This 2012 Passport in Time (PIT) project was held on beautiful, grassy, badlands-like terrain in Custer National Forest, northwest South Dakota. Again this summer, volunteers and PIT staff will seek and dig up dinosaur bones from steep hillsides and surrounding terrain. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
This 2012 Passport in Time (PIT) project was held on beautiful, grassy, badlands-like terrain in Custer National Forest, northwest South Dakota. Again this summer, volunteers and PIT staff will seek and dig up dinosaur bones from steep hillsides and surrounding terrain. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Recently I shared information about the federally sponsored Passport in Time (PIT) program that's open to volunteers. To highlight the diverse range of projects offered, I ran through the nine in which I participated from 2003 through 2012.

I don't think I shared much about my last expedition in 2012. It's very similar to a current offering. You see, my accident and subsequent stroke occurred shortly after my return from summer vacation, which included that PIT.

In fact, as a side note, I saw online that the second of two columns on a visit to Fort Sisseton State Park in South Dakota during that vacation was published on our Bluff Country Newspapers' website the same date as my accident, Sept. 5, 2012. Seeing that made my stomach queasy for a minute. I blinked back tears to see the date - and think back to the fulfilling trip (and all such trips) I'd had - and might well never do again. But I also surely was thankful for the experience. One never knows what a day might hold, so make sure you're leading your life to the fullest, and that it's the life you want.

A PIT project might help fill that bill. The 2012 PIT was, in effect, a dinosaur hunt. I see it's offered again this summer, so I'll share information from the website, passportintime.com. Click on headings at the top of the page to see current projects or to apply.

The project is offered in Custer National Forest. where southeast Montana and northwest South Dakota meet. It's called "Dinosaurs, Champosaurs and Snails... Oh My!" I see this PIT is offered as two very different, but related, projects. You can apply for either week, or both.

Two weeks in time

The first week is June 8 to 14 and is a survey and dig, in essence, a field school. The second week, June 15 to 21, features lab work on specimens found. It will be held in the new fossil lab at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology's (SDSMT) Rapid City campus.

Heck, I'm tempted to apply - handicaps and all - for the lab session. I'm considering it because it would feel good to be involved in something beyond our beautiful and important, but small, corner of the world. The lab is related to our evolution and history outdoors, while not requiring me to navigate rugged land. It's educational and I do enjoy learning. The subject matter of dinosaurs and fossils is an added bonus. I guess we'll see...

Here's what the description says: "Join us on the Sioux Ranger District for another summer of 'fossil-hunting' at the 'Hell Creek' rock formation.

"This year's project will occur in two phases. During Week One, we will spend our time in the field surveying the Lone Pines unit near Redig, S.D., where we will hunt for, document and collect dinosaur, fish, crocodile, bird, mammal and invertebrate fossils from the Late Cretaceous.

"During Week Two, we will move our efforts and our collections to the Paleontology Resource Lab at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

"This laboratory portion will focus on the use of specialized tools and techniques designed to stabilize fossils and prepare them for accessioning into the museum collections for long-term curation. The various fossils we have collected at 'Hell Creek' have been very diverse and plentiful, so there will likely be something to tempt even the most discerning volunteer's interests.

"All tools, supplies, and instructions needed for the survey and excavation and the subsequent lab portion of the project will be provided to participants.

Words of caution

"First, the field project area is very scenic, but remote. High winds and stormy weather are possible, so it is recommended that volunteers come prepared with gear suitable for a variety of weather conditions. Secondly, the tertiary rocks in the formation are loaded with erionite, a naturally occurring, asbestos-like mineral. While we will not be working directly in units known to contain the rock, the roads into the site are graveled with it. Therefore, we will make every effort to reduce participants' exposure. Be certain to follow all instructions to minimize any risk.

"But, these precautions aside, we are very excited about this year's project, which just may be our best field and lab session yet. So, become a paleontologist for a while this summer and take a closer look at what goes on 'behind the scenes' during fossil collection and curation. You'll never look at your local museum collections the same way again!

"Number of openings: 35 (20 for Session 1; 15 for Session 2)

"Special skills: Field and lab training and equipment provided; volunteers must be physically capable of bending, sitting, standing, and/or kneeling for long periods each day, and in a variety of weather conditions (mostly hot!).

"Previous excavation, pedestrian survey, fossil identification, curation, and/or other paleontological field or lab experience helpful, but not required.

"Minimum age: 10 years old, under 18 with a responsible adult.

"Facilities: Session 1: Tent and RV camping (no hookups) in remote (but scenic) grassland pasture; chemical toilets, hot showers, base camp tents, an inexpensive caterer, solar generator, on-demand hot water showers, cook stoves, pots, pans, etc. (if you prefer to prepare your own meals); volunteers responsible for personal camping equipment, extra drinking water and $15/person/day, if opting for caterer. Nearest town: Buffalo, S.D., 35 miles.

"Facilities: Session 2: Rapid City is a full-service community with hotels/motels, RV parks, restaurants, and a full range of other amenities. SDSM&T dorm rooms available ($35/night if providing own bed linen); communal bath facilities; volunteers responsible for own lodging, food, water and transportation; Selected individuals interested in booking dorm rooms should inform the project leader at time of selection.

"Applications due: April 28, 2014."

And let me remind you that no personal collecting is allowed on PIT projects. Items found go to labs and museums.