After Devil's Tower, we headed to Bowman, North Dakota. This was the pièce de résistance of our trip.
We got to dig for dinosaurs.
The Pioneer Trails Regional Museum has a paleontology department that offers one-day field tours. We got to spend a day out on private land in the badlands of North Dakota with the paleontology staff and one other family group, being taught how to find fossils that are 73 to 28 million years old. This site has the K-T boundary exposed, meaning that the fossils above the line are from after the dinosaurs became extinct, and the ones below are from the time of the dinosaurs.
This was huge for my 11-year-old son who has loved dinosaurs since he was 4. I know a lot of little kids love dinosaurs for a while, but he has been persistently fascinated by them all these years. He's read every book on them he can find. His kindergarten teacher pulled him out of class one day when he was in first grade so that he could pronounce the dinosaur names in a book she was reading to her class.
I thought he'd probably enjoy himself on the dig, although I was concerned that it was an all-day event and might get boring or difficult. And I wasn't sure what the girls would think.
I should not have worried. The staff really steered all of us, especially the kids, to spots where they were likely to find little fossils. We got to keep the plant fossils and imprints for ourselves (while all the animal ones went back to the museum).
And we were looking at and sorting rocks on the ground all day. That is my youngest child's idea of good entertainment. She can do that for ages all on her own.
It was completely worth it for us. It was one of the most unique things we've ever done. We learned interesting things. The people were really nice. And we wanted to go hiking around the badlands, anyway.
The cactus were in bloom. Yes, this was North Dakota!
Be advised of a few things if you're thinking about such an expedition. Some people would get really bored, especially most young kids. This was just a good fit for mine. We did some challenging hiking. We went up and down some steep slopes - with picks and screwdrivers in hand (we took our kids' away while they were climbing). There was no bathroom of any sort whatsoever all day. But we did go back to our cars for lunch. We were outside all day, and it was hot. We went through a lot of water. And it's very remote. We did think about that a bit with my daughter's peanut allergy. She only ate familiar things, and we had multiple EpiPens and a cell phone that actually had service (mine did not). We were out in the middle of nowhere. Oh, there are also rattlesnakes to watch out for, but we didn't see any.
But was it awesome? Oh, yeah. I can't publicize what fossils we found, but we found 65 million year old fossils! I'm so glad I happened across a website about this program and that we went for it. It will be a lifelong memory for all of us. My son now says he knows that he will be a paleontologist when he grows up, because now he knows he can at least be an amateur one like our guides, whatever his regular job might be.