The Hell Creek Formation is exposed throughout the Upper Great Plains in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. The rocks that make up this formation were laid down by ancient rivers and streams as they traveled from the Rocky Mountains in the west toward the east before emptying into a large interior seaway that bisected North America during the latest Cretaceous. These rocks preserve the remains of dinosaurs that lived at the very end of the “Age of Dinosaurs” and the top of the formation is capped by what is know as the KT boundary layer. This layer was deposited after a huge meteorite slammed into the ocean near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The massive plume of smoke and dust that entered the atmosphere fell back to the ground and laid down a thin layer of ash, or ejecta. Many of the most famous and iconic dinosaurs that we know today lived in this area, and their remains can be found within the rocks. These include Tyrannosaurus rex, the three horned dinosaur, Triceratops, the duckbilled dinosaur, Edmontosaurus, and the tank-like armored dinosaur, Ankylosaurus.
In 2001 Burpee Museum made its first expedition west to Ekalaka, Montana in search of Cretaceous dinosaurs from the Hell Creek Formation. Little did we know that the “Highway to Hell Creek Expedition” was the start of an amazing journey. The following year, 2002, crews excavated a remarkably complete, juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex – now called Jane. The discovery of Jane caused a flurry of paleontologists interested in studying her bones to visit the Burpee museum for the first time, placing Burpee Museum on the international map. She was important because of her size, but also because she would be a key to resolving whether or not the controversial dinosaur Nanotyrannus was a valid taxon or a young Tyrannosaurus rex. Because of this, Jane’s discovery brought us international attention and continues to draw many visitors and researchers to the museum each year. In the following years, crews have also found a Triceratops bone bed, the first ever documented and a specimen of the newly named species Anzu wyliei, a North American Oviraptor. The Burpee Museum has been very successful working in southeastern Montana and has many other fossil sites across the region.
The Highway to Hell Creek program is run out of Ekalaka, Montana in the southeastern corner of the state. The program is based at Camp Needmore, an old Civilian Conservation Corp camp in the Custer National Forest. The camp has 6 cabins with barrack style bunk beds, a bathhouse with toilets and showers, and a large main hall with a full kitchen, bathroom/shower, bedroom and a larger gathering area. The camp provides us with plenty of space to hold and exhibit our daily finds as well as hold evening presentations from camp staff and notable paleontologist working in the region. Participants come from across the country to volunteer their time knowing that they are directly contributing to science while experiencing a unique adventure that most people had never dreamed of.