The great state of Nevada may be best known for casinos and fabulous entertainment, but our state also has a very rich landscape with a wide variety of parks and natural attractions. Some of them even provide a glimpse into the ancient past through opportunities to view the fossilized remains of plants and animals that lived here eons ago.
Here are some of the places in Nevada where you can take the family for a day trip to find fossils and learn more about them.
Tule Springs, a national monument located a half hour north of Las Vegas, is loaded with Ice Age fossils. “For nearly a quarter-million years — until around 7,000 years ago — this arid desert wash was a lush wetland, home to some of the most massive and unusual species ever to walk the continent. The national monument preserves where the wild things were, a place of intrigue for the kid in all of us,” says the National Parks Conservation Association.1
Its “Big Dig” attraction features long trenches that were created 55 years ago.2 When this ground was excavated, many sizeable animal fossils were discovered. You can walk through the trenches, and there’s a good chance you may find some fossils yourself. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to keep your discoveries because they belong to the park, so leave them intact for other visitors to experience the same sense of discovery that you did.
You are, however, allowed to take plenty of pictures. In addition to fossils dating back 250,000 years, there are also opportunities to observe paleontologists at work. According to Protectors of Tule Springs, there are “thousands of fossils of Ice Age mammoths, bison, American lions, camelops (a larger version of today’s camels), and sloths the size of sports cars.”3 If you are so inclined, you can even go horseback riding during your fossil discovery, though the park warns visitors to be careful where they ride, as horses can crush the fossils.
Berlin-Ichthyosaur4 is a state park that includes the ghost town of Berlin, built in the late nineteenth century, but the Ichthyosaur part of the park’s name is the real draw for fossil enthusiasts. The park includes the largest-known remains of an Ichthyosaur, a prehistoric aquatic reptile that swam in the ocean, back when it covered the state of Nevada two and a quarter million years ago. Several years ago, it was declared the “state fossil” of Nevada.
The park includes a Fossil House, where the fossils are protected and displayed. Visitors can take a 40-minute tour of the Fossil House between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Cathedral Gorge is a state park in southeastern Nevada. It’s located in a valley full of soft bentonite clay with interesting geologic patterns formed by centuries of erosion. According to Nevada State Parks, “The park’s beauty began with explosive volcanic activity that, with each eruption, deposited layers of ash hundreds of feet thick. Great walking trails abound for exploring the cave-like formations and cathedral-like spires that are the result of geologic processes from tens of millions of years ago. A photographer’s dream, the park offers stunning views of the scenic canyon and visitors can enjoy hiking, picnicking, camping and nature study.”5
Within the park are historic structures, artifacts, rocks, plant life, and of course fossils, waiting to be discovered. Once again, however, visitors are prohibited from removing them. It’s all about the experience of the discovery.
Of course, you don’t have to go to a park or a ghost town to see fossils in Nevada. Local museums offer plenty of indoor options. The Nevada State Museum6, located on the grounds of the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, has an extensive collection of fossils in its 13,000-square-foot exhibit gallery, including a gigantic Ichthyosaur and a 13-foot tall Columbian Mammoth, which roamed Nevada during the Ice Age. The Mineral County Museum7 located in Hawthorne also has some interesting fossil displays. Click here for an extensive list of other exhibits and images of Nevada fossils.
For an interesting and educational outing, explore the wide variety of fossils to be found here in Nevada.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.
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