Astronomy event at Pictograph State Park

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Free astronomy event in Billings

You can look to the skies Aug. 19 with an astronomy event at Pictograph Cave State Park.

Pictograph Cave State Park, in partnership with the Yellowstone Valley Astronomy Association, is hosting a night sky viewing event at the park this  Aug. 19, from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

Astronomy club members will share their knowledge of the south-central Montana sky and provide telescopes and other viewing instruments to observe stars, planets and celestial bodies.

Pictograph Cave State Park is located just outside of Billings at 3401 Coburn Road.

Pictograph Cave State Park is a place to contemplate the origins of human habitation in Montana. The Pictograph Cave site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, because of its archeological significance. Today's visitors can enjoy a unique opportunity to explore the mystery of this extraordinary site and tour the new visitor center.

Prehistoric hunters who camped in Pictograph Cave left behind artifacts and over 100 pictographs, or rock paintings. The oldest rock art in the cave is over 2,000 years old, according to Montana state parks.

Their interpretations are still subject to debate. The images of animals, warriors and even rifles tell a story that has lasted thousands of years.

The park's three main caves - Pictograph, Middle, and Ghost cave - were home to generations of prehistoric hunters. The caves were carved from the Eagle sandstone cliff by the forces of water and wind. The first recorded discovery of artifacts and paintings in the caves was made in 1936.

The event is open to the public and free to attend, but the regular $8 state park entrance fee will apply for nonresident vehicles. There is no entrance fee for Montana residents at state parks. This is the final astronomy event of the summer at Pictograph Cave State Park.

Approximately 30,000 artifacts, ranging from stone tools, weapons, paintings and the instruments used, were excavated from the site. The pigments used in the rock art provide researchers to date when people inhabited the region and give insights into their lifestyle. The artifacts discovered allow researchers to pinpoint which native peoples used the caves and when they inhabited the region.

The park has am easy walking trail to the caves, with interpretative displays along the route identifying and explaining the natural features, the prehistoric paintings and vegetation found in the area.

Pictograph Cave is the deepest of the three main caves, at approximately 160 feet wide and 45 feet deep. Visitors are advised to bring binoculars to get a better view of the rock art. Allow at least an hour to enjoy the park, it's visitor center and trail.  Also an excellent site for bird watching. There are picnic facilities available for day use only, but no camping is permitted.

Visitors are encouraged to enjoy the new Visitor Center's interpretive displays and gift shop.

The park is 23 acres in size and 3,500 feet in elevation.

For more information on Pictograph Cave State Park, visit: or call 406-254-7342.

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