Dinosaurs in Real-Life: Where to Find Them Around the US
It seems that we as a country are obsessed with dinosaurs. And we are definitely obsessed with seeing them on the big screen, as is evident by the huge blockbuster success of "Jurassic" movies. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of the movie franchise, “Jurassic Park.”
Fortunately for us, we don’t have to visit a mythical far away tropical island to see dinosaurs, or evidence of them, anyway. There are plenty of places here in the U.S. to witness evidence of dinosaurs with our own two eyes.
Travel east of the Grand Canyon on Highway 160 and you may spot signs pointing towards Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City. Though it’s a bit rudimentary, it’s definitely worth pulling over and going for a short walk if even to stretch your legs a bit and see evidence of dinosaurs at the same time.
Elsewhere in Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park in the northeastern part of the state conducts paleontological research and studies fossils from the later part of the Triassic Period (about 227-205 million years ago). The Petrified Forest Field Institute offers a variety of classes, including Fossil Dig: Discovery and Excavation on August 18, for those who want to get out and find their own fossils.
Start your Colorado dinosaur seeking in the appropriately-named Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison, which is one of the world’s most famous spots for dinosaur fossils. Self-guided and guided tours of excavation sites and fossils are available.
You can see just how big the dinosaurs were when you stand in their fossilized footprints at the Picketwire Canyonlands, south of La Junta in the southeast part of the state. Nearly 1,300 dinosaur tracks from as many as 100 different animals are found here among the country’s largest collection of fossilized dinosaur footprints.
And then, of course, there’s the Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado near the Utah border. In addition to self-guided trails, a visit to Dinosaur Quarry inside the main visitor center is a must – here you can see fossils from the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry where about 1,500 dinosaur bones are in-place in a cliff wall.
Dinosaurs are so much a part of the Colorado’s history that it has its own state fossil, the stegosaurus, which roamed the area during the late-Jurassic Period (155 to 145 million years ago).
North America’s first dinosaur remains were found in Montana in 1854 near Judith Landing in the Missouri River Breaks National Monument, and the first baby dinosaur bones in North America were found in 1978 near Choteau; both of these sets of remains are housed at the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum.
More recently, one of the most exciting dinosaur finds in Montana was of a nearly-intact juvenile T. rex fossil which was unearthed in the Hell Creek Formation last summer; “Tuft-Loves Rex,” a giant T. rex skeleton, was found in the same area in 2016.
Dig right into Montana’s dinosaur history at dig sites found through the Judith River Dinosaur Institute in Billings; Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station in Malta; Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum; and Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs in Glendive.
For more Montana dinosaurs, follow the Montana Dinosaur Trail, a collection of 14 locations around the state at which to discover more dinosaurs, and even dig for them yourself. In addition to some of those noted above, stops along the trail include the fossil remains at Makoshika State Park near Glendive, the state’s largest state park and where you can see the fossil remains of Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops and more. Another stop is the Fort Peck Interpretive Center, where you can see an exhibit of Peck's Rex, a life-size cast of the T. rex found just 20 miles away.
Dinosaurs once roamed the North Dakota Badlands, and evidence of their existence can be found in several parts of the state. Start with a visit to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck, where a thorough exhibit covers the state’s paleontological history. It’s here, too, that you can see the 67 million year old mummified hadrosaur, a duck-billed dinosaur that was discovered on a ranch in southwest North Dakota in 1999.
If you’re ready to get your hands dirty, join the North Dakota Geological Survey in June, July and August and dig in – you’re nearly guaranteed to uncover fossils. In fact, two Tyrannosaurus rex teeth measuring two-and-a-half inches and four-and-a-half inches were discovered last August at a public dig site south of Bismarck.
For those who want to road trip around the state in search of dinosaurs, the North Dakota Tourism Division has created an 8 Stops on North Dakota Dinosaur Tour route to make the most of your quest.
In the Black Hills of South Dakota, just 30 minutes north of Deadwood, PaleoAdventures is ready to make your “Jurassic” dreams a reality. During the summer months, PaleoAdventures hosts one-, two-, three- and five-day digs and welcomes everyone ages 10 and up to join in the family-friendly fun aimed at educating participants about paleontology.
It may be hard to imagine, but dinosaurs did indeed roam not far from what is now Fort Worth. Take some time to roam Dinosaur Valley State Park yourself and the five main track sites found within the park, all of which have smaller sites within them. Within these sites, you may be able to spot Sauropod and theropod tracks. Before your visit, download maps to make the most of your time.
In Thermopolis, The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is, well, all things dinosaurs. In addition to the museum and its exhibitions, the center hosts digs for any age and interest-level. All ages can Dig for a Day on sites from which center staff and visitors have removed more than 10,000 bones, seven days a week through mid-September (weather permitting). Kids ages eight to 12 can really dig in with the Kids’ Dig Program for a full day of paleontology wonder. Or really immerse yourself in a five-day Dinosaur Academy and go from the classroom to the lab to the field.
Aside from The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, visitors to the Glenrock Paleontological Museum can visit the preparation lab to see fossils being prepared, not to mention participate in the museum’s digs geared towards novices and more experienced fossil hunters.
Outside of museums, size yourself up against Middle Jurassic Period (160 million to 180 million years old) dinosaurs that roamed Wyoming at the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite four miles west of Shell. The hundreds of tracks were discovered in 1997, and it’s believed there may be thousands more in the 40-acre area.
When a fifth grade class discovered the bones of a Camarasaurus during a field trip in Alcova, the Cotton Creek Dinosaur Trail was soon created to guide hikers through the Sundance and Morrison formations, which are known for their fossils.
Remains of Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex and Pachycephalosaurus have been found on Bliss Dinosaur Ranch in Weston, and guests are invited on two- or three-day digs on the 3,500-acre ranch. Guided by ranch owner Frank Bliss, who has a Master’s degree in geology, anyone who finds teeth or bones on the ranch is welcome to take them home.
You can always experience “Jurassic World” for yourself at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood, where you can go face-to-face with Blue, one of the movie’s most popular dinosaurs, in the parks’ Raptor Encounter.
There's more to do outside the U.S. in North America, as well. You can definitely go full-on “Jurassic Park” with a visit to the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Grand Prairie. What’s the connection? The museum is named for paleontologist Philip Currie, who was the inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant, the paleontologist in “Jurassic Park.” Not only can you see some of the most important dinosaur discoveries in the world within the museum, but participate in its Palaeontologist For A Day program and work side-by-side with researchers in the field.
Another museum for budding paleontologists to visit is the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller. The museum also has dinosaurs on display, and offers public programs ranging from story time for the smallest dinosaur hunters to days-long science camps.
Out in the Canadian Badlands, home to one of the highest concentration of fossils in the world, visit Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can watch paleontologists work, or jump in on a guided excursion and do the digging yourself.