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Jackie Hope: Laramidia: AKA Cretaceous Park

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You taking a weekend trip to Laramidia this summer? You know, out near the Judith River and Two Medicine areas of Montana. Laramidia. Say what? You never heard of Laramidia?

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See, that’s what the western quarter of North America used to be called, back in the olden days. Back when the Dakotas were part of the Western Interior Seaway and dinosaurs thumped around in Montana. Yeah, OK, it was a while ago. About 77 million years ago, according to the May 2014, issue of “National Geographic.” But still, are you gonna road trip out to Laramidia to hunt for dinosaurs this summer?

Oh man, don’t you just love dinosaurs? What is your favorite? Steggies? T-Rex? And when you were little, I bet you had dynamite dino models that you lined up according to size, or alphabetically, or both. With the apatosaurus holding down the heavy end of the alphabet, and a velociraptor racing to the other end of your lizard lineup. Did you have dino battles, where triceratopses tossed around tyrannosaurs? My triceratops always won. And then I’d get out my Flintstones action figures and … nevermind. Let’s just say that Fred Flintstone could always win in any showdown with a thunder lizard.

Thunder lizard is what “brontosaurus” means. Except it turns out brontosaurus did not exactly exist. They were kind of the paleontologists’ “oops” moment¸ when they put together a few odds and ends of dino bones, and called it good. And then they called it a brontosaurus. But later they found out, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just isn’t the same.” So they boned up on their dinosaur anatomy and had a rematch, and came up with the apatosaurus. You know: to-may-to/to-mah-to; brontosaurus/apatosaurus.

On to Laramidia. That is, or was, the western bits of Montana, as well as stuff both northward and southward, and going all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. But it wasn’t what we would recognize as the Pacific Ocean back then. Back in Cretaceous times — which were the times right after the Jurassic, and lasted nearly forever, until that meteorite business with the dinosaurs — the Pacific Ocean was way bigger, and slopped over onto island-ish continents like Gondwana and Laurasia. And Laramidia. Laramidia was long and skinny, and hot and sticky, and it stretched from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Know what was the best thing about Laramidia? It was chock-a-block full of dinosaurs.

While North Dakota was soaking at the bottom of the Western Interior Seaway, Montana was where all the action was. Isn’t that just the way it always goes? All the good parties are in Montana. Anyway, North Dakota was pretty much a big hot tub back then. Cretacean North Dakotans were treading water, while all the cool dinos were over in Laramidia.

According to National Geographic, the dinosaurs in the Utah section of Laramidia were one-of-a-kinders. They were isolated from other Laramidian dino groups. Wonder what a group of dinosaurs is called. A thundering herd? A crop of triceratops? A chapter of raptors? Oh, snap! A chorus of sauruses!

These Utah dinos seemed to have grown all sorts of fancy frills and horns, distinct and different from their relatives in other parts of Laramidia. And now paleontologists are really rockin’ it out in Utah, finding bones of creatures that even the computer-generated image masters for the “Jurassic Park” movies could not have imagined.

National Geographic speculates the purpose of most of these fancy frills was to get the attention of other frilled-up dinosaurs of the opposite gender. A case of, “If you got it, flaunt it.” Sorta like Cretaceous clubbing, without the electronic music or Skrillex.

Picture this Mesozoic hook-up: a parasaurolophus — that is the fella from “Jurassic Park” with the didgeridoo on top of his head — is frolicking through a primeval rain forest, honking his horn and strutting his stuff for the ladies.

He sidles up to a perky lady parasaur, and said, “Hey, baby, you gotta be the reason for global warming, because you are so hot!” And she said, “You jerk, I wouldn’t go out with you, if you were the last dinosaur on earth.” Oh, my bad. Maybe he really was the last dinosaur on earth.

But, back to 2014. Let’s go dinosaur hunting. You in?

Right here in Dickinson we have our world-class Dakota Dinosaur Museum, which has just reopened for the summer. The Heritage Center in Bismarck has recently reopened, too, with some one-of-a-kind new dino exhibits. And they have that “smell this if you want to know what a buffalo wallow smells like” exhibit. That’s an experience not to be missed, and not easily forgotten, either. Of course if you want to head over to Montana, the party state, the dino collection at Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies is the largest in the world.

Welcome to Cretaceous Park. Mighty dinos are dino-mite!

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