Posted by: Kirsten | Saturday, 23 February 2008

The Everglades of Southwestern North Dakota

Just imagine you’re strolling along in southwestern North Dakota near Theodore Roosevelt National Park and instead of a bison or a rattlesnake, you stumble into a crocodile!  Far-fetched fantasy, you might say?  But it’s very possible that in this arid climate with little vegetation other than grasses and shrubs, you could in fact find a crocodile.  A 10-foot long Champsosaur, to be specific.

Yes, 60 million years ago, crocodiles, turtles, and fish navigated the swampy waters of this part of the world, and today you’ll find them strictly as part of the fossil record.  My son and I have been planning a fossil dig in this part of North Dakota with the Marmarth Research Foundation, founded by Tyler Lyson (pronounced Lee-son) not all that long ago.  You see, Tyler is still in school, working on his PhD at the moment, and has been finding fossils on his family’s land since he was knee-high to a crocodile’s belly button. 

By the time Tyler graduated from high school, he had already discovered some of the most important dinosaur finds known to the field of paleontology, and his research continues today through the Foundation.  The best part about MRF is that it welcomes inexperienced volunteers to work at their dig sites, and my son and I will be there during the first week of August (Week 7).

Checking in with the MRF website today, I just discovered that the focus of Week 7 will be at a site near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one of my favorite National Parks.  Champsosaurs have been found within the park boundaries in the past, and we’ll be looking for more of them, other crocodile species, turtles, and fish in the nearby Little Missouri National Grasslands.  We’ll also be staying in cabins very close to Medora, which is the gateway town for TR Nat’l Park, so I’m very excited! 

All of these creatures survived the great dino die-off around 65 million years ago, which many scientists believe was cause by a meteor impact.  Other mammals, baldcypress, magnolia, and ginkgo trees co-existed with these survivors of the dinosaur age and pretty much still exist today, although not in North Dakota, that’s for sure…

Parke Diem!
— Jon

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