Volunteer on a summer dinosaur dig

Our Field Program

Since 2016, Badlands Dinosaur Museum has established one of the largest summer field research programs in the northern Great Plains. Led by Dr. Denver Fowler and Dr. Elizabeth Freedman Fowler, each year we spend ~2-3 months collecting primarily vertebrate fossils from Mesozoic rocks of the region.

We accept dedicated, hardworking volunteers to join us typically for a minimum of two weeks (negotiable depending on experience & transport). Longer stays are welcome - many volunteers like to stay the whole summer if they have the time. The field program is typically beneficial to college students interested in biological or geological research, although other ages are welcome; indeed, in 2019 and 2020 we were mostly crewed by volunteers older than college-age, including retirees.

Our field program kicks off in early to mid June and runs to end August (or beyond). Usually we start getting applications in January or so. We generally aim to have two crews of 5 operating out of camp at any given time. This can be flexible if we have a few extra people, but it is dependent upon seating space in vehicles. We generally need more people from July-Aug (prefer 10 people) than in June (6-10 people).

2022: We are currently working in the Judith River Formation of Northern Montana. We spend June and the earliest part of July at one camp, then move to another for July-August. In 2022 we expect to be digging two disarticulated tyrannosaurs; a juvenile duckbill site; the "Bighorn bonebed" (mass death assemblage of hadrosaurs); and a multi-taxic bonebed (ceratopsid, lambeosaurine, tyrannosaur). We will also prospect a little for new sites. Please email for further details.

Our campsites vary, but mostly we expect to camp in a field with no provided amenities. We have a small trailer that we use for cooking, but we spend most of our camp time relaxing outside and enjoying the scenery and wildlife. We also have a wall tent for the crew to sit in. We have a generator for occasional high-power needs, and a couple of small solar panels that can recharge cellphones or batteries. Usually we have only a very basic outhouse system, although sometimes we stay in campgrounds with park-style outhouses. We have solar showers and these work really well, so you can take a hot shower every few days if you really need to (once or twice a week is typical; our only real limit is containers of water). Cellphone reception varies by site, but all our current sites can take voice calls with limited data (good data reception can be found quite nearby, or next to the actual digsites).

We provide all of your food except on town days. We typically work a six day week, with a trip into town once a week for supplies and laundry. Occasionally, we might lose a workday to rain, in which case we stay in camp.

The exact schedule of a workday varies, but generally you can expect to wake up at about 7 am, eat breakfast, and head out to the site by 8 am. We generally work in the quarry until maybe 5:30pm or so, then head back to camp and make dinner. In the evenings there is plenty of time for playing games, reading, and just hanging out. If you have a favorite game, bring it along!

How to apply to be field crew volunteer

All new fieldwork volunteers are asked to fill out our application form, and provide a reference.

(click here to view the forms as HTML which can be copied and pasted into MS word).

For an MS word format version of the application form, reference form, and to request updated details of our current field schedule, availability, further information and packing list, please send an email to: denver.fowler@dickinsongov.com

For legal reasons, volunteers must be aged 16 or older. Volunteers are expected to carry health insurance which is not provided. Volunteers will however be registered for Workman's Comp. which provides some workplace-related coverage.

Note that this is NOT a summer camp or vacation; applicants are expected to work hard all day in typically hot weather with excavation and camp duties. Furthermore, paleontological fieldwork involves many potentially dangerous activities (hiking in steep terrain, carrying heavy objects, using sharp tools, encountering dangerous animals), although accidents rarely occur. Local medical care is at least an hour’s drive from most sites, with fully-capable hospitals farther away (~4 hours). We need to ensure that all volunteers are responsible, and will not endanger other crew members. Something as simple as forgetting to drink enough water can lead to heatstroke or severe injuries.

Places on our field crews are limited so the application process can be competitive and acceptance is not guaranteed. Acceptance depends on a combination of availability of places, ability of the applicant, length of time spent with us, and coordination of arrival/departure (self-driving volunteers are much easier to coordinate, although airport pickups are arranged if needed). Sadly, there are sometimes negative experiences with inappropriate volunteers, who may have had different expectations of what fieldwork involved, or lacked the life experience to deal with living outdoors with a team in rustic conditions for several weeks. It is disappointing both for the applicant and us if they have to be sent home early, as has happened several times in the past (although not recently) at previous institutions. Please be sure when applying that this is the right program for you.

Covid review & restrictions

2020 & 2021 COVID REVIEW
We ran fieldwork in 2020, but decided not to seek out any extra volunteers beyond those who had contacted us. This kept our numbers down so we did not crowd camp / increase possibility of transmission. We had various restrictions in the field in 2020. For those of you who have not been out with us before- mostly our campsite is in a field away from other people, so we are naturally isolated. We did not go to the local bar. Food & supplies shopping was conducted by only three people (crew chiefs & helper). We allowed people to buy lunches, but these were only allowed as kerbside delivery (mostly McDonalds, so we sat in the truck using WiFi). Showers were taken using the solar showers we bought in 2020 (these were fabulous!), so no-one had to use town campsite facilities. During laundry we kept socially distanced and wore masks. Travelling to and from sites we wore masks and often had windows open. We had lots of hand sanitizer around camp and in vehicles. Each crewmember had their own bottle. We had no (known) cases of covid or symptoms. Indeed, the counties where we worked in Montana had close to zero cases in the times that we were there, although of course it began to spike at the start of winter.

In 2021, all crew members were vaccinated. Other safety protocols were slightly more relaxed than in 2020, but we remain vigilant and conscious not to mingle in crowded places.

It is not yet clear how the recovery from the pandemic will be going, especially with regards to international borders. Crew chiefs Dr Denver Fowler and Dr Elizabeth Freedman Fowler are both double vaccinated and boosted and we strongly encourage anyone who can get the vaccine to do so.

It is likely that covid vaccination boosters can be made available to all registered volunteers. Currently it looks likely that volunteers will be able to be vaccinated in North Dakota before joining us in the field. Please ask about this as part of your application if you are interested as obviously conditions are constantly changing.

We will have masks and hand sanitizer for all crew members again.

Given the variable recovery from covid, we do not know what national or local rules will be for volunteers coming into the US, nor what voluntary restrictions we may impose. There might be a quarantine required, but I would have thought this would depend on country of origin; whether you have had a vaccine etc.

DRIVERS: US residents should hopefully be able to drive to camp as usual.

FLIGHTS: For people flying in to North Dakota, or even driving in from Canada, we are not certain what any rules might be. Please consider whether you can legally enter and leave the US, or if there would be any changes to visa requirements, health records, etc.


2021 Field Report video

Every year we give a public report presenting the results of the summer field season (so far!).

Because of Covid19 restrictions, in 2020 & 2021 we cancelled our in-person presentation and livestreamed the field report online.

This video was originally streamed live on the Dickinson Museum Center Facebook page on Thursday December 2nd 2021. The embedded video has been edited to remove a couple of technical glitches and is hosted on YouTube.

Video production by Aaron Meyer.

2020 Field Report video

Every year in Fall we give a public report presenting the results of the summer field season (so far!).

Because of Covid19 restrictions, in 2020 we cancelled our in-person presentation and livestreamed the field report online.

This video was originally streamed live on the Dickinson Museum Center Facebook page on Thursday November 19th 2020. If you stream the HD video via our Facebook page, then you can see comments made by viewers at the time. If you prefer not to use Facebook, then the embedded 360p video is hosted on YouTube.

Video production by Aaron Meyer.

Please consider donating

Many institutions are downgrading their fieldwork programs, favoring the purchase of commercial specimens, or even limiting or closing their collections.

Badlands Dinosaur Museum is committed to fieldwork; to make the discoveries that are needed to keep science moving forward; to fill our museum with new dinosaurs and other fossils to inspire new generations.

Our experienced field crew has identified many new dinosaur sites. However, the amount of time we can spend collecting new dinosaurs is directly related to how much money we can raise for the field program. Don't believe what you read in the news: dinosaurs do not cost millions of dollars to dig up! Our fieldwork is streamlined, and cost effective. In 2017 we spent less than $3000 on fieldwork, yet made many important discoveries.

Even if you can't offer financial support, we are ever in need of supplies and equipment.

Please see our support page for details on how you can help our paleontology program.


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