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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Glendive man ready to open tour service to take Makoshika visitors on a prehistoric adventure

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

In paleontological terms, Glendive’s Dave Fuqua is what you would call a “digger,” a passionate fossil hound whose greatest thrill is uncovering a piece of bone buried in the sand for the past 65 million years or so. And with a world-class fossil repository right in his own backyard, Fuqua is eager to share his love of fossils, dinosaurs and all things paleontological with the more than 100,000 visitors now passing through the gates of that repository — Makoshika State Park — each year.

That’s why Fuqua is in the process of starting a new business venture providing guided paleontology tours for Makoshika visitors. With Dino Dave’s Paleo Adventures, he is the first and currently only private concessionaire permitted to operate in Makoshika.

“This tour is everything I want to do,” Fuqua said. “I want to share my joy of paleontology with people, and that’s all I want to do is look for dinosaurs.”

Fuqua added that for him, the new venture is not about making money — he has to turn over part of his proceeds to the park — but about enhancing the experience for visitors to Makoshika in a way that both educates people and gives them a bit of a thrill. Ultimately for him, it’s just about fun.

“It’s more I wouldn’t say so much a business, it’s a hobby,” he said. “It’s not so much for me, I think everybody should find a dinosaur bone once in their lifetime. It’s more of an education thing than anything.”

Fuqua, who is also a passionate Makoshika supporter and is even the park’s designated volunteer “paleo ranger,” also believes his new business could help draw more visitors to the park, which he said in turn will only help Glendive.

“People travel all over for dinosaurs, it’s the hot thing right now,” he said. “And we need things to do in the park. The more things to do in Makoshika, the more commerce in Glendive. It’s not for me to make money, it’s to bring more and more people into the park.”

While he holds a degree in biology from Montana State University and worked at the Museum of the Rockies while he was in college, Fuqua does not have a degree in paleontology. However, he has tons of field experience and hands-on training from some of the most renowned paleontologists of recent decades. His first mentor was paleontologist Dr. Diane Gabriel, who did a lot of work in Makoshika — and even has a trail named after her there — and it was she who first gave Fuqua the technical training to go along with his innate passion for finding fossils.

“I grew up looking for bones for fun, but I got my education from Diane Gabriel,” Fuqua said. “She kind of took me under her wing when she did all her digs here in the 90s.”

Fuqua noted that he later drifted away from paleontology for a time, until years later he and a friend of his unearthed a very key fossil piece of a triceratops. That fossil caught the attention of famed paleontologist Dr. Jack Horner, who at the time was working to prove a hypotheses that triceratops and another horned dinosaur, torosaurus, were actually the same species. Horner thought Fuqua and his friend’s find might help further his hypotheses, so he met them at the site. At the end of the day, Horner invited Fuqua to go with him on a major international dig, and he has been working closely with the Museum of the Rockies (where Horner was curator) ever since.

“While we were digging that up, (Horner) invited me to go to Mongolia for a dig, and it had always been my dream to go to Mongolia, so that got me working with the museum again,” Fuqua said.

Fuqua doesn’t have anything as intense as a field trip to Mongolia in store for his guests, at least not at first. 

He said his initial, basic tour will likely start with the park visitor center and its recently renovated paleontology lab, then move on to the Diane Gabriel Trail, where at the top visitors can see a hadrosaur vertebrae locked in a sandstone block.

However, Fuqua also said he will be looking to offer different “levels” of tour intensity depending on his guests’ wishes, adding that for anyone who really wants to get serious about finding fossils in Makoshika, you’ve got to get well off the beaten path.

“If they want to get a little more serious, I’m all for it,” he said. “You gotta get ugly. In Makoshika, the good stuff, to make sure people find stuff, you’ve got to hike up the hill a little. The gnarlier the more fun in my book.”

With that in mind, Fuqua added he also hopes to help open up the little-visited backcountry of Makoshika for those willing to make the more rigorous trek with him, saying that besides the wealth of fossils to be found there, the unique, bizarre and beautiful landscape is itself worth the effort.

“It’s so much fun back there, you can get lost. It’s like another world,” Fuqua said. “It’s like you open a door and all of the sudden you’re in Narnia.”

For now, Fuqua can only treat his guests to guided tours of Makoshika. He said that “digs are in the future,” but he is still working to iron out how that will work with Montana State Parks. He is also still working to determine what his pricing levels will be for tours and other specifics. He is currently in the process of completing his website for the tour business, which should be complete soon and can be found at www.dinodaveadventures.com.

Fuqua said he hopes his tours can both provide local people with a deeper appreciation of Makoshika and all visitors — whether local or from out-of-state — with a chance for their own real-life dinosaur thrill.

“I just want people to look at those hills in a different way. We basically have our own time machine here,” he said. “And you just never know what you’re going to find. And who knows? You could end up having something named after you.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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