Where can we see dinosaur fossils up close?
April 1, 2014 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Specifically, this place: During Bill Nye's debate with creationist Ken Ham a few months back, in Bill's presentation he mentioned a fossilized dinosaur pit (area?) in Montana? Colorado?... (I know there's a bunch in both of those states). I have been racking my brain trying to find the image on Google from the slide he used but no combination of words or phrases looks familiar to me in the results. I would very much like to take my son and (soon to be) daughter to this place Bill Nye was talking about. Where in the sam hell is it?
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing that its the Dinosaur National Monument at the border of Colorado and Utah.
posted by tinymegalo at 11:08 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I too think it's Dinosaur National Monument, but there's the Montana Dinosaur Trail, which is pretty interesting.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:13 AM on April 1, 2014

This might have a link to the original video if that helps: Debate

John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon also comes to mind as a possibility (though I am not clear if they have dinosaur pits there).
posted by Michele in California at 11:23 AM on April 1, 2014

Dinosaur fossils aren't like this huge protected thing accessible only by the Illuminati. The Morrison Formation is full of fossils. You can literally go on a hike in Colorado and trip over fossils.

Dinosaur National Monument is awesome and I think your kids would love it. Here's me wearing the shirt I got there when I was 7. DINOSAURS.

But! There are also small groups that do guided fossil tours and let you actually do some digging yourself. Paleo Park is one. I stayed there for a few days as part of a larger dig I was on in college. The Paleo Park folks are really nice (this is me talking to one of their adorable kids). It's in the middle of nowhere, so it's not a terribly convenient trip, but my point is simply that you can not only see dinosaur fossils up close, but actually go and do the fossil digging thing if you're so motivated.
posted by phunniemee at 11:35 AM on April 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's also worth noting that quite a few of the dinosaur specimens you see in museums are actual dinosaur fossils. For instance, I believe something like 90% of the evolution wing at the Field Museum is real fossil. I realize this isn't what you're asking about, and it's not the same as seeing it in situ, but I've read on the internet before things like "the fossils you see in museums are all fake!!!1!1!" which is, well, it's false. You can go to a museum and see dinosaur fossils up close.
posted by phunniemee at 11:38 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not dinosaurs, but if you want to take your kid to dig up fossils, the Penn Dixie site here in WNY is open to the public sometimes. Haven't been but keep meaning to. It's Cambrian-era, so trilobites (most seem to be about the size of nickels or dimes) and similar instead of dinosaurs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:21 PM on April 1, 2014

There's a spot closer to you in Connecticut - it's not got actual fossils, but Rocky Hill, CT has a park devoted to one of the largest fossilized fields of dinosaur footprints in the country. I remember that being sufficiently impressive when I was about eight and was taken there on a field trip (they let you make a cement impression, and that was one mother of a big footprint - the cement impression was the size of an LP vinyl record).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:27 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who has always loved dinosaurs, I had the great fortune of growing up less than an hour away from Dinosaur National Monument. They've recently remodeled the visitors center (which was much needed) but it has changed a bit from when I was a kid - you used to be able to walk up to the quarry wall and touch/climb/play on it. There is a new-ish museum in Vernal, Utah (the nearest "big" town) which is decent and there are a fair amount of fossils to see around that area if you are willing to follow a map and walk a bit.

If you really want to do something interesting you can take your kids out southeast of Vernal where the Green River formation has been exposed in many of the canyons. I have boxes and boxes of leaves, flowers, and fish (the only vertebrates you can legally keep) that I've found over the years. I still go back every summer or two and dig rocks with my dad - there are more places to dig and explore than you could do in a hundred lifetimes. It tends to be feast or famine in terms of finding a good spot, but once you do you can dig almost non-stop. In certain areas, they are so thick that you'll have trouble deciding which ones to keep and which to leave behind.

MeMail me if you do decide to visit that area and I can give you more detailed information.
posted by _DB_ at 1:46 PM on April 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Bill Nye mentioned Ashfall State Park in Nebraska during the debate.
posted by ellenaim at 2:17 PM on April 1, 2014

I feel a little odd about recommending a book that my friend and neighbor had a hand in producing, but I'm going to do it anyway (with that disclosure) because it's pretty much exactly on-topic (and you can certainly get it by inter-library loan if you wish.)

The book is called "Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway" and subtitled "An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip" and it's basically just that -- friends Kirk Johnson (a paleontologist and currently the director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History) and Ray Troll (Alaskan artist and fossil fanatic) hit the road for a journey across the American west in a journey to explore various fossil sites.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:20 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I teach a May term, 5000 mile paleobiology travel course for my small college. We go to Petrified Forest, Dinosaur National Monument, and a number of other places. I survey the students at the end of the course to help decide what to keep and what to change for next time around. Their #1 favorite has been Ashfall Fossil Beds in Nebraska. For scenery and trailside geology, but not fossils, I also recommend Colorado National Monument.

And thanks, Nerd, for recommending the Fossil Freeway book. I hadn't heard of it until now, and it sounds like a perfect reference for my course planning.
posted by wps98 at 4:23 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

wps98 -- you might interested in the related map, then..
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:50 PM on April 1, 2014

I was fascinated during our visit to Ashfall Fossil Beds in Nebraska. They are a really great way to see fossils close-up. There is a huge covered shed where the excavation takes place (nice for visitors and scientists; summers are hot in NE) and depending on when you are there, people excavating. There are a lot of visible fossils, well-labeled. People working there love to talk about it. Here's their site http://ashfall.unl.edu There are no big dinosaur fossils, but many other animals. I think it would be a great place to visit with kids, especially with some preparation about what they will see. One caveat--it is in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. It is about 3 hours from Omaha; Norfolk is about an hour or so. Plan accordingly. Depending on the age of your kids and their expectations of seeing dinosaur fossils, it could be a long trip.

I have also been to The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs SD. Similar to Ashfall in that it is an in situ excavation. Lots of big fossils there to see up close. Hot Springs is in the Black Hills. Badlands National Park isn't too far; it is wild country that makes you think you might actually see a dinosaur. In other words, while Ashfall is a great place, SD has big fossils and much more to do for a family vacation (including this spring-fed waterpark http://www.evansplunge.com).
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 9:41 PM on April 1, 2014

Seconding the Mammoth Site in South Dakota, I've been there several times.
posted by celtalitha at 11:33 PM on April 1, 2014

There's Florissant in Colorado, too. It's later periods, so insects and plants are more common there. That site also has a listing of other national parks with fossils.
posted by annsunny at 12:52 AM on April 2, 2014

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