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Dino Dig: FAQs

1. When is the trip?

Summer, typically two separate sessions in early July.  In 2022, the sessions will be July 1–6 and July 8–13.

2. Where exactly does the trip start?

We will all meet in Lusk, Wyoming at the site of the Eastern Wyoming Nature Center at 102 Main St., Lusk, Wyo 82225, unless alternative arrangements are made.  Some students coordinate a carpool from either the Denver or Rapid City airport; others rent their own vehicle at the airport; some drive all the way from home on a long, beautiful road trip adventure.  Either way, we meet in Lusk.  Then, we drive out to the ranch, about one hour out of town.

3. How will I get there?

There are a few options, but it’s your responsibility to get to Lusk, Wyo.  You can fly, drive, rent or use your own vehicle to get there. Once you’re in Lusk we’ll travel together to the field site.  Consider the option of extending your time in Wyoming with your own vehicle to visit the region.  Within a two-hour drive from the field site you can visit the Black Hills of South Dakota, Devils Tower, or Badlands National Monument.  8 hours away is Yellowstone Nat. Park and the Grand Tetons.  Students driving to and from Southern California may pass through by Zion, Bryce Canyon, and all the great Utah national parks, or the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Whatever you plan to do, coordinate with the expedition leader to confirm your travel plans, arrival dates and contact information in case unforeseen circumstances delay your arrival.

4.  Are there physical restrictions?

The work in the excavation site and prospecting for fossils requires a degree of physical ability.  You must be able to walk long distances over rough terrain. We walk miles up and down gullies to find dinosaur bones.  You must also be able to carry up to 40 pounds a short distance, which covers most of the lifting you’ll be asked to do when we’re digging bones and moving dirt.  It can get very hot and sunny on the Wyoming plains, so heat-sensitive and sun-sensitive students should use extra caution.

5. What will the week in the field course look like?

The course is an exploration into the Lance Formation, a Cretaceous unit famous for many of dinosaurs well-known in popular culture: Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, duckbills, Ankylosaurus, Pachycephalosaurs, Velociraptor and a few other rare species.  These late-Cretaceous dinosaurs represent a period of rich biodiversity that thrived in the time period before one of the largest mass extinction events in natural history decimated >70% of global species. Students will excavate Cretaceous dinosaur bones; learn techniques in data gathering, excavation, and site mapping; and will explore local geology and fossil assemblages on a 7,000-acre private ranch in Eastern Wyoming.  Regional field trips may include a visit to a Pleistocene mammoth bed, or a stop at the Black Hills Institute to tour Rex Hall, where the Tyrannosaurus rex “Sue” was initially prepared. Major specimens discovered by student field work will contribute directly to building collections for the future non-profit Eastern Wyoming Nature Center, founded by Dr. Eriksen.  Below is an example of daily schedule for an expedition:

Example itinerary

Day Morning Afternoon

Meet in Lusk, Wyoming in Niobrara at or before noon.

Travel to field site in Niobrara Co., Wyoming.
Set up field camp, field guidelines overview, safety, gear check.  Short hike if time permits.


Class: Fossils of the Lance Formation. Regional Geology and natural history.

Field: Hike to microfossil site. Collect and discuss paleoecology.

Class: Introduction to field techniques.

Field: Work in excavation site.

Class: Mapping field site

Field: Work in excavation site

Field: Work in excavation site.

Travel to Lusk, Wyoming. 

Visit Stagecoach museum & dinosaur exhibit. 

Resupply in town and return to camp.

Work in excavation site.

5 Class: Extinction events, process and evidence.

Field: Work in excavation site.


Final exam.  Break down camp.

Visit mammoth site in Hot Springs, SD, if time permits. 

6. What are the academic expectations?  How will I be graded?

Over the course of the week students will create a map of the excavation site to include in a field journal and final report (50%).  On the last day in the field there will be a final exam (25%).  A paper (min. 3 pages) reflecting a topic from the course readings will be due three  weeks after the fieldwork ends (25%). 

7. Can I keep any fossils? Where do the fossils go?  Who owns the fossils we collect and where do they go?

Participants will be allowed to keep a handful of dinosaur bone scraps. All fossils must be shown to the expedition leader before a student may keep them. All of the significant museum-quality bones collected during the expedition will become property of Leap Lab and the future Eastern Wyoming Nature Center.

8. What will I eat?  Can you accommodate special diets?

We pride ourselves on good field food.  Mornings start with good coffee and a hearty breakfast.  Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, usually including carbohydrates, vegetables and a protein of some kind..  We typically take a long lunch break, which could last for hours if temperatures rise above 90 degrees F.  Before sunset we prepare a lighter dinner. 

Meat can be provided upon request. Fruit and granola bars are always available. You are encouraged to purchase any specialty snacks you may want in the field. If you have specific dietary requests, we will accommodate them.  If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or lactose intolerant, or if you have have a peanut allergy, just let us know.

We also visit the town of Lusk at least once during the middle of the week to visit local sites, including the Pizza Place, which has the best pizza in town and giant spinach salads.  We cover field meals, but not meals in town, so it’s your responsibility to have some additional funds for meals in town. If this is a hardship, let your instructor know.

9.  What equipment do I need?  Where will I sleep? 

We will be dry camping, which means we’re in tents and we bring our own water, and there are no utilities.  The restroom is an outhouse:  a three-sided structure with a toilet-seat, open on one side to nature but in a private location.  Believe it or not many students love the rustic charm of the toilet!  We are ¼ mile from the ranch house, so access to water and phone for emergencies are always available.  Cell phones work sometimes on a nearby hill 2 miles away, but students should assume that there will be no cell reception at camp and during hikes.

—Camping gear (1 tent, sleeping bag and mat, flashlight)
—Personal care and clothing   (hiking boots, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, mosquito repellent, warm jacket and wind breaker, clothing for 6 days of heat and cold)
—Field equipment (notebook and pens, dull pocketknife, paintbrushes, rock hammer, gloves)

10. Can I take the course if I am not a student at CSUSB?

Yes.  It is not uncommon for students to invite friends and relatives to join the expedition.  Anyone can join, but non-students must register directly through Dr. Eriksen via his organization's website here.

11. How do I register for the course?

CSUSB students register for GEOL3902D as if enrolling in any other course.  Students who are in the California State University system, but not at CSUSB, may register using a process called Concurrent Enrollment.  Such students are advised to contact the registrar office of their home campus to initiate Concurrent Enrollment procedures, but only after contacting us to make sure space is still available.  

Students outside the CSU system may enroll through the CSUSB Open University.  Such students are advised to contact Open University for enrollment information.  Open University students do not need to be enrolled in another university anywhere, and many such students simply take the course independently, e.g., for continuing education, to try something new, or just for fun.

12. Prerequisites

Prerequisites are an introductory geology course and an introductory geologic mapping course, or by permission of the instructor.

13. Is there power and internet?

There is no power at the field site.  We dry camp on a 7,000 acre ranch, so we’re somewhat remote. The rancher’s house in only ¼ mile away, so there’s easy access to clean water and phone for emergencies.

In the town of Lusk, which we visit often, you will find everything you need to power devices, make calls, wash clothes and get more food.  There is no cell reception at the field site.  Cell phones work sometimes on a nearby hill 2 miles away, but students should assume that there will be no cell reception at camp and during hikes.

14. What is the weather like?

The summer weather in the eastern Wyoming badlands can vary dramatically.   It can be blistering hot one minute and hailing the next.  Be prepared to endure ranges in temperature and weather.  However, temperatures are usually in the 80’s and humidity is low.  Rain is infrequent, but prairie thunderstorms can be quite strong and sudden.

15. Is it safe?

Your safety supersedes everything. You must complete a Personal Health Index form prior to the course and disclose any medications and health ailments you may have.  The field site is one hour away from professional medical attention, so it is imperative that we know everything about your health. You must sign a release of liability form to participate.

There are inherent risks to field work, including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, fatigue, severe sunburn, and dehydration.  There are also dangerous wildlife to avoid, mostly including rattlesnakes, and sometimes cattle.  The general rule is to have good situational awareness by looking up and down all the time.  Be aware of your physical condition and drink water constantly.  If you do not urinate 3 or more times a day, then you are not staying sufficiently hydrated.  Heat stroke and heat exhaustion The expedition leader/instructor carries a snake-bite kit at all times, as well as a first aid kit.  All expedition participants will participate in a safety briefing upon arrival to the field.

16. What will it cost?

The course fee for 2022 is $850, not including university tuition and your private transportation to Lusk. CSUSB students do not pay additional tuition beyond the regular tuition, but must pay the course fee, which may be paid by financial aid.  Students at other California State University campuses may enroll via Concurrent Enrollment and additional registration fees and financial aid eligibilities may vary by campus.  Students outside CSUSB and the CSU system must pay tuition through the CSUSB Open University.  

17. What does the course fee include?

The course fee includes all transportation once you arrive in Lusk, Wyoming, unless you bring your own vehicle and choose to drive to the field site.  The fee includes all meals in the field, field instruction, and museum entrance fees in Lusk.  The fee also includes all excavation equipment other than your pocket knife, a paintbrush and your field journal. The fee includes all payments to the ranch owner for camping and collecting fossils.

The course fee does not include your transportation to Lusk, Wyoming, or any fuel costs if you use your own vehicle in the field. The fee does not include specialty snacks you may want for yourself, or any camping equipment listed in the Required Equipment List.

18. How close is nearest medical facility?

The field site is approximately 50 minutes from the nearest hospital in Lusk, Wyoming. That hospital is capable of caring for most emergencies, but can airlift patients to Cheyenne or Casper, Wyo. if needed.

19. Who is the instructor?

The field instructor is Dr. Marcus Eriksen, research director for the 5 Gyres Institute and Executive Director of Leap Lab. He has been excavating fossils in Wyoming since 1991 and has a collection of 8 partial triceratops skeletons, other fossils from each of the 12 dinosaurs known in the Lance Formation, and one duckbill dinosaur covered with skin impressions. He and his wife Anna Cummins are co-founders of the non-profit Eastern Wyoming Nature Center, which will be located in Lusk, Wyo.