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The Dinosaur Cowboy

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Montana is perhaps best known as "Cattle Country,"  but the state is also a paleontologist's paradise.

The terrain of the Treasure State accommodates archaeology, the livestock business, and the Dinosaur Cowboy.

The jagged buttes and rugged terrain of Big Sky Country were once the stomping grounds of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Cowboys and cattle now roam Montana's Hell Creek Formation, a vast area of land containing a bounty of prehistoric bones. The ranch Clayton Phipps runs is nestled right in the middle of dinosaur alley.

"I've seen thousands of dinosaur bones and fragments, when you see that many you don't pick up every fragment," says Clayton Phipps.

The 65-million-year-old artifacts he does pick up are handled very carefully.

"You have to know what you're doing, or you'll destroy them, you just can't go out and dig things up with a shovel," says Phipps.

Phelps spends his spare time searching for T-Rex treasure.

"The first thing I found that was of any significance was a small Stygimoloch skull," says Phipps.

The bounty he was paid for that fossil sold Clayton on prehistoric prospecting.

"It gave me about a year's wages to see if I could survive doing this," he says.

Most of the fossils he finds are worthless.

"This is a fragment of a triceratops, here's a little fragment, here's another one and another one," says Phipps.

But a T-Rex tooth can bring up to $10,000, so this self educated paleontologist keeps hunting.

"The dinosaurs shed their teeth continually like sharks, and replaced them, so you're always finding wore out spitter teeth from a Triceratops, I'll find sometimes 50 of those in a day," says Phipps.

This little piece of prairie is a bygone bone bonanza.

"Here's a little Champsosaurus vertebrate, the Champsosaurus is an extinct crocodile," he says.

Clayton's marquee discovery is "Montana's dueling dinosaurs," a couple of complete skeletons locked in mortal combat.

"They obviously weren't friends, we believe they killed each other," says Phipps.

These petrified gladiators could be worth millions of dollars, but he hasn't found a buyer, just yet. In the meantime, Clayton uses the money he gets from dinosaur digs to supplement his other occupation.

He raises black angus and black baldy cattle and lends his neighbors the rope at the end of his hand.

"The brandings are fun, what we're doing today is the highlight of the year for me, you get to interact with all the neighbors, do a little roping, do a little riding, gather the cows," he says.

He has become known as the Dinosaur Cowboy. The nickname fits him like a boot in a stirrup.

"Between the two, the ranching and the dinosaur hunting, I'm able to scrape a living out of the country and enjoying every minute of it."

With his dog Tucson trailing behind, Phipps plans to continue tracking dinosaur bones until the cows come home.

The first Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered in America was found in the Hell Creek Formation in 1902 and the largest T-Rex skull ever unearthed was also found in eastern Montana.

 

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