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Discovering a real Jurassic Park

P1080035A ranch. Somewhere high in north-western Montana. We’re fly fishing in the baking heat, casting for trout, listening to the trickle of clear spring creeks and glimpsing sleek, fast-moving shapes in the shadows.

It should be relaxing, but I’m distracted. I discovered in a chance conversation with the rancher’s wife earlier in the morning that at least two dinosaurs are entombed in rock on their land and she promised a ride to where the university volunteers are digging – and spending the long scorching summer.

“Yeah, they’re all living up there in the rocks, right beside the rattlers,” said the woman with a  real life Jurassic Park on her land. “Someone flew over the ranch in a hang glider years ago and discovered the site and they’ve been working on it on and off ever since.”

The Jeep bounced, rattled and shuddered its way over a track more suited to cowboys on horseback than four wheel drive trucks. Finally we crawled out to climb the last few feet up the hillside and in a corner of the rocky excavation site we found an anthill of burrowing bodies working under a protective sunshade. It was, the palaeontologist told us as he gestured over the valley, a spectacular example of the Morrison Formation in the Jurassic period, the geological era when many dinosaurs died.

I’ve never really had the dinosaur bug. But this was different. A long-necked Diplodocus and a Stegosaurus  had walked and died precisely where we were standing around 150 million years ago and I was holding some of the fossilised bone that had just been excavated. The scientist described the size and age of the creature his team were uncovering; the way rivers had risen and fallen, how the ice had covered them and then retreated; how they might have died and been scavenged.

It was a huge privilege to be there, to gaze out over the valley and imagine all the other dinosaurs resting just below the surface of that dry scrub land.

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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh my! That sounds far more interesting than fly fishing, any day. What a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing.

    August 10, 2015
    • Curiosity killed the cat but it also leads to all sorts of adventures! It was exciting being on a “working site” just a couple of miles from the main road but unknown to the public. Think I’ll be a palaeontologist when I grow up.

      August 10, 2015
  2. Reblogged this on The Fenn Diagrams and commented:
    What a cool opportunity!

    August 6, 2015
  3. What a neat surprise! Don’t you just love stumbling on these these unexpected adventures:) I’ve never been a dinosaur person either, but I love the hike our friends took us on in the Torrey area to see the dino fossils in the rocks. I’ve never seen whole bones still intake in the rock. Did you get to see if the pieces were real bone by seeing if they stuck to your tongue? So gross but really cool to see how the bone really sticks. Looks like a fun trip!

    August 6, 2015
    • The scientist didn’t mention I could stick the fossils in my mouth! But yes, a great adventure.

      August 6, 2015
      • If the rock is a real bone, it will stick to your tongue. It really sticks! I tried it several times. Gross but cool!!

        August 7, 2015
  4. What a wonderful experience, great memories in the making.

    August 6, 2015
    • It was fab Maggie. How are you? Rested and restored after the long walk?

      August 6, 2015
  5. What a great opportunity you had. I’d love to reblog this on my site, The Fenn Diagrams, if you okay it. Thanks.

    August 5, 2015
  6. What a fun and unique experience!

    August 5, 2015
    • A chance meeting turned into one of the highlights of the trip. It always pays to ask questions!

      August 6, 2015
  7. Pat #

    I fell in love with dinosaurs when I was a kid back in the 50’s. You just lived my dream! Thanks for sharing that.

    August 5, 2015
    • I’d be back there in a shot with a trowel or brush in hand, rattlesnakes or not!

      August 6, 2015
  8. I would LOVE to find bones and artifacts in the ground. I think I could have been an archaeologist in another life. Digging up the past, whether it involves dinosaurs, people, or the tools and homes they used, would all be fascinating work because once you find an object your imagination has to take over to fit in the rest of their history.

    August 5, 2015
    • They had to drag me away. Fly fishing just didn’t cut it after that!

      August 5, 2015

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