Earlier in the spring, I got an email containing a flyer for an internship that grabbed my attention with a simple question: “Do you like dinosaurs and digging in the dirt?”. As an aspiring paleontologist, I thought, to no surprise, “I love both of those things!”, and I looked into the offer further. A few references and an interview later, I had managed to get a position! That May, I would be going to Thermopolis, Wyoming.
When I started my first day, I was surprised at how dense with information the museum was. I knew that being in a small town, the museum would be much smaller than its contemporaries. Even so, I was not prepared for the amount of stuff in that building! Still in awe of all the beautiful specimens in the main hall, the other interns and I began our orientation. There were a handful of programs and activities available which we would work together to lead, the following of which were the most common.
First, were the Museum Tours: the most basic of the activities, but by no means the least fun. It is exactly as it sounds: a tour of the museum. However, we interns were allowed and encouraged to put our own personal spins on them. This meant making our own scripts, deciding which exhibits to focus more on and which can be breezed through, cherry-picking the coolest fun facts to share with our groups, and even including pop culture references. For example, we would often describe the length of our Supersaurus, Jimbo, by using the metric of Jeff Goldblums. Since Jimbo is 120 feet long and Jeff Goldblum is 6’4’’, we estimated that Jimbo was about 19 Jeff Goldblums long. This went over particularly well with those familiar with his iconic role in Jurassic Park.
Second, were the Bus Tours. The Bus Tours were also simple: drive a van full of people up the mountains of the Morrison Formation to our most significant dig site, Something Interesting (SI), and give them a tour of the place. The tour, in short, was a look through a window to about 150 million years ago, and explored not only the dinosaurs found there, but also the geochemistry and even the seasonality of prehistoric Thermopolis.
Third, were the Shovel Readies, which involved taking group(s) up the mountain to one of our four active sites to dig for a few hours. These would occur either in the morning or the afternoon.
Fourth, and my favorite activity of all, was the Dig For a Day program, or DFD. DFDs were a combination of the previous activities plus an expedition to the Sundance Formation, which underlies the Morrison and yields marine fossils. A DFD day would start with an SI tour, followed by a few hours of digging at one of our sites, then lunch, then prospecting (looking for new fossil sites) at Sundance. Although most guests found dinosaurs more interesting than the marine invertebrates, the promise of being able to keep whatever invertebrate fossils they found sweetened the deal. Finally, after the Sundance, we would conclude the day with a museum tour, which included a sneak peek into our collections and prep lab.
Working with so many wonderful people, who themselves are amazing scientists, was an unforgettable experience. Living with them added to the overall experience too, as we all got to know each other quite well, making the group dynamics all the more interesting. Of course, this is expected from a group of people who love dinosaurs and other prehistoric life spending seven weeks together in the same house. More than anything, though, I loved being able to teach guests about the history of life. Because the museum exhibits were organized with a “tour through time” in mind, it was especially easy and fun to walk guests through the steps life took to get to where we are today. In addition to teaching, I was able to learn a lot. The other interns’ tours alone allowed me to gleam a significant amount of information and insight, since their versions always had things I didn’t know in them. Beyond the tours, I learned much from the museum staff who trained us, learning how to find pathologies and taphonomies in fossils from the head prep lab manager and how to find and map them in the field from the dig site manager. In the lab especially, I came to see some of the most interesting things which made me think more and more about the intricacies of dinosaur morphology and what pathologies that they may have developed.
My biggest take-away from my internship was being able to learn from so many people and being able to pass that knowledge on to others. I was extremely fortunate to work in such an amazing establishment and learn so much, as well as make so many good friends. Going up the mountains of the Morrison, nearly every day for seven weeks, was something I won’t forget. Walking where the dinosaurs walked and digging their remains, and being able to educate all the while, was a small taste of what I hope to do in the future. Now, I must say: if you ever find yourself on a road-trip to Yellowstone or otherwise find yourself in Wyoming, please take the time to stop by the Wyoming Dinosaur Museum in Thermopolis. This hidden gem has much to offer, and the town is charming too!