The Field Trip  On-Site Images Fossil Plants Images All-Text Page Yerington Weather  The Fossil List E-Mail /My Pages

Fossil Plants At Aldrich Hill, Nevada

Visit a remote fossil locality near Yerington, Nevada, where some 35 species of ancient plant remains can be collected from the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation, approximately 13 to 12.5 million years old--including the leaves of evergreen live oak, winged seeds from spruce and giant sequoia foliage.

Field Trip To Aldrich Hill, Nevada

The Great Basin wilds of west-central Nevada are rich in productive fossil plant localities. While they are probably not as well known to amateur fossil plant hunters as the classic Paleocene through late Miocene (roughly 64 to 5 million years ago) leaf-bearing sites of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming, the Nevada fossil plant deposits continue to yield many excellently preserved paleobotanical remains. One of the more interesting and paleontologically rewarding leaf and seed-yielding areas lies near Yerington (the county seat of Lyon County) at Aldrich Hill. Here can be collected some 35 species of ancient plants from what geologists call the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation, a geologic rock unit dated at roughly 13 to 12.5 million years old. Among the many fossil plant remains found at Aldrich Hill are complete, carbonized leaves from an evergreen live oak, in addition to many conifer winged seeds and even giant sequoia foliage. It is indeed a special place to visit, an isolated region in the Great Basin "outback" where the Bureau of Land Management still permits the hobby collecting of fossil plant remains--a situation that could change literally overnight, by the way, should commercial collecting interests begin to raid the stratigraphic section with power equipment, desecrating the integrity of the exposed geologic section and destroying in the process the great scientific value of the locality. Fortunately, Aldrich Hill remains accessible to the general public, and folks interested in collecting fossil plants there for personal use only may continue to visit, remembering of course that such specimens gathered must be neither sold nor bartered--activities which would constitute a clear violation of the rules and regulations established by the Bureau of Land Management for visitors to America's public lands.

All of the fossil plants--including evergreen live oak leaves, spruce winged seeds, conifer needles, alder cones and giant sequoia/big tree foliage--occur in the tan to reddish-brown and cream-colored diatomaceous to tuffaceous mudstones and shales of the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation exposed on the north side of Aldrich Hill. Excellent outcrops of the plant-bearing strata can be examined along the main wash which trends generally east-west across the northern side of Aldrich Hill. Additional productive fossiliferous exposures can also be found in the minor erosion gullies that dissect the north slope of the hill. It should also be pointed out that virtually every outcrop of diatomaceous mudstones and shales in the Aldrich Hill district yields fossil plant material in varying degrees of relative abundance, from very rare to common, although the prominent and accessible exposures along the north side of the hill have in a historical sense provided collectors with the majority of paleobotanical remains.

When fossil hunting at Aldrich Hill, as at most other fossil leaf and seed-yielding localities, try to cover as much terrain as possible in search of the most productive layers. Split heaps of the shales with the blunt end of a geology hammer (some folks prefer to use the pick end, obviously, though this technique actually decreases the likelihood of splitting with precision the blocky diatomaceous mudstones and shales. A number of collectors prefer a roofer's or brick-layer's-style hammer, with a wide narrow blade, which theoretically splits shales with great effectiveness; such a hammer probably works well with very soft, classically fissile shales, but the tool lacks any kind of "punch," or heft, for cleaving bulkier, more compacted mudstones and shales. The upshot: the blunt end of a traditional geology hammer splits the Aldrich Station Formation diatomaceous shales and mudstones quite nicely.) whenever you stop for a "look-see." Remember, of course, to wear safety goggles, or some manner of eye protection while splitting the mudstones and shales. Although nowhere abundant, the fossil plant impressions in the Aldrich Station Formation are nevertheless common and even obvious at several horizons in the diatomaceous material. Watch for their pale to dark-brown, carbonized coloration on the tan to reddish-brown and cream-colored rocks. Associated with the leaves, winged seeds and twigs are conspicuous oval specimens roughly one-half to one inch in diameter. These fossils represent the internal molds of fresh water clam shells; the actual shell substance has long since been dissolved away, as the siliceous mudstones and shales were evidently a poor medium of preservation for the tests of pelecypods.

If a microscope is available, you can, in addition to finding the plants and clams, examine the remains of an especially prolific fossil type at Aldrich Hill--the diatom. This is a microscopic single-celled plant which during the geologic past, particularly in west-central Nevada in rocks of Middle through Late Miocene age (roughly 17 to 5 million years ago), contributed its resistant siliceous remains in vast numbers to the plethora of paleohistory in the rocks. The scientific extraction of diatoms for paleobotanical study is a dangerous operation, involving as it does the use of several powerful acids, among them hydrochloric, sulfuric and hydroflouric--potent brews that if not handled properly can cause frightful, life-threatening burns. It is a process only an expert should attempt. Fortunately, though, you can get an adequate, general view of diatoms simply by powdering a small amount of diatomaceous matrix on a glass microscope slide and then examining the residues under moderate to high powers of magnification. Most of the diatoms from the Aldrich Hill district resemble minute boxcars and discs.

Excluding the diatoms, among which numerous species can be identified from the Aldrich Station Formation, some 35 species of fossil plants have been described from the exposures at Aldrich Hill. This particular fossil deposit was first investigated scientifically by the late American paleobotanist Daniel I. Axelrod during one of his geological reconnaissance investigations in western Nevada in the early 1940s. Dr. Axelrod later published his paleobotanical, paleoecological and geological conclusions concerning the paleoflora from Aldrich Hill in a formal paleobotanical report--a publication in which he describes in detailed scientific fashion four important fossil floras in Churchill and Mineral Counties east and south of Reno (the Middlegate, Chloropagus, Fallon and Aldrich Station paleofloras). All of the fossils from Aldrich Hill occur in the Aldrich Station Formation, as named by Axelrod in his monograph, a geologic rock formation originally believed to be transitional Miocene-Pliocene (about 10 million years old by the geologic time scale then in fashion--as recalibrated, the Miocene-Pliocene transition on the geologic time scale today is roughly 5 million years old), but now considered Middle Miocene in geologic, or approximately 13 to 12.5 million years old.

The Aldrich Station paleoflora shows quite a variety in its composition. The five most commonly collected specimens are, in decreasing order of relative abundance: (1) winged seeds from three varieties of spruce--Picea sonomensis (by far the most abundant representative of the paleoflora), whose seeds are similar to the modern Brewer Spruce (Picea breweriana) of the Klamath region of northwestern California and adjacent Oregon; an extinct spruce that Dr. Axelrod called Picea lahontense--the seeds from this conifer cannot be compared with any known living spruce, although they do show a general resemblance to those produced by a few modern "larger-coned" spruces of eastern Asia, chiefly China; and a presumed extinct spruce called Picea magna, whose winged seeds resemble those produced by the living tiger-tail spruce, Picea polita, a conifer now native to the volcanic soils of Japan; (2) fragmental and occasional complete, intact leaves from an evergreen live oak called Quercus pollardiana, a species that is practically identical to the modern maul oak, also called canyon live oak, Quercus chrysolepis, presently native to the moist western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the Coastal Ranges of California; (3) leaves from a species of cottonwood, Populus payettensis, whose fossil foliage matches leaves produced by the living Narrowleaf Cottonwood, Populus augustifolia; (4) foliage/twigs of giant sequoia, Sequoidendron chaneyi, that match very well with those produced by the living Sierra Redwood/Big Tree, Sequoiadendron giganteum, which is now restricted solely in its natural habitat to a narrow, moist belt along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California; and (5) leaves from a species of willow referred to as Salix payettensis--its foliage appears very similar, if not identical to leaves produced by the modern willow Salix exigua, a rather widespread variety that goes by many common names, such as Coyote Willow, sandbar willow, or even Narrowleaf willow. The nine next most-common specimens encountered are: Catalina ironwood (recently, Dr. Diane Erwin, who is the Collections Manager of fossil plants at the University California Museum of Paleontology, and Howard Schorn--retired Collections Manager of fossil plants at UCMP--have revised the fossil species of Catalina ironwood, genus Lyonothamnus, in their paleobotanical paper, Revision Of Lyonothamnus A. Gray (Rosacea) From The Neogene Of Western North America, Int. J. Plant Sci 161(1): 179-193. 2000. @ 2000 by The University of Chicago.), Mountain alder, an extinct water oak, California buckeye, black cottonwood, an extinct cottonwood, zelkova, Arizona ash and Cedar elm. Rarer occurrences include such varieties as sugar pine, white fir, Ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, Western Red Cedar, Western hemlock, California sycamore, serviceberry, Oregon grape, California coffeeberry, coralberry, japanese pagodatree, birch-leaf mountain mahogany and a Horsetail.

The vast majority of fossil plants recovered from the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation at Aldrich Hill show a demonstrable resemblance to their modern analogs still living today. For example, the humid, cooler-weather conifer elements in the paleoflora (spruce, fir, pine, giant sequoia) have their closest contemporary counterparts in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains regions of western North America. As a matter of fact, there is a direct relationship postulated between the overall composition of the Aldrich Station Flora and modernday plant associations present in the giant sequoia forests of the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California--specifically, the impressive, awe-inspiring Sierra Redwood groves at Calaveras Big Trees State Park (Calaveras County east of Angels Camp) and Sequoia National Park east of Fresno.

Based on the known climatic requirements of present day plant counterparts of the fossil flora, the Aldrich Hill district some 13 to 12.5 million years ago had quite a different environment than the arid juniper-sage-Pinyon pine associations observed there today. For one thing, rainfall was approximately 25 to 30 inches per year, distributed in both winter and summer months. This is fully 15 inches more than the area receives today, with almost all of the effective precipitation now occurring during wintertime as snow and rain. Temperatures today also show much greater extremes than what can be inferred for the moderate Middle Miocene days, when freezing conditions were extremely rare and summer highs normally ranged around 85 degrees--this contrasts dramatically with our regular winter weather patterns that mimic Arctic-style extremes and summer peaks to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Elevations at the sites of deposition were in all likelihood slightly higher than the 6,000 to 6,700 feet we observe today in the Aldrich Hill district--probably an elevation between 7,000 and 7,500 feet for those Middle Miocene times is not out of the question.

In addition to telling us something of the climate of the geologic past, the Aldrich Hill fossil plant bonanza also reveals a striking gradual change in both the local paleogeography and the associated plant communities. In the earliest phases of their deposition, the fossil plants reveal that the ancestral Aldrich Hill region was a broad valley within which sprawled one or more fresh water lakes of perhaps moderate to large size; the diatoms preserved in the Aldrich Station Formation suggest that the lakes were rather cool and deep and well within the range of normal mineral content. Occasionally, though, volcanic activity from distant areas contributed layers of ash and pumice to the accumulating diatomaceous sediments. The adjacent slopes supported a thick mixed conifer forest consisting of white fir, Ponderosa pine, Brewer spruce, Douglas-fir, Western Red Cedar, Western hemlock and giant sequoia, along with a subordinate deciduous grouping of alder, poplar, cottonwood, willow, elm, zelkova, japanese pagodatree and coralberry. Living on the more exposed slopes were evergreen live oak, serviceberry, california buckeye, cottonwood and ash. Yet, higher in the geologic section at Aldrich Hill, in rocks younger by hundreds of thousands of years, the fossil plants prove that the geography had changed significantly. In place of a widespread conifer forest with only minor areas of woodlands surrounding a great lake basin, there had developed a vast hilly woodland where only a few interfingers of forest penetrated from the higher slopes surrounding the lake basin of deposition. Replacing big tree, spruce, pine and other conifers as dominants were evergreen live oak, mock locust, California buckeye, coralberry, mountain mahogany and serviceberry--a paleoenvironment that was much more xeric in nature than that suggested by plant communities which had preceded it. Here rare forest elements were white fir, Ponderosa pine, western hemlock and giant sequoia. Also present in the forest association were such species as alder, hollygrape, Catalina ironwood, cottonwood, poplar, elm, willow and zelkova. The once thriving forest grouping of conifers and deciduous varieties appears to have survived in the upland regions, only descending into the dominant evergreen live oak territory under especially favorable conditions.

Today, the sedimentary rocks at Aldrich Hill provide proof that roughly 13 to 12.5 million years ago an extensive giant sequoia forest reigned over what is presently an arid Great Basin land of sage and juniper and Pinyon pine. Along with the big trees grew such plant varieties as Brewer spruce, Ponderosa pine, white fir, Western hemlock, evergreen live oak and an array of deciduous kinds--a scene that closely resembles the modernday humid western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in the vicinity of Calaveras Big Trees State Park east of Angels Camp, California, where two groves of mighty Sierra Redwood continue to thrive in a setting of pristine grandeur. Within the diatomaceous mudstones and shales of the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation can be found direct evidence of that ancient Big Tree forest, the beautifully preserved carbonized impressions of plant remains covered over by the sediments in a long-vanished lake--leaves and seeds and conifer foliage which only await a patient, dedicated fossil hunter to bring to their first light of day in many millions of years.

Click for Yerington, Nevada Forecast

On-Site Images

Note: Several images to load--please be patient while they pop up.

Click on the images for larger views.

Click on the image for a larger picture. Here is the view near Aldrich Hill, Nevada, looking essentially due north across the fossiliferous diatomaceous mudstones and shales of the 13 to 12.5-million-year-old Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation (foreground and the hill at upper right), which yields 35 species of ancient plants.

  Click on the image for a larger picture. Looking northeastward from the western side of Aldrich Hill. Exposures of whitish sedimentary rocks in the foreground and in the distance belong to the fossil plant-bearing Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation.

  Click on the image for a larger picture. Collectors inspect a narrow erosion gully along the north side of Aldrich Hill, Nevada, for fossil plant remains in the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation; the view is roughly due west.

  Click on the image for a larger picture. A collector gets down to business at an outcrop of the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation along the north side of Aldrich Hill, Nevada. The regularly bedded, tan to reddish brown and cream-colored diatomaceous mudstones and shales here yield infrequent to rather common 13 to 12.5-million-year-old carbonized impressions of conifer winged seeds and giant sequoia foliage, in addition to evergreen live oaks and many deciduous varieties.

  Click on the image for a larger picture. A collector searches for fossil plant remains in the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation in an erosion gully along the north side of Aldrich Hill, Nevada. The view is roughly due west.

Images Of Fossil Plants

Note: Several images to load--please be patient while they pop up.

Click on the images for larger views.

Click on the image for a larger picture. Here is a complete leaf from an evergreen live oak called Quercus pollardiana from the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation, Aldrich Hill, Nevada. This particular species of fossil oak is allied with the modern maul oak, Quercus chrysolepis, which is presently native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the Coastal Ranges of California; note the entire margin (smooth, without spinose indentations) of the fossil leaf. Modern maul oaks can produce on the same tree leaves that are entire and others that are spinose. The specimen is 35mm long.

Click on the image for a larger picture. Here is a complete spinose leaf from an evergreen live oak Quercus pollardiana, collected from the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation at Aldrich Hill, Nevada. It is practically identical to leaves produced by the modern maul oak, also called canyon live oak, now native to the western Sierra Nevada and the Coastal Ranges of California. The specimen is 30mm long.

Click on the image for a larger picture. This is a twig from a giant sequoia (Big Tree, called Sequoiadendron chaneyi), measuring 26mm in length, collected from the Late Miocene Aldrich Station Formation, Aldrich Hill, Nevada. Specimens of Big Tree foliage from Aldrich Hill at 13 to 12.5 million years old were for many years among the youngest known fossil foliage from Giant Sequoia in the geologic record --until the late 1990s, that is, when Mr. Howard Schorn, retired Collections Manager of fossil plants at the University California Museum of Paleontology, found the youngest known fossil Big Tree foliage in strata some 5.5 million years old near Minden-Gardnerville, Nevada. The previously acknowledged youngest known occurrence of fossil Big Tree foliage in the geologic record used to be 7 million years old, from poorly preserved twigs in the Mount Reba Flora of Alpine County, California.

Click on the image for a larger picture. For comparison with the specimen of fossil Big Tree foliage above, here is a Big Tree twig plucked from the giant sequoia (Sequoidendron giganteum) we have planted in our back lot; the specimen shown here is 65mm in actual length. Note the distinctive awl-shaped leaves, which also show up well in the fossil specimen above.

Click on the image for a larger picture. Here are two fossil alder cones (the twig-like specimen at the bottom of the image is an unidentified plant fragment) from the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation, Nevada; cone at left is 21mm in actual length, while the one at the right is 18mm long. The alder cones came from a species of alder called Alnus smithiana, which is similar to the modern Alnus tenuifolia, or the Western American Alder, sometimes called the Mountain Alder.

Click on the image for a larger picture. This is a leaf fragment from Lyonothamnus parvifolius, the fossil equivalent of the modern Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus) and channel ironwood (Lyonothamnus asplenifolius)--also called Lyon Tree, which are now restricted in native habitat solely to the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The specimen is roughly 25mm in actual length and was collected from the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation, Nevada. Recently, Dr. Diane Erwin (Collections Manager of fossil plants at the University California Museum of Paleontology) and Howard Schorn (retired Collections Manager of fossil plants at UCMP) have revised the fossil species of Lyonothamnus in their paleobotanical paper, Revision Of Lyonothamnus A. Gray (Rosacea) From The Neogene Of Western North America, Int. J. Plant Sci 161(1): 179-193. 2000. @ 2000 by The University of Chicago. 

Click on the images above for larger pictures. Here are four fossil winged seeds from a spruce; all were collected from the Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Formation at Aldrich Hill, Nevada. Excellently preserved, carbonized impressions of spruce seeds are among the most common fossil plant remains found at Aldrich Hill, but they are maddeningly difficult to identify to a species level. At the upper left is a winged seed that appears to match what the late paleobotanist Daniel I. Axelrod called Picea sonomensis, whose winged seeds are similar to the modern Brewer Spruce (also called the weeping spruce), Picea breweriana, a rather rare variety whose native habitat is now restricted to the Klamath region of northwestern California and adjacent Oregon. The winged seed remains shown at upper right and lower left most closely resemble conifer seed specimens Axelrod called Picea lahontense, which is an extinct species that cannot be compared directly with any living spruce. According to Axelrod, it seems to bear a closest affinity with the larger-coned spruces of eastern Asia, chiefly China, although P. lahontense is most certainly extinct. At the lower right is a winged seed that closely resembles what Dr Axelrod called Picea magna, a variety of extinct spruce whose winged seeds show a general relationship to the living Picea polita, the tiger-tail spruce now native to the volcanic soils of Japan. The specimens at top left and right are, respectively, 12mm and 17mm long; those at bottom left and right are, respectively, 14mm and 15mm in length.

 Fossil List For The Middle Miocene Aldrich Station Flora

Aldrich Hill, Mineral County, Nevada

Scanned From Tertiary Vegetation History By Dr. Constance Millar

Citation: Millar, C. I. 1996. Tertiary vegetation history. 71-122. In: Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, Final report to Congress, Volume II, Assessments and Scientific Basis for Management Options, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources, Report No. 37, University of California, Davis, California.

Species names in parentheses are the closest modern affinities to fossil taxa:

Equisetales
    Equisetaceae
        Equisetum alexanderi
Gymnosperms
    Cupressaceae
        Thuja dimorpha (plicata)
    Pinaceae
        Abies concoloroides (concolor)
        Picea magna (polita. neoveitchii)
        Picea sonomensis (breweriana)
        Pinus florissanti (ponderosa)
        Pinus wheeleri (monticola. lambertiana)
        Pseudotsuga sonomensis (menziesii)
        Tsuga sonomensis (heterophyla) 
    Taxodiaceae
        Sequoiadendron chaneyi (giganteum) 
Angiosperms
    Berberidaceae
        Mahonia marginata (beali)
        Mahonia reticulata (repens)
    Betulaceae
        Alnus smithiana (tenufolia)
    Caprifoliaceae
        Symphoricarpos wassukana (oreophilius) 
    Celastraceae
        Pachystima nevadensis (myrsintes) 
    Fagaceae
        Quercus hannibali (chrysolepis)
        Quercus simulata (myrsinaefolia) 
    Hippocastanaceae
        Aesculus ashleyi (parryi)
    Leguminosae
        Amorpha oblongifolia (californica)
        Sophora spokanensis (japonica) 
    Myricaceae
        Comptonia parvifolia (asplenifolia) 
    Oleaceae
        Fraxinus acornia (velutina)
    Platanaceae
        Platanus paucidentata (racemosa) 
    Rhamnaceae
        Rhamnus precalifornica (californica) 
    Rosaceae
        Amelanchier apiculata (utahensis) 
        Cercocarpus antiquus (betuloides)
    Salicaceae
        Populus alexanderi (trichocarpa)
        Populus payettensis (angustifolia)
        Populus sonorensis
        Populus subwashoensis (temula. grandidentata) 
        Salix knowltonii (lemmonii)
        Salix payettensis (exigua)
    Sapotaceae
        Burmelia beaverana (lanuginosa)
    Ulmaceae
        Ulmus moorei (crassifolia)
        Zelkova nevadensis (serrata)

Email: waucoba4@aol.com

My Other Web Sites--both musical and paleontological

Paleontology-Related Pages

Web sites I have created pertaining to fossils

  • Fossils In Death Valley National Park: A site dedicated to the paleontology, geology, and natural wonders of Death Valley National Park; lots of on-site photographs of scenic localities within the park; images of fossils specimens; links to many virtual field trips of fossil-bearing interest.
  • Fossil Insects And Vertebrates On The Mojave Desert, California: Journey to two world-famous fossil sites in the middle Miocene Barstow Formation: one locality yields upwards of 50 species of fully three-dimensional, silicified freshwater insects, arachnids, and crustaceans that can be dissolved free and intact from calcareous concretions; a second Barstow Formation district provides vertebrate paleontologists with one of the greatest concentrations of Miocene mammal fossils yet recovered from North America--it's the type locality for the Bartovian State of the Miocene Epoch, 15.9 to 12.5 million years ago, with which all geologically time-equivalent rocks in North American are compared.
  • Fossils At Red Rock Canyon State Park, California: Visit wildly colorful Red Rock Canyon State Park on California's northern Mojave Desert, approximately 130 miles north of Los Angeles--scene of innumerable Hollywood film productions and commercials over the years--where the Middle to Late Miocene (13 to 7 million years old) Dove Spring Formation, along with a classic deposit of petrified woods, yields one of the great terrestrial, land-deposited Miocene vertebrate fossil faunas in all the western United States.
  • Fossil Plants Of The Ione Basin, California: Head to Amador County in the western foothills of California's Sierra Nevada to explore the fossil leaf-bearing Middle Eocene Ione Formation of the Ione Basin. This is a completely undescribed fossil flora from a geologically fascinating district that produces not only paleobotanically invaluable suites of fossil leaves, but also world-renowned commercial deposits of silica sand, high-grade kaolinite clay and the extraordinarily rare Montan Wax-rich lignites (a type of low grade coal).
  • Trilobites In The Marble Mountains, Mojave Desert, California: Take a trip to the place that first inspired my life-long fascination and interest in fossils--the classic trilobite quarry in the Lower Cambrian Latham Shale, in the Marble Mountains of California's Mojave Desert. It's a special place, now included in the rather recently established Trilobite Wilderness, where some 21 species of ancient plants and animals have been found--including trilobites, an echinoderm, a coelenterate, mollusks, blue-green algae and brachiopods.
  • A Visit To Ammonite Canyon, Nevada: Explore one of the best-exposed, most complete fossiliferous marine late Triassic through early Jurassic geologic sections in the world--a place where the important end-time Triassic mass extinction has been preserved in the paleontological record. Lots of key species of ammonites, brachiopods, corals, gastropods and pelecypods.
  • Late Triassic Ichthyosaur And Invertebrate Fossils In Nevada: Journey to two classic, world-famous fossil localities in the Upper Triassic Luning Formation of Nevada--Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and Coral Reef Canyon. At Berlin-Ichthyosaur, observe in-situ the remains of several gigantic ichthyosaur skeletons preserved in a fossil quarry; then head out into the hills, outside the state park, to find plentiful pelecypods, gastropods, brachiopods and ammonoids. At Coral Reef Canyon, find an amazing abundance of corals, sponges, brachiopods, echinoids (sea urchins), pelecypods, gastropods, belemnites and ammonoids.
  • Fossils From The Kettleman Hills, California: Visit one of California's premiere Pliocene-age (approximately 4.5 to 2.0 million years old) fossil localities--the Kettleman Hills, which lie along the western edge of California's Great Central Valley northwest of Bakersfield. This is where innumerable sand dollars, pectens, oysters, gastropods, "bulbous fish growths" and pelecypods occur in the Etchegoin, San Joaquin and Tulare Formations.
  • Field Trip To The Kettleman Hills Fossil District, California: Take a virtual field trip to a classic site on the western side of California's Great Central Valley, roughly 80 miles northwest of Bakersfield, where several Pliocene-age (roughly 4.5 to 2 million years old) geologic rock formations yield a wealth of diverse, abundant fossil material--sand dollars, scallop shells, oysters, gastropods and "bulbous fish growths" (fossil bony tumors--found nowhere else, save the Kettleman Hills), among many other paleontological remains.
  • A Visit To The Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed, Southern California: Travel to the dusty hills near Bakersfield, California, along the eastern side of the Great Central Valley in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, to explore the world-famous Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed, a Middle Miocene marine deposit some 16 to 15 million years old that yields over a hundred species of sharks, rays, bony fishes, and sea mammals from a geologic rock formation called the Round Mountain Silt Member of the Temblor Formation; this is the most prolific marine, vertebrate fossil-bearing Middle Miocene deposit in the world.
  • Middle Triassic Ammonoids From Nevada: Travel to a world-famous fossil locality in the Great Basin Desert of Nevada, a specific place that yields some 41 species of ammonoids, in addition to five species of pelecypods and four varieties of belemnites from the Middle Triassic Prida Formation, which is roughly 235 million years old; many paleontologists consider this specific site the single best Middle Triassic, late Anisian Stage ammonoid locality in the world. All told, the Prida Formation yields 68 species of ammonoids spanning the entire Middle Triassic age, or roughly 241 to 227 million years ago.
  • Fossil Bones In The Coso Range, Inyo County, California: Visit the Coso Range Wilderness, west of Death Valley National Park at the southern end of California's Owens Valley, where vertebrate fossils some 4.8 to 3.0 million years old can be observed in the Pliocene-age Coso Formation: It's a paleontologically significant place that yields many species of mammals, including the remains of Equus simplicidens, the Hagerman Horse, named for its spectacular occurrences at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho; Equus simplicidens is considered the earliest known member of the genus Equus, which includes the modern horse and all other equids.
  • Fossil Plants At Aldrich Hill, Western Nevada: Take a field trip to western Nevada, in the vicinity of Yerington, to famous Aldrich Hill, where one can collect some 35 species of ancient plants--leaves, seeds and twigs--from the Middle Miocene Aldirch Station Formation, roughly 12 to 13 million years old. Find the leaves of evergreen live oak, willow, and Catalina Ironwood (which today is restricted in its natural habitat solely to the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California), among others, plus the seeds of many kinds of conifers, including spruce; expect to find the twigs of Giant Sequoias, too.
  • Fossils From Pleistocene Lake Manix, California: Explore the badlands of the Manix Lake Beds on California's Mojave Desert, an Upper Pleistocene deposit that produces abundant fossil remains from the silts and sands left behind by a great fresh water lake, roughly 350,000 to 19,000 years old--the Manix Beds yield many species of fresh water mollusks (gastropods and pelecypods), skeletal elements from fish (the Tui Mojave Chub and Three-Spine Stickleback), plus roughly 50 species of mammals and birds, many of which can also be found in the incredible, world-famous La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles.
  • Field Trip To Pleistocene Lake Manix, California: Go on a virtual field trip to the classic, fossiliferous badlands carved in the Upper Pleistocene Manix Formation, Mojave Desert, California. It's a special place that yields beaucoup fossil remains, including fresh water mollusks, fish (the Mojave Tui Chub), birds and mammals.
  • Trilobites In The Nopah Range, Inyo County, California: Travel to a locality well outside the boundaries of Death Valley National Park to collect trilobites in the Lower Cambrian Pyramid Shale Member of the Carrara Formation.
  • Ammonoids At Union Wash, California: Explore ammonoid-rich Union Wash near Lone Pine, California, in the shadows of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Union Wash is a ne plus ultra place to find Early Triassic ammonoids in California. The extinct cephalopods occur in abundance in the Lower Triassic Union Wash Formation, with the dramatic back-drop of the glacier-gouged Sierra Nevada skyline in view to the immediate west.
  • A Visit To The Fossil Beds At Union Wash, Inyo County California: A virtual field trip to the fabulous ammonoid accumulations in the Lower Triassic Union Wash Formation, Inyo County, California--situated in the shadows of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
  • Ordovician Fossils At The Great Beatty Mudmound, Nevada: Visit a classic 475-million-year-old fossil locality in the vicinity of Beatty, Nevada, only a few miles east of Death Valley National Park; here, the fossils occur in the Middle Ordovician Antelope Valley Limestone at a prominent Mudmound/Biohern. Lots of fossils can be found there, including silicified brachiopods, trilobites, nautiloids, echinoderms, bryozoans, ostracodes and conodonts.
  • Paleobotanical Field Trip To The Sailor Flat Hydraulic Gold Mine, California: Journey on a day of paleobotanical discovery with the FarWest Science Foundation to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada--to famous Sailor Flat, an abandoned hydraulic gold mine of the mid to late 1800s, where members of the foundation collect fossil leaves from the "chocolate" shales of the Middle Eocene auriferous gravels; all significant specimens go to the archival paleobotanical collections at the University California Museum Of Paleontology in Berkeley.
  • Early Cambrian Fossils In Western Nevada: Explore a 518-million-year-old fossil locality several miles north of Death Valley National Park, in Esmeralda County, Nevada, where the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation yields the largest single assemblage of Early Cambrian trilobites yet described from a specific fossil locality in North America; the locality also yields archeocyathids (an extinct sponge), plus salterella (the "ice-cream cone fossil"--an extinct conical animal placed into its own unique phylum, called Agmata), brachiopods and invertebrate tracks and trails.
  • Fossil Leaves And Seeds In West-Central Nevada: Take a field trip to the Middlegate Hills area in west-central Nevada. It's a place where the Middle Miocene Middlegate Formation provides paleobotany enthusiasts with some 64 species of fossil plant remains, including the leaves of evergreen live oak, tanbark oak, bigleaf maple, and paper birch--plus the twigs of giant sequoias and the winged seeds from a spruce.
  • Ordovician Fossils In The Toquima Range, Nevada: Explore the Toquima Range in central Nevada--a locality that yields abundant graptolites in the Lower to Middle Ordovician Vinini Formation, plus a diverse fauna of brachiopods, sponges, bryozoans, echinoderms and ostracodes from the Middle Ordovician Antelope Valley Limestone.
  • Fossil Plants In The Dead Camel Range, Nevada: Visit a remote site in the vicinity of Fallon, Nevada, where the Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation provides paleobotany enthusiasts with 22 species of nicely preserved leaves from a variety of deciduous trees and evergreen live oaks, in addition to samaras (winged seeds), needles and twigs from several types of conifers.
  • Early Triassic Ammonoid Fossils In Nevada: Visit the two remote localities in Nevada that yield abundant, well-preserved ammonoids in the Lower Triassic Thaynes Formation, some 240 million years old--one of the sites just happens to be the single finest Early Triassic ammonoid locality in North America.
  • Fossil Plants At Buffalo Canyon, Nevada: Explore the wilds of west-central Nevada, a number of miles from Fallon, where the Middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation yields to seekers of paleontology some 54 species of deciduous and coniferous varieties of 15-million-year-old leaves, seeds and twigs from such varieties as spruce, fir, pine, ash, maple, zelkova, willow and evergreen live oak
  • High Inyo Mountains Fossils, California: Take a ride to the crest of the High Inyo Mountains to find abundant ammonoids and pelecypods--plus, some shark teeth and terrestrial plants in the Upper Mississippian Chainman Shale, roughly 325 million years old.
  • Field Trip To The Copper Basin Fossil Flora, Nevada: Visit a remote region in Nevada, where the Late Eocene Dead Horse Tuff provides seekers of paleobotany with some 42 species of ancient plants, roughly 39 to 40 million years old, including the leaves of alder, tanbark oak, Oregon grape and sassafras.
  • Fossil Plants And Insects At Bull Run, Nevada: Head into the deep backcountry of Nevada to collect fossils from the famous Late Eocene Chicken Creek Formation, which yields, in addition to abundant fossil fly larvae, a paleobotanically wonderful association of winged seeds and fascicles (bundles of needles) from many species of conifers, including fir, pine, spruce, larch, hemlock and cypress. The plants are some 37 million old and represent an essentially pure montane conifer forest, one of the very few such fossil occurrences in the Tertiary Period of the United States.
  • A Visit To The Early Cambrian Waucoba Spring Geologic Section, California: Journey to the northwestern sector of Death Valley National Park to explore the classic, world-famous Waucoba Spring Early Cambrian geologic section, first described by the pioneering paleontologist C.D. Walcott in the late 1800s; surprisingly well preserved 540-510 million-year-old remains of trilobites, invertebrate tracks and trails, Girvanella algal oncolites and archeocyathids (an extinct variety of sponge) can be observed in situ.
  • Fossils From The Savage Canyon Formation, Nevada: Images of fossil plants and an insect from a classic Middle Miocene geologic rock formation in Nevada.
  • Petrified Wood From The Shinarump Conglomerate: An image of a chunk of petrified wood I collected from the Upper Triassic Shinarump Conglomerate, outside of Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado.
  • Fossil Giant Sequoia Foliage From Nevada: Images of the youngest fossil foliage from a giant sequoia ever discovered in the geologic record--the specimen is Lower Pliocene in geologic age, around 5 million years old.
  • Some Favorite Fossil Brachiopods Of Mine: Images of several fossil brachiopods I have collected over the years from Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic-age rocks.

United States Geological Survey Papers (Public Domain)

Online versions of USGS publications

Return To Fossils In Death Valley National Park

The Field Trip  On-Site Images Fossil Plants Images All-Text Page Yerington Weather  The Fossil List My E-Mail Address