Makoshika state park sunset

Makoshika State Park attracts people from all over Montana, all over the country

Summer means exploring our state, and at Prairie Populist we’re joining the thousands of Montanans visiting the amazing lands, lakes, and historical sites that make up Montana’s state parks. We hope you’ll check back all summer and join us as we explore what these parks mean for the people of our state and how they help make Montana a place unlike any other.

We had heard a lot about Makoshika. People talked about how it felt like you had just popped into a prehistoric landscape that was lurking just on the edge of Glendive. We were excited to spend a whole weekend there until we took a look at the weather.

Now, you won’t find us complaining about the rain. But four days of showers in the forecast caused us to re-evaluate our travel plan and we decided to continue moving.

Makoshika State Park Leigh Guest

Leigh at Medicine Rocks State Parks

While discussing what to do next, two ladies overhead us talking about how we were leaving early. And they had something to say about that!

“Well, you better be coming back if you want to write a story about Makoshika.”

So, we did.

We met Leigh Guest at the Pine on Rocks campsite the second time we stayed there. She had quietly been strumming her guitar while we made our dinner in the neighboring camp and it didn’t take long until she had joined us for a drink.makoshika state park info

She was also on the road but had been for much longer than we had. Although her home is in Wolf Point, Leigh travels all across the country playing her music. After swapping stories for a while, it was time to hit the hay. But knowing we had some driving time ahead of us she gave us one of her CDs, which we can assure you is good!

“You meet people from all over,” Chris Dantic said about Makoshika, Montana’s largest state park, an island of rugged badlands and dinosaur fossils outside Glendive. Chris, the park manager, said he learns new things everytime he talks to people in the campsites.

And there are always new people coming through. As a midpoint for out-of-staters headed to Yellowstone, or somewhere far west like Seattle or Portland, Makoshika is the perfect stopping point.

But, for residents in Montana, and Glendive in particular, it’s even more special. Many people in Glendive can walk straight from their back door and be in hiking the 11,538-acre park only a couple minutes later.

“It’s definitely their state park,” Chris said about residents of Glendive.

Makoshika State Park Green

Makoshika State Park after some rains

Makoshika is also constantly changing. The state park experiences heavy amounts of erosion every winter. And although it’s difficult for Chris and the park employees to stay on top of, it guarantees the park is never the same. Which is part of the draw for park-goers to keep coming back. It’s always different.

Which, if you’re looking for fossils, is ideal.

Makoshika State Park Willy

Willy standing above the park

“It’s is the best time of the year to be a paleontologist,” Willy Freimuth, a paleontologist graduate student from MSU, said about all the rain and erosion.

“Just last Sunday I went hiking and found a bunch of fossils,” said Brenlee Schipps, another paleontologist.

Makoshika State Park Brenlee

Brenlee looking through the fossil archive

In the basement of the Makoshika Visitor Center is millions of years worth of history. Meaning dinosaurs. Lots of them.

Makoshika State Park fossil

Do you think you could have spotted this fossilized dinosaur spine?

All of the fossils have been found in the park. Now, Willy is going through and classifying them all.

Willy took us on a hike where the plan was to go see a fossil that has been partially excavated. But on our way up, he spotted another (much smaller) fossil of crocodile skin that had been washed up during the previous rainstorms.

The fossils are amazing to spot, and often required a trained eye. There is so much for trained paleontologist to study and discover. But remember to leave anything you find! 

On our way out we bumped into Andrew, who works maintenance at Makoshika. During our quick conversation, we asked him about the park and the one word he kept returning to was phenomenal.

“I could come to work pissed off every day and leave having had a good day,” Andrew concluded.

Written by Andie Creel. Photographs by August Schield.

 

Edit: Remember that with at any state park people are not allowed to remove or disturb artifacts, natural features, rocks, etc. So, you may spot a fossil on the trail, but leave it where it is and report it to the visitors center so it can be properly handled! 

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