Explore Outside Billings Powered by Black Dog Coffee: Yellowstone Kelly Interpretive Site

Sword's Park is a very popular area along the top of the Rims with its great walking/running/biking path. Tucked at the top of this path is an area that seems to be often overlooked even though it's been beautifully updated recently: the Yellowstone Kelly Interpretive Site. To get here, you can follow the path from the parking area of Sword's Park (turn south off Airport Rd just after the signs for Sword's Park and Yellowstone Kelly Site), or you can drive east along Chief Black Otter Trail until you come to another parking area at the interpretive site.

The site has a paved trail with numerous information plaques along the way detailing the history of the people and events as well as local geology and biology. Here's an overview for you: 

Yellowstone Kelly (whose real name was Luther S. Kelly) was born in 1849 in New York. He was a trapper, hunter, guide, and scout for the army as well as a veteran of both the Civil War and Philippine-American War. He got his nickname of Yellowstone for how well he knew and loved the area. When he died in 1928, his final wish was to be buried in Montana: "the site of his greatest adventures." He was laid to rest with a memorial that overlooks the Yellowstone Valley. To the east of his gravesite, you'll find Boothill Cemetary and much of the area was the burial site of historic peoples and is considered hallowed ground by native tribes.

Walking along the site, there are many spots to read more about the history of the time of Yellowstone Kelly as well as more about the past of this area in general. You'll also enjoy a pleasant walk in a quiet escape that is tucked in the middle of Billings. This area of the Rims is a beautiful area to explore with its incredible views that overlook the city, Yellowstone River, and hills that surround Billings. You'll see a lot of native plants and get a good look at the Rims themselves if you follow the pathways and explore a little. We definitely enjoy coming to this area to take in the views and sometimes see what more we can explore.

If you're lucky while looking around the Rims, you may even find some fossils. As I went with someone with a degree in biology and ecology and a background in geology (a lot of science, I know), I had a lot of things pointed out. We have a separate article all about the history of the Rimrocks (Rims) that you should check out, but for anyone who doesn't know: the Rims are a sandstone formation that is approximately 65-70 million years old. The geologic formation is called the Eagle Sandstone Formation and it used to be the edge of an inland sea. Basically, it was a beach of a sea that used to make up the Great Plains. While finding vertebrate fossils is rare (think of modern day animals... most live in deeper water or on land and don't tend to live on the shores), you can still find other fossils. Typically, the fossils found in this area are of burrowing invertebrates (possibly like modern day worms or mollusks). These are called bioturbation or trace fossils. We happened to see one of these on our walk around this site and you can see in the left-hand picture above where there are raised lines in the rock, which in this case is the burrowing tracks left through what was once mud. There are pockets of shale in the sandstone (you can see the line of this in the picture on the right where the rock changes in-between two layers), which are likely prehistoric tidepools and where you're more likely to find trace fossils.

Even without looking for fossils, there is a lot to enjoy around this area if you're looking for some history, some exercise, native plants (and maybe critters), or just to get some fresh air!

Black Dog Coffee House has three locations:
  • 1528 24th St W  (by The Joy of Living and Sanctuary Spa & Salon)
  • 2147 Poly Dr (inside Roots)
  • 3115 10th Ave N (Harper & Madison location near the hospital district)

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