Field Trip To The Kettleman Hills Fossil District, California

A Pliocene classic: 4.5 to 2.5 million year-old fossils

Contents For Kettleman Hills Fossils Field Trip:

Introduction Text: The Field Trip   Images: On-Site Images: Fossils

  Images: Bonus Fossils   Kettleman City Weather Links: My Web Pages   Enail Address


Please Note: Unauthorized fossil collecting in the Kettleman Hills is mostly verboten, prohibited. For localities that lie on private property and land held by a well-known oil company, visitors must first secure in writing formal permission from the land owners. Of the fossil localities discussed here, only one at last field check required prior permission from the oil corporation. Always conduct due diligence before collecting in any given area.

Health Advisory: And now for the obligatory words of caution. Endemic to the Kettleman Hills and the southern San Joaquin Valley of California, in general, 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. When an unsuspecting and susceptible individual breaths the spores into his or her lungs, the fungus springs to life, as it prefers the moist, dark recesses of the human lungs (cats, dogs, rodents and even snakes, among other vertebrates, are also susceptible to "coccy") to multiply and be happy. Most cases of active Valley Fever resemble a minor touch of the flu, though the majority of those exposed show absolutely no symptoms of any kind of illness; it is important to note, of course, that in rather rare instances Valley Fever can progress to a severe and serious infection, causing high fever, chills, unending fatigue, rapid weight loss, inflammation of the joints, meningitis, pneumonia and even death. Every fossil prospector who chooses to visit the Kettleman Hills and southern San Joaquin Valley must be fully aware of the risks involved.

An introductory sampling of sand dollars and pectens (scallop shells) from the world-famous Pecten Zone of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. All the sand dollars can be referred to Dendraster coalingensis. The pectens are called scientifically, Pecten coalingensis.

An introductory sampling of pelecypods from the Upper Mya Zone of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, South Dome area, Kettleman Hills California. All the following are called scientifically, Macoma affinis: Top row--middle and far right; middle row--third from the left; bottom row--third and fourth from left. All the remaining clams are Mya dickersoni.

Take The Field Trip

Back in 1940, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) issued Professional Paper 195 by W.P. Woodring, Ralph Stewart and R.W. Richards, entitled: Geology of the Kettleman Hills Oil Field, with the subtitle Stratigraphy, Paleontology, and Structure. That's still pretty much the definitive geological and paleontological statement on the Kettleman Hills region. It's a classic work of science that continues to draw inquisitive paleontology enthusiasts/sleuths to university reference libraries all across America, seeking information on what kinds of fossils can be collected there--and just where such magnificently preserved material can be found.

For that data, you need to thumb all the way to the back of the paper, through all of those stunning black and white photographs of Kettleman Hills fossils--all of those perfectly preserved sand dollars and pectens and clams and snails and such that truly boggle the mind and catch one's attention, holding it for lengthy periods of time, delaying the search for the exact localities from which the specimens came. When you finally get to the back of Professional Paper 195, one half expects to learn that most of the fossils likely came from no more than a dozen or so localities, 20 to 30 at most, perhaps (I am speaking from experience--this was my grand delusion, at least)--and so, it comes as a pleasant shock to learn that the Kettleman Hills, an area roughly 20 miles long by 4 miles wide situated some 80 miles northwest of Bakersfield in Kings County, California, contain 370 registered fossil localities in the Pliocene (5.3 to roughly 2.5 million years old) Tulare, San Joaquin and Etchegoin Formations (in descending order of geologic age--that is, from youngest to oldest)--an amazing array of invertebrate, vertebrate and even floral fossil remains that includes pectens (scallop shells), clams, gastropods, oysters, mussels, fish, land mammals, marine mammals, sand dollars, diatoms and even terrestrial plants, among others.

Of course, the majority of those 370 specific fossil localities are no longer accessible to the general public; many remain closed due to legal liability issues incurred by local property owners, while others were obliterated long ago through the vagaries of time. Most Kettleman Hills paleontolgical places of interest, still potentially open for inspection, currently lie on private property. That means, naturally enough, that if you've failed to secure the essential preliminary formal written permission from the proper authorities (the legal property owners), don't even think about wandering off the main asphalt paths to seek out potential fossil-bearing places. One will likely face certain prosecution if one misbehaves here.

The three specific sites described here provide a representative sampling of the kinds of fossils that can be found in the Kettleman Hills area, as each is loaded with abundant, sensationally preserved specimens. At last field check, only one of the localities requires advance written documentation from the local oil corporation.

Probably the best of the lot, in terms of overall specimen variety and quality of fossil preservation, is what many paleontology enthusiasts refer to as--in an affectionate, colloquial sense-- "The Zone." The fish remains, pectens, oysters and sand dollars found there occur in the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, which is roughly three million years old, and the Upper Pliocene Tulare Formation, around two and a half million years ancient. It lies back in the Kettleman Hills on private property, so permission must be secured from the oil company branch office. Usually, though, that is not a problem. In any event, the bottom line here is: You certainly must possess written approval from the oil corporation folks before visiting "The Zone" locality.

Averaging 10 to 20 feet in thickness, the fossiliferous "Zone" horizon is a sequence of gray to tan silts and sands exposed for a length of a half to three-quarters of a mile--it is, in fact, an amazingly fossiliferous extension of the famous Pecten Zone in the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation. And it is crammed almost everywhere one happens to look with perfectly preserved scallops, oysters and sand dollars, primarily, whose original shell material has been preserved intact.

In addition to the wonderful invertebrate animal assemblage here, one is also advised to stay alert for occasional beaver teeth--vertebrate remains that invariably, while on Public Lands, one must leave alone, never collect except by formal written permission from the Bureau of Land Management; but there, you happen to fossil hunt on private property belonging to the oil folks, and if you've successfully garnered the essential written documentation from their branch office (let's hope that you have; one needs to carry the paper at all times while on oil company land, or risk almost certain detention by the local law enforcement authorities while they decide whether to cite you for "simple" misdemeanor trespass, or perhaps even criminal trespass), you have secured the right to keep whatever fossils you happen to find, including vertebrate remains usually off-limits to unauthorized individuals.

At "The Zone" locality, the sand dollars measure on average from a half-inch to two inches in diameter, although many are quite minute--what you might call "sand pennies," if you will--in the neighborhood of no more than a quarter-inch across. All such echinoid occurrences here are referable to one or two species of the genus Dendraster, mainly Dendraster coalingaensis. The scallop, or pecten shells are striking, attractive specimens whose ribbed exteriors are of course very distinctive and identifiable in the sediments; most of them belong to the species Pecten coalingensis. An added collecting plus here is that the majority of fossils either weather out of the San Joaquin Formation already intact, or can be dug out without any degree of pain or strain. All that's needed to put the finishing, cleaning touches on them is a gentle scrubbing in water with an old toothbrush.

In addition to the pectens, oysters, sand dollars and beaver teeth teeth, another fossil type can be also found in the same general area of "The Zone" locality--fish remains. The specific horizon in which they occur has been mapped as the Upper Pliocene Tulare Formation, which is about 2.5 million years old. Geological and paleo-limnological analyses demonstrate pretty convincingly that the Tulare is a fresh to brackish water deposit that incorporates sedimentary facies which record the final drying up of the last great inland sea to cover the present-day Central Valley of California--a sea that throughout the Tertiary Period of the Cenozoic Era (66 to roughly 2.5 million years ago) had at times stretched from Redding (northern California) all the way south to the vicinity of Bakersfield (southern California).

The Tulare Formation of the Kettleman Hills just happens to yield the largest fauna of fresh water Pliocene mollusks of any rock deposit on the US west coast. Some 33 varieties of pelecypods and gastropods have been described from it, though only a few species come from this particular spot near the The Zone. Several miles south of The Zone locality, though, a second Tulare area of exposure yields abundant and well preserved fresh water mollusks.

But here at "The Zone," fish remains are the thing--unusual paleo-items colloquially called "bulbous fish growths" by field geologists who've mapped the geology, structure and stratigraphy of the Kettleman Hills. These are the fossilized bony tumors which evidently afflicted many of the fish during Tulare times. Most specimens are similar to observed types that attack the skeletons of modern weak-fish, cod (specifically the hakes), angel fishes and even catfish. No other fossil locality, save the Kettleman Hills, is known to yield these kinds of paleontological preservations. They are present in fair numbers in the tan silts and sands, most appearing as rounded "bulbous" masses that reveal obvious bony structure on their worn exteriors. A few, though, show a definite resemblance in both shape and size to Brazil nuts. This "bulbous fish growth" zone is perhaps 30 feet thick at the most and trends generally south to southeast for a distance of approximately three-quarters of a mile. The fossilized bony tumors weather free from the easily eroded sediments and presented no difficulty to collect.

While "bulbous fish" growths dominate the Tulare exposures at "The Zone" site, much better preserved pelecypods and gastropods from the Upper Pliocene Tulare Formation occur several miles south in what local geologists call the Middle Dome district of the Kettleman Hills ("The Zone" area lies in what's referred to as the North Dome, by the way). Here, innumerable freshwater gastropods and pelecypods weather out whole and perfectly preserved. And because they're so exceedingly fragile, special care must be taken to prevent them from incurring damage. Probably a good idea is to place the mollusks in a plastic sandwich bag for safe transport back home for a closer inspection. Also present here, in the more indurated (hardened) layers of sandstone, are relatively common specimens of brackish water mussels, most of which occur in an excellent state of preservation. Almost all of the 33 species of freshwater mollusks identified from the Tulare Formation can be collected from this single locality. An obvious distinctive feature of the assemblage is that in general the fossil clams and snails are decidedly diminutive, many no larger than a quarter-inch in length. For this reason, a good-quality hand lens of ten power or better is useful when studying the external details of your finds.

A third accessible and highly fossiliferous locality in the Kettleman Hills occurs several miles south of the Tulare locality; this one's within the Upper Mya Zone of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, a place that yields innumerable three million year old pelecypods, many with both valves preserved intact. It occurs in what's called the South Dome area of the Kettleman Hills. Consisting almost entirely of estuarine clams dominated by Mya dickersoni and Macoma affinis, the pelecypodal fossils here are conspicuously abundant, although several intervals reveal only fragmental material. Still, many nice specimens of clams with both valves preserved can be secured by using attentive care and extra patience. Even though it's limited in aerial extent--the fossil-bearing layers outcrop for only a tenth of a mile or so--this isolated exposure of San Joaquin Formation sediments in the Upper Mya Zone provides a maximum of clam-shell density, with Macoma and Mya liberally distributed throughout the brown clays.

Now's probably a pretty good time to warn about a major health risk while collecting fossils in the Kettleman Hills.

It's what's commonly called Valley Fever--a potentially dangerous condition caused by inhalation of an infectious airborne fungus. Not only are the Kettleman Hills affected, but the entire surrounding southern San Joaquin Valley is also infested with the fungal spores which cause Valley Fever, or what the medical community calls Coccidioidomycosis. While most active cases of the illness resemble a slight touch of the flu, or even a minor cold, a small percentage of those infected do indeed go on to develop severe medical complications such as pneumonia, meningitis and even death; a particularly devastating, chronic form of "coccy" mimics the debilitating symptoms of tuberculosis and lung cancer, requiring months of recuperation and rehabilitation. On the other hand, a significant percentage of those exposed to the fierce fungus show absolutely no symptoms of any kind of infection.

In the southern Great Central Valley of California, there is obviously no sure way to avoid exposure to coccy. For one, it resides everywhere in the uncultivated alkaline soils of the southern San Joaquin Valley (it's also endemic to California's Mojave Desert, San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, and Coachella Valley--not to mention central to southern Arizona, parts of New Mexico, southern Utah, west Texas, and southern Nevada), and when the winds kick up, throwing dust everywhere, one is almost certain to come in contact with the feared spores. Fortunately, coccy is difficult for most folks to catch (individuals with compromised immune systems seem most vulnerable), and only a minuscule number of those who actually develop active symptoms progress to the most severe complications.

This is all something to consider when stirring up dust at the Kettleman Hills fossil localities, where in deference to coccy's potential virulence many collectors choose to wear surgical masks while excavating specimens.

If contending with Valley Fever fungal spores was not enough, visitors to the Kettleman Hills experience even more obstacles to paleontological nirvana. Although fossil collecting in the Kettleman Hills can be done year-round, a couple of seasons in California's Central Valley are notorious for, one, taxing bodily comfort and, two, interfering with driving safety. Summertimes, for example, are invariably ultrahot--downright savagely hot, as a matter of fact--with daytime temperatures more like extreme desert conditions than any other geographic comparison that comes to mind. And there is no shade to speak of in the hills, except for rare oven-tolerant shrubs maybe two feet high at most. These are fine for shading the head when lying flat on one's back, when prostrate, but rather puny for providing overall precautionary protection from the elements. And while winters are usually mild, with regular seasonal rainy patterns and tolerable temperatures, a particularly impenetrable fog traditionally inhabits the Great Central Valley during December and January--the infamous Tule Fog. It clamps down tight on the entire San Joaquin Valley region for days on end, at times reducing visibilities to zero. Needless to report, driving during the reign of the Tule Fog is hazardous and harrowing. And the Kettleman Hills, lying on the west side of the Central Valley, do not seem to be exempt from these fogged conditions. Proceed at your own risk then.

When collecting in the Kettleman Hills, be sure to obey all the rules and regulations. Obtain written permission from the oil company officials where necessary, and don't enter private property without the owner's say-so. Of the three fossil localities described here, only "The Zone" requires permission from the oil corporation folks.

Happy collecting in the Kettleman Hills. But bring along a hat and plenty of water in the summer. And a searchlight during December--you never know when you might want to try to find the end of your own nose in the Tule Fog.

On-Site Images

Click on the images for larger pictures

Click on the image for a larger picture. A Google Earth street car perspective that I edited and processed through photoshop. This is a view slightly west of north to the North Dome area of the Kettleman Hills, California. Rocks underlying the hills include the Lower Pliocene Etchegoin Formation and the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation--both of which yield locally abundant fantastically well preserved fossils--including sand dollars, scallop shells (pectens), gastropods, and clams.

Click on the image for a larger picture. The traditional parking spot where seekers of Pliocene paleontology begin their hike to the famous Pecten Zone in the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, at the "The Zone," North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. The view is due eastward from the eastern flanks of the Kettlman Hills to the vast expanse of California's Great Central Valley.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A seeker of Pliocene paleontology explores the famous Pecten Zone in the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, at the "The Zone" locality, North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. It is very difficult to traverse this slope without stepping on the whole, perfect Dendraster coalingensis sand dollars that have weathered out of the fine silts and sands some three million years old. Abundant perfectly preserved scallop shells (pectens) also occur here, all weathering free from the fine silts and sands of the San Joaquin Formation. About a quarter mile east of here, exposures of the Lower Pliocene Etchegoin Formation produce beaucoup Dendraster gibbsii sand dollars--one of the most highly prized echinoids in the world. And just west of this fossil site the Upper Pliocene Tulare Formation contains the curious "bulbous fish growths"--bony tumors that afflicted several species of esturarine fish some two and a half million years ago.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A Google Earth street car perspective that I edited and processed through photoshop. The view is due north to a roadcut exposure of the Upper Pliocene Tulare Formation in the Middle Dome, Kettleman Hills, California. Here the Tulare yields over 30 species of fresh water gastropods and pelecypods--more kinds of fresh water mollusks, as a matter of fact, than any other Pliocene-age rock formation on the US west coast.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A Google Earth street car perspective that I edited and processed through photoshop. The view is slightly west of north to exposures of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, Middle Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. San Joaquin strata in middle ground belong to the Neverita Zone, which here produces abundant beautifully preserved gastropods of the Neverita reclusiana variety.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A Google Street car perspective that I edited and processed through photoshop. The view is practically due south through a roadcut in the Upper Mya Zone of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, South Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Profusely productive pockets of pelecypodal perfection occur here, yielding numerous specimens of the clams Mya dickersoni and Macoma affinis with both valves preserved intact.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A Google Earth street car perspective that I edited and processed through photoshop. A quintessential scene in California's Great Central Valley, captured by a Google Earth car along California State Route 41 just south of Kettleman City. The view is slightly east of due north to a commercial fruit orchard that spreads through the fertile flatlands.

Images Of Fossils From The Kettleman Hills

Click on the images for larger pictures

Click on the image for a larger picture. A pecten (scallop) shell from the Pectin Zone of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation--"The Zone" fossil locality, North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Called scientifically Pectin coalingensis. 

Click on the image for a larger picture. This is a sand dollar from the Pectin Zone of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation--"The Zone" fossil locality, North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Called scientifically, Dendraster coalingensis.

  Click on the image for a larger picture. Here's a sand dollar from the Lower Pliocene Etchegoin Formation, near "The Zone" fossil locality, North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Called scientifically, Dendraster gibbsii.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A gastropod from the Neverita Zone of the Middle Pliocene San Joaquin Formation, Middle Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Called scientifically, Neverita reclusiana.

Click on the image for a larger picture. Oysters from the Pecten Zone of the Middle Miocene San Joaquin Formation--"The Zone" fossil locality, North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Called scientifically, Ostrea vespertina sequens.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A pelecypod with both valves preserved intact from the Upper Mya Zone of the Middle Miocene San Joaquin Formation, South Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Called scientifically, Macoma affinis.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A "bulbous fish growth" from the Upper Pliocene Tulare Formation, near "The Zone" fossil locality, North Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. This is a fossilized bony tumor that afflicted a fish that lived some three to two and a half million years ago in the estuaries bordering a great inland sea in what is now the Central Valley of California. Most of the fossil tumors are similar to observed types that attack the skeletons of modern weak-fish, cod (specifically the hakes), angel fishes and even catfish. No other fossil locality, save the Kettleman Hills, is known to yield these kinds of specimens. 

Click on the image for a larger picture. Fossil fresh water gastropods from the Upper Pliocene Tulare Formation, Middle Dome area, Kettleman Hills, California. Called scientifically, Physa wattsi.

Bonus Paleontological Material

Fossils from the Kettleman Hills, courtesy the University California Museum of Paleontology


 Sand Dollars




Fossils from the vicinity of the Kettleman Hills

Water Beetle 

 Sand Dollars

 Giant Oyster

Turritellas; Barnacles

 Turritella Snails

Kettleman City Weather

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Weather for the community of Kettleman City, which lies along the eastern side of the Kettleman Hills. Along with Avenal to the west, Kettleman City is a gateway for the Kettleman Hills paleontological paradise.

My Web Pages

Music Pages

Web sites I have created pertaining to music

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 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.
  • 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.

US Geological Survey Papers (Public Domain)

Online versions of USGS publications I've created

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