Dinosaurs in South Dakota

Dinosaurs (from deinos, meaning "terrible" and sauros, meaning "lizard") were the most varied, abundant, and successful vertebrate animals that ever lived. They roamed across the entire North American continent, and their fossils have been found in every state. There are particularly rich fossil beds of dinosaurs in South Dakota and Wyoming, where they thrived during the Mesozoic Era. They are one of the most interesting attractions of the state, and it is possible to book exciting and educational vacation packages that concentrate on South Dakota archaeology and related sciences.

You will find fossils of dinosaurs in South Dakota principally in two areas: along the Hogback Ridge that forms the outer boundary of the Black Hills and around Badlands National Park, and in the northwestern corner of the state. Nearly all of the major groups of dinosaurs were found in South Dakota.

Each dinosaur dig in South Dakota can vary quite a bit from another. Virtually all are on private property, operated by local landowners who have been providing tours and digs in fossil beds for many years. There are day trips for casual vacationers that can be booked on the spot and include a half or full day out on a dig. Some adventure companies offer full-immersion experiences that combine wilderness camping, survival skills, and Native American traditions. There are serious scientific South Dakota archaeology expeditions that are generally associated with universities or museums, such as the South Dakota School of Mines and Museum of Geology, one of the finest paleontological museums in the upper Midwest. Or you can book complete vacation packages that include tours of other sites and attractions. Depending on the type of dinosaur dig in South Dakota in which you participate, there might be minimum age requirements for children. Even the day trips often have lower age limits of six to eight years old.

Visiting a dinosaur dig in South Dakota can be particularly enjoyable for families with children of most ages. A bonus to these types of South Dakota vacations is the proximity of other state attractions, including Deadwood and Mount Rushmore, as well as the mines, caves, and national and state parks in the southwest part of the state.

One of the most prolific discoverers of dinosaurs in South Dakota is the Black Hills Institute, located in Hill City near Keystone, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. The institute was involved in the excavation of eight Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons, including five of the ten most complete ever discovered. Notable among these "T Rex" skeletons is Sue (though it is unclear if she is a he or a she), discovered in 1990 by, appropriately enough, a Black Hills Institute geologist named Sue. Sue is the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found, in South Dakota archaeology or anywhere else. There was some controversy over exact ownership of this prize fossil, and she was eventually auctioned by Sotheby's for 8.36 million dollars. Today she can be viewed in the Field Museum in Chicago.

Dinosaur Park in Rapid City is a good stop for children interested in South Dakota archaeology or dinosaurs in general. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it contains seven giant statues of the prehistoric creatures. Entrance is free, but be aware of steep stairs to access the site. It is possible to purchase fossils of dinosaurs in South Dakota legally. Sometimes you are able to keep a tooth or bone that you yourself have uncovered. Thus, you can bring home a souvenir of your journey.

Sturgis SD


Sturgis South Dakota is set at the foot of the legendary Black Hills and boas...

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