August 29, 2010

Dig-Dig #5: Fossil Safari, Wyoming

The long drive of the previous day paid off in that we were within a couple of hours of the next destination: Fossil Safari, near Kemmerer, Wyoming. The white spots on the map below are the actual quarry sites. Three huge antelope, looking very African, skipped across the dirt road during the last mile.

View Dig! Dig! August 2010 in a larger map

This was really, really fun. The big slabs of rock pop open with a satisfying, dry crack after a few whacks with a hammer and chisel. By carefully pursuing a split along the edge, you can peel off sheet after sheet like thumbing through a book with very thick pages. The fish are all within, having been gently pressed like flowers over millions of years. Revealing them is truly an exciting moment.

One of Aya's early finds: a little herring, previous tenant of the ocean that was here before the desert came.

One classroom from our little school of petrified fish.

Chris, the very friendly, helpful and informative host, used his robotic arm attachment to cut our bigger finds into transportable pieces.

This caused a stir. One of the regulars, who hunts for fossils to sell, cracked open an average-looking slab to reveal this monster. Looking at Fossil Safari's website, we think it might be a mioplosus, but that's only because we think we know what we're talking about and we don't. The arrangement with the quarry is that you get to keep smaller, common fossils while they keep the big, rare finds. This one was instantly claimed by the quarry, which might have put a bit of a damper on the elation the finder felt at the biggest hit of his career.

Here's a video of Keith splitting a large slab to reveal...

Here are some of the larger, complete ones that we brought home:
The lower piece was part of a "mortality layer" where it appears that many fish died at about the same time, probably due to a landslide or other natural disaster. There were eight whole fish and a few pieces on this one slab, which we cut up for transporting.

A fantastic double-sided fossil, with the split going right down the center of the fish. Perhaps history's first kipper.

This, our largest one is still partially covered by a fine layer of rock. We will use a Dremmel tool to gently reveal its petro-ichthystic glory.

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