Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fossil Butte National Monument, Wyoming - Fossil Hunting

50 million years ago, vast lakes covered portions of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.  One of these lakes, Fossil Lake, resulted in the preservation of large numbers of fish fossils at the site of present day Fossil Butte National Monument.  The fossils can be found in the Green River Formation, a geologic layer created by the sediments of these ancient lakes during the Eocene Epoch.

Roger holds a fish fossil

Roger suggested a day trip to Wyoming to check out Fossil Butte National Monument and spend some time digging for fossils at one of the privately owned quarries adjacent to the monument.  We left Salt Lake on Saturday morning and made our way to Kemmerer, followed by several miles of driving on dirt roads to the Warfield Fossil Quarry.  After checking in with the office to get some digging tools and pay for a couple hours of fossil hunting time, we were taken to an exposed ledge and shown how to remove rock and break it open.  The rock had a consistency of very dense sheet rock, and when hit with a chisel, the rock would split open like the pages of a book.  With luck, you would split the rock and find a fossil.  The fossils must be plentiful because it didn't take long before we were finding fish.  The challenge was splitting the rock without breaking through the fossils.  After a couple of hours, we found several nice specimens to take home.

Warfield Fossil Quarry

Roger at Warfield Fossil Quarry

After our fossil digging adventure at Warfield Fossil Quarry, we drove to Fossil Butte National Monument.  The monument preserves Fossil Butte, an exposed outcrop of the Green River Formation containing countless fossils of fish, plants, and other animals from the middle Eocene Epoch.  The visitor center and museum displayed a large number of well preserved fossils from the area and offer a wealth of information about the region's unique fossil history.  One of the most interesting exhibits was a timeline of Earth's history, starting with signs along the road about a half mile from the visitor center.  The timeline was to scale, and humans didn't show up until the last half inch of the timeline.  It really put human history into perspective compared to the billions of years that the earth has existed.  After spending time in the visitor center, we drove through the monument and enjoyed lunch at the peaceful picnic area, which offered great views of the monument's surrounding hills and grasslands.  It was a great place to enjoy the solitude and look for wildlife.

Entrance to Fossil Butte National Monument

Fossil Butte