Posted by: Kirsten | Sunday, 17 August 2008

Homeschooling with Hadrosaurs — In the Flesh

On our recent trip to North Dakota to dig for dinosaurs, we had originally planned to fly into Rapid City, South Dakota where the Marmarth Research Foundation offered to pick us up and take us to the location of our dinosaur dig in southwestern North Dakota about 180 miles away.  But since it was Sturgis Rally week, there were no seats to be had on the airplanes coming in and out of Rapid City (at least not using frequent flier miles).  So we put Plan B into effect and flew to Bismarck, ND instead and rented a car.

However, we found that plan wasn’t perfect either.  Very few seats were available on convenient dates, so we wound up flying two days earlier than planned.  Turns out it was a great inconvenience to have, because my son and I were then able to make a few extra stops on the way to Marmarth, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one of my favorite National Parks, and the North Dakota Heritage Center right there in Bismarck.  As luck would have it, there just happened to be a famous dinosaur being exhibited at the ND Heritage Center and it also just happened to be owned by the Marmarth Research Foundation.  I sent an e-mail back in the Spring to the person who found Dakota the “mummified” hadrosaur, Tyler Lyson, and he said to just stop by the Center and ask for Dr. John Hoganson when we get there and he’d let us see Dakota as it was being prepared for exhibit.

Well, by the time we arrived on August 1st, part of Dakota, a duck-billed Edmontosaurus that lived in the last of the age of dinosaurs just over 65 million years ago, was already on display in the museum proper — a section of her tail and one of her legs.  Knowing the rest of Dakota was still being prepared for a future exhibit, we ventured downstairs and asked to see John Hoganson.  He happily greeted us, and we told him we were on our way to Marmarth and that Tyler said we might be able to get a peek at “all of” Dakota while we were here.  John got us some visitor passes and took us back the lab where one of their preparers was painstakingly working on Dakota with dental picks, X-acto knives, and air scribes.

It was a great behind-the-scenes look at how a dinosaur gets so much TLC after being brought in from the field — and even moreso in this case since they were trying to preserve each scale on Dakota’s skin that was still salvageable.  The texture of Dakota’s skin was simply amazing to see, and Dr. H actually let us put our hands on Dakota’s hide and feel it for ourselves!  Wow… I felt so honored to even be allowed to do so, since once Dakota goes on display in the museum and is reunited with her tail and leg under plexiglas, absolutely NO ONE will be touching this beast.  There were so many exposed scales on Dakota’s skin, and so many different sizes and kinds of scales as well.  It was simply amazing. I already said that didn’t I?  Well, it was!

So the friendly homeschool lesson for today is “don’t be afraid to ask”…  Sure, we could have waltzed into the free ND Heritage Center, gazed at the tail and leg under glass, strolled through all the rest of the wonderful North Dakota exhibits, stopped at the gift shop, and gone on our way.  But being a homeschool family often has its rewards, and a great teacher-to-pupil ratio (1:1 in this case) was totally non-threatening to the museum director and staff, and we were greeted like friendly neighbors rather than a classroom full of bored middle school students with the hijinx and headaches people typically associate with accommodating such groups.


  • National Geographic’s “Dino Autopsy” which aired in December 2007.  Tyler told us there’s a revised version of Dino Autopsy in the works with updates based on the discoveries learned since the original show aired.
  • Marmarth Research Foundation website

More later on our trip to Marmarth and the dinosaur dig…  ‘Til then,

Parke Diem!
— Jon

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