Driving to Yellowstone National Park can result in a pretty long road trip. For families looking to give kids a chance to get out, play and stretch along the way, the "Real Pirates" exhibit at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls and the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana, are two options.
The "Real Pirates" exhibit offers history, colorful images and treasure recovered from a sunken pirate ship, and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone has live bears, wolves, birds and a playground with a teepee. And in both places, children are welcome and adults will be intrigued.
The "Real Pirates" exhibit is a National Geographic exhibit, on display at the Museum of Idaho through Nov. 28, that shows artifacts from the 18th-century slave-ship-turned-pirate-ship the Whydah.
The Whydah is the first and only authenticated pirate ship found in United States waters and was one of the most technologically advanced vessels of its time, according to museumofidaho.org.
It was originally built to be a slave ship but was captured on its maiden voyage by pirate captain Sam Bellamy and his ruthless crew. The Whydah became the flagship of Bellamy's flotilla and was used for raids throughout the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coastline.
In 1717, the ship sank with most of the crew aboard along with the bounty collected from more than 50 ships. Nearly 300 years later, Barry Clifford and his underwater exploring team found the Whydah and painstakingly retrieved the treasures from the ocean floor.
With more than 200 items on display, the exhibit allows visitors to touch real pirate silver, heft a cannonball, see the ropes and cages used for tortured prisoners and captured pirates, read the stories from the life of the captain and a 9-year-old buccaneer, talk to lady pirates and learn all about the exciting but harsh life aboard the ship. Guests will also learn there was no walking the plank on a pirate ship. If they didn't like you, they simply tossed you overboard without ceremony.
At the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, guests can get their fill of big bears up close without endangering themselves or the bears.
The bears and wolves here are animals that, for various reasons including too much human contact, couldn't be left on their own in the forest. They now serve as ambassadors for their comrades in the wild, center managers say.
There are currently eight bears that range freely around the spacious compound and amble about with no worries. They don't hibernate because they always have plenty of food.
During the day, Sam, Roosevelt, Grant, Coram, Spirit, Nakina, Kobuk and Sow 101 take turns out in the bear habitat for viewing. Sow 101 is the mother to numerous sets of cubs. Kobuk and Nakina are brother and sister, orphaned after a landslide in 1998. Spirit came to the center after being relocated six times from the resort community of Whitefish, Montana, and Coram became habituated to human foods and had to be removed from the wild in 2011.
The six wolves are always in their habitats, sometimes loping around, sometimes frolicking with one another, always alert.
Beyond the bears and wolves, the center also includes a ground squirrel and a raptor exhibit. Discovery Center experts give regular demonstrations on using bear spray, living safely in bear country and finding wildlife, and they even enlist help to hide food for the bears.
There are films nearly every hour on raptors, ravens, buffaloes, bears and wolves, and there is even a children's film about Alaskan bears. Guests can see a schedule of when the various films and events occur.
In the Naturalist Cabin, there's more information on wolves and a pelt to touch.
The Discovery Center opened in 1993 and is a nonprofit entity accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It's open 365 days a year.