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Early Cambrian Fossils In Western Nevada

Visit a remarkable, prolific 518-million-year-old fossil locality situated several miles north of Death Valley National Park in Esmeralda County, Nevada--the Gold Point fossil site, where paleontologists have recovered the single largest assemblage of Early Cambrian trilobites yet described from North America; here's an opportunity to collect at least 12 species of trilobites, abundant salterella (the "ice cream cone-shaped" fossil), archeocyathids (extinct calcareous sponge), brachiopods, algal remains, plus numerous varieties of annelid and arthropod tracks and trails--a truly diverse assemblage of Early Cambrian fossil remains from the famous Harkless Formation.

And now for the obligatory words of caution. Endemic to the Mojave Desert of California and southern Nevada (including Las Vegas, by the way) is 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, harsh alkaline soils of the Mojave Desert. And the Gold Point fossil site just happens to lie within a northern sector where Valley Fever spores have likely been detected. 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 enthusiast who chooses to visit the Mojave Desert of California and southern Nevada must be fully aware of the risks involved.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A panorama across the community of Gold Point, Nevada--in the vicinity of which occurs the Gold Point fossil locality in the lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, which yields beaucoup trilobites, archaeocyathids (extinct calcareous sponge), salterella (extinct ice cream cone to tusk-shaped invertebrate animal placed into its own unique phylum, called Agmata), brachiopods, algal remains, and many varieties of annelid and arthropod tracks and trails. A screen shot capture from a video uploaded to YouTube by an individual who goes by the name of R. Holt that I edited and processed through photoshop.

Field Trip To The Gold Point Fossil Area

One of the great Early Cambrian trilobite localities in the western United States can be found in Esmeralda County, Nevada, a number of miles north of Death Valley National Park. It's a ne plus ultra paleontological place where invertebrate paleontologists have identified at least 12 species of trilobites from a series of terrigenous and carbonate strata mapped as the lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, some 518 million years old--a specific fossil locality, as a matter of fact, that has yielded the single largest assemblage of Early Cambrian trilobites yet described from North America.

Thus, it is a unique and scientifically invaluable area--still accessible to amateur fossil aficionados, by the way, primarily because the exceptional extinct arthropod fauna has already been described in detail by a noted Cambrian trilobite specialist, who published his findings in a peer-reviewed technical scientific document several years ago.

Nevertheless, the wonderful arthropod horizon remains a geologically sensitive place. Visitors to the region must respect its vulnerable existence, understanding that if commercial collecting parties begin to desecrate the stratigraphic integrity of the exposed strata--ripping the fossiliferous rocks from their primordial resting grounds by mechanized or other unauthorized means (for example, removing with hand tools considerable quantities of rock obviously commensurate with illegal collecting operations)--officials with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will have no recourse but to close the entire district, preventing interested amateur collectors from experiencing the exhilarating rewards of paleontological discovery here; of course, it is not likely that commercial collectors would favor the Gold Point area, anyway, since complete, perfect trilobite specimens are so rarely recovered--a not unexpected situation when dealing with the majority of Early Cambrian fossil localities world-wide. Needless to report, commercial collectors must stay away; otherwise, only those with certificates of university accreditation will be allowed to keep what they find.

The Gold Point locality lies in the vicinity of Gold Point in Esmeralda County, Nevada--several miles from another exceptional paleontologic place--a renowned regional sedimentary protuberance from whose Late Precambrian rocks paleontologists have identified one of the earliest known assemblages of shell-secreting animals on Earth. The specimens occur in dolomitic carbonates transitional between the Precambrian Reed Dolomite and the Deep Springs Formation and apparently represent varieties of primitive worm tubes occasionally observed in correlative deposits in Mexico, Russia, and Namibia.

What's particularly intriguing about this Late Precambrian site is that the curious annelid tubes, only a few millimeters long in most instances, apparently occur in rocks approximately a full thousand feet below the first appearance of olenellid trilobites in the local stratigraphic section--extinct arthropods that in a traditional geologic context used to define the base of the Cambrian System--now recognized as roughly 541 million years old, not 570 million years ancient as had been held for most of the 20th Century. The Precambrian-Cambrian boundary is now defined as either (1) the appearance of a trace fossil called Treptichnus pedum (feeding trails of a supposed annelid), or (2) a distinctive negative carbon isotope excursion in the sediments at the boundary. Rarely do the two defining occurrences--biological and geochemical--occur together, but there's one place in Death Valley National Park where such a unique combination of defining events can be studied. It's in Boundary Canyon near Daylight Pass, along the road to Beatty, Nevada, in the lower member of the Late Precambrian-Early Cambrian Wood Canyon Formation.

Even though the ancient annelid tubes lie within reasonable proximity to the celebrated Gold Point trilobite beds, the exposed sedimentary material lying between the two areas is not in its original stratigraphic succession; that is to say, one cannot expect to encounter between the two areas an uninterrupted series of sedimentary layers representing a reliable transition from the oldest periods of deposition to the youngest. The explanation is that potent Earth forces during the Cenozoic Era, roughly 65 million years ago to present, block-faulted vast quantities of intervening strata, creating a jumbled messy mass of exposed rock deposits that only exacting geologic field mapping can hope to unravel.

Fortunately for folks with paleontological zeal, the disruptive geologic upheavals did not obliterate all of those wonderful Early Cambrian plants and animals that once thrived here in the primordial timelessness of the geologic past. In addition to the prized trilobite exoskeletons--most commonly found as disarticulated, isolated cephalons and thoracic segments--the Gold Point locality also yields a wide assortment of interesting fossil organisms. These include such extinct species as archeocyathids (cup-to conical-shaped creatures whose morphological aspect resembles a cross between a coral and a sponge--they were for decades considered members of a unique Phylum of animals, but closer scrutiny suggests that they are more closely allied with the sponges, and so today most paleontologists categorize archeocyathids as an extinct variety of calcareous sponge) and salterella (an ice-cream-cone to tusk-shaped specimen roughly 6 to 8 millimeters long that many investigators originally conjectured represented one of the earliest examples of a cephalopod--sort of a distant ancestor of the ammonite--but more detailed analyses concluded that it was most likely a unique animal deserving of its own zoological Phylum called Agmata, a group that never survived beyond Early Cambrian times)--in addition to annelid trails, arthropod tracks, cyanobacterial blue-green algal bodies (the widespread Girvanella, a peculiar rounded concretionary specimen characteristic of pure, uncontaminated limetones deposited during latest Early Cambrian times in what is now the Great Basin), and brachiopod casts and molds.

All of these specimens occur in strata originally mapped as the lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, although the shales and shaly limestones that yield the trilobites certainly resemble correlative rocks known as the Saline Valley Formation, whose type locality (the place where a geologic rock formation was first described in the scientific literature) lies over in the Waucoba Spring area in northwestern Death Valley National Park. The informally named Waucoba District used to be a rewarding area to explore for Early Cambrian fossils. Needless to report, the entire district, since 1994, has been included in the national park system and is therefore presently off-limits to any manner of unauthorized collecting.

The fossiliferous sections at the Gold Point locality are composed of alternating brownish shales, greenish-orange shales, reddish-brown limy shales, orange-brown limestones, and dark-gray limestones (indeed, a rather colorful outcropping of various rock lithologies.). Almost all of the trilobites occur in the thin interbeds of dark-gray limetones that outcrop intermittently along the hillsides.

This is certainly a classic Early Cambrian fossil locality. Even though the vast majority of trilobite specimens will be both fragmental and rather small--most cephalons range from one-quarter to one-half inch in diameter (or, 6 to 12 millimeters in metric measurement)--the sheer abundance and diversity of arthropod remains in the rocks here is truly phenomenal and inspiring. Trilobite varieties identified include Paedeumias granulata, Wanneria walcottana, Bonnia caperata, Olenoides ssp, Ogyopsis batis, Goldfieldia pacifica, Stephenaspis sp., Stephenaspis avitus, Zacanthopsis sp., Zacanthopsis contractus, Zacanthopsina eperephes, Syspacephalus, and four additional species as yet undescribed.

Credit for discovering this remarkable trilobite-bearing district goes to two geologists with the United States Geological Survey. They came across the site during reconnaissance for a geological field mapping project. In 1960, a USGS paleontologist happened to examine fossil material collected from the Gold Point site. By all accounts, the extraordinary suite of trilobite specimens immediately "floored him," as it were, and led to his identification of the largest single assemblage of Early Cambrian trilobites yet described from North America.

It should be pointed out right about now that although the Gold Point arthropods have already been officially documented in the scientific literature, a number of additional trilobite localities in Esmeralda County remain under formal paleontological investigations--hence, their exact position of occurrence cannot be divulged at this time, at least not until they have been described in monographic detail by the paleontologists involved in the investigations. Indeed, I have been sworn to secrecy (under penalty of torture by a trilobite's pygidium) not to reveal at least three other world-class Early Cambrian fossil sites within Esmeralda County--places that yield a plethora of identifiable trilobite specimens, including not a few perfect, intact exoskeletons.

Once at the Gold Point fossil site, most collectors concentrate on the many fine trilobite fossils they find along the more moderately inclined, easily negotiated slopes. This is certainly acceptable behavior, an individual choice of course, but additional trilobite-yielding horizons can be discovered all along the axis of the Gold Point region, within the more rugged topography. Also, a wider variety of fossil remains can be sampled, including: archeocyathids (restricted to thin carbonate horizons interbedded with the shales); ichnofossil worm trails and undetermined arthropod tracks (present locally on greenish quartzitic sandstones and shales); brachiopod molds and casts (usually observed on reddish-brown shales); Girvanella (nodule to concretionary oval specimens in grayish-blue massive limestones secreted by an extinct species of cyanobacterial blue-green algae); and salterella (seen in orange-brown shaly limestones at irregular intervals--locally quite abundant, forming coquinas in which the argillaceous carbonate matrix is composed almost entirely of the 6 to 8 millimeter long ice-cream-cone-shaped specimens).

Although none of the non-trilobite specimens is overly abundant here (except for the salterella, which is locally quite prolific), their presence in a least moderate numbers this far down in the lower Cambrian stratigraphic section makes the moderate hiking required to find them a most memorable and rewarding field experience. Of course, not every outcrop in the Gold Point fossil zone will yield something remarkable, but there is definitely enough 518-million-year-old paleontology available to keep even the most jaded explorer in fossil ecstasy.

Here is an important fossil locality that gives us a rare opportunity to look back in geologic time to the surprising diversity and complexity of an Early Cambrian sea, some 518 million years ago. That so many biologically successful creatures should have thrived so long ago, and through the eternity of eons, seems to defy all that we believe to be law. Yet, when we hold in our hands the incontrovertible evidence of a creature with eyes in the rocks: a trilobite's eyes that gaze back into our own from ages past, we finally come to realize that those 518 million revolutions around the sun can no longer separate us.

On-Site Images

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Click on the images for larger pictures. From left to right: Image 1--the jeep at bottom center is parked at one of many fossil localities at the Gold Point fossil locality, Esmeralda County, Nevada; Image 2--a paleontology enthusiast stands at the base of a trilobite-bearing hill, which is composed of the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, roughly 518 million years old. The trilobites occur in thin interbeds of dark-gray limestones that outcrop from the base of the hill to roughly half way up the slope; Image 3--Exposures of the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation at the Gold Point fossil area ; the lower slopes are composed of recessive-weathering greenish shales and quartzites, while more resistant, ledge-forming carbonates cap the ridges.

Images Of Fossils



Click on the images for larger pictures. Left to right: Image 1--A slab of limestone from the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation; contains many disarticulated trilobite remains; Image 2--Trilobite cephalons and cephalon molds on a chunk of limestone from the Gold Point fossil zone; mostly complete cephalon in center of image is Wanneria walcottana; Image 3--A cephalon of Wanneria walcottana from the Gold Point fossil site, Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation.



Click on the images for larger pictures. All specimens are trilobite cephalons from the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, Gold Point fossil site, Esmeralda County, Nevada. Left to Right: Image 1--Wanneria walcottana; Image 2--Paedeumias granulata; Image 3--Paedeumias granulata.



Click on images for larger pictures. All three images depict salterella coquinas from the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, Gold Point fossil locality, Esmeralda County, Nevada. Salterella is a curious critter that never made it beyond Early Cambrian times. In the late 1970s salterella was placed into its own distinct Phylum, called Agmata, after having been considered an early, primitive variety of cephalopod for many decades; curiously, only a few feet above the salterella coquina beds in the Harkless, salterella completely disappears from the fossil record--one naturally wonders, then, if their amazing abundance in the Harkless Formation records the precise moment in geologic time when salterella became extinct, dying out in perhaps a catastrophic mass demise.



Click on the images for larger pictures. From left to right: Image 1--Girvanella algae bodies (dark oval to circular structures; precipitated by an extinct type of cyanobacteri, a blue-green algae; Image 2--Archeocyathids in a chunk of limestone from the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, Gold Point fossil area, Esmeralda County, Nevada. The archeocyathids are the orange-brown conical specimens embedded on the matrix. Ever since they were first described, archeocyathids have been assigned by paleontologists to many different animal groups, primarily the corals and Pleosponges; many researchers even referred to them to a distinct, separate Phylum, Archeocyatha. But more recent investigations have proved pretty conclusively that archeocyathids were an early experiment in the Phylum Porifera--they are now generally considered an extinct type of calcareous sponge.; Image 3--slender archeocyathids from the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation, Gold Point fossil area; probably the specimens can be assigned to the rather common genus Ethmophyllum.

Other Web Sites I've Created

My Music Pages

Paleontology-Related Pages

Web sites I've 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 Barstovian 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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