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A tour through dinosaur country: PBS series follows a prehistoric road trip across the western United States

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The last time Emily Graslie was in Albuquerque was for a conference for paleontologists.

Although her time was taken up by the conference, she was able to learn about the natural history of the area.

“Prehistoric Road Trip” host Emily Graslie in a sauropod quarry near Bozeman, Montana. (Courtesy of Julie Florio And Wttw)

By day, Graslie is the chief curiosity correspondent at the Field Museum in Chicago. For the last seven years, she’s been the driving force behind the YouTube series, “The Brain Scoop.”

Starting at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 17, Graslie will take viewers on a journey in the series, “Prehistoric Road Trip,” which airs on PBS.

“I am thrilled that I get to share my love of nature, history, paleontology, and – in general – really old, really dead stuff with the PBS audience,” says Graslie. “And this is an incredible opportunity for me to revisit my home state of South Dakota, where I grew up exploring the great outdoors as a kid.”

The three-part series takes viewers through dinosaur country to search for mysterious creatures and bizarre ecosystems that have shaped Earth as we know it.

Graslie travels thousands of miles to visit some of the most active and dynamic fossil sites in the world.

She hit the road through the heart of America’s fossil country – the Northern Great Plains – for a fun and fascinating journey to explore 2.5 billion years of our planet’s history.

Crossing the Dakotas, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming, she examines the fossils of diverse prehistoric creatures and plants and introduces some of the people who helped bring these ancient discoveries to light.

Each episode turns back the pages of the past to examine different eras along Earth’s geologic timeline, focusing on the geology, ecology, and environment.

On this immersive adventure, Graslie uncovers and discovers the history of North American dinosaurs and other fascinating prehistoric creatures, including ancient fishes, mammoths, and early mammals.

“All of this shows how you can have great geological diversity,” she says. “I wanted to drive from the oldest sites through time.”

One of the fascinating things about the show for Graslie is breaking down how difficult it is for a fossil to be found.

“When you think about how long the fossil sat there untouched for millennia,” she says. “What are the chances of this thing surviving for millennia and then you’re the first human eyes to see the evidence. It’s amazing.”

During her time filming the show, she also thought about what scientists would think about society today.

“If we can look a million years in the future and wonder what people would be excavating, what would they find,” she asks. “They are going to find these huge garbage dumps and iPhones. The amount of technology that we toss aside will be on top of so much of the past. We are leaving a footprint on the planet and it’s overwhelming.”

When Graslie was approached for the series, she took the opportunity to head back home to South Dakota.

“One thing that stuck out to me is the weird, off-chance that my family’s ranch is located five miles away from where they found the most complete T. rex,” she says. “Everybody knows that impacted me when I was little. There’s even a picture of me with a T. rex to when I was three. It’s like I was coming full circle.”

Graslie hopes to return to New Mexico in the near future, whether it’s for the show or for her own work.

“There’s so much dinosaur history in that area,” she says. “I’d love to get back there and go see the Bisti Badlands. I bet there’s so much to discover still.”

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