Nathan's Reflections on Fossils in the Badlands

July 22, 2014 Posted by: Nathan Wooden Knife

In May 2010, a seven year old girl named Kylie Ferguson found a fossil of a sabre tooth cat-like animal, and it ended up being a museum quality specimen, one of the greatest finds ever in the park. The funniest thing is, she found it in a high foot traffic area right behind our visitor center! Ever since then, we decided it would be a good idea to educate the general public more about fossils, because they’re a big part of why we were made a national park, and also because they’re just pretty cool.


After the skull of the cat was collected, we thought it would be a good idea to make that area a dig site, to see if we could find anything more. Sadly, we didn’t find anything big; there were small things, like seeds and rodent teeth, but nothing major. The site was closed down after a year, but it is still monitored in case anything does poke out of the ground.


The same year we started the dig site, we also opened up our paleontology preparation lab in the visitor center. This is a really great opportunity, because most people don’t get a chance to see prep work being done. Most see the finished museum products, some see the actual place where the paleontologists are digging, but small amounts see the prep work. This is a very exciting opportunity!


I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work in the fossil lab and help educate visitors more about fossils. We’ve had over two days with 1,000 people that came in, and I was in there both days! Last year, most days were 500 people or less. It’s so nice to see that everyone is gaining more interest in fossils. Whether it’s in measured in days or billions of years, history is important, and everyone should be knowledgeable in the subject. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to get to work with fossils nearly every day.


Visitors have become extremely interested in paleo work, and we love to see that! Our numbers in the prep lab are almost doubled from last year! We are also averaging 2-3 visitor fossil finds a day, so odds are in your favor to find one! If you do find a fossil, make sure not to pick it up. Take pictures, get GPS coordinates if possible, and come to the visitor center to report your find. Who knows, you could discover the next big dig site! Always be on the lookout for fossils, they can be anywhere.


Seeing all of these things is so exciting! If you come to the park, check out all of the paleo stuff, don’t forget to take a hike, and find an awesome fossil, too.


Nathan Wooden Knife, Park guide and intern, age 16

14 Comments Comments icon

  1. 1
    July 30, 2018 at 10:13


  2. 1
    July 22, 2018 at 06:57


  3. June 05, 2015 at 07:38

    Thanks for this great report Nathan! It sounds like you had a nice time exploring in the park. Keep up the good work!

  4. June 05, 2015 at 07:38

    Thanks for this great report Nathan! It sounds like you had a nice time exploring in the park. Keep up the good work!

  5. August 22, 2014 at 03:59

    This is wonderful Nate!! I wish I could visit!!

  6. August 05, 2014 at 12:45

    Nice job on this article Nathan,. You have been asset asset to the Badlands National Park. I hope you will continue to work here during your time off.

  7. July 31, 2014 at 09:00

    Awesome article, Nathan. We definitely don't happen upon fossils here in the city.

  8. Stu
    July 30, 2014 at 08:22

    Having enjoyed hunting Dakota fossils and agates most of my life, I enjoy reading anything related to the subjects, and/or South Dakota. GREAT site, great blog and great job Nathan!

  9. July 30, 2014 at 08:16

    I enjoyed reading this article a lot, and I would definitely visit the location if I lived near there !

  10. July 30, 2014 at 09:11

    Very interesting article! Makes me want to fossil hunt! Thanks for sharing

  11. July 29, 2014 at 06:22

    What an interesting blog. I've visited the park a number of times, and am excited at the prospect of seeing/learning about fossils found within the park. Thank you.

  12. July 29, 2014 at 06:06

    This is great a well informed piece good job.

  13. July 25, 2014 at 10:35

    Great blog! You have a panache for writing and you should be proud of all your achievements so far - I know I am :)

  14. July 24, 2014 at 04:13

    That is a great post, I may have to go fossil hunting myself.

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