Unearthing the Past: A Day at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center’s “Dig for a Day” Program

Have you ever dreamed of stepping into the shoes of a paleontologist and uncovering the mysteries of the prehistoric world? At the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming, this dream becomes a reality through their exciting ‘Dig for a Day’ program.

The Town of Thermopolis

Thermopolis is a small town of less than 3,000 people in the heart of Wyoming. The city boasts the world’s largest mineral hot spring, drawing travelers seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. The town’s scenic landscapes, including rolling hills and striking rock formations, provide a picturesque backdrop for outdoor activities. The community is friendly, and has a handful of unique shops and eateries. We traveled here specifically for the dig, and were pleased by the experience and town so much, we’re already planning next year!

Driving From:
Yellowstone 2.5hrs
Denver 6hrs
Fly into Casper + 2.5hr drive
Salt Lake City 6hrs
Bozeman 4.5
Billings 6hrs

The Dinosaur Dig Experience

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is perched on a small hill overlooking the city, making it easy to find and just a five-minute drive from our Airbnb. Upon arrival, we sign in at the front desk and are promptly greeted by our guides, Tom and Will. After a brief meet-and-greet, we gather at the front of the building for a safety chat. There are about two other groups besides our own of six, and after the safety chat, we separate into different vehicles.

Camarasaurus and Allosaurus tracks, Wyoming Dinosaur Center
Will from Wyoming Dinosaur Center at the “Something Interesting” site

The first stop is an educational portion, the “Something Interesting” of their tour. It is the bone site of a young Camarasaurus whose body was eventually eaten by Allosaurus scavengers. We spent no more than 30 minutes at this portion before heading to the dig site. Here you’re still with the whole group, and you can ask questions and hold dinosaur bones.

Why not arrive in lightweight, Hawaiian shirt, Dino-bone style?
Camarasarus dig site, Wyoming Dinosaur Center
Camarasarus dig site

The Dig Site

Next, we head to our dig location. The ride to the dig site is bumpy but very short, only five minutes from where we started. To our surprise, we actually have a dig site and guides all to ourselves!

Tom and Will gave us our tools and went over the steps of the dig. After we all felt comfortable and they made sure our questions were answered we got to work. Here, we spent the remainder of the morning digging and chatting with our guides. They were lighthearted, informative and helpful.

The site is a dig already in process, meaning there will already be uncovered bones for you to work with. This does not mean you will not make a new discovery. In fact, a member of our group found part of the skull of the dinosaur and we got to officially catalogue it!

Wyoming Dinosaur Center's Dig for a Day program
Part of a Camarasaurus skull we found and catalogued

Lunch Break and Our Tips

Around 12:30 we took a break for lunch. The museum provides a deli sandwich, chips, and bottled water. They also bring a large cooler to refill water bottles as needed.
Our group had a lot of dietary varieties, so we brought our own snacks and wraps. There’s one grocery store in town, but it is fully stocked with everything you need.

A couple things to note:

  • Getting in touch with anyone at the museum via email is very tough, as they are understaffed in that department. I recommend calling for any and all questions you have.
  • I also recommend calling to confirm your time and date well in advance.
  • You are welcome to bring your own snacks and food, just make sure you take space into account. Don’t bring anything you can’t hold in your lap in the car. Our group had a very handy cooler that fit everything additional we needed in terms of drinks and munchies.
  • Book early! This has become an increasingly popular destination over the years and spots fill up quick. Also, call in and confirm your booking.

A small day pack will do wonders for things like wet wipes, sunscreen, and any other personal items.

Packing List

  • Day pack or small bag ๐ŸŽ’
  • Closed toed shoes ๐Ÿฅพ
  • Sun protective clothing โ˜€๏ธ
  • Wide brimmed hat ๐Ÿ‘’
  • Lightweight pants or shorts ๐Ÿฉณ
  • Wet wipes (there is a porta potty at the dig sites) ๐Ÿงป
  • Cooler for snacks ๐ŸŠ
  • Refillable water bottle ๐Ÿšฐ
  • Sunscreen ๐Ÿงด
  • Sunglasses ๐Ÿ•ถ๏ธ
  • A fully charged phone for photos! ๐Ÿ“ฑ
  • Bonus: SPF Umbrella for extra sun protection โ˜‚๏ธ
Sifting through fossils at Wyoming Dinosaur Center's "Dig for a Day" program
Sifting through our fossil finds

The Afternoon

After lunch our guides took the time to figure out how to best spend the rest of our time. This portion was up to us. Our options were to 1. Continue digging 2. Head to another, different fossil site, a dried seabed where the group could search and keep aquatic fossils we found and 3. Head back to the museum and work in the Prep Lab where you can clean, repair, and sometimes reconstruct dinosaur fossils and other specimens.

Having a larger group, everyone wanted to do a little of everything so our guides were flexible and generous enough to give us some time at each stop.

The Prehistoric Seabed

After another brief ride we got to our third location, the prehistoric seabed. Revealing a captivating chapter of Earth’s history when the region was submerged beneath a vast inland sea during the Jurassic period. This ancient seabed is a treasure trove of well-preserved fossils, including marine reptiles, fish, and invertebrates, offering a unique window into life over 150 million years ago. Here you have some time to explore on your own and keep your findings if you choose. Your guides will help you identify anything you find! Happy hunting!

Prep Lab work at Wyoming Dinosaur Center's "Dig for a Day"
Prep Lab work

The Prep Lab

The prep lab at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center is a hub of scientific activity where paleontologists and volunteers work to uncover and preserve fossils. This behind-the-scenes area is dedicated to the careful preparation of dinosaur bones and other ancient specimens, involving tasks such as cleaning, stabilizing, and piecing together fragmented fossils. Visitors to the center can often observe this intricate process through viewing windows, gaining an appreciation for the painstaking efforts required to ready these ancient treasures for study and display. However, it is an option given there is time available, on the Dig for a Day tour!

This is a portion I highly recommend (though, to be fair, every part of this experience was worthwhile). But this gives you a hands-on look at the painstaking effort of preservation, cleaning, repairing, and the amount of love and labor that goes into this work. And the best part is, you get to help!

The Museum Tour

The final leg of your day is conveniently right where you began your journey, at the Dinosaur Center. The museum is attached and while small, it packs of a punch of information and specimens. Your guides will take you around to some of the rarest fossils in the world, including a horseshoe crab’s final moments, and Archaeopteryx, one of the missing links between dinosaur and bird.

Final Notes

Participating in the Wyoming Dinosaur Center’s “Dig for a Day” program is a unique and enriching experience that connects participants with the ancient past in a hands-on, engaging manner. You may be an aspiring paleontologist or simply fascinated by the world of dinosaurs, this program offers a rare opportunity to contribute to real scientific discoveries. The thrill of uncovering fossils, combined with the expert guidance provided by the center’s knowledgeable staff, makes for an unforgettable adventure. So, as you leave Thermopolis, you’ll carry with you not just memories of the dig, but a deeper appreciation for the meticulous work that brings the prehistoric world to life.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out the world’s largest mineral hot springs while you’re in town! Happy travels!