Plant Fossils In The Dead Camel Range, Nevada

Find 12.6 million-year-old fossil leaves and seeds near Fallon

The Dead Camel Range Contents:

 Text: The Field Trip  Images: Fossil Plants  Images: On-Site 

List: Fossil Species  Links: Other Plant Sites Widget: Fallon Weather  

Links: My Music Pages Links: My Fossils Pages E-Mail Address 

Field Trip To The Dead Camel Range

In the Dead Camel Range near Fallon, Churchill County, Nevada, paleobotany enthusiasts have had, for decades, an enjoyable and educational experience fossil-prospecting for 12.6-million-year-old plant remains in a sedimentary rock deposit geologists call the Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation. The popular paleontologically significant site lies at an elevation of 3,900 feet on the slopes of an unnamed dry wash whose erosive power through the ages has exposed a series of fossiliferous siliceous shales, occasionally interbedded with intrusive volcanic basalt and basaltic tuffs. Despite the fact that the sedimentary sequence has been invaded through time by such disruptive volcanic activity, the oldest shale accumulations in the Desert Peak Formation, or those beds exposed lowest in the local stratigraphic section, have continued to provide both amateur plant seekers and professional paleobotanists alike with an abundance 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.

In all, paleobotanists have identified some 22 species of ancient plants from the Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation. The flora list includes such varieties as evergreen canyon live oak, European aspen, paper birch, Utah juniper, white fir and Giant Sequoia--all of which contrast dramatically with the desert extremes of the Fallon district today. The fossils provide incontrovertible evidence that 12.6 million years ago an extensive oak-juniper woodland thrived near the lower reaches of a mixed conifer forest in a region subjected to intermittent volcanic activity.

The famous fossil plant locality frequented by paleobotany enthusiasts in the Dead Camel Range has remained open to hobby inspection for many decades now; when last field checked, the Miocene plants still occurred on Public Lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (a significant portion of the Dead Camel Range does happen to lie within the boundaries of the Fallon Naval Air Station). This means that visitors were able to collect, for personal use only, a wonderful selection of Middle Miocene fossil plants, specimens that must never be bartered or sold. Then too, collectors had to be careful not to abuse their privileges here. The operative attitude one had to bear in mind was that the noted Dead Camel Range fossil plant site remained open to the public only because the local landowners, across whose property visitors needed to pass in order to reach the region, recognized the great recreational value of their vast desert surroundings. They encouraged visitors to experience the rewards of back-country explorations amidst the challenging austerity of the Great Basin Desert while continuing to maintain a stern vigilance over the natural domain. Had a clear pattern of disregard for property emerged, rest assured that the paleobotanical treasures in the Dead Camel Range would not only have become off limits to all amateur fossil collectors, but also to every visiting desert enthusiast, in general.

The Dead Camel Range flora occurs in the basal portion of the Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation--a geologic rock unit dated by radiometric methods at 12.6 million years old. It consists of around 500 feet of thick-bedded siliceous shale (in beds one to five inches thick, on average) that weathers to shades of yellowish-brown, brownish-red and maroon. Unweathered beds of the fossiliferous fine-grained shales often reveal a pale olive-green coloration. The shale frequently disintegrates through erosion to form rubble-strewn slopes, a characteristic style of weathering which masks the true lithologic nature of the underlying strata. Interbedded with the sedimentary rocks are a few minor volcanic contaminants--basalt flows and basaltic tuff--which have locally metamorphosed the shales, sometimes obliterating any fossil material they might have originally contained. Though this is not always the case. Some of the better-preserved fossil plant remains actually occur in highly altered shales, demonstrating here at least that fossil plants can often withstand a great degree of geologic stress and survive to tell their fascinating paleobotanical tales.

The fossil-bearing shales are clearly of lacustrine origin (deposited in a lake), and the plants that were preserved in them most likely accumulated near the shoreline. There is little evidence to support the idea that currents carried the ancient plant specimens far from the margin of the lake into which they were swept by repeated storm waters over the course of tens of thousands of years, at the very least. If they had truly been preserved through the action of lake currents, the plant material would certainly be found as scattered, rare remains throughout the sedimentary deposit, not as a complete fossil flora concentrated within a relatively narrow shale horizon.

At the primary fossil locality situated along the unnamed dry wash in the Dead Camel Range, the fossil plants are fairly common. They are typically preserved as pale brown to dark reddish-brown impressions that stand out in bold contrast on a paler-colored matrix of yellowish-brown to pale olive-green shale. But, as the sedimentary deposits are traced away from that principal accumulation of Middle Miocene plants, collectors learned that the once-productive shale rapidly turns barren of organic remains: all fossils simply disappear due to the mysterious nature of sedimentary deposition some 12.6 million years ago. The fossil locality apparently corresponds to a favorable position along the bottom of the ancient Middle Miocene lake, where plant debris--transported/swept into the waters from the surrounding countryside--was buried rapidly by tons upon tons of inflowing mud and silt: organic tissues were obviously covered completely before any significant decay could begin.

To locate the best-preserved fossil plants in the Dead Camel Range, the highly indurated siliceous mud within which they lie hidden had to be successfully split, revealing the Middle Miocene treasures to their first light of day in some 12.6 million years. This certainly involved a lot of paleontological dedication and patience, not to mention hard work, but the ultimate reward of many perfect, complete evergreen live oak leaves and an occasional conifer samara, among other botanic types, created a burning anticipation for an encounter with the distant geologic past.

The basic idea was to first remove large chunks of potential leaf-yielding shale from the Desert Peak Formation exposures, then, using a good quality geology hammer (the steel must be tempered properly or the metal will spall off with shrapnel-like ferocity, potentially inflicting serious injuries), one proceeded to strike the shale chunks along their natural bedding planes, where the mud and silt had accumulated layer by layer to form sedimentary rock. If nothing significant popped out at you, another try with a different piece of shale could reasonably be expected to net an excellent specimen or two. The quality specimens were indeed present there, even if it took a measure of dedication to recover them. One needed to remember that this was an old and famous fossil locality--a favorite of rockhounding locals from the Fallon and Reno areas, in particular. The upshot was that after decades of intensive collecting by amateurs and professional paleobotanists alike, it was indeed remarkable that the Fallon site continued to yield such a reliable selection of fossil plant specimens.

The history of collecting in the Dead Camel Range goes all the way back to the first half of the 1900s. In the summer of 1936, two amateur collectors from Fallon, Laura Mills and Ray Alcorn, brought fossil leaves from the Dead Camel Range to the attention of Ralph W. Chaney, one of the more renowned paleobotanists of the 20th century. After making a preliminary assessment of the find, Chaney handed the project over to Daniel I. Axelrod. Several weeks later Axelrod accompanied Mills and Alcorn to the discovery site, or what has since become known as the primary fossil locality along an unnamed dry wash in the Dead Camel Range. They collected a modest supply of fossil plants at that time--a large enough selection, at least, for Axelrod to determine that the area demanded a formal paleobotanical interpretation, preferably in a scientific monograph. Mills and Alcorn knew that they had discovered a productive fossil plant horizon. When they learned of the genuine scientific importance of it, they generously presented Axelrod with the extensive collection of fossils they had already taken from the locality, a collection that amounted to several hundred specimens according to Alcorn.

Axelrod returned to the Fallon site several times over the succeeding years, accompanied either by his wife Nancy Robinson Axelrod or his long-time field companion, Robert E. Smith (who in addition to digging, helped maintain accurate records of the plant taxa recovered). In time, they had amassed an exhaustive collection of some 1,390 specimens from the Desert Peak Formation--enough fossil material to allow a definitive paleobotanical treatise on the subject. Axelrod eventually published his findings concerning the Dead Camel Range plants in a monumental scientific monograph in the 1950s.

All told, Axelrod described 22 species of fossil plants from the Dead Camel locality. The most common specimens he encountered were fragmentary and complete leaves belonging to an evergreen live oak, called scientifically Quercus pollardiana. It is identical in every major delineating leaf characteristic to the living canyon live oak, or maul oak Quercus chrysolepis now native to California's mountainous regions: western slopes of the Sierra Nevada; Coast Ranges; San Gabriel Mountains, and Klamath Mountains. Maul oak also extends into western Nevada, southwestern Orgeon, southerwestern New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico. Even though the oaks appear indistinguishable, most American paleobotanists give the Miocene variety a different scientific species name in order to emphasize the great distance in geologic time between the fossil and modern species of the same plant. European paleobotanists on the other hand prefer to retain the modern scientific names for fossil species which appear identical to those still living.

After canyon live oak, in decreasing order of relative abundance the next eleven most common forms encountered in the Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation were: interior live oak (Quercus wislinoides); an extinct water oak, related to the modern White Oak (Quercus simulata); the Brewer spruce (Picea sonomensis); Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron chaneyi); White Fir (Abies concoloides); Oregon grape (Mahonia reticulata); a Lemmons willow (Salix knowltoni); a second species of Mahonia, Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia marginata); Pacific madrone (Arbutus matthesi); Arizona ash (Fraxinus alcorni), named after Ray Alcorn, who made many of the early collections from the Dead Camel locality; and Ponderosa pine (Pinus florissanti). The 10 rarest species found included a Black cottonwood (Populus eotremuloides); a sandbar willow (Salix payettensis); California nutmeg (Torreya nancyana); the paper birch (Betula thor); Curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus linearfolius); Utah juniper (Juniperus nevadensis); Japanese scholar tree (Sophora spokanensis); western redcedar--which is in reality a cypress (Thuja dimorpha); a European aspen (Populus subwashoensis); and the common cattail (Typha lesquereuxi).

The Dead Camel paleobotanical remains record an oak-juniper woodland community near the lower reaches of a mixed-conifer forest, similar to modern plant associations that inhabit the western flanks of the southern Sierra Nevada in California. Paleobotanist Daniel I. Axelrod believed that the fossils accumulated in a rather regional, localized lake basin into which streams dumped detritus from a terrain dominated to the south by rhyolite cones of moderate elevations. That kind of ecological setting, he reasoned, permitted coniferous varieties usually restricted to the uplands to descend the cooler, moister north-facing slopes and enter the fossil record along with evergreen live oaks and species of deciduous trees and shrubs that preferred the lowlands. Plant varieties nearest the shoreline and along the bordering stream courses included Arizona ash, Black cottonwood, sandbar willow and water oak. Drier, sunnier sites at slightly higher elevations supported an extensive oak-juniper woodland dominated by canyon live oak, interior live oak, Utah juniper and Pacific madrone. And the nearby forest community included specimens of white fir, Brewer spruce, Ponderosa pine, canyon live oak and Giant Sequoia/Big Tree.

Axelrod concluded that the Dead Camel Range flora received approimately 25 inches of rain per year. This is in glaring contrast to the scant six or seven inches delivered annually to the area today, almost all of it falling during the winter months. Yet, 12.6 million years ago there was certainly ample summer rainfall over the ancestral Fallon basin--at least enough to support such sensitive botanical indicators as paper birch, Oregon grape and Japanese scholar tree. Middle Miocene times were probably mild and comfortable, with a frost-free season ranging from seven to eight months; today, the frost-free season barely lasts four months, and the Fallon district experiences extended episodes of wicked winter chilling.

That remarkable contrast in environments is on display in the rocks of the Dead Camel Range near Fallon, Nevada. Here, along a narrow dry gully in the middle of the Great Basin Desert (a land of brutal weather extremes and austerity of plant life) is direct proof of what once existed in this part of west-central Nevada some 12.6 million years ago: The lake-originated shale exposed by the powers of erosion contain the preserved evidence of an extensive oak-juniper woodland that intermingled with a rich mixed-conifer forest. It was a paleo-landscape in which canyon live oak thrived in proximity to white fir and western redcedar and Giant Sequoia.

Today, the volcanic peaks of the Dead Camel Range rise above the fossil locality: rugged, barren outcroppings of solidified lava that postdate the accumulation of fossil plants in the Desert Peak Formation below. There are no trees atop the summits, neither can a single variety be found along their slopes--yet, the shadows they cast across the tortured desert landscape cross a place where old sediments hide an age of green.

On-Site Images

Click on the images for larger pictures

Click on the images for larger pictures. At left is the view roughly due west into the heart of the Dead Camel Range near Fallon, Nevada, where a fossil seeker searches for 12.6 million-year-old plant remains in the Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation. The middle image is a view looking back eastward from the primary fossil plant locality in the Dead Camel Range; here, a paleobotany enthusiast explores a fossiliferous exposure of the Desert Peak Formation, which yields 22 species of ancient plant remains, including the leaves of evergreen live oak, in addition to many deciduous varieties and several kinds of conifers. At right is a closer view of the fossil-bearing shales in the Desert Peak Formation; a collector gets down to business picking through the fine-grained sedimentary material for the rather common, nicely preserved plant remains that were entombed in the muds and silts of a Middle Miocene lake. The fossil plants prove conclusively that some 12.6 million years ago the ancestral Fallon, Nevada, district held a vast oak-juniper woodland that bordered a rich mixed-conifer forest, similar to modern plant associations found along the western slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada in California.

Images Of Fossil Plants

Click on the images for larger pictures

Click on the images for larger pictures. Here are two essentially complete leaves from an evergreen live oak, called scientifically, Quercus pollardiana, a species that is identical in every major delineating leaf characteristic to the modern canyon live oak, Quercus chrysolepis (also called a maul oak), now native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the coastal ranges of California. The specimen at left is a nice example of a canyon live oak leaf with an entire, or smooth leaf margin; at right is a spinose leaf (it bears distinctive spines that project outward from the leaf margin) from the same oak species, Quercus pollardiana; canyon live oaks typically produce both kinds of leaves. The leaves of canyon live oak are among the most commonly encountered fossil plant specimens recovered from the Dead Camel Range near Fallon, Nevada. Both specimens are 30 millimeters in actual length.

Click on the images for larger pictures. At left is a winged flying seed (samara) from a species of spruce paleobotanists call Picea sonomensis; it appears to most closely resemble the flying seeds produced by the modern Brewer spruce, Picea breweriana, now native to the Klamath Mountains of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon; specimen is 12 millimeters long. At right is mostly complete leaf (the stem is missing) from the canyon live oak, Quercus pollardiana; specimen is 32 millimeters long.

The Complete Fossil Flora List

 Fossil Plants In The Dead Camel Range, Nevada

Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation

12.6 Million Years Old

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

       Juniperus nevadensis (utahensis) Utah Juniper
       Thuja dimorpha (plicata) Western Redcedar (a cypress) 
       Abies concoloroides (concolor) California White Fir
       Picea sonomensis (breweriana) Brewer Spruce
       Pinus florisanti (ponderosa) Ponderosa Pine
       Torreya nancyana (californica) California-nutmeg
       Sequoiadendron chaneyi (giganteum) Giant Sequoia
       Mahonia marginata (beali) Leatherleaf Mahonia
       Mahonia reticulata (repens) Oregon Grape
       Betula thor (papyrifera) Paper Birch
       Arbutus matthesii (menziessii) Pacific Madrone
       Quercus pollariana (chrysolepis) Canyon Live Oak
       Quercus simulata (myrsinaefolia) White Oak
       Quercus wislizenoides (wizlenii) Interior Live Oak
       Sophora spokanensis (japonica) Japanese scholartree
       Fraxinus alcornia (velutina) Arizona Ash
       Cercocarpus linearifolius (ledifolius) Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
       Populus eotremuloides (trichocarpa) Black Cottonwood
       Populus subwashoensis (tremula) European aspen
       Salix knowltoni (lemmonii) Lemmons willow
       Salix payettensis (exigua) Sandbar willow
       Typha lesquereuxi (latifolia) Common cattail

Images from four more plant fossil sites in Nevada

A Nevada paleobotanical sampler

Hunter Mountain Beds  Coal Valley Formation  Chloropagus Formation  Pyramid Formation

Fallon Weather

Click for Fallon, Nevada Forecast

Web Pages I Have Created

My Music Pages

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

Return To Fossils In Death Valley National Park