Earlier this month, we took a long journey to go fishing for fossils in Wyoming. We had reservations for June 2, but thunderstorms dumped rain on the site and the owners shut it down. The last seven miles of the dirt road to the quarry turn into a slippery mess during rainstorms. We drove to our next destination in Vernal, Utah and returned to dig fossils the next day.
The FishDig Quarry is north of Kemmerer in southwest Wyoming. Visitors can make reservations ahead of time or just show up. FishDig opened for the season a week before we arrived. Be sure to check their website for hours and fees.
When you arrive at the site, you’re given advice on what to look for and how to split the rock. The helpful staff will try to identify things if you ask. Unlike other fossil-digging sites nearby, you get to keep everything you dig–-except for pieces worth $100,000 or more. In those cases, the owners keep 50% of the value.
A rock hammer and chisel are provided for free. They will cut your rocks down to more manageable sizes for no charge. As I’ve mentioned before, rocks are heavy so having less bulk to transport is helpful. Note, they do not provide anything for you to carry your fossils home in. Bring boxes and something to wrap them in, like bubble wrap or newspaper.
If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice there aren’t many people.
However, looks can be deceiving. At this site, tractors regularly dump rows of freshly dug material for people to dig through. The row farthest away from the parking area is the newest so that’s where most of the people work.
Fishing for fossils at the quarry
What exactly can you find at this site? LOTS of fish fossils. In fact, more fish fossils can be found in this area than anywhere else in the world. A three-toed horse fossil found here is one of only two found in the world. FishDig’s website also notes you can find “stingrays, shrimp, gar, paddlefish, amia, pike, diplomystus, knightia, and even turtles, crocodiles, bats, birds, ancient rhinos and camels, primates, and much more.”
You may find an unidentifiable fragment like the one pictured below.
Fifty million years ago, 50-mile-long Fossil Lake filled this site. The subtropical climate supported forests of palms, figs, and cypress.
When the diverse variety of animals living there died, many of their carcasses settled at the bottom of the lake. Fossil Lake had a unique feature. Closer to the surface, the water was fresh but near the bottom, it was salt water. Many predatory species avoided the salty water. Thick layers of mud, and deposits of calcium carbonate, preserved carcasses from the environment.
Is it hard to find fossils? Do you have to spend a lot of time splitting rocks to find them? No and no. As you can see in the photo below, fossils are common here. The newest row might yield more impressive finds, but you can find overlooked fossils in any row.
What did we find when we went fishing for fossils? I took this picture of everything we kept. Some are only fragments, but we still found them interesting.
We found several two sided fossils. It’s like opening a book from ancient times.
Some contained fish and plant material.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find complete fossils of fish, along with plenty of fragments.
A little advice
The weather here can change in an instant so pay attention to the forecast. Getting stuck on the road in would not be fun. Have a raincoat or poncho in case you get caught in a downpour.
This site can get very hot in the summer months. Try to arrive early in the morning. There is no shade, so wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Bring plenty of water.
The quarry is at about 7,500 feet in elevation. If you’re not used to that, it can make you feel a bit lightheaded. That happened to me even though I live at 3,400 feet in elevation.
Always wear some kind of eye protection. I wore wraparound sunglasses, but safety glasses would have been better. Wearing leather work gloves is also a good idea.
Dogs are only allowed in the small parking area. Please consider leaving them behind on hot days. The landscape here radiates heat.
I was glad we made this stop. Our original plan was to stay four hours for our morning reservation, but due to our travel plans, we could only squeeze in two hours the next day. That was more than enough time to find special treasures from the past.
That’s the end of my tail today!