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  • No bones about it: St. Luke’s nurse embraces son’s love of paleontology, starts family digs
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No bones about it: St. Luke’s nurse embraces son’s love of paleontology, starts family digs

Dallena Wood, a St. Luke's RN, stands in a quarry at the Hanson Research Station near the Wyoming-South Dakota border. She and her family have made a yearly tradition of digging for dinosaur bones at the site.
By Chris Langrill, News and Community
January 26, 2023

Some mothers support their children by being soccer moms. Some dads might volunteer as football coaches.

You could say Dallena Wood, a registered nurse who works in the Boise St. Luke’s Transfer Center, is a dinosaur mom.

“My son (Morgan), early on, became very interested in dinosaurs,” Wood said. “When he was in fourth grade he said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I’m going to become a paleontologist.’”

St. Luke's RN Dallena Wood, her husband Monte and son Morgan, 17.

So, Wood, and her husband Monte – who you can call a dinosaur dad – did some research and learned about the Hanson Research Station, which is based in eastern Wyoming.

The station has been conducting an ongoing dinosaur excavation for more than 25 years. It allows aspiring paleontologists – and those who may just be interested – to get personal experience at a field rich with dinosaur history.

“Anyone can come to the dig in June,” Wood said. “They put you through video training and you go out and start to work with quarry leaders. It’s very hands-on, and the north quarry area is very rich.”

Indeed. More than 30,000 bones have been collected, from Edmontosaurus to Triceratops to even Tyrannosaurus.

Needless to say, that’s pretty exciting stuff for Morgan, still an aspiring paleontologist, now 17 and a junior at Gem State Academy in Caldwell.

Turns out, Morgan’s parents became just as enamored by the project.

“Our first season out, you could say we got bit, and we’ve been going back ever since (except for forced breaks because of the pandemic),” Wood said.

Listen to Wood describe the search for especially important finds is not unlike an angler talking about their pursuit of the elusive “big one.”

“After you’ve been digging for a while, there is just a sound that a bone or tendon makes,” Wood said. “It’s so fun, but it’s also hard work. The first year I was out there I would just go, ‘Oh my, I found a bone, I found a bone!’ When you find your first bone, oh, you get so excited.”

Dallena Wood said she was "extremely excited" to find this nasal skull bone.

On one dig, Wood found a scapula and she was told it was one of the larger bones unearthed at the site.

“I was so excited,” she said. “It’s super exciting when you see the bones like that. You can tell when there’s a big find because there’s just a buzz at base camp.”

The whole Wood family will make more memories and keep learning as they find those bones from millions of years ago. Dallena and Monte have been asked to be co-leaders at the north quarry of the site.

Morgan plans to attend Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas. The small college (approximately 800 students) is where all the bones from the Wyoming dig are shipped, and it is home to a museum that boasts the biggest database in the world for digitally documented fossils.

As Morgan continues his education and the family digs together, Dallena is sure they’ll unearth many more great tales to share.

“Every bone really tells its story,” Wood said. “It really is fascinating.”

About The Author

Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.