Friday 25 January 2019

Driving with Dinosaurs in Montana, USA

In 2009 I took my first-ever trip to the USA, courtesy of the Montana Office of Tourism and Virgin Australia. One of the articles which resulted from that journey featured the fascinating Montana Dinosaur Trail. As it never went online, here it is now for your education and enjoyment:

Michele Fromdahl works with a tyrannosaurus rex. She’s cool with that, but some of her visitors aren’t. The gigantic model of the fearsome prehistoric creature is the very first thing you see as you step through the door of the Fort Peck Interpretive Center, lunging toward you with its jaws open for the kill.

“There are a few kids who’ll come in the first set of doors and won’t come in that second set. You have to try to get them through a side door, or they have to be carried by Mom and Dad,” she says. “It’s happened.”

Overbearing reptilian colleagues aside, Fromdahl enjoys her work as the centre’s director. “When I got the job here I inherited an empty building, so I got to build all the exhibits. I’d seen Jurassic Park, but otherwise I knew nothing about dinosaurs. So being able to get immersed in that has been fun. I love it.”

Her beloved T-Rex with its accompanying displays (Lower Yellowstone Road, Fort Peck; +1-406-526-3493) is one of 15 attractions along the Montana Dinosaur Trail, which stretches from the Rocky Mountains across the plains of the USA’s fourth-largest state.

Back in the prehistoric past (before even Bert Newton was on TV), the flat dry wheat-growing area of eastern Montana was an inland sea, along whose banks dinosaurs roamed.

Upon death, the great reptiles obligingly scattered their remains around, for 19th and 20th century farmers to find beneath their barns and fields.

Later, they ended up on the Trail. Its odds-and-ends collection of professional institutes and tiny museums is also a good excuse to drive the open highways of this underpopulated state, enjoying both fossils and small town America as you go.

Here are some of the prehistoric highlights...

Great Plains Dinosaur Museum. Interesting institution whose dinosaur fossils have nicknames. Exhibits include Giffen, the northernmost stegosaurus ever found, and Leonardo, a rare mummified fossil showing remains of skin. You can also handle a fossilised dinosaur bone here, and even apply to join a dig.
405 North 1st St East, Malta; +1-406-654-5300;

Museum of the Rockies. This university-affiliated museum houses the world’s largest tyrannosaurus rex skull, and one of the first female dinosaurs to be identified as such. It also has a triceratops and a deinonychus, just as nasty a predator as the velociraptor. The museum also covers the fauna and culture of the Rockies from more recent millennia.
600 West Kagy Boulevard, Bozeman; +1-406-994-2251;

Two Medicine Dinosaur Centre. Each of the Trail sites seems to have a first in its exhibits, and this one is no exception - it exhibits the first baby dinosaur bones found in North America. It also houses the world’s largest dinosaur reconstruction, of a seismosaurus halli or “earth-shaker lizard”.
120 2nd Avenue South, Bynum; +1-406-469-2211;

Rudyard Depot Museum. For the quintessential small town dinosaur experience, visit this historical museum spread around an old train station. Its dinosaur selection features The Oldest Sorehead, a fully articulated gryposaurus discovered locally in 2004. A likeness of this curious duckbilled dinosaur is exhibited among an egg nest display. Just model eggs, of course - no risk of a Jurassic Park moment. I hope.
25 4th Avenue North West, Rudyard; +1-406-355-4322;

Find all the museums along the Montana Dinosaur Trail via its website.

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