arrive in camp, and it takes a bit because it isn’t even in sight of where you park, you get to climb down and check out the cowboy camp. There’s a bunch of different wagons, a tent where the cooking happens, and some horsey-type animals just hanging out.

Play Yerself Them Horseshoes
Hang out, unwind a bit more, and maybe play some games, like horseshoes. Hey, think about it, if you’re a cowpoke, you don’t have a whole lot of spare nouns laying around, so you use what you got, and believe me, you got horseshoes. Maybe drink some lemonade at this time if you’re thirsty, cuz lemonade always helps you get in a good place.

Settle In for Dinner
Once you’ve had a good time to socialize and unwind, and maybe play some horseshoes, it’s time to settle in for dinner. You head on up to the cook and get whatever pleases you.

You can see the chow wagon in the background
ABOVE: If this ain’t a genuine cowboy dinner, I don’t know what is.

Chow On Down
We had steak, the most awesome beans ever, fruit, potato salad, and fry bread, which is like a biscuit, except it’s socially acceptable to bury it in sugar and eat it like that. We had a meal that simply couldn’t be beat, and even us youngsters stuffed ourselves to the gills, because we were hungry, and it ideally hit the spot.

We munched, munched and munched some more, and meanwhile, Pappy started strumming his guitar (though I think they called it a “GHEE-tar”).

Cowboy music during dinner
ABOVE: Face full of food and happiness, and ears full of finest cowboy music, as you can see on all accounts.

Revel in the Music
As you eat, you’re treated to authentic cowfolk music, like humans played back when they were cows, I think. Not sure how cows can play guitars (or GHEE-tars,) but I had enough food in my face to take it on faith. You think of an old cowhand tune, Pappy knows it, and sometimes, Jonathan jumps in with his harmonica. What an experience.

cowboy guitar around the camp fire
ABOVE: Pappy sang his sometimes-sad cowboy tunes while we ate, drank and did be merry. Wonderful all around.

Chat with New Friends
The Western Romance Dinners aren’t put on for just a couple people, typically, so there’s always sure to be some new people around for you to chat with. For a fun game, try to guess if they’re from Minnesota or Tuscaloosa. I played the game and lost. Turns out my guy was my brother from my own house. Guess I should have seen that loss coming.

Pet the Pretty Horses
If you finish eating quick enough, you’ll have time to grab one of the wranglers and spend a minute petting the ponies. Turns our horses don’t mind being called ponies at all, even though that would be pretty insulting if I was a horse. Nope, they don’t speak a lick of English, you might as well be calling them a hornless unicorn for all they know. If you approach them right, and with proper supervision, you can pet them and maybe even sit on one for a picture like we did.

Real cowboy horses
ABOVE: Horses are not only good for pulling wagons, but also for petting.

small boys on a big horse
ABOVE: The two of us still were barely enough to hold the horse down to the ground. Normally it takes a full-sized cowboy to keep them firmly on the ground so we were pretty proud we held that ol’ girl in place.

Back on the Wagon
Once everyone’s done singing, scarfing and socializing, it’s going to be getting dark and so everybody hops back on the wagon. You get almost two miles of mosey trotting as the sun starts setting on the faces of the people you love to think about what a great day you just had, .

western romance cowboy dinner
ABOVE: As we headed back for the evening, with the sun setting to the west, the full-on cowboy experience was still in full force.

Ride Off Into the Sunset
And because it’s done and it’s that time of day, you get to do as the cowboys do, ride off into the sunset, full, happy and dare I say a bit tired from all the excitement. Once back to the cars they’ll help you carefully disembark, shake your hands, ask you how much you loved it, and you’ll tell them because it’s unforgettable. You even get to wave bye-bye as Pappy rides back off to wherever it is that cowboys go after riding off into the sunset.

wagon shadow
ABOVE: On the ride back to our reality, the silhoutte from sunset said it all… we had a great time.

Fall Instantly Asleep in the Car
And then, of course, you get in the car and, as is always true for me, it all becomes a blur.

Cowboy Dinners require reservations, so call (406-348-2048) as far in advance as possible to book yours. They don’t run every night, and some nights are sold out, so invest the time to make sure your plate is secure. And as for the price, well, we’ve paid more per plate for lukewarm food on a scenic train, and all we got then was motion sickness. The food is excellent, the ambiance is one of a kind, and the people who run it are just the best folk you’d ever hope to meet.

Learn more about them or book your dinner today at www.WesternRomanceCompany.com.