Posts Tagged ‘Fossils’

near Kemmerer, Wyo.
Visited: September 19, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 97 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website

Fossilized FernWHAT IS IT?
The fossilized remains found in an Eocene Epoch (37-58 million years ago) lakebed. The unique Fossil Butte circumstances have produced remarkably detailed skeletons of thousands of prehistoric fish.

BEAUTY (6/10)
As you drive up to the Fossil Butte Visitor Center, there is not much to distinguish the land around you from what you have been driving through for hours (and hours). Scattered sagebrush and large flat buttes pick up light and shadows and occasionally become quite colorful.

What gives Fossil Butte its beauty lays inside the walls of the Visitor Center. Replica and original fossils collected from the ancient lakebed could easily be mistaken for exhibits in a gallery. They are almost perfectly preserved and artistically displayed. Turtles and sting rays look more like Indian pictographs or stylized sculptures than what they really are – a bunch of bones.

Like at Florissant Fossil Beds NM, conditions at Fossil Butte combined to create some of the most perfectly preserved remains of ancient plant and animal life in the world. Scientists are still debating exactly what those conditions were. The site video shows paleontologists lifting layers and cutting sections of limestone and pulling out fossilized imprints of fish so detailed you can count their scales and teeth. Fossils from Fossil Butte provide clues to climatic and environmental changes 50 million years old.

Fossil Butte is one of the coolest kinds of National Park areas, one where research and discovery are still taking place on a daily basis.

CROWDS (6/10)
More people than we expected on this dreary Sunday morning, but they didn’t affect our visit in any way. The Visitor Center isn’t large, but it uses its space nicely. We don’t think there way anyone on the two walking trails.

Where Fossils are FoundEASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
On the condensed Rand McNally Wyoming map, Fossil Butte NM seems deceptively close to Grand Teton NP to the north. It is not, clocking in at about 150 miles south down scenic two lane U.S. Route 89 and then U.S. Route 30. The biggest town along the way is Afton, Wyoming. Haven’t heard of it? It’s the hometown of gold medal Greco Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner.

60 miles to the south is Interstate 80 where Salt Lake City lies about 90 more miles to the southwest. You will not happen onto Fossil Butte NM, you have to find your way there.

Cool stuff here. An entire shelf was dedicated to titles about teaching children how to appreciate nature and essays on environmentalism. The intriguing Correlated History of Earth poster was for sale here. Gab purchased a book of anecdotal stories entitled, Oh Ranger! written by the man himself, Horace Albright.

The signature item at Fossil Butte NM are framed replicas of several fish fossils available in several sizes and price ranges. We told you they looked like art.

COSTS (4/5)
Michael tried to give the Ranger the National Parks Pass to no avail; the Site is free!

One Ranger greeted us as we entered the Visitor Center. Just as we were wondering if he was alone, two more emerged from the back room where they were avidly following the Chicago Bears football game. We laughed when we realized that we weren’t the only ones sneaking back to the radio to hear how our teams were doing this Sunday morning.

There wasn’t too much on offer in the off-season. From June to August, however, there are daily 20-minute “summer porch programs,” evening programs, including programs on the cultural history of the area on Thursdays. Every Saturday and Sunday in the summer paleontological staff actually take visitors out to the quarry and let them observe the collection of fossils.

The 30-minute film was very well done. Gab even took notes.

Fossil Butte NM offers not only a Junior Ranger program, but a Senior one as well!! We wish we had noticed this during our visit. More than once we have wished for a younger traveling companion so we could cash in on those cool stickers and patches. We could have here! Curses!

Part of the Visitor Center is a windowed room dedicated to the preparation of fossils, complete with cleaning tools and microscope. To get your Junior or Senior Ranger badge, you need to make use of this room. We have not seen many sites that offer so many hands-on opportunities.

Framed FishFUN (8/10)
Once again, a site we thought we would breeze through took over two hours to enjoy. That’s without walking the trails. Gab was mesmerized by the film, which tells the history of the area and walks you through a modern day preparation of a fossil removed from the lakebed. Michael, although pre-occupied with the St. Louis Rams poor performance, still found time to dwell in the museum. The bookstore, although small, was worth perusing.

Fossil Butte was distinct from the other fossil-based sites that we had visited. It didn’t follow the mold of: here is the Visitor Center and there is the quarry and just trust us, the fossil are there. Many of the fossils in the museum are the real deal. And had we been there a little earlier in the year, we could shared in the scientific collection of the fossils out in the field. How cool is that?

Fossil Butte is off the beaten path. If fossils are your thing, there are few other places that will let you get this up close and personal with remnants of prehistoric America.

TOTAL 52/80


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Florissant, Colo.
Visited: August 12, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 75 of 353
NPS Website

The Florissant Fossil BedsWHAT IS IT?

Remnants of an ancient lake, now a golden meadow, where 35-million years ago a volcanic eruption instantly fossilized insects, leaves, cones and spiders that were at the waters’ surface when the explosion’s dust descended. The fossils provide a rich snapshot of a late Eocene era Redwood forest.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Little imagination is necessary to picture the missing lake. Because their roots cannot penetrate the volcanic rock, modern trees shape an invisible shoreline. The flowering meadow rolls and sways with the wind. The Rocky Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to this quiet spot.

Petrified sequoia stumps, distant relatives of the California variety, take center stage on the shortest of the nature walks. The Monument’s amphitheatre is built around a cluster of three fossilized redwoods. Along every trail and walkway are dozens of wildflowers, most still in bloom. Each was named with a small sign, a very nice touch for those of us who are (very) amateur botanists.

“When the mountains are overthrown and the seas uplifted, the universe at Florissant flings itself against a gnat and preserves it.” – Dr. Arthur C. Peale, Hayden Expedition Geologist, 1873.

Fossils were so well preserved at Florissant, scientists are able to review details as minute as hairs on a wasp, compound eyes on a fly. It is a treasure chest of scientific information which practically doubled the catalogue of known insects.

Despite this wealth of information and a movement towards making Florissant a protected area, land developers wanted wealth of their own. Plans to build roads and houses over the fossil bed nearly destroyed this site. Our Ranger told us that a local group of well-to-do-women, the Friends of Florissant, positioned themselves in front of the bulldozers to hasten the process of preservation. Florissant was named a National Monument shortly after in 1969.

CROWDS (6/10)
If we felt a little rushed during our visit, it was not because of others. We, like several others at the Monument, assumed that it was open until 7 p.m. According to our AAA Colorado Guidebook and the Official Guide to the National Parks, it was. However, when we arrived late afternoon, we learned that due to severe budget cutbacks, gates to the Park area now close at 5:30 p.m.

The other visitors to Florissant Fossil Beds did not affect our stay positively or negatively.

Good SmellsEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
Florissant Fossil Beds NM is about 40 miles west of Colorado Springs. The Site is on Colorado Route One, two miles south of U.S. Route 24. There are two self-guided nature trails on site. The ¼-mile A Walk Through Time loop is fully paved and not too steep. The one-mile long Petrified Forest loop goes along a partially paved, part gravel travel. There is an all-terrain wheelchair available for use in the Visitor Center.

The bookstore has an excellent selection of local Colorado history books, nature books and books specific to the fossils found nearby. The store has a Smithsonian-published coffee table book, written by an on-site paleontologist, which includes hundreds of full color pictures of the fossils found at Florissant.

The Rangers at the Park have typed up personalized recommendations of their favorite books for sale at the store. We had yet to see this friendly and helpful touch at any of the Sites’ bookstores. The recommendation cards made us feel closer to the Park and its lifeblood, the Rangers.

COSTS (3/5)
Admission is $3 per person. Children, defined here as 16 and under, are free. There is no entry fee if you have the National Parks Pass.

Two women ran the show here. Both seemed to be experienced Rangers who prided themselves on the individual attention visitors receive at Florissant. There was a volunteer who greeted us when we first arrived and urged us to attend the next Ranger talk which was occurring at the amphitheatre in minutes. We are glad he did.

One visitor disputed the classification of a plant on one of the walks. Rather than just politely agree, the Ranger eagerly sought the botanist on loan from the Bureau of Land Management to help answer her questions. Florissant is also lucky enough to have a resident paleontologist.

As if a dedicated staff was not enough, Florissant Fossil Beds NM also hosts summertime day-long seminars featuring experts in ecology, geology and history. Educators attending these seminars can receive graduate credits from a nearby community college – well worth the $35 fee ($25 for current Friends of Florissant).

Our time at Florissant was shorter than we would have liked. In the time we were there, we attended a Ranger talk, took the two most popular self-guided walks, browsed the Visitor Center and chatted at length with both of the Rangers. It was a full afternoon.

The Ranger talk was a hands on explanation of how fossils were formed and the current landscape was shaped at Florissant. The Ranger took her time and had plenty of pieces of cap rock, flint, fossils, petrified wood and photos to share with her audience. The talk is held right next to some of the largest petrified sequoia stumps – good props themselves.

4.57 Billion Years AgoThe pamphlets that accompany each self-guided nature walk are nicely written. You can purchase them: 50 cents for one; $1 for the other. Or just borrow them and return them at the end of the trails. At the tail end of the one mile Petrified Forest trail, there are wooden signs spaced apart, marking major life events, such as the introduction of mammals, the first indication of vertebrae and the lifespan of dinosaurs, in the earth’s history. Every two inches equals one million years. A cool visual learning tool and nice way to finish up our visit.

FUN (7/10)
If only the park were open later! We enjoyed the walks we took. There are 14 miles of hiking trails in the park. We are sure they are all beautiful. We enjoyed our time with both of the Rangers, but much of their time was taken up reminding people that the parking lot would close at 5:30 p.m. Menacing rain clouds also sped our steps across the meadow. Lightning out here is no joke. Despite our time constraints, we took pleasure in every minute we had at Florissant.

Florissant Fossil Beds NM definitely qualifies as a hidden gem. Problem is, it is so hidden, that you might miss it. Especially if budget cuts continue to whittle away at staff and operating hours. It is not far from Colorado Springs, Colorado, but the roads are not interstates. Be sure you know which roads are paved before you plan your route.

TOTAL 53/80

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