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Montana Earth Symbols

Montana Earth SymbolsCornflower blue Yogo sapphires (left) and Montana agate. (Yogo Sapphire (round): By Montanabw – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, link. Yogo Sapphire (pear-shaped): By PumpkinSky – Own work, gem owned by photographer, CC BY-SA 3.0, link.)

Under Montana’s big sky are some big earth symbols. Its nicknames include Bonanza State and Treasure State.

Montana’s state motto is Oro y Plata, Spanish for “gold and silver.” The motto is displayed on the state seal, which also features a miner’s pick and shovel. Behind them is a plow. In the background is the Great Falls of the Missouri River.

Even further in the distance are mountains and a rising sun. The sun symbolizes a bright future.

Today, agriculture has replaced mining as Montana’s most important industry. Tourism and timber are also important.

In 1969, Montana added two official gemstones to its state symbols roster, the sapphire and Montana agate.

Agates are usually found in southern and eastern Montana and can be very beautiful. However, the sapphire is one of America’s most valuable gemstones.

When Montana was still a frontier, gold miners who found sapphires in their sluices often threw them away. They wanted gold, not pretty rocks!

Moreover, some of the first sapphires found in Montana weren’t of very high quality. However, much nicer sapphires were soon discovered. The most famous are the cornflower-blue sapphires found only in the Yogo Gulch in Judith Basin County. Today, Yogo sapphires are a very special souvenir of the Big Sky Country.

Fossil ˆ

Montana State Fossil(Skeleton: By Sheri, CC BY 2.0link. Herd: Debivort CC BY-SA 3.0link)

A souvenir that isn’t as easy to carry is Montana’s state fossil. Nor is it easy to say—Maiasaura peeblesorum. It’s easier to remember its nickname, Maia.

Maia is a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur. Another hadrosaur is a symbol of New Jersey. It was one of the first dinosaurs ever discovered.

Montana’s state fossil might have been just another hadrosaur if it had just been known from a single skeleton. However, Maia wasn’t alone.

Scientists have found fossils of many maiasaurs. Even more exciting, they discovered fossilized nests and eggs. They even found the first unhatched dinosaur embryo ever found in the U.S. Their discoveries put Egg Mountain on the map.

Fossil evidence tells us that Maia was a colonial species, similar to modern bison or penguins. These hadrosaurs obviously cared for their young. (The name Maiasaura means “good mother lizard.”)

Soil ˆ

Montana State Soil

Forget gold, silver, sapphires, and colonial dinosaurs. Montana’s most important and exciting symbol may be its official soil.

Scobey soils are very deep, well-drained soils formed in glacial till under prairie vegetation. The soils were named after a town in northeast Montana.

Scobey soils put the magic in Montana’s “Golden Triangle,” an area famed for its high quality wheat. The three points of the Golden Triangle are Havre, Conrad, and Great Falls. Scobey soils are among the most productive soils within this triangular area.

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