Public Expeditions: Frequently Asked Questions

Ever dream of hunting dinosaurs?  The Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute offers an exciting opportunity to work alongside scientists in fossil-rich & rugged landscapes of southern Montana and northern Wyoming.  If you are interested in an unforgettable adventure - truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience - then read below to find out more.  Of course, if you're ready to sign up, you can do that too!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

You'll learn a lot more about our field expeditions by reading the FAQ's below. However, please feel free to contact us if you still have any questions.  

 

What to Expect

We'll spend our days in the beautifully rugged deserts where many of our sites are located, working on current dig sites or out in search of new discoveries! Nights will be spent back at our base camp (below), located on a forested mountainside overlooking the charming Western town of Red Lodge, MT. On some nights, our educators will hold informal classes, covering a wide range of subjects such as the geology of the Bighorn Basin, dinosaur anatomy, and fossil preparation. A tentative daily schedule is available below. 

In the field, we will be conducting all manner of paleontological field activities in rugged and potentially hazardous terrain.  Many of these activities involve long hikes over steep and loose hillsides and escarpments.  Large excavations require heavy lifting and repetitive movements.  All activities are conducted at high altitudes (over 4,500 feet).

Participants must be in good physical condition to participate in the BBPI's Field Expeditions. Potential participants should consult their physicians’ advice before registering if there is any question regarding their level of fitness and ability to accomplish strenuous tasks in steep, loose terrain, in high temperatures.  

  • For the safety of the entire team, we reserve the right to refuse to allow Expedition Crew Members to go to certain sites if we believe they cannot safely traverse the terrain.  
 

More Information for Expedition Crew Members

After you've registered, there's still more information you need to know.  Click the Expedition Crew Members Only link below to get a packing list, to make additional payments, complete the required forms and waivers, information about your travel plans, additional updates, and much more.  

A password is required for this page and will be sent to you when you submit your deposit.  

 
Image Credit: B. Malinowski

Image Credit: B. Malinowski

All participants must complete the Waiver of Liability Statement and submit it along with the completed Registration Form, Medical Release Form, and proof of medical insurance. These forms will be available during the registration process.   

 

Daily Itinerary

The following is a general daily itinerary.  The schedule each day and week is highly flexible, dependent on a number of factors, and subject to change upon short notice.

Day 1 (Sunday): Arrive in Billings/Red Lodge, MT. (If flying, a staff member will collect you as a group and drive you to the base camp. Following dinner there will be an orientation in one of the classrooms giving a basic summary of camp and field safety protocols, local history, etc.  If you are driving, please plan to arrive in camp no later than 3 pm.

Day 2 – 6: Following breakfast, we will depart YBRA each morning no later than 7:45 am and head out to our field sites.  Throughout the week we will be orienting you to the local geology, paleontology, and geography throughout the Bighorn Basin. 

  • Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings (after dinner) we will be hosting lessons on local geology, paleontology, anatomy, fossil preparation, etc.  By the end of this week, you will be familiar with the landscape that existed in this area 150 – 50 million years ago, including its inhabitants.  And, of course, you will have personally collected dozens of dinosaur and other fossils for the BBPI’s research and education programs. 
  • After dinner on Wednesday (weather permitting), we will take a scenic drive to the top of the Beartooth Pass – 11,000’ elev.  Dress warm!
  • Following dinner on Friday, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the famous pig races at the historic Bear Creek Saloon.

Day 7 (Saturday): After breakfast, we will transport you to the Billings airport, if needed.  Please schedule your flight home for an early to mid-afternoon departure so that no one is rushed for time. If your only departure option requires you to leave early Saturday morning, you may have to stay in a hotel room in Billings Friday night.  

The stunning view from Beartooth Pass at sunset.  Image Credit: B. Malinowski

 

Accommodations

Expedition Crew Members will stay at the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA).  First built in the 1930's, YBRA is a comfortable facility with cabins, showers, home-style cooking, spectacular views, and incredible sunsets almost every night!  Pets are not allowed.  Camp is located on the edge of the front range of the Beartooth Mountains overlooking Red Lodge, Montana.

  • Lodging and in-camp meals are covered by the registration fees.  Food purchased outside of camp is the individual's responsibility. 
  • There are no laundry facilities in camp.  However, if time is available, trips to the laundromat in Red Lodge can be arranged. 

Cabin Assignments:

  • Cabins are segregated by gender (see possible exceptions below)
  • Cabins vary in size and function, from small, private, 2-bed cabins, to larger ~12-person "dormitory" style cabins.  We share the camp with other groups, so cabin assignments are generally random.  
  • Special Accommodations: If you are traveling with someone and you prefer to bunk with them (e.g., spouse/significant other, child, friend, etc.), please let us know when you register.  We will do everything we can to accommodate these requests, but cannot promise that it will be possible in every situation.  

Additional Notes About Food:

  • The kitchen staff at YBRA is able to accommodate people who prefer to maintain a vegetarian diet.  If you have other dietary preferences or requirements – whether medical or religious – you may be required to bring or purchase your own food.
  • If you store food in your cabin, it must be in sealed, odorless packaging.  Bears are often in camp and can be a safety issue.
    • Space in a communal refrigerator may be available.
A view of Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association (YBRA), our home away from home while digging.  Image credit: B. Malinowski

A view of Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association (YBRA), our home away from home while digging.  Image credit: B. Malinowski

 

What Kind of Weather Should I prepare For?

Image Credit: B. Malinoswki

Image Credit: B. Malinoswki

The short answer is, all of it, every day.  The only thing predictable about the weather in the northern Bighorn Basin is that it is unpredictable.  Field expeditions have been known to be stuck in camp due to snow storms in June.  Temperatures at our field sites can approach 100°F in July and August.  Occasionally, rain forces us out of the field early, or for an entire day (if that's the case, alternative paleo-excursions will be made!).  Generally, though, days in the field (near Powell, WY) are hot and dry, and evenings in camp (near Red Lodge, MT) are cool to chilly. Be prepared for all types of weather!

Powell, WY       Red Lodge, MT

Average High (July)        84°F                       79°F

Average Low (July)         53°F                       49°F

 
Image Credit: R. Schmidt

Image Credit: R. Schmidt

CAN I TAKE THE FOSSILS HOME WITH ME?

Much of our field work will be conducted on public (Bureau of Land Management, or U.S. Forest Service) lands, and there are very strict rules governing the collection of fossils from these areas. Click HERE for a review of fossils on public lands and the rules concerning their collection. These rules MUST be adhered to – revocation of our collecting permits, or even prosecution, may result if these rules are violated. 

There will be many opportunities to collect fossils for your personal collection.  Since this is a research project first and foremost though, all materials collected for personal use must be approved by BBPI Expedition staff.

 

What Travel ARRANGEMENTS Should I Make?

Once you register to be an Expedition Crew Member, you'll receive an on-line form to complete once you have made your travel arrangements.  

If You Fly:

  • Once your travel plans are confirmed, please complete our Travel Form so that we'll know when to pick you up.
  • Plan to arrive at the Billings Logan International Airport around mid-day on the Sunday of your reserved week.
    • Our staff will meet you there and transport you to Red Lodge and base camp.
  • For departing flights, please plan to leave no earlier than 10 am from the Billings Airport.

If You Drive:

  • Once your travel plans are confirmed, please complete our Travel Form so that we'll know when to expect you.
  • Plan to arrive no earlier than 12 noon, and no later than 3pm on the Sunday of you reserved week.
  • YBRA is located at the top of Howell Gulch Road, south of Red Lodge, MT.  

Once You Arrive:

  • Transportation to and from all field and evening activities throughout the week will be provided for you.  
 

Other Common Questions

 

do I have to be a paleontologist to Join the Dig Crew?

Image Credit: B. Malinowski

Image Credit: B. Malinowski

No experience? No problem. We welcome anyone with a genuine interest in paleontology and dinosaurs! You do not have to have any formal training in paleontology to join. 

 

Will there be time for Exploring Town or Nearby Attractions?

There likely will be opportunities to explore the town of Red Lodge, and possibly even venture to some of the scenic or historical places in the area. If it is raining and we cannot go into the field, we have plenty of other fun options to keep our day busy. 

 

Can You accommodate a family?

Yes, given the availability of your preferred week(s), we can and love to accommodate families.  In fact, this is a great opportunity for families to experience together. 

 

Who Typically Goes On the dinosaur Digs?

Our teams usually consist of people with a wide range of age, experience, geography, and background!  A blend of people from all different career fields and students makes for a very interesting and diverse group.  Friendships are usually formed very quickly on our digs, since everyone has a common interest and is working toward common goals.

 

Image Credit: B. Malinowski

Image Credit: B. Malinowski

What Will I learn on the Dig?

A few nights out of the week, our team leaders will lead informal classes, covering a wide range of topics, including, dinosaur anatomy, geology, history, and field techniques!  In addition, you'll get hands-on experience in prospecting for and excavating real dinosaur fossils! In other words, you'll learn how to search and identify fossils in a field setting, and learn how to properly collect them. You'll be surprised how much you'll learn in just one week!

 

What will this experience add to my resume?

If you are a student or are looking to build up your resume, look no further. This is an excellent opportunity to gain valuable experience in field work, working alongside a diverse group of peers and of research scientists.  Several students have gone on to conduct research projects with BBPI scientists, and to even return as BBPI Field Expedition Staff in later years.  

 

How Do I Register for A dig?

Click here to register for the 2017 crew! Please note, a deposit is required to reserve your spot. 

 

Can I register for more than 1 week?

Yes!  You are welcome to join us for as long as you want.  First-year Expedition Crew Members often stay for more than one week to get a fuller experience.  

 

THE FIELD SEASON HAS ALREADY BEGUN.  CAN I STILL REGISTER?

Yes!  There is no deadline for registration.  Just make sure the week(s) you'd like to join us isn't full, and you MUST contact us first!

 

are There any discounts available?

Yes!  Members of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University are eligible for a discount of $50/person/week.  These discounts are only available during weeks 6 (July 30 - August 5) and 7 (August 6 - 13).  Be sure to have your Membership Number for the Registration form, and apply promo code 2017AcademyDinos upon checkout.

 

What Does the Expedition Fee Cover?

Your expedition fee includes room and board, on-site transportation, an electronic version of the field guidebook, tools and equipment, and personal, hands-on instruction and training.  Basically everything you'll need once you get to Montana!

 

What if the week(s) I want to come are full?

1st - make sure they are full.  There is some flexibility in the maximum numbers of people we can take each week, so be sure to contact us right away to see if we can squeeze you in.

2nd - ask to be placed on a waiting list.  It is not uncommon for people to change their plans - they change weeks, or drop out entirely. Being placed on the waiting list (which will not cost you anything) will ensure that you're next in line!

 

What About Cell Service, WiFi, and electricity?

  • Cell Service: Most people get perfectly adequate cell phone service in camp and when in and around Red Lodge.  Our field sites are a different story, though, and when we're out there you might as well just put it on flight mode and save the battery!  They're only good as cameras and GPS devices.
  • WiFi:  Traditionally wifi has only been available for camp staff.  That may or may not be changing for this coming season - we'll keep you updated.
  • Electricity: There are lots of electrical outlets in the cabins.  

 

What else is there to do in the area?

The question should really be, what ISN'T there to do in the area.  Besides the countless trails to explore and rivers and lakes to fish, here are just a few highlights: 

Beartooth Highway

  • Red Lodge lies at the entrance to the "The most beautiful highway in America".  You will NOT be disappointed.  

Yellowstone National Park

  • Enough said.  Take the Beartooth Highway over 11,000' peaks and right into Yellowstone.  You'll never forget this trip.  

Pompey's Pillar

  • One of the most poignant spots along the historic Lewis & Clark Trail.

Little Bighorn

  • Custer's last stand!

Wyoming Dinosaur Center

  • A must-see for any dino-enthusiast.  Great museum with world-class exhibits and dinosaur-digging opportunities!

Museum of the Rockies

  • Another world-famous Museum with simply amazing paleontology collections and exhibits.  

 

Anything Else?

If there's anything we haven't covered, please don't hesitate to contact us: Info(at)BBPaleo.org, or (406) 998-1390