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If you've ever seen the face of a three year old running through New York's Museum of Natural History's fourth floor, then you will know just how fascinated children are by dinosaurs and animal fossils. This passion and enthusiasm only seems to increase with age as children become even more intrigued with these extinct creatures. For an opportunity to extend this love of all things paleontological, consider getting the whole family together for a different type of adventure vacation, one where discovery and hard work can go hand in hand with fun and fulfillment.

Citizens of the U.S. are fortunate to live in the most dinosaur-rich continent in the world, with areas of South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Utah, California, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, and Arizona as well as Alberta, Canada, a virtual graveyard of Sauischian and Ornithischian remains. You can choose to go it alone with your family and take a hike along the Cottonwood Creek Dinosaur Trail (www.wyomingtourism.org/cms/d/archeological_paleontological_sites.php) in Wyoming or a drive along the Montana Dinosaur Trail (www.mtdinotrail.org) home to a selection of 15 state parks, field stations, track sites, museums and monuments, all dino-related. Alternatively, you can get down and dirty with the family on a real paleontology excavation. Museums and several educational institutions offer a variety of paleontology digs at various sites around the country and many are open to children, actively encouraging participation by minors as a means of education and enrichment. There are also a number of specialized tour companies that can facilitate a family dinosaur dig vacation.

Geo Passage (tel. 800/246-3429; www.geopassage.com) offers PaleoWorld Research Foundation (www.paleoworld.org), five-day "Dinosaur Dig in Montana" packages for trips between June and August, 2008. These dinosaur research expeditions take place in the Badlands of eastern Montana, searching for 65 million-year-old dinosaurs in the fossil-rich area known as the Hell Creek Formation located near the small town of Jordan, often called the "Dinosaur Capital of the World." During past expeditions, these expeditions have uncovered fossils of the three-horned Triceratops, the duck-billed Hadrosaur, and even the ferocious Tyranosaurus rex. Upon joining the expedition, participants become a PWRF "associate researchers" and take part in actual field techniques used to find, collect, and preserve dinosaur fossils.

Spend three full days prospecting for new specimens, excavating, plaster jacketing, fossil removing, quarry mapping, preparing techniques in the field lab and identifying fossils. The land-only package is priced at $1,075 for adults and $450 for children 15 and under. This price includes the three-day dig, four nights' lodging, five-day car rental with unlimited mileage (required to drive daily from Jordan to the dig site) and meals during the dig. Airfare to Billings Logan Airport, a two-hour drive from Jordan, is additional. If you don't want to spend the five days but would still love to take part, you can arrange one-day digs through PaleoWorld at a cost of $120 per adult or $60 per child. This rate includes travel from PWRF base camp to dig site, tools, instruction, lunch and beverages. They can also arrange base camp accommodation in mobile homes and campers from $50 per day and three meals a day for $35 for adults or $25 for children,

The Museum of Western Colorado (tel. 888/488-DINO; www.wcmuseum.org) in Grand Junction runs a number of one-day and multi-day dino digs through the spring and summer in both Colorado (the badlands of the Morris Formation) and Wyoming. The one day digs cost $99 and include transportation from the Museum to the late Jurassic dig site at Mygatt Moore quarry, lunch, field instruction by a professional paleontologist and a tour of the Dinosaur Journey Museum lab. Day trips are available on May 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30; June 4, 5, 6, 18, 19, 20; 25, 26 and 27; July 1, 2, 3, 16, 17, 18, 30 and 31; and August 1, 13, 14, 15, 27, 28 and 29, 2008. The five-day expedition in western Colorado is priced at $999 per person and will be running June 9 to 13, July 21 to 25, August 4 to 8 and August 18 to 22, 2008. It includes transportation between the museum and the sites, lunch each day, five nights lodging in Fruita, Colorado, field instruction and tours by paleontologists, one breakfast and one dinner. Highlights include a tour of the geology of Colorado National Monument; a trip to Cactus Park Early Jurassic track site to see dinosaur footprints; two days of digging for dinosaurs at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry; rafting the Colorado River through Ruby and Horsethief Canyons; making casts of dinosaur bones; working with tools in the paleontology lab; collecting insect and plant fossils in the Green River Formation; and a farewell dinner at Dinosaur Journey.

The five-day dig at Little Houston quarry in Wyoming from June 23 to 27, 2008 is priced at $1,199 per person and includes transportation from Rapid City, South Dakota to Sundance, daily transfers to and from the quarry site; five nights lodging in Sundance; lunch each day; five days digging; field instruction from a professional paleontologist; a visit to Devils Tower National Monument; and a tour of the lab at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Museum of Geology. All programs are open to children aged five accompanied by an adult.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis (tel. 317/334-3822; tcm.childrensmuseum.org) is hosting Family Dinosaur Digs in South Dakota. Join staff and experts from The Children's Museum on a dig in Faith, South Dakota for one, two or three days at the Ruth Mason Quarry, a privately owned ranch leased by the museum. Dig Dates are July 2, 3, and/or 5, 2008 from 8:00am to 4:00pm The cost is $100 per member or $110 for non-members per day and includes lunch at the ranch daily. The trip is recommended for families with children ages six and above. Faith is three plus hours northwest of Rapid City, SD. Accommodation at the Prairie Vista Inn (tel. 605/967-2343) in Faith (the only hotel in the area) is not included in the price. When booking accommodation, indicate that you are with The Children's Museum. The room rate for a family of four (two queen beds) is $69 plus tax per night.

In early fall 2008 (date to be confirmed) the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (tel. 213/763-3348; www.nhm.org) is offering a Red Rock Canyon Field Trip open to adults and children. Discover the world of Miocene fossils on this two-night camping trip to Red Rock Canyon State Park in the western Mojave Desert of California, home of the Dove Spring Formation. Participants will prospect for extinct mammal fossils and discover specimens to add to the Museum's collection. Learn the fundamentals of recognizing and finding fossils in the field, take nature hikes, explore the region's geology and roast marshmallows around the campfire with museum scientists. Past trips have uncovered everything from tiny microfossils to the large bones of giraffe-like camels and extinct elephants. Trip fees of $195 for adults and $165 for children (less a $20 discount if you are a museum member) include breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday, as well as campground fees, and the right to prospect for fossils. Participants need to provide their own transportation and camping gear.

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