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Pioneer Trails Regional Museum Dig
Bowman, ND

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2024 Dates

June-August

Mon, Wed, Fri

$100-$200 Full-Day

All Ages

Under 18 must be
accompanied by parents

$50-$100 Half-Day

Participation is subject to availability and is at the full discretion of the dig location. Prices and dates dates subject to change. All Terms + Conditions apply.

Add a custom travel itinerary before or after this dig!

You can also ask us about arranging a personalized dig date and itinerary to fit your schedule.

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About Pioneer Trails Regional Museum Paleontology Digs

Near the unassuming town of Bowman, North Dakota, scientists are unraveling some of the evolutionary mysteries of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event. About 66 million-years ago, the dinosaurs went extinct, yet other animal and plant life on the planet somehow survived.

 

The Pioneer Trails Regional Museum sits in the middle of an area that provides scientists with evidence of how life forms changed and recovered after the K-Pg mass extinction.

 

This season, the museum is offering Paleontology Site Tours and excavation with a focus on paleoecology. This year, you can join work at a new location to unearth fish, turtles, crocodilians and early, burrowing mammals. And who knows what new, undiscovered species await discovery!

 

If your travels take you to the area around Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, book a full-day or half-day site tour with an excavation component that's open to people of all ages.

Fossils found: Triceratops, Hadrosaurs, Champsosaurs and  Marmarthia (fossil laurel leaves)

Period: Cretaceous

Formation: Hell Creek Formation on the contact with the Fort Union Formation

How you will make an impact on this paleontology dig

Participants of this tour will help in our fundamental understanding of the lifeforms that survived the K-Pg extinction. Today, as we grapple with the effects of climate change on the planet, it's more important than ever to understand how to respond to cataclysmic events. The Pioneer Trails Regional Museum staff relies on citizen scientists to collect fossils that would otherwise erode away.

All the digs featured on Ancient Odysseys are non-profits and rely upon visitors and donations to continue their important scientific work. Please consider donating if you would like to support this organization's mission. All donations are tax deductible.

What to Expect on the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum Tour

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Full-day digs

  • 8:30am-5pm

  • $100 for kids 6-13 | $200 for ages 14+

Half-day digs

  • 8:30am-1pm

  • $50 for kids 6-13 | $100 for ages 14+

Kids 5 and under are always free

 

Each dig experience includes fossil excavation and fossil preparation all rolled into one on a full-day or half-day program. The half-day experience is perfect for younger kids who are interested in paleontology. 

 

Each day starts 8:30 at the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum where you will meet your guide. You will follow your guide to the field site in your own car. Don’t worry! It’s on a well-maintained gravel road and will only take about 30 minutes.

 

There is some hiking involved, so be prepared to hike up to two miles over rough terrain or adverse weather conditions. You may encounter dangerous wildlife such as rattlesnakes or some not-so-dangerous wildlife such as cows.

 

This hands-on experience takes you into the heart of North Dakota's beautiful, rugged terrain. Here, you will be provided with tools and training in how to collect the fossils found at these active fossil sites. You will learn about the fossils you find, other fossils in the area and about the local geology.

 

Full Day

On the full-day tour, you'll be out excavating for about 3.5 hours. At noon we'll break and drive back to Bowman for lunch (on your own). After lunch, you’ll meet back at the museum fossil lab to identify the fossils we found in the morning. Here, you will also learn techniques to prepare the specimens for research and display. After a fun afternoon in the lab, your immersive dive into paleontology is complete. Feel free to enjoy the museum until closing at 5 pm.

Half-Day

On the half-day tour, you'll be out excavating for 1.5 hours before  driving back to Bowman to work in the museum lab until about 1pm.

As a scientific venture, all the fossils you recover will be curated in the permanent collection of the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum.

Click here for more details on what to expect on a paleontology dig. 

What's Included in the Cost + What to Bring

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All training, tools and equipment will be provided, but you'll have to arrange your own food, drink or accommodations.

 

This is a self-drive experience, so you will need access to a car to drive to the museum and fossil collecting locations.

Just as with any fossil collecting expeditions, you’ll need to dress appropriately for the weather.

Please bring: 

  • Long sleeved shirt

  • Long Pants

  • Hat

  • Hiking shoes or closed tennis shoes

  • Windbreaker or rain jacket for inclement weather

  • Snacks and food

  • Water

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An interview with Darrah Steffen | Paleontology Curator | Pioneer Trails Regional Museum

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  1. What makes this site significant?
    This site is significant because it is right on the contact between the Fort Union Formation and the Hell Creek Formation. The sediment found here is very fine, so the increments of time available for us to look at shows very small changes in how animal and plant life evolved after the K-Pg extinction event.

  2. What has been most surprising about your discoveries here?​
    What's been amazing to see evidence of how life on Earth recovered after one of the planet's mass extinctions. Although the dinosaurs were wiped out and many plants and animals didn't survive, we are seeing how quickly life has reasserted itself on Earth. We have found evidence that life recovered over several thousand years and not millions of years as we originally postulated. 

  3. What are your current research objectives at your site? 
    The located we are excavating is less than a meter from the contact between the Fort Union Formation and the Hell Creek Formation. We will be working to identify the plants and animals fossilized in each layer. We are interested in understanding if species recovered quickly throughout this region or if there was a biodiversity spike in only one location. 

  4. What was the most important or rewarding find at this site?​
    As exciting as the vertebrate fossils are in North Dakota, we enjoy finding beautifully preserved leaf fossils. They maintain the intricate details and sometimes even original color of the leaves of plants that abounded in this area during the Cretaceous.

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