On the Trail of Dinosaurs by:Lydia Kelly
Did you know that the first Tyrannosaurus Rex was found in Montana
? Indeed, Montana is home to some of the world's best dinosaur dig sites. It is the perfect place for palaeontologists of all ages to explore the world's past and discover the secrets of ancient life from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
Montana is proud of its geological heritage and has put together an official route called the Montana Dinosaur Trail (brochure and map available from Travel Montana upon request). As you travel across the northern prairies of Montana you will have the opportunity to stop at 14 different geological dig sites and museums.
To begin your journey it is wise to start at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. This museum is home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world. The Seibel Dinosaur Complex contains some of the world's rarest fossils including one of the first skeletons identified to be a female dinosaur.
From Bozeman you will need to travel north to the Old Trail Museum in Choteau. This site is famous for the discovery of the Maiasaurus. The specimen, found in 1989, is being restored. Other exhibits display the rich cultural history of the region. The Old Trail Museum is seasonal, so be sure to check whether it is open before planning your itinerary.
Just north of Choteau, in Bynum, is the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center. This interactive center offers several hands-on programs, from a simple 3-hour introduction to fossils, to a 7-day credit course that allows you to actually participate in a dig. The programs require advanced registration, so be sure to phone ahead. If you don't have time to join one of the programs there is still plenty to enjoy, including a Seismosaurus skeleton that is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest dinosaur skeleton on display.
Now your journey takes you east to Rudyard where you will want to stop at the Rudyard Depot Museum. Here you will have the opportunity to witness a life-sized duckbilled dinosaur and her nest. Other permanent and changing exhibits are sure to keep dinosaur enthusiasts enthralled.
Continue east on Route 2 and you will soon reach Havre and the H. Earl Clarke Memorial Museum. Here you will learn more about the duckbilled dinosaurs and discover fossilized dinosaur embryos. Another exhibit of interest is the Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump Site, an archaeological treasure located just north of the museum.
Further east lies the Blaine County Museum in Chinook. Dinosaur exhibits in this museum include the Hadrosaur, Gorgosaurus, and Ankylosaurus. They also display several marine reptiles. A favorite exhibit for young visitors is the Look, Touch, and Wonder Room, where guests can handle a variety of fossils of plants and animals that once lived in the area.
Malta is home to two interesting dinosaur museums. The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station has a fossil preparation lab where visitors can learn how fossils are cleaned and mounted for display. It also holds "Leonardo", a mummified dinosaur that is recognized as the world's best preserved dinosaur by the Guinness Book of World Records. The Phillips County Museum, also located in Malta, has many other interesting dinosaur displays including a Brachylophosaurus, a T-Rex skull, and an Albertasaurus.
From Malta you will travel east to Fort Peck, home of the Fort Peck Field Station of Palaeontology, and the Fort Peck Interpretive Center and Museum. The interpretive center holds one of the most complete T-Rex skeletons found to date and has a massive full-scale replica of "Peck's Rex" on display. At the nearby field station you can learn how displays such as the one at the interpretive center are made.
A bit out of the way by road, yet located directly south of Fort Peck, is the Garfield County Museum, located in Jordan. This is where the very first T-Rex fossils were found way back in 1902. In June and July, take some extra time to participate in the Paleoworld Research Foundation's public dig.
Continuing east you will eventually reach Glendive and the Makoshika State Park. The Lakotan word for "badland", Makoshika is part of the late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation. Over ten different types of dinosaurs have been discovered in the area. The Makoshika Dinosaur Museum displays dinosaur fossils from around the world and includes many realistic replicas of what dinosaurs may have looked like when alive.
The final stop on your journey lies to the south at the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka. This museum includes a rare Anatotitan copei skeleton, a complete Triceratops skull, and many other unusual finds.
Be aware that many of these locations are seasonal, so you should plan ahead and confirm if they will be open during your trip. Many also have programs that offer hands-on experiences that require pre-registration.
Whether you are a young dinosaur enthusiast, or you have professional experience in the fields, Montana is one of the most desirable dinosaur destinations in the world. Be sure to allow plenty of time to enjoy the sights along the way, and have an excellent paleontological adventure!
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