When my kids were in elementary school, we took them to visit Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Utah.
The kids marveled at a rock wall completely filled with dinosaur fossils. It was a fascinating experience that I think they’ll remember all their lives. A few years later my son and I stopped to visit Fossil Butte national Monument near Kemmerer Wyoming. I recall how impressed we were with a massive fossilized turtle that must have been 10 feet across. Another outstanding fossil spot to visit is the Petrified Forest in eastern Arizona. Giant petrified logs lay out in the desert sun. While these natural wonders are awe inspiring, they are a long, long way off.
Back in the mid 1970s my Aunt Ellenore and Uncle Joe had an opal mine in north western Nevada. They would find a petrified tree and then dig along its branches looking for opals. That’s right; opal is just a fancy form of petrified wood. The down side of such a mine is that it is hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Heck, its a hundred miles from the nearest town of any size. After my Uncle Joe passed away, Aunt Ellenore offered to deed the mine to her sons. They declined, and she offered it to me. The mine was at least an eight hour drive from my home, & I too passed up the opportunity. Eventually Aunt Ellenore ended up selling the mine back to the fellow she and Uncle Joe had bought it from. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a deposit of fossils closer to home? One with a visitor’s center and great educational displays? Guess what? There is!
Last week my buddy Chuck and I were returning from a business meeting in Kern County. As we were driving north up Highway 99 heading toward Merced, I spotted a sign that said “Fossil Discovery Center – next exit”. Chuck was driving and suggested that we stop at the Fossil Discover Center and check it out. It would be a great place to stretch our legs. Boy, were we impressed! There were a host of cool fossils and replicas on display. A huge Columbian Mammoth, a Saber Tooth Cat and a giant fossilized bear called a Short Faced Bear were among the more impressive exhibits. If nothing else a trip to the Fossil Discovery Center of Merced County, about 15 minutes South of Merced is an eye opener to the infinite opportunities in the great outdoors.
There are undoubtedly countless fossils out there just waiting for you to discover them. If you are an angler hiking along the lakeshore or along the stream, keep your eyes open & maybe you’ll be more likely to spot a chunk of petrified wood. If you are a hunter you might be walking through the forest and spot a leaf fossil. Dirt bike fans may spot sea shell fossils along the trail. There is a spot about 30 minutes from Tracy where you can find petrified wood and even fossilized leaves right in the road bank of a public road! You can add an extra dimension to your outdoor excursions just by keeping your eyes open & watching where you walk. If you’re out enjoying the outdoors, there could be amazing fossils just beneath your feet. All you have to do is watch where you walk.