Step Way Back in Time on the Montana Dinosaur Trail Human history has its Olduvai Gorge. Dinosaur history has its Montana. And it all comes into sharp focus on the 15-stop Montana Dinosaur Trail, which includes the Fort Peck Field Station of Paleontology and the Garfield County Museum in Jordan.
Dinosaurs once roamed the entire earth, but few places combine the necessary ingredients for discoveries like Montana. The state still has open spaces and boasts a wide variety of exposed rocks from every geologic era in the planet’s history. The result is a potpourri of dinosaur types from the land, air, and even a sea that once covered parts of the state.
The Guinness Book of World Records calls Leonardo, a mummified Brachylophosaurus found near Malta, the best-preserved dinosaur anywhere. The first, largest, and one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossils in the world, respectively, have all been unearthed here and now reside at Fort Peck. A duckbill dinosaur’s eggs from the ancient Bearpaw Sea are on display on the H. Earl Clack Museum in Havre. The motherly Maiasaura is Montana’s state fossil.
In all, the preserved remains of at least 25 types of dinosaurs have been found across the state, and their actual fossils or replicas are the centerpiece of museums in the tiniest of towns. The Dinosaur Field Station in Malta, Fort Peck Field Station of Paleontology, Garfield County Museum, Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum, and Makoshika Dinosaur Museum in Glendive all offer the opportunity to get your hands dusty on guided field digs.
The Montana Dinosaur Trail is a marketing effort by the state to attract tourists to places that don’t see many visitors and often struggle economically. But the exhibits are impressive and the concept isn’t gimmicky, other than perhaps the Montana Dinosaur Trail passport in which stamps from all 15 sites results in a free T-shirt.
If you want to see this area at its wildest it’s the fourth-most visited place in Montana come in early July for the Montana Governor’s Cup Walleye Tournament on Fort Peck Reservoir. More than 50 types of fish swim the waters of Fort Peck, but there’s little question that the walleye ranks number one, as evidenced by the hundreds of anglers lured from around the country and Canada for the tournament. While visiting the Fort Peck area in the summer, plan an evening around the ornate Fort Peck Summer Theatre (406-526-9943), which has been graced by the likes of Will Rogers, Joan Crawford, William Powell, Shirley Temple, and, to this day, Floyd the Friendly Ghost. Shows, which run Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend, included Steel Magnolias and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in summer 2015.
Unlike the Terry Badlands and other points along the Big Sky Backcountry Byway, Fort Peck will test your ability to imagine what it was like before the Euro invasion. Long gone are the days when the Sioux and Assiniboine hunted the cottonwood bottoms along a free-flowing Missouri. Yet even here, what was once unimaginable might soon become reality. Today, the grounds of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation are thundering again under the hooves of wild Yellowstone National Park bison, returning a slice of long-lost history and restoring a frontier spirit to the Big Open.