American Fossil Dig Site - Beyond Utah Adventure
Approximately 50 million years ago a large ancient lake called Fossil Lake covered a portion of southwestern Wyoming, eastern Utah, and southwestern Idaho. Fossil Lake was home to many different species of fish, snails, reptiles, insects, plants, and mammals. When Fossil Lake begun to dry up many different species of animals and plant life laid to rest on the bottom of the lake and were covered with sediment, preserving them for millions of years.
Today, the area which was once Fossil Lake is a dry desert environment, but the fossils that were left behind by this ancient lake are among the worlds most perfectly preserved remains of ancient plant and animal life. In 1972 Congress designated a portion of this area to be protected, therefore the Fossil Butte National Monument was created. Visitors to this monument can stop by the visitors center to learn more about the area and to view the many different fossil fishes, insects, plant life, birds and mammals from the ancient Fossil Lake. Those who are more adventurous can hike one of the interpretive trails, and enjoy the geology of the area first hand.
Although, it is against the law to touch, move, or take any fossils within the monument boundaries, there are many private collecting sites outside of the monument. One location we discovered is the only location that allows visitors to keep what they find up to $100,000. They will even let you keep the very rare fossils that are sometimes unearthed. This location is called American Fossil.
Our visit to American Fossil:
Once we discovered this collecting site, we began our 45 minute drive from Bear Lake, Utah, to Kemmerer, Wyoming which is where the dig site is located. When we arrived, we were greeted by a gentleman named Patrick and his sons. Once checked in, we were provided with a rock hammer, and a chisel. They also took the time to show each of us how to split the rock and in what part of the rock layer we would most likely find a fossil. Now the dig site was separated into several rows of rock. A few rows contained a rock layer that visitors are more likely to find the most abundant fish fossils, and one row contained a rock layer where more of the rare fossils have been found. Most of our party was more interested in finding any fossil, and of course we had a few that wanted to find the more rare ones, which happened to pay off.
One thing to keep in mind if you are searching for the rare fossils you will find less common fossils, if you don’t really care what fossil you unearth you will of course find more.
Common Fossil Finds:
There are many different fossils of fish to be found at the American Fossil dig site. For example the “Knightia eocaena” was the most common fish in Fossil Lake and may be the most common articulated vertebrate fossil in the world. It is so common in the area that this was made Wyoming’s sate fossil. At the dig site, you will be provided with a card that displays some of the more common fossils found in the area.
Our Fossil Finds:
For those of our party who stayed in the area where there were more abundant fish fossils, everyone was able to find many different ones. For the two that ventured into the area of rock containing the more rare fossils they also found some beautiful fossils of fish. But, the find of the day goes out to Kayla, who found the remnants of an Alligator Gar.
This fossil was fascinating because the Alligator Gar has hard, shiny scales and they were still intact. Where some of the scales were missing, you could see the indentation in the rock where they once were.
Although this Alligator Gar was a very rare find, it just goes to show that you never know what you will discover, which makes the adventure at the American Fossil dig site much more interesting.
Visiting American Fossil:
If you plan to make the trip to Kemmerer, Wyoming to visit the dig site please plan accordingly. This is a dirty activity and when the wind is blowing it is very dusting. So, plan on getting very dirty. There is no shade at the dig site so bring a hat and wear sunscreen. Also make sure you bring plenty of water for everyone in your party.
The American Fossil site offers digs for one hour, four hours, or all day. Children under 7 are free to dig with a paying adult. Visit their official website for hours of operation and updated rates.
In closing, we want to give a shout out and say thank you to the owners of American Fossil. This is one family adventure that we will all remember for years to come.
American Fossil LLC