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 temperatures approaching 100 degrees.
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.
All participants must complete the Waiver of Liability Statement and submit it along with the completed Registration Form and Medical Information and Release Form. These forms will be available during the registration process.
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.
“Suu Area” - Monday, Tuesday, and Friday
Mother’s Day Site - Wednesday & Thursday until early afternoon
Thursday Afternoons: We’ll leave the field early on Thursdays to give folks some time to explore town on their own.
Evening Classes: 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.
Beartooth Highway: Wednesday evening, (weather permitting). After dinner, we’ll take a scenic drive to the top of the Beartooth Pass – 11,000’ elev. Dress warm!
Pig Races!: After dinner on Friday, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the famous pig races at the historic Bear Creek Saloon. You can also eat at their famous steakhouse!
Day 7 (Saturday): After breakfast, we will transport you to the Billings airport, if needed. Please schedule your flight home for a late morning 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.
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’ button above to make additional payments, complete the required forms and waivers, get 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.
Images by Heart Four Bar Photography.
Expedition Crew Members will stay at the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA) just south of Red Lodge, Montana. 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! Camp is located on the edge of the front range of the Beartooth Mountains overlooking Red Lodge. Pets are not allowed.
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.
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.
What Kind of Weather Should I prepare For?
The short answer is, all of it, every day. The only thing predictable about the weather in and around 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 exceed 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 whenever possible). 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!
Average High (July) 84°F 79°F
Average Low (July) 53°F 49°F
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.
Our staff will meet you at the Billings airport and transport you to Red Lodge and base camp.
Please schedule your arrival into the Billings airport no earlier than 10am and no later than 3pm.
Please schedule your departure from the Billings airport for no earlier than 10am.
If you schedule a flight that leaves earlier than this, you may have to stay in a hotel in Billings the evening before. Due to the time and resources required to make such a trip, we charge a fee of $100 for each trek to Billings that is not a regularly-scheduled Saturday or Sunday run.
We usually take two trips to the Billings airport on Saturday mornings: one at 8:00am and the second at 10:00am, but this will vary depending on participants’ flight schedules. Trips to the Billings airport from camp usually take 1 hr 15 minutes. Please plan accordingly.
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 your 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.
What Should I Pack?
This list of required and recommended items (below) is based on our own experiences, and is not intended to be comprehensive. You may have limited opportunities to pick up anything you need at local stores.
Weather conditions change quickly and unexpectedly throughout the field areas. Participants should be prepared for a range of weather conditions each day, regardless of the forecast.
Cabins at YBRA are dormitory style (i.e., bunks w/ mattresses and sheets), but you will need a sleeping bag & pillow.
Flip-flops/water shoes & towel for the wash house.
Flashlight & batteries for in camp at night.
Any kind of flashlight works, but LED headlamps are most versatile.
Required Every Day
Field Book: Other than personal safety equipment, this is the MOST important item. The BLM requires that we submit copies of field notes from every participant, and since this an active research project, every note and perspective matters
every participant must bring and use some type of field notebook.
Almost anything will do, but we prefer Rite-In-The-Rain books because they are indestructible!
Hat(s): preferably a wide-brimmed hat
Loose-fitting, light-weight, LIGHT-COLORED clothing - enough to create layers!
Sun screen: high SPF and waterproof
Sturdy and comfortable hiking or work boots
Water bottle(s): Water many not always be readily available, so you must carry at least 3 liters of water with you each day.
Personal First Aid kit
Compass (for note taking and map reading/orienteering)
Whistle (preferably one with a compass - for emergencies)
**Hand tools will be provided
Suggested for the Field & in Camp
Tweezers (for pulling cacti spines and other splinters!)
Jacket or coat: it can get cool at night, and it will be VERY cold on Beartooth Pass!
Long work pants: at least two pairs (LIGHT COLORS!!) Jeans are not recommended.
Light & heavyweight socks
Chap stick (with SPF)
Eyeglasses (contact lenses are not recommended)
Knee pads or cushion
Flip-flops / water shoes for the wash house.
Camera/binoculars/notebook: This trip will provide some exciting moments and spectacular scenery that you will want to remember and share.
Other Common Questions
Where will we be?
Basecamp - the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association - is just south of Red Lodge, Montana
Most of our field sites are generally between Red Lodge, MT, Bridger, MT, and Powell, WY.
Can You accommodate a family?
Yes, given the availability of your day(s) and preferred week(s), we can and love to accommodate families. In fact, this is a wonderful opportunity to create life-long memories!
Can I Join the Expedition for a shorter period of time?
Yes! We invite people to join our team for 1 or 2 day visits to our field sites. You won't just be "visitors" though - you'll be helping us find and excavate the fossilized remains of dinosaurs and other ancient life. Please see our Daily Expedition Visitors page for details.
do I have to be a paleontologist to DIG DINOSAURS?
No experience? No problem. We welcome anyone with a genuine interest in paleontology and dinosaurs! No formal or even informal training is required.
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.
What happens to the fossils we collect?
All of the fossils make their first stop at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University where the fossil preparation staff and volunteers will remove the fossil from the jackets, clean them, make any necessary repairs, and prepare them for study by our scientists. This process can be time consuming, especially when we commonly collect 2.5 TONS of material each summer!
Once we have satisfied all of our research interests, we’ll load up the fossils once more for their last trip to our official repository at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science. This means that all of the vertebrate and scientifically important plant and invertebrate fossils collected by the Expedition will be housed there permanently.
We're extremely proud to be working with not one, but two internationally recognized and renowned institutions!
Who Typically JOINS theSE Expeditions?
Our teams usually consist of people of nearly all ages coming from a wide range of experience levels, geographies, and backgrounds! 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.
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 2020 crew!
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. Be sure to have your Membership Number for the Registration form, and apply promo code 2019ACADEMYDINOS 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 I’ve signed up and something happens and can’t go?
If you notify us before the deadline (May 1st), your deposit and fees are 100% refundable. If something happens and you notify us after that date, there are a few options:
We can refund all of your fees other than your deposit, or
We can treat your payments as a charitable donation. Those funds will be tax deductible and we’ll send you a donation receipt right away, or
We can carry over those fees to reserve your spot in the following year’s Field Expedition. The benefits of this are that you’ll automatically lock in the present year’s rates for next year when they’re likely to increase.
Note: We are only able to carry over those fees for the next year’s field expedition. If you are unable to join us that second year, we cannot refund your fees or allow you to carry them over to a third season. We can, however, treat them as a charitable donation.
What if the week(s) I want to come are full?
1st - Confirm with us that 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, so spaces may open up over time. 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: Wi-fi is available for guests of YBRA. We'll provide you with a password when you arrive.
Electricity: There are lots of electrical outlets in the cabins.
Are there Laundry Facilities?
There are no laundry facilities in camp. There is a laundromat available in town, and we can arrange a trip if needed. However, you should pack enough clothes to last the week.
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:
A must-see for any dino-enthusiast. Great museum with world-class exhibits and dinosaur-digging opportunities!
Another world-famous Museum with simply amazing paleontology collections and exhibits.
If there's anything we haven't covered, please don't hesitate to contact us: Info(at)BBPaleo.org, or (406) 998-1390