Fossil Plants At Buffalo Canyon, Nevada

Visit an extraordinarily productive 15-million-year-old fossil locality in, Nevada, a number of miles from Fallon--a place that has yielded some 54 species of ancient plants from the middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation.

Contents For: Fossils Plants At Buffalo Canyon, Nevada:

Text: The Field Trip 

Images: On-Site 

Images: Fossil Plants 

Images: Common Opals

 Links: My Fossils-Music Pages


 Field Trip To The Buffalo Canyon Formation, Nevada

The Buffalo Canyon Formation lies in the heart of the arid Great Basin physiographic province a number of miles from Fallon, Nevada, home to the US Navy's Top Gun fighter pilot program. This is a land characterized by three widely distributed botanic species: sagebrush, juniper, and pinion pine. But roughly 15.5 million years ago, during middle Miocene geologic times, the present-day fossil locality was the site of a large fresh-water lake around which flourished a great variety of plants, including but of course not limited to--spruce, fir, pine, ash, maple, zelkova, willow, and evergreen live oak.

Today, common to abundant carbonized leaf and seed impressions from over 50 species of trees and shrubs, along with commercially mineable quantities of diatomite (composed almost entirely of diatoms, a microscopic photosynthesizing single-celled algae), can be found in the sedimentary layers deposited in that ancient lake. Not only that, but several diatomite beds in the immediate vicinity of the plant-bearing locality have been changed to prized opal through the geologic forces of heat and pressure, a geologic process that has created abundant, colorful material for hobby, recreational lapidary use.

All of the fossil plants occur in the diatomite member of the middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation, a regional badlands-forming deposit originally named by geologist K. L. Barrows in 1971.

Credit for discovering the fossil plant-bearing beds at Buffalo Canyon goes to a Mrs. Beulah Buckner, who came across the productive diatomaceous beds during a rockhounding excursion in either the 1940s or very early 1950s. After she eventually directed writer Harold O. Weight and his wife Lucile to the locality, Mr. Weight wrote up an article on the subject of fossil plants in Buffalo Canyon for a noted national publication, in which he named one of the primary fossil-bearing sites Fossil Leaf Hill.

Interestingly enough, many years later, completely unaware of Mr. Weight's earlier published documentation of the Buffalo Canyon fossils, I happened to re-discover that same leaf and seed-bearing locality and decided to call it Fossil Leaf Ridge. Of course, probably loads of folks have independently "discovered" that identical prolific plant-yielding site over the decades.

The most efficient way to locate fossil plants here is to split the soft shales along their natural bedding planes. Use the pick end of a geology rock hammer or a broad putty knife to split the poorly indurated, often crumbly sedimentary material. If you should happen to accidentally fracture a fossil specimen, use Duco Cement or some other fast-drying, reliable glue to mend the break. But try to be especially careful not to crack the fossils. Attempting to glue pieces of diatomaceous shale back together is usually a messy, delicate chore. Several coats of glue applied along the fractured surfaces may be required to get the job done, since the porous, powdery rocks often soak up glue like the proverbial sponge.

Not every sedimentary rock layer in the area is fossiliferous--as a matter of fact there appear to be many more barren horizons than plant-bearing ones. But, generally speaking, if you can find the fine-grained, whitish diatomaceous shales that outcrop in proximity to narrow beds of blue-gray volcanic ash, your chances of finding superior fossil plant specimens will increased dramatically. The "paper shales" observed in parts of the section closely resemble the plant and insect-bearing shales exposed in Fossil Valley, Nevada, and Florissant, Colorado--noted insect-yielding deposits of world-wide renown--although I've yet to locate anything significant in the Buffalo Canyon sediments, save for a few poorly preserved leaf fragments. Still, those paper shales may well be worth some special explorations. Excellent specimens could yet show up in them, due to the fact that they lie in such close stratigraphic proximity to the plant-bearing beds higher in the geologic section. Adding to the paper shales' potential interest is the fact that, recently, a graduate student on a field trip to Buffalo Canyon uncovered an exquisitely preserved dragonfly wing--the very first fossil insect reported from the middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation.

The shales in the Buffalo Canyon Formation grade upward into geologically younger tan to gray clays and sandstones bearing five distinct beds of lignite, a brownish-black coal whose alteration of the original vegetal constituents has proceeded farther than in peat but no so far as in subbituminous coal. All five layers of the lignite have been analyzed for possible uranium content, but only two of the beds showed any potential economic interest, averaging 0.052 to 0.1 percent uranium. The ashy-gray mudstones in this part of the geologic section frequently yield abundant remains of reeds from a species of cattail, a scouring rush.

Taken together as evidence, the lignites and fossil cattails indicate ponded, swampy conditions during deposition of the younger phases of the middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation. The regularly bedded diatomaceous shales lower in the section--rocks which represent the older periods of deposition--were likely laid down in a large lake whose shoreline supported a dense growth of deciduous hardwood trees and shrubs such as maple, birch, ash, cottonwood, willow, serviceberry, hawthorn, Oregon grape, bitter cherry, currant, rose, and sparkleberry. Slightly higher slopes bordering the basin of deposition were covered by a rich mixed conifer forest of fir, larch, spruce, cypress, hemlock, maple, alder, birch, black locust, elm, zelkova, serviceberry, hawthorn, Oregon grape, bitter cherry, and mountain ash. On the more exposed, drier south and west-facing hillsides the mesic vegetation graded into an evergreen woodland consisting of madrone, mountain mahogany, cypress, stopper, juniper, catalina ironwood, and evergreen live oak.

The Buffalo Canyon fossil flora was most recently analyzed by the late paleobotanist Daniel I. Axelrod in an informative monograph. Axelrod concluded that the fossil floral association most closely resembles conifer-deciduous forests now living in three widely separated areas of the United States: the Klamath Mountains of northwestern California; the Adirondack Mountains of eastern America; and the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan.

Based on the environmental preferences of modern analogs of the fossil flora, Axelrod decided that precipitation in the ancestral Buffalo Canyon Basin was approximately 35 to 40 inches per year, a figure that contrasts radically with the scant 15 inches delivered there today--and most of that amount is in the form of winter snow. A major difference in the rainfall patterns 15.5 million years ago was that storms dropped significant amounts of precipitation during both the winter and summer months--enough rain during those seasons, as a matter of fact, to account for such sensitive indicators as elm, birch, hickory, black locust, and zelkova in the local fossil record.

Temperatures were also apparently much more moderate some 15.5 million years ago. For example, terrain in proximity to today's fossiliferous Buffalo Canyon Formation experiences an average June-July temperature of some 77 degrees, but the associations of fossil plants now found there prove that 15 million years ago the average monthly reading for that specific time of season could not have been any higher than 63 degrees. And while today's average January temperatures range downward to a frigid, arctic-style 10 degrees, the mid-Miocene plants demonstrate that 15.5 million years ago a typical January mean would have been a rather chilly, but tolerable 37 degrees.

Such a major change in Buffalo Canyon's precipitation and temperature averages over geologic time suggests that elevations there differed significantly some 16 to 15 million years ago. Cogitating this perplexing problem, Axelrod studied in great detail the environmental requirements for today's analogs of species found in the Buffalo Canyon Formation to determine that the plants likely accumulated at an elevation of roughly 4,200 feet; today, the fossil site lies at an altitude of 6,060 feet, suggesting, according to Axelrod's analysis, that the region has undergone an uplift of approximately 1,900 feet since middle Miocene times 15.5 million years ago.

But, that was not the end of the "uplift" story. Far from it. Eventually, the late paleobotanists Howard E. Schorn and Jack A. Wolfe, along with several other scientists working the problem independently, applied sophisticated geophysical, geochemical, and Climate Leaf Analysis Multivariate Program methodology (CLAMP) to conclude that the present-day Great Basin region of eastern California (Death Valley region), Nevada, southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho, and extreme western Utah stood just as high, if not higher, during middle Miocene times than it does today. Accordingly, when all the evidence from disparate avenues of analysis finally came together, Schorn and Wolfe proposed that the Buffalo Canyon Formation plants accumulated at an elevation of roughly 9,000 feet, that in actual fact the entire Cenozoic Era Great Basin region--the so-called Nevadaplano--had remained a vast high plateau region for most of the early to mid Teriary Period (Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, and lower to middle Miocene Epochs), until at last that Nevadaplano gradually dropped, collapsed, to its modern-day elevations by 6.8 million years ago through geologic extensional stress and concomitant block faulting which helped create the modern Great Basin geography.

Today, roughly 15 million years after Lake Buffalo Canyon ceased to exist, dried up--a moment in geologic time before the Nevadaplano high plateau completely collapsed--some 54 species of fossil plants remain in the rocks to tell their fascinating paleobotanical tales. The two most conspicuous, and abundant, forms encountered in the Buffalo Canyon Formation are intact leaves from an evergreen live oak, Quercus pollardiana--a species that is practically identical to the living maul oak now native to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Mountains and Coast Ranges of California--and leaves from a birch, Betula thor, whose vegetation is identical to the modern paper birch. Other less commonly observed specimens include the leafy twigs of cypress, a juniper, in addition to the leaves of cattail, four species of cottonwood, six species of willow, an alder, three additional species of birch, a hornbeam, a hickory, a black walnut, two more species of oak, an elm, a zelkova, two species of holly grape, a water lily, a hydrangea, four species of currant, a Catalina ironwood, three species of bitter cherry, a rose, a mountain ash, a leadplant, a black locust, a tropical cypress, a madrone, a stopper, two species of ash, a sparkleberry, and a snowberry. Also present, but rarely recovered, are the winged flying seeds of two species of fir, one species of larch, three species of spruce, two species of pine, one species of Douglas-fir, one species of hemlock, and five species of maple.

During my last extended exploration of the Buffalo Canyon Formation, I spent a couple of productive days opening a modest-sized fossil quarry. The digging was good. Among my keepers were several nice birch leaves, winged spruce seeds, a few relatively rare Zelkova leaves, and many nice evergreen live oak leaves. A few years later I made a brief stopover to check out my quarry, which had lain dormant all that time. Unfortunately, I found it had been obliterated by heavy rains. All that was left to mark the site of my past digs were several large slabs of shale I remember having yanked out while attempting to expose a particularly fossiliferous layer upon which were plastered some fine specimens of oak leaves. The slabs of shale had been washed way down slope into a newly formed natural gully far removed where I had dug--the result of intense, short-lived rampaging runoff that had taken advantage of the softer sedimentary rocks there, cutting into them with potent ease: acts of inexorable erosive power on full display here. I spent a couple of hours digging in the same general area as my original quarry and was pleased to learn that the fossil plants were still "alive and well;" they could still be found there, much to my delight.

All of the collecting sites are presently accessible: as far as I am aware, no federal or private ownership collecting restrictions exist. Still and all, conscientious fossil aficionados will nevertheless opt to conduct common sense due diligence to determine the current legal accessibility of the fossil locality before visiting. And, of course, should commercial collecting parties begin to raid and desecrate the fossil plant localities, the Bureau of Land Management will most certainly close the fossil leaf-bearing district to all but professional paleontologists.

It should be pointed out, perhaps, that eventually, after several years of conducting occasional visits to the much-productive district, I decided to donate practically all the fossil plants I'd recovered from the middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation to a major museum's archival paleobotanical fossil repository. As a general rule, all particularly well-preserved plant remains collected from the area should be brought the attention of a professional paleobotanist; who knows, perhaps you have uncovered a species that is new to science!

A field trip to Buffalo Canyon, Nevada, will provide visitors with something out of the ordinary: a chance to collect a large selection of nicely preserved middle Miocene plant remains, plus an abundance of very colorful specimens of common opal, as well. As you dig into the fossiliferous diatomaceous shales of the middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation, you will bring fossil leaves and winged seeds to their first light of day in some 15 million years, species which tell of a time when the plant life in this part of arid Nevada resembled the modern-day rain-rich Klamath Mountains of northwestern California and the humid, moist forests of the Adirondack and Porcupine Mountains of the northeastern United States.

On-Site Images

Click On The Images For Larger Views


Click on the images for a larger picture. Left to right: The view is southeast to the southern end of a plant-bearing outcrop of the Middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation--the whitish slope at upper left quadrant of the image.

Middle--Looking essentially due east to the west-facing slope of one of the primary fossil plant-bearing sites in the plant-bearing district. Relatively common, excellently preserved fossil leaf and winged seed impressions occur from about one-half to three-quarters the way up the moderate slope. Note the relatively flat-lying diatomaceous shales and mudstones of the Middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation, which yields some 54 species of plants.

Right--The view is roughly south along the west-facing slope of a fossil plant-bearing section. The 15-million-year-old leaf and winged seed impressions occur in the diatomite member--composed almost entirely of the microscopic single-celled algae called diatoms) of the Middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation: leaves of evergreen live oak and the paper birch are the most commonly encountered remains.

Fossil Plants Images

Click On The Images For Larger Views


Click on the images for a larger picture. Left to right: A complete leaf from the evergreen live oak, Quercus pollardiana, which is similar to the living maul oak, now native to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Mountains and Coast Ranges of California; this species is a co-dominant of the flora.

Middle--A mostly complete leaf (stem is missing) from the evergreen live oak Quercus pollardiana, a Miocene analog of the living maul oak, native to the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges of California.

Right--Here is a complete specimen of a zelkova leaf, a member of the elm family, Zelkova brownii. Out of some 8,276 fossil plant specimens that paleobotanist Daniel I. Axelrod collected from the Buffalo Canyon Formation, he found only 744 zelkova leaves.


Click on the images for a larger picture. Left to right:  A winged seed from a spruce, Picea sp. Not sure which species it came from---it appears to most closely resemble a variety Axelrod called Picea lahotense, a spruce whose closest modern analogs are now native to eastern Asia.

Middle--Here is a mostly complete leaf (the tip is missing) from an alder, Alnus latahensis, which is the fossil equivalent of the modern Seaside alder now native to Maryland and Delaware in the United States of America.

Right--A common cattail leaf from the Middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation, Churchill County, Nevada, Typha lesquereuxi.


Click on the images for a larger picture. Left to right: A twig from a species of juniper called Juniperus desotoyana, which is closely allied with the living Eastern Red Cedar, or the Pencil Cedar, native to North America, from Hudson Bay, all the way south to Florida. and Texas. Of course, it is not a true cedar at all--it is a variety of juniper.

Middle--A Water lily seed pod called scientifically Nymphaeites nevadensis. Image courtesy the late Howard Schorn, former retired Collections Manager of fossil plants at the University California Museum of Paleontology.

Right--Specimens of high grade, commercially mineable diatomite from the Middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation, Buffalo Canyon; diatomite is composed almost entirely of microscopic single-celled algae called diatoms.

Common Opals Image

Pieces of common opal from contact-altered beds of diatomite in Buffalo Canyon; specimens are likely too fractured for serious lapidary use, but there's a lot of the colorful material available for recreational rockhounding purposes.

My Other Web Sites

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.
  • A Visit To Fossil Valley, Great Basin Desert, Nevada: Take a virtual field trip to a Nevada locality that yields the most complete, diverse, fossil assemblage of terrestrial Miocene plants and animals known from North America--and perhaps the world, as well. Yields insects, leaves, seeds, conifer needles and twigs, flowering structures, pollens, petrified wood, diatoms, algal bodies, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, bird feathers, fish, gastropods, pelecypods (bivalves), and ostracods.
  • 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.
  • Cambrian And Ordovician Fossils At Extinction Canyon, Nevada: Visit a site in Nevada's Great Basin Desert that yields locally common whole and mostly complete early Cambrian trilobites, in addition to other extinct organisms such as graptolites (early hemichordate), salterella (small conical critter placed in the phylum Agmata), Lidaconus (diminutive tusk-shaped shell of unestablished zoological affinity), Girvanella (photosynthesizing cyanobacterial algae), and Caryocaris (a bivalved crustacean).
  • Late Pennsylvanian Fossils In Kansas: Travel to the midwestern plains to discover the classic late Pennsylvanian fossil wealth of Kansas--abundant, supremely well-preserved associations of such invertebrate animals as brachiopods, bryozoans, corals, echinoderms, fusulinids, mollusks (gastropods, pelecypods, cephalopods, scaphopods), and sponges; one of the great places on the planet to find fossils some 307 to 299 million years old.
  • 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).
  • Ice Age Fossils At Santa Barbara, California--Journey to the famed So Cal coastal community of Santa Barbara (about a 100 miles north of Los Angeles) to explore one of the best marine Pleistocene invertebrate fossil-bearing areas on the west coast of the United States; that's where the middle Pleistocene Santa Barbara Formation yields nearly 400 species of pelecypod bivalve mollusks, gastropods, chitons, scaphopods, pteropods, brachiopods, bryozoans, corals, ostracods (minute bivalve crustaceans), worm tubes, and foraminifers.
  • 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.
  • Fossil Plants In The Neighborhood Of Reno, Nevada: Visit two famous fossil plant localities in the Great Basin Desert near Reno, Nevada--a place to find leaves, seeds, needles, foilage, and cones in the middle Miocene Pyramid and Chloropagus Formations, 15.6 and 14.8 to 13.3 million years old, respectively.
  • Dinosaur-Age Fossil Leaves At Del Puerto Creek, California: Journey to the western edge of California's Great Central Valley to explore a classic fossil leaf locality in an upper Cretaceous section of the upper Cretaceous to Paleocene Moreno Formation; the plants you find there lived during the day of the dinosaur.
  • Early Cambrian Fossils Of Westgard Pass, California: Visit the Westgard Pass area, a world-renowned geologic wonderland several miles east of Big Pine, California, in the neighboring White-Inyo Mountains, to examine one of the best places in the world to find archaeocyathids--an enigmatic invertebrate animal that went extinct some 510 million years ago, never surviving past the early Cambrian; also present there in rocks over a half billion years old are locally common trilobites, plus annelid and arthropod trails, and early echinoderms.
  • Plant Fossils At The La Porte Hydraulic Gold Mine, California: Journey to a long-abandoned hydraulic gold mine in the neighborhood of La Porte, northern Sierra Nevada, California, to explore the upper Eocene La Porte Tuff, which yields some 43 species of Cenozoic plants, mainly a bounty of beautifully preserved leaves 34.2 million years old.
  • 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.
  • Fossil Plants At The Chalk Bluff Hydraulic Gold Mine, California: Take a field trip to the Chalk Bluff hydraulic gold mine, western foothills of California's Sierra Nevada, for leaves, seeds, flowering structures, and petrified wood from some 70 species of middle Eocene plants.
  • Field Trip To The Alexander Hills Fossil District, Mojave Desert, California: Visit a locality outside the southern sector of Death Valley National Park to explore a paleontological wonderland that produces: Precambrian stromatolites over a billion years old; early skeletonized eukaryotic cells of testate amoebae over three-quarters of billion years old; early Cambrian trilobites, archaeocyathids, annelid trails, arthropod tracks, and echinoderm material; Pliocene-Pleistocene vertebrate and invertebrate faunas; and late middle Miocene camel tracks, petrified palm wood, petrified dicotlyedon wood, and permineralized grasses.
  • Fossils In Millard County, Utah: Take virtual field trips to two world-famous fossil localities in Millard County, Utah--Wheeler Amphitheater in the trilobite-bearing middle Cambrian Wheeler Shale; and Fossil Mountain in the brachiopod-ostracod-gastropod-echinoderm-trilobite rich lower Ordovician Pogonip Group.
  • Fossil Plants, Insects And Frogs In The Vicinity Of Virginia City, Nevada: Journey to a western Nevada badlands district near Virginia City and the Comstock Lode to discover a bonanza of paleontology in the late middle Miocene Coal Valley Formation.
  • Paleozoic Era Fossils At Mazourka Canyon, Inyo County, California: Visit a productive Paleozoic Era fossil-bearing area near Independence, California--along the east side of California's Owens Valley, with the great Sierra Nevada as a dramatic backdrop--a paleontologically fascinating place that yields a great assortment of invertebrate animals.
  • 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.
  • High Sierra Nevada Fossil Plants, Alpine County, California: Visit a remote fossil leaf and petrified wood locality in the Sierra Nevada, at an altitude over 8,600 feet, slightly above the local timberline, to find 7 million year-old specimens of cypress, Douglas-fir, White fir, evergreen live oak, and giant sequoia, among others.
  • In Search Of Fossils In The Tin Mountain Limestone, California: Journey to the Death Valley area of Inyo County, California, to explore the highly fossiliferous Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone; visit three localities that provide easy access to a roughly 358 million year-old calcium carbate accumulation that contains well preserved corals, brachiopods, bryozoans, crinoids, and ostracods--among other major groups of invertebrate animals.
  • 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.
  • Late Miocene Fossil Leaves At Verdi, Washoe County, Nevada: Explore a fascinating fossil leaf locality not far from Reno, Nevada; find 18 species of plants that prove that 5.8 million years ago this part of the western Great Basin Desert would have resembled, floristically, California's lush green Gold Country, from Placerville south to Jackson.
  • Fossils Along The Loneliest Road In America: Investigate the extraordinary fossil wealth along some 230 miles of The Loneliest Road In America--US Highway 50 from the vicinity of Eureka, Nevada, to Delta in Millard County, Utah. Includes on-site images and photographs of representative fossils (with detailed explanatory text captions) from every geologic rock deposit I have personally explored in the neighborhood of that stretch of Great Basin asphalt. The paleontologic material ranges in geologic age from the middle Eocene (about 48 million years ago) to middle Cambrian (approximately 505 million years old).
  • 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.
  • Field Trip To A Vertebrate Fossil Locality In The Coso Range, California: Take a cyber-visit to the famous bone-bearing Pliocene Coso Formation, Coso Mountains, Inyo County, California; includes detailed text for the field trip, plus on-site images and photographs of vertebrate fossils.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • For information on what can and cannot be collected legally from America's Public Lands, take a look at Fossils On America's Public Lands and Collecting On Public Lands--brochures that the Bureau Of Land Management has allowed me to transcribe.
  • In Search Of Vanished Ages--Field Trips To Fossil Localities In California, Nevada, And Utah--My fossils-related field trips in full print book form (pdf). 98,703 words (equivalent to a medium-size hard cover work of non-fiction); 250 printed pages (equivalent to about 380 pages in hard cover book form); 27 chapters; 30 individual field trips to places of paleontological interest; 60 photographs--representative on-site images and pictures of fossils from each locality visited.

United States Geological Survey Papers (Public Domain)

Online versions of USGS publications

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