Welcome to Jurassic Park!

Growing up in the early 90s, I (as well as practically every other 90s kid) developed an obsession with the movie “Jurassic Park.”  I had all the action figures, and my sister and I would take them on dino “adventures” in the backyard.

Well, our days of playing with action figures might be in the past, but our love of those movies has carried over well into adulthood. As many “Jurassic Park” geeks might remember, the first time we meet Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Satler is at a dig site in the North American badlands. So when we decided to take a road trip to South Dakota to check out Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks, how could we resist following in the footsteps of our favorite paleontologists?

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While at a dinosaur exhibit at the LA County Fair the previous year, we stumbled upon a company called Paleo Adventures. After speaking with the owners for a few minutes, we discovered the company was run by a couple of legit paleontologists in South Dakota. Visitors could book tours through the company to go out into the badlands of South Dakota, learn about paleontology, and help dig up some dinosaurs!

Basically, any “Jurassic Park” lover’s dream come true: the ultimate “Jurassic Park” experience!

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We tried to dress up like the characters to really get into the spirit of the dig.

Paleo Adventures is a privately owned tour company that gives visitors a chance to be a paleontologist for a day. They teach you everything you need to know and provide all the tools and materials you need in order to get out there and dig up some dinosaurs! Your guide is an actual paleontologist, so he knows exactly where to dig and is able to identify any fossils you find. The best part? At the end of the tour you are able to take home most of the fossils you dig up. Yes!

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Driving to the dig site.

The digs take place out in the middle of nowhere at the site of ancient river channel deposits where a variety of isolated dinosaur, mammal, reptile, amphibian, and fish fossils can be found. Since they are usually not part of a full skeleton by the time they ended up in these river deposits, they have little scientific value anymore and can safely be collected by tourists. Of course there are exceptions, but your guide will help you with that part. Discovering and documenting new, well-preserved specimens is priority number one, and it’s super cool to be a part of that (while also taking home a few pieces as souvenirs!).

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Dinosaurs lived in South Dakota as far back as 150 million years ago!! They lived here during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods until their extinction around 65 million years ago. Back then part of South Dakota was covered by an inland sea, and the rest was open plains and sandy streams. Dinosaurs roamed through the coastal plains and river deltas (those ancient rivers that formed the bone deposits for our paleo tour). It is also believed that the climate was warmer and more humid than it is today. Nearly all of the major groups of dinosaurs lived in South Dakota at some point, including triceratops, raptors, and tyrannosaurus rex.

Resources: https://www3.northern.edu/natsource/EARTH/Dinosa1.htm

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It is recommended that you book your tour far in advance, since there are limited dates available. The tour is open to anyone 10 years or older who is in good enough health and physical condition to withstand a day of working in extreme heat and rugged conditions.

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After arriving at the Dinosaur Field Station, you are given a brief lesson to prepare you for the dig. You learn a little about fossils, dinosaurs, and how to properly excavate fossils. Then you pile into a van and are transported to the dig site! All information, training, transportation, and tools are included with the tour. The only things you need to bring are a lunch and beverages, cause it’s gonna be a long, hot day. You just show up, and Paleo Adventures takes care of the rest.

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Each participant is allowed to keep up to $50.00 worth of the common fossils they find. Fossils of commercial value can be purchased for an additional fee, and scientifically significant fossils are reserved for museums (your guide will tell you which is which).

We didn’t find a t-rex (though apparently someone on his last tour did…lucky), however I did find this awesome raptor tooth, and our guide let me keep it. I also dug up a triceratops tooth!

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This tour was everything we could’ve hoped for. Everyone found tons of fossils and we all came home with bags full of our findings.

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It was hotter than blazes when we were there, and there wasn’t much shade. To make your paleo dig more enjoyable, I would recommend bringing:

  • A hat and sunglasses
  • Plenty of water
  • A sack lunch and snacks (food isn’t provided and it’s a 12hr tour)
  • Sunblock
  • The “Jurassic Park” soundtrack to inspire you while you dig

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The best part about this tour is that you actually get to be a real paleontologist for the day. This isn’t a fake dig site… these are real fossils that have been buried here for over 65 MILLION years, and you are the first person to uncover them. How awesome is that?!

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A partially excavated fossil

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Ian Malcolm, Alan Grant, Ellie Satler, Tim, and Lex….it got hot. Our costumes didn’t make it till the end of the day.

The tour begins and ends at the Dinosaur Field Station, which is full of fun and useful stuff to purchase before or after your dig. We picked up these sweet Paleo Adventures t-shirts as souvenirs. This tour was so super ridiculously fun. We were able to learn about dinosaurs, help uncover some pieces of history from the earth, and fulfill our “Jurassic Park” dreams.

Mr. Hammond, we have decided to endorse this paleo dig.

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Prices for a 1-day dig start at $160 for adults, and $130 for kids (as of time of publishing in 2017).
Tours are by appointment only. Call 605-210-1275 or email stein151@comcast.net to book.
Digs begin at the Dinosaur Field Station at 8am and return to the Field Station no later than 8pm.
Location: 1hr east of Devil’s Tower, 1hr west of Mount Rushmore, 30min north of Deadwood. Click here for a map.

For additional information, check out the Paleo Adventures website!

Author: Natalie Bates

LA-based freelance writer | Blogger | Craft beer drinker | Rock 'n roll girlfriend | Adventurer | Lover of tattoos, red lipstick, and popcorn | World traveler | Compassionate human | Photography enthusiast | Eco warrior | Celtic babe ❤️

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