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A Visit To The Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed, Southern California

 

At left is a fossil tooth specimen from an extinct Mako shark, measuring 48mm in length; at right is a tooth from an extinct Tiger shark, measuring 25mm in length. Both specimens came from the world-famous Middle Miocene (roughly 15 million years old) Sharktooth Hill bone bed situated in the rolling western foothills of California's Sierra Nevada; all of the fossils occur in the Round Mountain Silt Member of the Temblor Formation.

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Field Trip To The Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed

Many fossil prospectors across America are familiar with the name Sharktooth Hill. This is an old and venerable locality, where innumerable shark teeth and marine mammal bones have been collected over the years. It is certainly one of the most famous vertebrate fossil sites in the world--a place where roughly 125 species of sharks, bony fishes, sea mammals, sea turtles, marine crocodiles, birds and even land mammals have been found.

The fossils are concentrated in a rather narrow one-to four-foot thick layer in the Round Mountain Silt Member of the Middle Miocene Temblor Formation, which is exposed over several square miles in the erosion-dissected foothills of California's southern Sierra Nevada. Although the diggings at Sharktooth Hill have historically yielded the most prolific occurrences of the 16 to 15 million-year-old vertebrate material in the Round Mountain Silt, the so-called Sharktooth Hill bone bed continues to provide collectors with nicely preserved fossils wherever it outcrops. This is indeed fortunate for amateur paleontology students, since Sharktooth Hill presently lies on private property and is in fact a registered national landmark; unauthorized collecting is obviously forbidden at that most famous of sites, but several other fossil-bearing zones in the immediate vicinity can still be explored by interested amateurs--at least by direct permission from the many local landowners, who presently own almost all of the Sharktooth Hill bone bed exposures not included in the Sharktooth Hill paleontological preserve.

The history of fossil collecting at Sharktooth Hill goes all the way back to the middle portion of the 19th Century. In August of 1853 geologist William P. Blake reported the occurrence of well-preserved shark teeth and sea mammal bones from the general area of present-day Sharktooth Hill. At the time, Blake, employed by the United States Topographical Corps, was conducting a field survey for possible railroad routes from the Eastern Seaboard to the West Coast. His discovery is generally heralded as the first confirmed report of fossil shark teeth west of the Rocky Mountains. Blake's important collection was eventually studied in 1856 by the legendary Swiss geologist and paleontologist Louis Agassiz, who at the time was one of the leading authorities on vertebrate fossils.

Sometime after Blake's discovery, enthusiastic amateurs began to explore the Middle Miocene deposits in the dusty hills northeast of present-day Bakersfield. Nobody knows for sure who first coined the name "Sharktooth Hill" to describe the rich fossil occurrences, but there is no doubt that the term accurately identifies the most popular type of fossil found there. Even today, over 150 years after the original find by geologist Blake, well-preserved shark teeth continue to attract considerable attention.

Below is an animated slideshow of some fossil shark teeth from the world-famous Middle Miocene Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed; they are roughly 15 million years old, collected from the Round Mountain Silt Member of the Temblor Formation.

As the population of the southern San Joaquin Valley and of metropolitan Los Angeles (only 90 miles south of Bakersfield) began to increase during the latter half of the 1800s, so did the numbers of regular visitors to Sharktooth Hill. From the beginning of its popularity, the site became a mecca of sorts for fossil hunters. Shark teeth and sea mammal remains in the middle of an arid valley, over 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, became irresistible attractions and have drawn innumerable individuals to this site over the decades.

Perhaps the most famous amateur collector to visit Sharktooth Hill was Charles Morrice, a clerk for the Pacific Oil Company. Morrice became ardently interested in collecting fossil specimens from the bone bed in 1909 during his off-work hours. Over the course of several years he single-handedly dug up hundreds of thousands of shark teeth weighing, literally, several tons. There is a historically valuable photograph of the legendary Morrice in the informative reference volume, History of Research at Sharktooth Hill, by Edward Mitchell (published by the Kern County Historical Society in 1965); Morrice is shown on-site at Sharktooth Hill, by one of his many digs, with a huge bucket filled to the brim with nicely preserved shark teeth of all kinds. At first, Morrice would simply give his finds away to friends, relatives and acquaintances. But he eventually became an indefatigable, scientifically motivated collector, donating his exhaustive collections to museums and universities throughout the world. In recognition of his contributions to science, two extinct animals from the Sharktooth Hill bone bed have been named in honor of Charles Morrice: a shark, Carcharias morricei, and a sperm whale, Aulephyseter morricei. In recent years, the two most important amateur collectors in the Sharktooth Hill bone bed have been Bob Ernst (who before his passing collected upwards of 2 million vertebrate remains) and Russ Shoemaker, private land owners in the Sharktooth Hill district who have donated exhaustive amounts of Middle Miocene vertebrate fossil material to any number of museums and scientific institutions throughout the world. Mr. Shoemaker, by the way, along with his wife, owns the Stories In Stones Earth Science Emporium along Main Street in Angels Camp, a charming little community in California's Mother Lode country, in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Although the prolific bone bed at Sharktooth Hill had been known to paleontologists since the 1850s, the first formal scientific investigation of the fossil-bearing layer was not conducted until 1924. That year the California Academy of Sciences initially decided to spend four months in the field analyzing the fossil deposit on-site. But the diggings proved so productive and challenging that the Academy continued to collect there, off and on, through the 1930s. After the preliminary fieldwork was completed, paleontologists required several years to clean, catalog and identify the abundant material recovered. In all, some 18 new species of mammals, birds, sharks, rays and skates were named from the collections amassed.

From 1960 to 1963 a second major scientific study of the Sharktooth Hill bone bed was undertaken, this time by the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. To expose an undisturbed layer of the fossil-rich zone, researchers bulldozed away roughly 15 feet of the barren silty overburden. Using whisk brooms and awls, the scientific teams then carefully removed the essentially in-place bones and teeth from the 15-million-year-old sediments. This was the first time that paleontologists had actually been able to observe firsthand the relationships of the fossils as they lay preserved in the bone bed. Thus, not only were innumerable perfectly preserved bones and teeth recovered, but invaluable information was also gathered on how the remains of the preserved animals came to rest on the silty floor of a Miocene sea. A major highlight of the museum excavations was the discovery of an almost fully intact skeleton of the extinct sea lion, Allodesmus. Since articulated remains of marine mammals are extremely rare in the bone-bearing zone, such a complete specimen ranks as one of the most important finds in the history of explorations at Sharktooth Hill. Another mostly complete, articulated Allodesmus was discovered in deposits above the bone bed many years later by the dedicated amateur fossil hunter, Bob Ernst, who donated the remains to science--a fine sea lion specimen now housed at the Buena Vista Museum in Bakersfield.

Perhaps the zenith of paleontological investigations at Sharktooth Hill happened during the 1960s and 1970s. Research crews from universities and museums throughout the United States visited the area, carting away tons of excellently preserved fossil material. Amateur interest in the bone bed also increased, and many a Southern Californian was likely first introduced to the rewards of fossil hunting at Sharktooth Hill.

But the steady stream of visitors appeared to be getting out of hand. Much of the precious bone-bearing horizon was rapidly disappearing. Scientists expressed justifiable concerns that, if left unprotected, the most fossiliferous sections of the bone-yielding horizon would soon be obliterated. The proper government officials agreed with this assessment and in May 1976 Sharktooth Hill was added to the United States Landmark Registry, a designation which protects the locality from unauthorized collectors.

The Sharktooth Hill bone bed has provided paleontologists with the single largest assemblage of Middle Miocene marine vertebrate animal fossils in the world (the famous Miocene Calvert Formation of Maryland also produces many kinds of marine vertebrate remains). The impressive list of marine mammal specimens alone from the Temblor Formation includes 10 types of dolphins and dolphin-like creatures, a porpoise, one sea lion, five kinds of whales, a sea cow, a walrus, a seal and an extinct hippopotamus-like fellow called Desmostylus--a 10-foot-long animal related to the elephant that evidently walked around on the sea floor crushing shellfish with its massive, powerful jaws. Also identified have been four extinct large turtles, a marine crocodile, many kinds of bony fishes, 20 species of birds, and some 27 species of sharks and rays.

In addition to the marine fauna, several skeletal elements from land mammals have also been taken from the fossil beds. These include a lower jaw of the mustelid (weasel-like) Sthenictis lacota; a lower jaw of the huge amphicyonid, or "beardog" Pliocyon medius; the dog Tomarctus optatus; the three-toed horses "Merychippus" brevidontus and Anchitherium sp.; the rhinoceroses Aphelops megalodus and Teleoceras medicornutum; the tapir Miotapirus sp.; the deer-like dromomercyids Bouromeryx submilleri and Bouromeryx americanus; the protoceratid (sort of a cross between a modern deer and a cow) Prosynthetoceras sp.; and the gomphothere (an extinct proboscidean) Miomastodon sp. Such remains are exceedingly rare, though, and are usually considered anomalies in the local Middle Miocene fossil record. Their presence in proved marine-deposited rocks points to preservation in shallow sea waters, since it is unlikely that the carcasses of land animals could have been transported far from the ancient shoreline before they settled to the ocean floor.

Click on the image below for a larger picture. Here's a small outcrop of the world-famous Middle Miocene Sharktooth Hill bone bed, exposed at a once-popular locality in Kern County, California. The precise trend of the shark tooth-bearing horizon is marked by the prominent World War I-style infantry entrenchment which zigzags along the hillside, from middle-upper right to upper left of the image. The view is almost due south.

One of the better extensions of the fabulous bone bed used to be a genuinely fun and educational place to visit. Here, shark teeth and various fragmental skeletal elements from a variety of marine mammals constituted the available fossilized assemblage, a place that for many years amateur collectors were welcome to visit; on any given day of the week, for example, one could expect to find at least a handful of folks (on weekends, the numbers of visitors increased exponentially) exploring the prolific Middle Miocene fossil horizon, collecting loads of well preserved shark teeth and generally enjoying their fossil hunting experience without having to worry about legal restrictions on their fossil-hunting activities. The local law enforcement and BLM authorities left the collectors alone, as long as the area remained free from litter and vandalism, of course. When I last visited the locality several years ago, enthusiastic visitors were still allowed to gather Middle Miocene shark teeth and miscellaneous sea mammal bones, but there is no guarantee that the area remains accessible to unauthorized amateurs. If the site has been formally closed off, make certain that you obey all the rules and regulations: do not attempt to climb over a locked gate, or with reckless disregard disobey No Trespassing signs which may have sprung up to warn visitors that their presence is no longer welcome.

Upon stepping out of one's vehicle to survey the territory, where to search for the fossilized specimens was quite obvious to all visitors. Along the steep to moderately inclined slopes above the parking area one could observe the unmistakable World War I-style infantry entrenchments that, dipping at a low angle of approximately four to six degrees to the southwest, marked the trend of the prospected bone bed. These excavations were made by armies of a different sort: fossil hunters who in their determination to recover shark teeth and marine mammal bones had created a single extended trench along the entire length of the exposed fossiliferous horizon in this immediate area.

Click on the image below for a larger picture. A collector gets down and dirty in the fossil trenches at a once-accessible exposure of the Middle Miocene Sharktooth Hill bone bed. For decades, amateur fossil enthusiasts and professional paleontologists alike were allowed to collect at this productive spot situated in Kern County, California. The view is roughly northwest.

The shark tooth-bearing layer averaged roughly one foot thick here, but was often difficult to spot due to the random digging of previous fossil prospectors. It helped to watch for the dark-brown fragmental bones of sea mammals embedded in the pale-gray matrix of the Round Mountain Silt; these were the most common finds in the Sharktooth Hill bone bed exposures, although the perfectly preserved shark teeth remained the prized items sought by the majority of visitors. The best way to locate fossils was to settle into your "battlefield" entrenchment and commence digging. Here, there was just no substitute for good old-fashioned manual labor. Most collectors simply dug into the fossil-bearing zone with a pick or shovel, carefully inspecting each chunk of Middle Miocene material removed from the exposure. Others brought along some kind of screening device, into which they dumped fossil-bearing dirt. After the sands and silts had passed through the fine mesh, any bones and teeth scooped up remained atop the screen, ready to be packed away for safekeeping.

Unfortunately, the fossil zone was not as prolific as at classic Sharktooth Hill, where almost any section of the bone-yielding horizon explored managed to yield abundant perfectly preserved material. Weathered-free fossils were sometimes found, too, especially after a heavy rainy season, before the hordes of eager collectors had descended on the hill for a new season of fossil-finding; at the once-accessible locality, though, freely eroded forms were conspicuously absent. This was best explained by the great numbers of collectors who visited the site each year. Any remains that had naturally washed out of the 15-million-year old sediments were, in all likelihood, immediately plucked up and stored away by the lucky few who happened upon them. As this particular locality remained for many years the primary spot where amateurs were still legally allowed to collect fossils from the Sharktooth Hill bone bed, it was not surprising that such easy pickings were nonexistent.

Other than keeping well-hydrated during hot summer days, the major hazard one faced at the fossil locality, and indeed wherever one happened to dig into the Sharktooth Hill bone bed, was exposure to Valley Fever. This is a potentially serious illness called, scientifically, Coccidioidomycosis, or "coccy" for short; it's caused by the inhalation of an infectious airborne fungus whose spores lie dormant in the uncultivated alkaline soils of California's southern San Joaquin Valley: And the region in which the Sharktooth Hill bone bed occurs is know to contain, in places, significant concentrations of the spores which cause this disease. When an unsuspecting and susceptible individual breaths the spores into his or her lungs, the fungus springs to life, as it prefers the moist, dark recesses of the human lungs (cats, dogs, rodents and even snakes, among other vertebrates, are also susceptible to "coccy") to multiply and be happy. Most cases of active Valley Fever resemble a minor touch of the flu, though the majority of those exposed show absolutely no symptoms of any kind of illness; it is important to note, of course, that in rather rare instances Valley Fever can progress to a severe and serious infection, causing high fever, chills, unending fatigue, rapid weight loss, inflammation of the joints, meningitis, pneumonia and even death. Every fossil prospector who chooses to visit the Sharktooth Hill bone bed--and the southern San Joaquin Valley, in general--must be fully aware of the risks involved.

With regard to the direct risk of contracting Valley Fever while digging in the area that contains the Sharktooth Hill bone bed, a year 2012 posting at the Ernst Quarries (a dig operation situated on private property, named after the famous former principal bone bed landowner, the late Bob Ernst) Facebook Page sheds at least a modicum of light on the subject:

"Question: How many people catch Valley Fever after digging at your quarries?

"Honestly, more participants have had encounters with rattlesnakes, than have contracted Valley Fever (VF). Nearly all of our participants DO NOT use dust masks while digging. We have had over 2000 diggers on the quarry in the last 18 months, and we only have 3 reported instances of participants contracting VF. That falls well belo...w the Kern County average, and may say something as to the prevalence of the spores in areas we are excavating. We have four quarries open currently, all located below the surface, in fossil beds aged between 14 and 18 million years. This 'soil time-line' predates the emergence of c. immitis by over 10 million years."

So, here's the bottom line, the proverbial upshot--Valley Fever spores definitely exist in California's southern San Joaquin Valley, and Valley Fever can indeed be contracted from digging in the area where the Sharktooth Hill bone bed occurs. The reported statistic that "only" three individuals in 18 months of supervised digging there have contracted Valley Fever may or may not assuage the justifiable concerns of potential visitors.

Click on the image below for a larger image. The view is roughly southeast from a once-accessible fossil locality to an entrenchment near the base of the hillside in the distance, an entrenchment created by enthusiastic amateur and professional paleontologists alike, who for many years were permitted to gather Middle Miocene shark teeth and miscellaneous marine mammal vertebrate remains here. The bold white letters spelling "Bone bed" along the hillside mark the precise position of the famous Sharktooth Hill bone bed.

The Round Mountain Silt Member of the Temblor Formation, which contains the Sharktooth Hill bone bed (and fungal spores of Valley Fever--a noncollectible item if there ever was one), apparently accumulated roughly 16 to 15 million years ago in a semi-tropical embayment. This great body of water covered all of the present-day San Joaquin Valley from the Salinas area southward to the Grapevine Grade, just north of Los Angeles. The incredible bone bed was evidently preserved along the southeastern edges of the sea in waters no deeper than about 200 feet--an estimate based on the presence of fossil rays and skates, whose modern-day relatives prefer such relatively shallow depths. It is illuminating to note that all of the living members of the fossil fauna recovered from the bone layer can be found today in Todos Santos Bay off Ensenada, Baja California Norte; the extant marine mammals of the Sharktooth Hill fauna all migrate there during the winter months.

While scientists understand very well the variety of animals that formerly lived in the Middle Miocene Temblor-period sea, they are less certain of what caused restricted preservation in such a narrow bed in a locally unfossiliferous deposit. Although the Temblor Formation does yield moderately common fossil mollusks and echinoids elsewhere in its area of exposure (Reef Ridge in the Coalinga district, for example), the Sharktooth Hill bone bed occurs in sediments that are mysteriously barren of any other kinds of organic remains. In an interval several hundred feet both above and below the bone-bearing horizon there is absolutely no trace of past animal or plant life.

Typically, such a shallow marine environment as is suggested by the bone bed would be expected to include many sand dollars, gastropods, pelecypods and a wide variety of microscopic plants and animals such as diatoms and foraminifers. But such is not the case here. Even after decades of assiduous, dedicated scientific examination, vertebrate animal specimens remain the only diagnostic types of fossil specimens yet recovered in abundance from the Sharktooth Hill bone bed (a few internal casts of gastropod and pelecypod shells have also been reported from the bone bed, in addition to occasional coprolites, invertebrate burrows, and gypsum-coated pieces of petrified wood--none of which is particularly significant or diagnostic, except to say that such occurrences support the idea that the bone bed formed in relatively shallow waters).

Such an unusual abundance of diverse species of marine mammals, sharks, birds, rays, skates and even land mammals requires a unique mechanism of preservation. Clearly the curious mixing of both land and marine vertebrates in the same layer points to an as-yet incompletely understood set of circumstances. Needless to report, ever since the bone bed's discovery on that summer day way back in 1853, investigators have wondered just what events could have created such a remarkable concentration of vertebrate remains in a narrow horizon, to the exclusion of all other marine invertebrates normally associated with a shallow-water environment.

Several ideas have been advanced to explain the rare occurrence.

One of the earliest explanations was offered during the first quarter of the 20th Century by paleontologist Frank M. Anderson of the California Academy of Sciences. Anderson suggested that violent volcanism in the region poisoned the Miocene waters with ash and noxious gasses, causing the sudden extinction of the fauna. While it is true that widespread volcanic activity occurred in the Middle Miocene of the present-day San Joaquin Valley, there is no direct evidence to suggest that the Sharktooth Hill fauna was adversely affected by it.

A second hypothesis states that, during the Middle Miocene, the bay in which the Sharktooth Hill animals lived became landlocked. As the waters gradually evaporated the unlucky inhabitants were doomed to try to survive in an increasingly smaller area, until at last the creatures succumbed, thus creating a narrow zone in which their skeletal and tooth remains were concentrated.

Yet another explanation concerns the "red tide" phenomenon. Occasionally, a toxin-producing marine microbe multiplies so rapidly that it kills smaller fish by the millions. The organism contains a minute amount of a potent poison that can be easily concentrated in the food chain. Larger fish consume the smaller types that feed on the lethal organism until, eventually, all of the fish are killed.

An additional once-popular proposal was that the middle Miocene Sharktooth Hill area was a great calving ground for marine mammals, an irresistible attraction for sharks who seasonally feasted on the animals gathered there to give birth. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of juvenile sea mammal bones in the deposit--not the amount one would reasonably expect to find preserved in the Round Mountain Silt Member of the Temblor Formation had the area witnessed for thousands upon thousands of seasons youngsters cavorting in the same warm waters that held their predators--the sharks.

Other possible mechanisms of deposition proposed for the famed bone bed are turbidity currents--which are masses of water and sediments that flow down the continental slope, often for very long distances. Presumably, the carcasses of sea and land animals were caught up in such underwater sediment flows, their bones transported for considerable distances before the remains dropped out of suspension in a submarine canyon, far removed from the Middle Miocene shoreline. Perhaps favoring this explanation is the fact that many of the vertebrate remains from the bone bed reveal obvious signs of wear and tear, suggesting some degree of transport and agitation prior to their eventual burial. As a matter of fact, this is the one specific mechanism of bone deposition that most closely matches the evidence; indeed, it's the single most widely accepted method by which literally millions of sea mammal bones and shark and ray teeth could have possibly been preserved in such a narrow internal, to the exclusion of virtually every other kind of marine life.

This is but a sampling of the ideas proposed to account for the Sharktooth Hill bone bed. Unfortunately (for the theorists who suggested them), all but one of the above proposals--the turbidity current idea, specifically--are quite simply put, flat-out wrong. They have been disproved. Over the the years, there have probably been as many hypotheses advanced as there are theorists to invent them. Suffice it to say that no one single explanation, save the turbidty current proposal, has yet been delivered to answer all the questions posed by this famous bone bed of the Middle Miocene.

Recently, though, some researchers claim that that problem has now been solved, once and for all. The "definitive" explanation--as published by The Geological Society Of America in a paper entitled, "Origin of a widespread marine bonebed deposited during the middle Miocene Climatic Optimum" by Nicholas D. Pyenson, Randall B. Irmis, Jere H. Lipps, Lawrence G. Barnes, Edward D. Mitchell, Jr., and Samuel A. McLeod--is that the Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed accumulated slowly above a local disconformity over a maximum of 700 thousand years due to sediment starvation timed to a major transgressive-regressive cycle during middle Miocene times 15.9 to 15.2 million years ago. The upshot here, according to the authors, is that the world-famous bone-bed is not the product of a mass dying, neither is it the inevitable result of red-tide poisoning, nor the remains of animals killed by volcanic eruptions, nor the preservations of vertebrates through the concentrating action of turbidity currents (which has been the accepted, most accurate explanation for many years)--not even the site of a long-term calving region where sea mammals birthed and sharks hunted can fully explain the fabulous bonanza bone layer. The Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed came about, the scientists claim, over thousands of years due to slow, steady bone accumulation during a period of geologic time when very little clastic sedimentation (sands and silts and muds) occurred.

Perhaps this new research has finally solved the mysteries surrounding the deposition of likely the greatest concentration and diversity of fossil marine vertebrates in the world. The turbidity current idea still holds water (pun intended) for many, though, and will likely remain a lasting viable explanation for many folks in the paleontological and geological communities.

Research on the Sharktooth Hill area has been exhaustive, to say the least. Reference materials on the subject abound. Probably the single best book to consult is the aforementioned History of Research at Sharktooth Hill, Kern County, California, by Edward Mitchell. Other worthwhile works include "Birds from the Miocene of Sharktooth Hill, California", Condor, Volume 63, number 5, 1961, by L.H. Miller; "Sharktooth Hill", by W.T. Rintoul, 1960, California Crossroads, volume 2, number 5; and the July 1985 issue of California Geology, published by the California Division of Mines and Geology, in which an excellent article appears, entitled, "Sharktooth Hill, Kern County, California," by Don L. Dupras.

The once-accessible locality used to make a terrific substitute for Sharktooth Hill. While the fossil remains were obviously not as plentiful as at the more-famous site, amateur collectors and professional paleontologists alike continued to find many beautifully preserved shark teeth and marine mammal bones in the fabulous Sharktooth Hill bone bed. It is a world-class paleontological deposit which has yielded some 125 species of vertebrate animals from the Middle Miocene of 16 to 15 million years ago--a time when a tranquil semi-tropical sea similar to Todos Santos Bay off Ensenada covered the present San Joaquin Valley. It was a time when the ancestors of great white sharks lived where citrus, peaches and almonds now grow in the agriculture-rich Great Central Valley of California.

Paleontology-Related Pages I Have Created

  • 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

My Music Pages

In addition to my many Web pages pertaining to matters paleontological and geological, I also have 8 sites up and running that feature my solo, acoustic, instrumental 6 and 12-string guitar playing--in addition to songs I have recorded with my parents over the years (family music) And it's all free music--for listening and for downloads of the mp3 files.

Jump on over to The Acoustic Guitar Solitaire Of Inyo--A Cyber-CD for 30 covers of some of my favorite songs--all played on a 1976 Martin D-35 6-string guitar.

For 32 mp3 selections of original compositions and covers of some of my favorite songs--all played on a 1970 Stella 12-string guitar, a 1976 Martin D-35 guitar and a Sigma DMISTCE guitar, head on over to Beyond The Timberline--A Cyber-CD .

At The Distant Path--A Cyber CD listen to me play 32 covers and original compositions on a 1976 Martin D-35, a Sigma DMISTCE 6-string guitar and a 1970 Stella 12-string guitar.

Over at Inyo And Folks--A Musical History I've created a page that features 110 songs I recorded with my parents--all played on acoustic 6 and 12-string guitars, banjo, kazoo, maracas, and tambourine.

Go to Acoustic Stratigraphy: I play 34 covers of some of my favorite songs on acoustic 6 and 12-string guitars.

Back To Badwater--A Cyber-CD: Listen to me play 32 covers and original compositions on 6 and 12-string guitars; it's all free music.

For an all-text page that includes all 300 of my guitar mp3 files placed on the Internet, go to All Inyo All The Time. That's where you'll find access to all of my musical selections, in order of their appearance on the Web--from my first Cyber-CD ("The Acoustic Guitar Solitaire Of Inyo") to the last, "Inyo 7."

Inyo 7--A Cyber CD: Listen to me play 30 covers of some of my favorite songs, plus originals.

E-Mail me at Waucoba4@aol.com

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