At Fossil Safari, a quarry just out of Kemmerer WY, one can pay $75 for four hours of digging pleasure ($30 for one hour, $100 for 8 hours, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). We arrived at noon, paid our $75 each, gathered the chisel and hammer they provided and went to work.
They call it fossil digging but really it is fossil revealing; there is no digging involved. The quarry hosts laminated limestone deposits laid down fifty million years ago in what paleontologists have named Fossil Lake. The unusual chemistry of Fossil Lake prevented the decay and scavenging of dead organisms while millimeter-thick, alternating layers of organic matter and limestone accumulated. The quarry claims that Fossil Lake sediments have the highest concentration of articulated fossil fish anywhere. It is “the world’s best Paleogene record of a freshwater lake ecosystem.”
Laminated means the limestone was laid down in layers which means it splits easily horizontally. All one has to do is find (or make) a crack and then use the hammer to pound the chisel along the length of the crack. In less than 2 hours I reduced a 4’x5’ boulder (picture a rock twice the size of a large cooler) to 20 rock slabs. With each slab comes the possibility that a fish fossil (or 12) will be unearthed. (Pun intended). And when one finds a complete fossil, one yelps. At least I yelped. I could not help myself.
So cool! In four hours we found 8 framable fossils (Knightia alta and Diplomystus dentatus). a 4’x5’ slab of mudstone that had 20+ fossils (that broke on the way home), and bits of pieces of dozens more ancient fish remnants. Who knows what we will do with all of them….perhaps they will join Lance’s 2nd grade gravel collection in our attic….but we had a great time collecting them. The fossilized fish probably won’t last forever but our memories will.