Makoshika State Park is the largest state park in Montana and land that is now the Badlands was once lush with grass and animals.



Find Dinosaur Fossils At The Largest State Park In Montana

 Park Manager Chris Dantic Discusses The Formation Of The Unique Landforms Of The Badlands At Makoshika State Park

Twin Sisters Landmark Of Makoshika [Courtesy/Makoshika State Park]

Though the name means ‘bad land’ or ‘land of bad spirits,’ nowadays Makoshika State Park is anything but that.  The largest state park in Montana, it is home to numerous dinosaur fossils, hiking trails, “really everything you need,” explains Chris Dantic, Park Manager.  There are numerous draws to the park, but it’s best to start with how the park was formed.

As the park is named after the Lakota Sioux word, there is a story they share of how it was created.  They say the land that is now the Badlands was once lush with grass and animals.  The Great Spirit said this was a place of peace where no one was allowed to fight.  It stayed that way for a long time until people came from the mountains that didn’t have food and wanted the place for themselves.  They killed people and destroyed their villages.  The Great Spirit came in and hid the sun and burned the land, then a gulf opened and the mountain tribe got sucked in.  This is what became the barren waste of the badlands. 

The scientific explanation is the layering of rocks that have been eroded over hundreds of thousands of years.  According to the National Parks, “About 500,000 years ago, the Cheyenne River pirated some of the Black Hills drainages that had fed the Badlands area with mountain sediments.”  This caused heavy erosion to take place, cutting into the layers, displaying some unique and beautiful structures.  Also, extremely old layers - layers that have been forming for the past 75 million years ago.  

Riding Through The Rugged Cap Rock Trail And Stone Bridge [Courtesy/Visit Montana]
Bizarre, Eye-Catching Rock Structures At Makoshika [Courtesy/Visit Montana]

“You can find dinosaur fossils really easily because a lot of the park is below the K-T Boundary line,” explains Dantic.  The K-T Boundary is the name given to the mass extinction of dinosaurs - therefore anything below contains fossils, above it does not.   A lot of dinosaur bones is a blessing and a curse for the park manager.  “You can’t take anything out of the park because of the dinosaur antiquities act,” Dantic says, “but we get a lot of people that do and then try to sell it on eBay.”  The park does have professionals, though, with valid permits that come in and excavate fossils and learn more about dinosaurs.  “We had the Museum of the Rockies come in and take out part of a triceratops last year,” Dantic says, “they are coming back to get the rest soon.”  Though an individual cannot take out fossils, they can learn a lot about them in the visitor center and in the paleo lab at the park. 

Dantic’s journey to the park always involved his love of the outdoors and Montana.  He was born in Oregon, but raised in Montana in the little town of Laurel.  “The Big Sky state was always in my blood,” recalls Dantic, “I grew up fishing and hiking.”  Because of his outdoor exposure, going into parks was a natural fit.  “I fell into historical interpretation and then became interested in the natural history, too.”  He worked for many government and private entities - wildlife, river ranger, fishers, and more - until settling in the parks.  He has worked at about dozen parks before coming to Makoshika.  

Prehistoric Fossil Uncovered At Makoshika Park  [Courtesy/Makoshika State Park]
View From Hungry Joe Trailhead Inside Makoshika [Courtesy/Makoshika State Park]
More Mountains Area Within The Gorgeous Park [Courtesy/Visit Montana]

“I love talking to people from all over the world,” he explains, “We meet people from everywhere - Canada, Germany, Mexico.  I like to get their feedback.”  Because of his exposure to a lot of different parks, he feels like he can help out many people when they come to Montana.  “We have 54 state parks, which is the most in all the Rocky Mountain west, and the second worst budget,” Dantic says. 

The park, voted number 1 in top attractions in Montana by USA Today, has camping and hiking trails throughout the park.  “There are numerous trailheads and a campground, as well as dry and rustic camping throughout the park,” explains Dantic.  The trails that wind through the park feature natural stone bridges, as well as the opportunity to see dinosaur fossils.  “They are everywhere out there,” Dantic says.

“Most people that come here leave really impressed and feel like it is a hidden gem,” Dantic says.  The unique landforms and the amenities the park has given visitors a chance to feel the geological and sociological history of the park. Dantic hopes that he and his team can continue to make the park better for everyone that comes, though he likes to hear that they are doing a good job.  “A lot of people make comments on how clean the trails are,” he says, “and that makes us feel really good.”

Andrew Malo

A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan.  He  enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.  

Makoshika State Park

Make Sure To Check Out:

Makoshika State Park, which is covered with pine and juniper studded badland formations. It houses the fossil remains of such dinosaurs as Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops. You'll find a visitor center at the park entrance with interpretive exhibits for kids.

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