When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up.
Now mind you, this was in the days (dark ages) before the Indiana Jones movies, so my parents didn’t quite know what to do with this aspiration, other than try to direct me elsewhere.
I’ve never quite gotten over my fascination with archaeological dig sites, and recently I went to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park where visitors can dig for and keep fossils over 300 million years old!
Think of it as the fossil equivalent of searching for seashells along a beach.
Mineral Wells Fossil Park is a primitive, unique site that’s a fascinating place to explore by yourself or with your family. Offering eight acres to comb, the park used to be the city’s “borrow pit,” which is an area where dirt is taken from to fill other areas. The resulting pit eroded over the 20 years it was used, exposing thousands of fossils from the Pennsylvanian Period.
It’s one of the few parks in the nation where visitors are legally allowed to remove fossils from the site, taking home true treasures.
There is plenty of parking in the gravel parking lot, where you’ll also find clean, portable toilets, but no running water. If you’re going to want to wash your hands or rinse off a bit after your outing before you re-enter your car bring an extra jug of water.
Take time to read the informational signs in the parking lot. They’ll help you to identify things you might otherwise overlook.
If you’d like to take along a “cheat sheet” click this link to find a handy, printable reference sheet of fossil types, courtesy of fossilcentre.com.
The park is primitive in more ways than one. You may encounter dangerous insects or animals (it IS their turf, after all) so keep a sharp eye out for them. And once you descend into the pit, don’t expect your cell phones to work. See? Magic – time travel.
Follow the path to the pit (there’s one way in and one way out to minimize damage to the site). A chain handrail will help steady your balance on the rocky soil as you follow the walkway into the search area.
My visit was on a day after a light rain which was ideal, since it washed the top layer of dust off of things and revealed new items in the channels where water runs down the sides of the pit. I had been told that I wouldn’t really need to “dig” for the fossils since most of them would be laying right on the surface, but I was skeptical. I was wrong . . . and it was amazing.
You might find fossils of ancient sea species like trilobites, crinoids (urchins), brachiopods, pelecypods, (clams and oysters), corals, plants, and even sharks.
The type I found with the least effort were sea lilies (which sound much more impressive when referred to as crinoids). Sometimes called “Indian beads” or “Indian buttons” (what my great-aunt used to call them) in reference to their button or bead-like shape, people used to collect and string them into necklaces. Not to get to “science-y”, but this illustration will show you what where in the plant (columnal) they were originally. Fossils from the other parts of the plant can be found as well.