Struthiomimus

A Struthiomimus dinosaur display in the Fort Peck Interpretive Center.

Upon entering the lobby of the Fort Peck Interpretive Center and Museum, visitors come immediately under the gaze of the so-called Peck's Rex, a life-sized model of a Tyrannosaurus rex that peers over the gallery, perched on a pedestal. 

Along the opposite side of the room, suspended from above as if swimming in midair hangs the 40-foot long skeleton cast of a Tylosaur.

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Tyrannosaurus rex

A life-sized Tyrannosaurus rex model in the Fort Peck Interpretive Center. 

"It was like the T. rex of the sea," said Michele Fromdahl, the museum's former director who recently became the Fort Peck Lake manager. 

Large, fearsome and toothy, these creatures along with the other casts and models in the museum offer visitors a look in a small town at some of the oldest and largest inhabitants of the Treasure State from a time when the West was a lot more wild. 

"We don't have any cool replicas of something that would be found in China," Fromdahl said. "It's all from Montana." 

Elsewhere on display is a Struthiomimus, a dinosaur which Fromdahl said bears resemblance to the ostrich. 

Joining the tylosaur on the ceiling is a 17-foot long pleiosaur, a creature which Fromdahl said looks like the fictional Lochness monster, albeit with a shorter neck. 

A skull mold of a fossil known as the Wankel T. rex is one of two in the museum. 

Fromdahl said the name Wankel comes from the family who discovered the original fossil along the Fort Peck Lake sometime in roughly the late 1980s. 

The original fossil is on loan to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., where Fromdahl said it is known as "The Nation's T. rex." 

A large wall mural shows how life might have looked under the sea in Montana thousands and thousands of years ago. 

The museum is free and its dinosaur-oriented portion doesn't offer tours but instead provides scavenger hunt handouts for younger visitors to fill in with facts from displays throughout the building. 

In addition to the dinosaur models and skeletal molds, the museum holds what Fromdahl said were the two biggest aquariums in Montana, one sitting at 8,000 gallons and another holding 5,500 gallons of water. 

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Dinosaur exhibits at the Fort Peck Interpretive Center

Inside the Fort Peck Interpretive Center are multiple exhibits about dinosaurs that lived thousands of years ago where Montana is today. 

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Interpretive center exterior

The Fort Peck Interpretive Center, which offers dinosaur and other wildlife displays, is a popular destination for visitors to Fort Peck. 

The one holds fish that can be found in the nearby lake, the other fish found in the Missouri River. 

A display with current and historical wildlife of the area is also housed in the building, along with an exhibit dedicated to the history of the construction of the Fort Peck Dam. 

Powerhouse tours are popular and during the summer weekends special programs and activities geared toward kids cycle in and out, including a particularly popular one about water safety for which children get to drive and ride in electric mini boats in a nearby pond. 

A popular campground is nearby including a three-mile paved trail that leads to an area near the museum which includes picnic tables, horseshoe pits and basketball courts. 

The Gateway Club is a popular local restaurant as is the Park Grove Bar, which Fromdahl said she believes is at least partially made up of a building originating from the early boom town days of Fort Peck. 

For the less outdoorsy visitors, the Fort Peck Theatre remains a popular attraction during the summer, Fromdahl said. 

Until May 1, the Fort Peck Interpretive Center is open only by advanced appointment, after which it remains open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 30. 

For information, call 406-526-3493. 

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Fort Peck Interpretive Center clear day exterior

The Fort Peck Interpretive Center, which offers dinosaur and other wildlife displays, is a popular destination for visitors to Fort Peck. 

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Shovelnose sturgeon

A shovelnose sturgeon swims in a tank at the Fort Peck Interpretive Center. 

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General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.