Our third stop on our epic dinosaur road trip was to the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Montana. Two Medicine is in between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, so we made a pit stop at Glacier.
A thick cloud covered a lot of the park, and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. But it was still beautiful.
After, we made our way to Bynum, Montana, to the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center. Bynum is a small town, with, we were told, a population of 37 in the summer and 31 in the winter. Though there may not be many people around, Montana is full of dinosaur fossils. We were told that about 18-20% of dinosaurs have been discovered in Montana.
The head paleontologist at Two Medicine is David Trexler, who also opened the institute in 1995. Two Medicine has the first baby dinosaur bones collected in North America, of Maiasaura, as well as a styrofoam skeletal model of the world’s largest dinosaur (at least in length). The model is of a Seismosaurus, and it’s 137.5 feet long, or 42 meters.
But the best part about Two Medicine is the dinosaur dig. Two Medicine’s mission is to educate people who are interested in dinosaurs, and they do that through a combination of exhibits, research, and letting visitors get hands-on and actually help them dig for dinosaurs.
Garret and I participated in a full day dig, and we learned a lot from the two scientists who facilitated—Cory Coverdell, director of Two Medicine, and Kara, our instructor.
Kara taught us how to find a fossil. Fossils can be all different kinds of colors: red, orange, and even blue. They also tend to have interesting shapes. And when in doubt on whether or not you’ve found a fossil, you can try the lick test. Lick your thumb, press the rock or fossil on your thumb for 10 seconds, and see if it sticks. If it does, that probably means you have a fossil. This is because the fossil is porous in nature.
We also learned that plants like to grow in fossils, again because of the porous nature. Some fossils we saw had lichen on them. Lichen grow about one inch per year, which shows scientists the minimum number of years a fossil has been exposed.
Hadrosaur fossils are abundant in the area, and actually are abundant in general. There are also a lot of nests around. You can tell by the fossilized eggshell whether it belonged to a hadrosaur or another type of dinosaur. Hadrosaur eggshells have a wavy texture, and another unknown dinosaur in the area has eggshells with a bumpy, braille-like texture.
In general, when looking for eggshells, it’s best to look for them in your shadow. This is because eggshells are darker in color than fossils, so your shadow makes them easier to spot. If you’re searching for fossils, you’ll want to look for them in bright light.
We spent the afternoon helping to dig at a nest, and found at least one fragment of eggshell. Cory and Kara set up a Total Station to measure where everything at the nest is. Basically the Total Station allows you to recreate a quarry and know exactly where each fossil was found.
After our successful dig, we spent the night recovering. Turns out, the life of a paleontologist is hard. You have to battle with bugs, sun, dirt, sudden changes in the weather, and occasionally, mice poop. Yes, that’s right. Our nesting site was also the nesting site for some mice, so Kara had to brush out the poop for us before we started digging.
Still, it was worth it. Dinosaurs are fascinating creatures and we can learn so much from them. Plus, we got our first stamp in our Montana Dinosaur Trail Prehistoric passport. If you make it to all 14 dinosaur stops on the trail within 5 years, you get a t-shirt. (Our second stamp came from the nearby Old Trail Museum, in Choteau, Montana, where we stayed.)