posted: June 27th, 2007 | by:Bert
MISSION: SEARCHING FOR PROSE & PHOTOS—With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer
©Bert Gildart: “It’s like a smoking gun,” said Nate Murphy of Malta, Montana, “because it may be one of the most perfectly preserved dinosaurs ever found in North America, and because the evidence there could help us solve many mysteries.”
But Murphy’s 23-foot “smoking gun” didn’t die recently; rather it plodded this part of Montana 77-million years ago in what paleontologists call the Cretaceous period. Back there it died—to be buried repeatedly then by tons of sediments contained in a winding ancient river of the time.
And there it remained, waiting for the climate to change, for erosion to occur—and for Nate Murphy and his crew of diggers to expose it and then excavate it throughout the summer and fall of the year 2000.
Murphy says that “Leonardo”—as he named his find—may provide clues as to whether dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded. Because perfectly preserved food has been found in both the stomach and colon, paleontologists can tell not only what it ate immediately prior to death, but what it ate over a long period of time—“and that,” says Murphy, “is just for starters.
“If you dig dinosaurs,” quips Murphy, “Montana’s the place to be. And it doesn’t have to be in my backyard. You can find dinosaur bones in many eastern Montana settings; you just have to know what you’re looking for. And then, you’ve got to dig.”
We were hooked—ready to become paleo-nerds. We wanted to regress a bit. We wanted to don shorts, slide into sandals, saunter around with those cool little brushes all paleontologist carry.
We wanted to leap into our RV and travel Montana’s brand new Dinosaur Trail, in part because it promised to take us to some of the state’s neatest places. Montana’s Dino Trail is almost 1,000 miles long, and not only does it provide access to some of the state’s incredible dinosaur museums, but simply following The Dino Trail will place you in the middle of some of the state’s best fishing, the state’s best campsites, and some of its most compelling historic areas.
If you want, you could make the route your life’s work, but if that’s not feasible, you should give the Dino Trail at least a couple of weeks.
Though you can begin your adventure anywhere on the Dinosaur Trail, one really cool place to begin is the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, home of one of the state’s major universities. Here, you’ll see examples of different dinosaurs excavated from Montana.
With luck, you may also meet museum curator Jack Horner, who is one of the nation’s best-known paleontologists.Horner was a consultant for the movie “Jurassic Park,” and is also the author of a number of scientific papers on dinosaurs and of the popular book, Dinosaurs Under The Big Sky…
So there you have it; a teaser as provided in the above. The rest is up to you, and because we incorporated so much into our trip last year, we took almost three weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve just received word from the Montana Department of Tourism, an organization that sponsors my trips when I have an assignment (which I did) that Nat Murphy has just retired. Still the Malta station is still manned; you can see Leonardo, camp at Fort Peck, and visit Makoshika State Park—with all of its dinosaur remains.
You can’t go wrong, trust me.