We don’t grow dinosaur fossils very well here in western Montana. It has to do with the age of our sediments and terrestrial deposits, paleontologists say.
So what is probably the first appearance in Missoula of Montana’s state fossil is cause for excitement.
The discovery of baby maiasaura bones in a nest near Choteau in 1978 set the world of dinosaur bones on its ear.
Dave and Laurie Trexler of the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum will be bringing a sampling of the bones and a casting of a full maiasaura, or duck-billed dinosaur, to the new spring version of the Hellgate Mineral Society’s annual gem, mineral and fossil show Saturday and Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Dave Trexler’s mother, Marion Brandvold, found the maiasaura bones in a nest 37 years ago.
That and Laurie Trexler’s discovery the following year of an adult hadrosaur in an area of more dinosaur nests provided evidence that dinosaurs stayed with their babies to feed and care for them. Hence the name maiasaura – “good mother lizard.”
“People don’t realize how significant that discovery was,” Dave Trexler said this week. “It really was the trigger that caused a whole change in worldwide opinion, turning dinosaurs from being cold-blooded, overgrown reptiles into the active, complex, warm-blooded animals that we think of now.”
A lot of people have the misconception that the original discovery at what became Egg Mountain was of dinosaur eggs. That didn’t happen until a couple of years later, said Trexler.
A T-rex skull, stegoceras skeleton and other dinosaur fossils will be on display at the gem show, which turns 21 years old. For most of those years, the show was at Ruby’s Reserve Street Inn down the street. It outgrew that venue three years ago, and now moves up half a year from September.
“The reason we did that is we’ve been competing with Griz football for 20 years,” said David “Mac” McClain of the Hellgate Mineral Society. “If it happens to fall on homecoming weekend, that totally takes away from it.”
As usual, the show features much more than dinosaur fossils on display. Its full name is the 2015 Gem, Mineral, Fossil, Bead and Lapidary Show and Sale.
There are gem scoops and mineral digs for kids, who get in free if they’re younger than 14 and with their parents. Petrified wood and agates are on display. Dealers will sell jewelry, gemstones, fossils, beads and shells, and there’ll be demonstrations of cabochon polishing, sheet silver piercing and wire wrapping.
Dave Trexler will deliver three talks a day on topics such as as dinosaur discoveries in Montana and at Egg Mountain.
The study of long-gone dinosaurs is just a jumping-off point to a broader range of contemporary topics, he said.
“It’s really easy, especially for people living in town, to get insulated from the land itself and the actual processes that the Earth goes through,” said Trexler. “People can get very easily jaded when it comes to topics of climate change or volcanic or tectonic events – things that people in the news talk about and other people offer counterpoints.”
It becomes, he said, a political conversation rather than one based on science and knowledge.
“The nice thing about dinosaurs is this is an area of ongoing research," Trexler said. "You feel part of the research and then you also, I think, more easily feel part of the processes that are more relevant or pertinent to our lives today.”