In Search Of Fossils In The Tin Mountain Limestone, California

Explore a 358 million year-old equatorial sea in the Death Valley area

Contents for the Tin Mountain Limestone trip:

Text: The Field Trip Images: On-Site  Images: Fossils Widget: DV Weather

Links: My Music  Links: My Fossils Pages Links: USGS Papers Email Address 

Click on the image for a larger picture. The view is roughly southward through Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, California--one of three superior occurrences of the much famous fossil-bearing Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Formation discussed in the field trip text, below: Two of the Tin Mountain sites lie within Death Valley National Park, while a third resides on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered public lands and is open for hobby collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils.

In the photograph, the paleontologically significant 358.9 to 350 million year-old Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone is the darker interval, to skyline, above the lighter-colored dolomites of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation that extend to road level. The Tin Mountain here contains great quantities of colonial tabulate corals, colonial hexacorals, solitary horn rugose corals, brachiopods, bryozoans, and crinoids. Keep all that you find here only in a camera, of course. Photograph courtesy "Destination4x4."

The Field Trip

One of the most persistently fossiliferous geologic rock formations in all the western Great Basin Desert wilds of Inyo County, California, is the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone, a classic carbonate accumulation that has yielded an abundance of well-preserved invertebrate animal remains 358.9 to 350 million years old--including such major groups as brachiopods, bryozoans, conodonts (minute phosphatic tooth-like structures, unrelated to modern jaws and teeth, that served as a unique feeding apparatus in an extinct lamprey eel-like organism), corals, mollusks (gastropods, pelecypods, and ammonoid cephalopods), ostracods (diminutive bivalved crustaceans), and trilobites. It was first named in the scientific literature, appropriately enough, for its prominent exposures on Tin Mountain in then Death Valley National Monument (now of course it's situated within the confines of Death Valley National Park, as of 1994), the northernmost peak in the Cottonwood Mountains around 12 miles southwest of Scotty's Castle (as the crow flies).

While the outcrops there are obviously off-limits to unauthorized amateur collecting, other amazingly fossiliferous exposures of the mid Paleozoic Era formation that occur outside the park's boundaries on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered public lands remain wide open for hobby gathering of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils.

But here is where the proverbial fun begins. Despite the fact that the Tin Mountain Limestone is a widely distributed and distinctive rock unit exposed throughout the mountains bordering Death Valley, easily accessible outcrops remain tantalizingly few and far between. And even if collecting were allowed within the national park, one problem would still remain to be solved: how to reach the fossiliferous strata without incurring injury, since many of the especially promising outcrops that I've observed occur along the skylines of steep ridges where access to the potential paleontology present there would probably demand sophisticated mountain-climbing techniques--boo, hiss. This circumstance is definitely most discouraging, in the main.

Yet all is not lost. Happily, through persistent geological and paleontological due diligence (consulting geologic maps and old United States Geological Survey reports, primarily), Tin Mountain aficionados--a rather loose-knit association of interested invertebrate animal enthusiasts, as it were--have identified for inspection three easily accessible, representative exposures of the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone, where visitors can sample innumerable photogenic fossil specimens stained an aesthetically attractive reddish-brown on a dark blue limestone matrix. Even though two of the prime fossil localities admittedly lie within the borders of Death Valley National Park--a third site happens to reside on public lands and is wide open for hobby fossil acquisition--seekers of exceptional Tin Mountain paleontology nevertheless continue to frequent with considerable consistency those places still under jurisdiction of the National Park System. The reasons for this behavior are not difficult to identify, of course: Combining a Death Valley scenic adventure with an opportunity to take photographs of some special Paleozoic Era fossils is an irresistible attraction, indeed.

A first Tin Mountain Limetone site occurs in the vicinity of Towne Pass, which used to lie just outside the western boundary of Death Valley National Monument; it's now well within territory that is federally mandated as a national park. Prior to 1994, though, when the Desert Protection Act became law--assimilating in one fell swoop millions of acres of adjacent wilderness lands into a newly created Death Valley National Park system, the legendary Towne Pass locality could be found with happy convenience but a literal stone's throw outside Death Valley National Monument. As a consequence, it was a very well known and productive fossil locality, one that furnished generations of amateur paleontology enthusiasts and professional Earth Scientists alike with myriads of beautiful Early Mississippian fossil forms.

Towne Pass used to lie two-tenths of a mile southwest of the entrance to Death Valley National Monument, but it presently resides wholly within the confines of Death Valley National Park along California State Route 190, 60.3 miles east of its junction with US 395 in Olancha (Owens Valley). Elevation is 4,956 feet here--it's indeed the final major grade one encounters before the plunge into Death Valley, proper, on the eastern slopes of the Panamint Range. A faint dirt trail which connects with RS 190 but a few feet downgrade from Towne Pass provides a convenient place to park off the main road.

The fossiliferous Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone beds occur about three-quarters of a mile almost due east of Towne Pass. A relatively non-strenuous hike across a gradually ascending alluvial fan is necessary to reach them. To gain a general overview of the fossil-bearing area, stand next to the signpost at Towne Pass and look to the southeast, to the right side of the state route as it head toward Death Valley. Navigationally speaking, the Tin Mountain outcrops occur 4,200 feet south, 65 degrees east of Towne Pass. But you don't need to drag out the sextant or the trusty Brunton compass to find out where to hike.

As you look southeast from Towne Pass to the moderately steep ridge nearest route 190, you will note three distinct types of rocks exposed. At the northermost end of the ridge is a poorly stratified reddish-brown material banked against a thick wedge of cliff-forming dark blue limestone which in turn overlies a narrow band of light gray dolomite situated farthest south in the sequence. The reddish-brown sediments lying to the immediate north of the dark blue limestone and light gray dolomite are what geologists call a fanglomerate, a kind of fossilized alluvial fan deposited three to six million years ago during Late Miocene through Upper Pliocene times. It was derived from eroding Paleozoic Era sedimentary material exposed during the rather "recent" geologic uplift of the Panamint Range. It's a consolidated, cemented accumulation of pebbles, cobbles, and boulders weathered out of every Paleozoic rock formation present in the Panamints--a stratigraphically significant "layer cake" that faithfully records a mostly uninterrupted, conformable sequence of continuous sedimentary deposition dating from the earliest Cambrian Period, some 541 million years ago, all the way up to the conclusion of the Paleozoic Era, around 252 million years ago.

That fanglomerate is truly fascinating in a strict geologic context, but it's obviously unfossiliferous (except for weathered chunks of organic-bearing sedimentary rock out of their normal stratigraphic position). Two-tenths of a mile south of the later Cenozoic fanglomerates lies the relatively narrow interval of pale gray dolomites--rocks belonging to the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation, 393 to 359 million years old, which is one of the most immediately recognizable rock formations in all of Inyo County. Locally it yields abundant reef-like accumulations of tangled stromatopoids, an extinct variety of calcareous sponge that experienced its greatest adaptive success during the Devonian Period. Additional Lost Burro fossil material includes spirifer-style brachiopods, corals, and Orecopia genus gastropods. Typical stromatoporoid types encountered in the Lost Burro include what porifera specialists call genus Amphipora--though it's more often referred to colloquially as the "spaghetti stromatoroid" because it usually resembles strands of pasta when spotted in the rocks--and a "bulbous" to conically configured variety with distinctive concentric laminations.

Sandwiched between the grayish dolomite of the Devonian Lost Burro Formation to the south and the reddish-brown Upper Miocene to Upper Pliocene fanglomerate to the north is the material you want to explore for fossils--the bluish cliff-forming carbonates of the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone.

From the parking area at Towne Pass, hike the roughly three-quarters of a mile to the base of the limestone slopes, where several obvious mound-like accumulations of talus--eroded chunks of limestone brought down from the steep outcrops above--provide the most effective and efficient opportunities for productive fossil-finding. Remember, of course, that this spot lies within Death Valley National Park. Keep all that you find only in a camera. Search carefully through the limestone rubble outwash, watching in particular for brachiopods and corals--two of the more abundant invertebrate kinds present here. Spirifer-type brachiopods are very conspicuous, as are numerous specimens of such extinct corals as the colonial Lithostrostrotionella (a hexacoral), Zaphrentites (rugose horn coral), Caninia (a second type of rugose horn coral), and the colonial Syringopora (a colonial tabulate coral--often referred to as the "spaghetti coral").

All of the specimens here are rather easily spotted on the surfaces of the Tin Mountain carbonates; typically they stand out in bold brownish relief against the dark blue limestones. Many of the corals reveal exquisite external preservation, appearing almost lifelike in their internment in the rocks. The fossil-bearing horizons in the Tin Mountain Limestone accumulated some 358.9 to 350 million years ago along a shallow marine shelf then situated astride the equator, where optimal equable environmental conditions favored a genuine proliferation of invertebrate animal life. Based on the regional distribution of Paleozoic Era paleontology throughout Inyo County, paleo-geographers calculate that the Early Mississippian shoreline existed many miles southeast of present-day Death Valley. Probably there were several Madagascar-like large island land masses scattered in the general vicinity of where the Tin Mountain Limestone accumulated in a warm, relatively shallow tropical sea setting through Early Mississippian geologic times.

After exploring the prolific paleontology at Towne Pass, it's time to visit probably the most accessible exposure of Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone in all of Death Valley National Park--incomparable Lost Burro Gap in the Cottonwood Mountains, several miles north of world-famous Racetrack Playa (site of those mysterious sailing stones), where you can actually drive right up to it in the field and then hop out of your vehicle and literally stand right next to Tin Mountain's geologic contact with the underlying dolomites and quartzitic sandstones of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation.

Lost Burro Gap, as a matter of fact, is the very place that reinvigorated my enthusiasm for Paleozoic Era fossils--my first paleontological interest; a visit with my parents, as a kid, to California's Marble Mountains trilobite quarry in the Lower Cambrian Latham Shale started my life-long fascination with paleontology. After not a few years of concentrating primarily on Cenozoic Era terrestrial fossil deposits (paleobotanical, paleoentomological, paleomalacological, and vertebrate-bearing localities), a chance spur-of-the-moment decision to take a detour through Lost Burro Gap while heading south to the Racetrack Playa provided a serendipitous opportunity to rekindle my Paleozoic passions.

Lost Burro Gap is indeed special. It preserves a remarkably representative geologic example of the same variety of mid Paleozoic Era strata one finds exposed throughout the western United States; rocks of roughly similar lithologies and of identical age can be traced all the way across the Great Basin, from the Inyo Mountains, California (west of Death Valley), clear through Nevada to western Utah, then north to Idaho and Montana (where the Lower Mississippian Lodgepole Limestone of the Madison Group is in part a correlative geologic time equivalent of the Tin Mountain Limestone). Here's a great opportunity, then, to examine fossiliferous rocks of Silurian, Devonian, and Early Mississippian age that record approximately 93 million years of passing geologic time. Not only is the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone easily prospected there for its abundant paleontology (remembering of course to take only pictures of the specimens), but the underlying Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation and Lower Silurian to Lower Devonian Hidden Valley Dolomite also contain bountiful silicified preservations of invertebrate animals (that is, replaced by the mineral silicon dioxide)

The way to Lost Burro Gap is pretty straightforward, of course. A preliminary necessity for staging purposes is travel to the northernmost terminus of State Route 190 in Death Valley National Park. Take the route to Ubehebe Crater and Racetrack Playa. You will need a sturdy and reliable vehicle to negotiate safely the occasionally rough road up ahead. From the junction with SR 190, proceed 28 miles to Teakettle Junction. Here, Racetrack Playa with its world-famous sailing stones lies only seven miles farther south. Save that visit for another time, please. Proceed left on the branching dirt trail that leads to Hunter Mountain.

Lost Burro Gap, proper, begins roughly one and a quarter miles from the intersection with Teakettle Junction. For approximately three-quarters to one mile the dirt path slices through spectacular exposures of the pale gray dolomites and brownish quartzitic sandstones of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation, capped by medium to dark blue carbonates of the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. At the southernmost reaches of Lost Burro Gap, extending onward into the hills surrounding Hidden Valley, easily accessible and representative outcrops of the Lower Silurian through Lower Devonian Hidden Valley Dolomite occur.

All the geologic rock formations at Lost Burro Gap offer ample chances to examine nicely accessible mid Paleozoic Era paleontology (that is to say--fossils of Silurian, Devonian, and Mississippian age). Just about any gully there, for example, leads you to within reach of the Tin Mountain Limestone, while the Lost Burro Formation and Hidden Valley Dolomite are for the most part exposed within immediate reach on both sides of the road. At the southern end of Lost Burro Gap, the Tin Mountain Limestone dips down to road level in direct geologic contact with the older underlying Lost Burro Formation, and you can get out of your vehicle, right on the spot, and stand at the precise moment in geologic time when the Devonian changed to the Mississippian Period 358.9 million years ago.

In the Lost Burro Gap district, the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone is quite fossiliferous. It's roughly 475 thick here, divisible into two main members based on a general aspect of outcropping, variations in limestone bedding, and relative prevalence of interstratified shales. The lower unit, for example, is a bench to mild slope-forming unit roughly 275 feet thick--a medium gray limestone preserved in beds two to six inches thick, separated by thinner layers of calcareous shale in shades of light brownish-gray to pale red; dark gray chert nodules are occasionally encountered. Above that is member two's 200 feet of cliff-forming, erosion-resistant medium gray limestone in beds a few inches to two feet that bear a few dark-gray chert nodules; pale-red shale parting are faint, few and far between. Fossils occur throughout the full 475 feet, but the best material can be observed in the lower bench-forming unit, where limestone beds composed almost entirely of crinoid stems (technically termed an encrinite) lie juxtaposed stratigraphically with carbonates crammed with tabulate "spaghetti" Syingopora corals, rugose horn corals, and wildly branching favositoid corals. Brachiopods are common, and diverse. Expect to encounter such genera as Shumardella, Spirifer, Brachythyris, Composita, Productella, Schizophoria, and Punctospirifer.

Lying in conformable stratigraphic position below the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone is the Middle Devonian to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation, originally named in the scientific literature as a matter of fact for its occurrence here at Lost Burro Gap. It forms virtually all of the eye-catching sculpted walls of Lost Burro Gap closest to the main road. With minor lithologic variations, the Lost Burro is a great accumulation of some 1,500 feet of dolomite (magnesium carbonate), sandy dolomite, quartzitic dolomite, and limestone characterized by dramatic banded bedding in alternating shades of pale gray to dark blue and almost black. In a roughly 530 foot thick interval of dark gray to almost black limestones and dolomites near the middle of the Lost Burro, myriads of interesting stromatoporoids--an extinct variety of calcareous sponge that often dominated Devonian marine ecosystems--occur as tangled masses of "spaghetti"style "strands" of Amphipora and associated concentrically laminated hemispherical to conical examples; all quite photogenic, indeed. Near its contact with the overlying Tin Mountain Limestone, the upper 35 feet of the Lost Burro Formation consists of a brown and pinkish-brown weathering shaly quartzitic dolomite which produces stunning specimens of the spirifer-type brachiopods Cyrtospirifer and Eleutherokomma. Additional Late Devonian brachiopods from the uppermost Lost Burro beds include Tylothyris cf T. raymondi Haynes, "Camarotoechia" aff. "C" doplicata (Hall), Cleiothyridina cf C. devonica Raymond, and Productella.

Resting in geologic contact directly beneath the Lost Burro Formation is the Lower Silurian to Lower Devonian Hidden Valley Dolomite, named in the technical literature for its typical exposures in Hidden Valley just south of Lost Burro Gap. That's where it reaches its ultimate development, its thickest and most representative style of outcropping--some 1,300 feet of a medium gray and light gray magnesium carbonate. At the southernmost reaches of Lost Burro Gap, lying along the west side of the road in particular, a conveniently accessible exposure of the fossiliferous Hidden Valley can be examined. Here one may observe in situ many nice examples of Silurian corals from the lower section of the Hidden Valley Dolomite, including--globular Favosites; solitary tetracorals; "spaghetti" Syringopora tabulate corals; and the important Index Fossil Halysites, more commonly called a tabulate chain coral. Halysites is classically diagnostic of Ordovician and Silurian-age rocks worldwide, though it's most especially characteristic of Silurian deposits. In strata nearly transitional with the overlying Lost Burro Formation, from a 65-foot thick section of medium gray dolomite that tends to weather light olive gray, the Hidden Valley yields several quality Early Devonian fossil varieties--including cup corals; a rugose coral called Papiliophyllum elegantulum; two species of tetracoral--Amplexus lonensis and A. invaginatus; Cladopora favositid corals; Heliolites tabulate corals; Platyceras gastropods; and the brachiopod Acrospirifer kobehana. Of particular interest to coral specialists is the reported occurrence in the Hidden Valley Dolomite of beautifully preserved rugose "button corals" called scientifically Porpites porpita. Also described--from Hidden Valley carbonate samples dissolved in a diluted solution of acetic acid (by technicians who've secured a collecting permit from the National Park Service)--are abundant conodonts, minute tooth-like structures (unrelated to modern jaws or teeth) that acted as a unique feeding apparatus in an extinct lamprey eel-like organism.

After fossil-prospecting Lost Burro Gap (with a camera in hand, of course--no need to recapitulate NPS rules and regulations, I reckon), it's time to head on over to a third accessible Tin Mountain fossil-bearing area. It lies on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is therefore open to the hobby fossil collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate animals. This third locality lies in the Funeral Mountains outside Death Valley National Park.

Here in the Funeral Range, geologists and paleontologists have probably conducted their most exhaustive scientific investigations of the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. Most authors mention in their formal reports that the Tin Mountain here is exceptionally fossiliferous with corals and brachiopods and crinoids and conodonts and foraminifers and ostracods in particular from a measured section some 315 feet thick. In the Funeral Mountains fossil area, the Tin Mountain is divisible into five mappable lithologic subunits, or members, which rest in conformable relations on the underlying Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation--a predominantly dolomitic deposit (composed of magnesium carbonate) that contains locally abundant Amphipora "spaghetti" and concentrically laminated hemispherical stromatoporoids, an extinct calcareous sponge--in addition to brachiopods, corals, crinoidal debris, and the remarkable gastropod Orecopia.

At the Funeal Range site, the Tin Mountain Limestone rests with dramatic lithologic and color contrast directly above the massive pale gray dolomites of the Devonian Lost Burro Formation. The lowest of the five Tin Mountain units (usually referred to as t1 through t5), is about 25 feet of interstratified medium dark gray limestone, shale, and argillaceous limestone that produces many corals, brachiopods, foraminifers, and conodonts.

Above that lies about 75 feet of member 2 (t2), a medium dark gray limestone that weathers to shades of medium gray; brachiopods are common near the base of t2, while corals become more abundant toward the top, with microfossils--foraminifers and conodonts--associated with both the brachiopods and coelenterates. Relative prevalence of corals in unit t2 is best judged by the fact that all five of the following forms show up in most collections secured from it: Rylstonia, Homalophyllites, Syringopora, Vesiculophyllum, and Caninia.

Next youngest Tin Mountain Limestone member is unit t3--usually described by field geologists as roughly 75 feet of coarsely bioclastic crinoidal limestone, crammed with large crinoid columnals and impressively robust disarticulated segments, that weathers to a distinctive light gray band along the mountainsides, in contrast with the darker blue carbonates immediately above and below it. Indeed, the unit produces some stunning crinoidal echinoderms that make attractive showcase specimens. Corals and brachiopods occur more commonly near the base and top of t3, in the dark to medium gray to limestones more characteristic of the formation.

Unit t4 generally forms a 50 foot thick rubble-strewn bench below the steeper slope or cliff of the youngest Tin Mountain Limestone unit t5. T4 is a medium gray or darker limestone that contains distinctive pale-red, pinkish gray silty partings in its lower sections, while reddish argillaceous intervals tend to characterize the upper horizons. Numerous elongated chert nodules that almost coalesce with one another typify the upper limestone layers. Conspicuous unbroken fossils occur throughout the member. Obvious silicified organic constituents (replaced by the mineral silicon dioxide) include gorgeous coral heads, fantastic lattice-style bryozoans, and numerous species of beautiful brachiopods. Microfossil collections (recovered from a diluted acid solution) disclose abundant conodonts and ostracods. Goniatites ammonoids have also been reported here.

Above the fabulously fossiliferous (t4) lies the steep slope or often cliff-forming limestones of member 5 (t5). Compared with the extraordinary diversity and richness of well preserved prolific paleontology exhibited by t4, member t5 could at first blush be considered a disappointing experience. This is fully expectable, in the main, one must admit. For one, t5's brachiopods and corals are usually less plentiful and not nearly as well preserved as their counterparts in the older underlying Tin Mountain unit. Still, some dedicated searching eventually discloses a satisfying assortment of fossil goodies from t5. Of course, by this time one really needs to watch one's footing, as the terrain becomes increasingly treacherous to try to explore. The steeper slopes reliably inhibit enthusiastic examinations of member 5, and probably this dramatic incline increase contributes to its under-reported fossil content.

Because of its fortuitous accessibility in such proximity to the world-class geology and paleontology of Death Valley National Park, the Tin Mountain Limestone locality in the Funeral Range remains a seasonally popular destination for any number of university Earth Science field classes--primarily during the traditional field trip months of early Spring and mid Fall when meteorological conditions in tbis part of the Northern Hemisphere most reliably favor a comfortable outdoor experience.

Probably not all of Tin Mountain's potential paleontological treasures will be spotted at the three sites visited here, but it is certainly stimulating to consider for future paleo-prospecting reference that even a partial listing of Early Mississippian invertebrate forms documented from its regional Death Valley area of outcropping includes the following:

Foraminifers--Latiendothyra of the group L. parakosvensis, Palaeospiroplectammina aff. P. parva (Chernysheva), Septaglomospiranella primaeva; Corals--Amplexus sp., Aulopora sp., Beaumontial sp., Caninia sp., Cyathaxonia sp., Enygmophyllum sp., Homalophyllites sp., Lithostrotionella sp., Menophyllum sp., Rylstonia sp., Syringopora surcularia Girty, Syringopora aff. surcularia Girty, and Vesiculophyllum sp.; Bryozoans--branching bryozoans, indet., Cystodictya sp., Fenestella sp.; Brachiopods--Buxtonia sp., Camarotoechia sp., Chonetes sp., Cleiothyridina cf. (C. obmaxima (McChesney), Cleiothyridina sp. Composita, sp. Cyrtina sp. Dielasma sp., orthotetid brachiopod, genus indet., Productella sp., Punctospirifer sp., Rhipidomella sp. aff. R. michelini (Leveille), Rhynchopora sp., Scizotfhoria sp., Spirifer sp., (centronatus-type), Spirifer sp., terebratuloid brachiopod, genus indet., Torynspirifer sp.; Pelecypods--Allorismal sp., Parallelodonl sp.; Gastropods--cf. Anomphalus sp., Baylea sp., Bellerophon sp., Lanthinopsis sp., cf. Loxonema sp., Mourlonia, sp., Murchisonia sp., Naticopsis sp., Platyceras (Platyceras) sp. pleurotomarian gastropod, genus indet., Rhineoderma sp., Straparollus (Euomphalus) utahcnsis, (Hall), Straparollus (Euomphalus) subplanus (Hall and Whitefield), Straparollus (Euomphalus) sp., indet. subulitid gastropod, genus indet.; Cephalopods--goniatite cephalopod, undet. orthoceroid cephalopod, undet.; Trilobite--phillipsid trilobite, genus indet.; Worms (phylum Annelida)--cf. Spirorbis sp.; Conodonts--Siphonodella cooperi Hass, S. obsoleta Hass, Polygnathus symmetricus E. R. Branson, P. inornatus E. R. Branson; Ostracods--Tetrasacculus sp. aff. T. stewartae Benson and Collinson, Amphissites n. sp. aff., A. similaris Morey, Roundyella, n. sp. aff. Scrobicula crestiformis Kummerowia, n. sp. aff. Kirkbya fernglennensis, Kummerowia, n. sp. aff. Kirkbya keiferi, Kirkbyella (Berdanella) n. sp. aff. Kirkbyella annensis Benson and Collinson, K. B., n. sp. aff. K. recticulata Green, Psilokirkbyella ozarkensis (Morey), Rectobairdia sp. cf. R. confragosa Green, Acratia (Cooperuna), n. sp. aff. A. similaris Morey Green, Bohlenatia, n. sp. aff. Acanthoscapha banffensis Green, Monoceratina, n. sp. aff. M. virgata Green, Monoceratina n. sp. aff., M. elongata Benson and Collinson, Graphiadactylloides, n. sp. aff. Graphiadactyllis moridgei Benson.

Theoretically, at least, all three Tin Mountain Limestone localities can be visited in reconnaissance style in a single day. That would of course entail quick flitting from place to place, spending but a perfunctory period at each paleo-treasure area. A more leisurely adventure scenario of relaxed exploration is obviously advocated here.

Finding a place to spend a few days in this Great Basin Desert region is certainly not a difficult proposition. The primary campgrounds within Death Valley National Park are situated at Mesquite Spring, Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek Ranch (Sunset and Texas Spring campgrounds), and Panamint Springs Resort (about 13 miles west of the Towne Pass Tin Mountain fossil site). Cabins can also be rented at Panamint Springs, and motel rooms are available at Furnace Creek Ranch. Once outside the boundaries of Death Valley National Park on public land, you are permitted to choose just about any camping place that strikes the fancy. If all else fails, excellent accommodations can be found at Beatty, Nevada, or even Lone Pine, California.

Here's an opportunity to journey back in deep geologic time to a tropical Tin Mountain Limetone sea teaming with Early Mississippian life. That reefs of corals and other creatures flourished at the equator here some 358 million years ago in a warmwater ocean in what is today a supremely dry Death Valley area desert seems incalculably improbable.

Yet, in the Great Basin Desert of eastern California--at Lost Burro Gap, the Funeral Range, and a site within view of Towne Pass--you can stand at the equator of gone time, of 358 million years ago, and witness the vanished animals living on in stone all around you.

On-Site Images

 Towne Pass Locality Lost Burro Gap Locality Funeral Range Locality

Towne Pass Locality

Click on the images for larger pictures

Click on the image for a larger picture. A Google Earth street car perspective that I edited and processed through photoshop. The view here is southeast from Towne Pass along State Route 190 in Death Valley National Park, California, to Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone exposures that are within hiking distance of about three-quarter mile. That "small" reddish-brown patch at the base of the peak in upper center is where you'll find beaucoup nicely preserved invertebrate fossils in weathered rubble from Tin Mountain limestones, some 358 million years old, brought down by erosion from exposures higher up on the slopes. Before Death Valley became a national park in 1994, the locality existed outside of Death Valley National Monument on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered public lands and was wide open for hobby collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils. Remember, of course, that the locality now lies within a national park. Keep all fossils found in a camera.

Click on the image for a larger picture. An explorer of the Early Mississippian tropical sea in Death Valley stands at Towne Pass in Death Valley National Park. He is ready to hike the three-quarters mile to that "small" reddish brown patch at the base of the mountain at upper right. That's where excellent silicified (replaced by the mineral silicon dioxide) remains of corals, brachiopods, crinoids, and bryozoans--among other major groups--can be observed in situ in the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. Whitish-gray strata in upper left half of image (part of it is above the individual's head) belong to the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation. Before Death Valley became a national park in 1994, the locality existed outside of Death Valley National Monument on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered public lands and was wide open for hobby collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils. This photograph, by the way, was originally snapped with a Minolta 35mm camera.

Click on the image for a larger picture. That reddish-brown limestone at top of image is the same "small" patch at the base of the mountain, seen in previous two photographs. It's roughly three quarters of a mile from the parking spot at Towne Pass along State Route 190. The rubble accumulation here is composed of limestone chunks weathered out from exposures of the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone higher up the slopes. Here can be observed numerous quality invertebrate animal fossils--including corals, brachiopods, crinoids, and bryozoans. Before Death Valley became a national park in 1994, the locality existed outside of Death Valley National Monument on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered public lands and was wide open for hobby collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils. This photograph, by the way, was originally snapped with a Minolta 35mm camera.

Lost Burro Gap Locality

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Click on the image for a larger picture. This is spectacular Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, California--scene of a truly classic mid Paleozoic Era stratigraphic section that includes the Lower Silurian to Lower Devonian Hidden Valley Dolomite, Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation, and the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. Lower paler-colored exposures through which the dirt path runs belong to the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation--here a massive accumulation of dolomite (magnesium carbonate), sandy dolomite, and quartzitic dolomite locally fossiliferous with stromatoporoid sponges, brachiopods, and crinoidal material. The extraordarily fossiliferous Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone is the darker-colored slope about three-quarters the way up the slope at left, forming the entire skyline within this view. The Tin Mountain provides Paleozoic seekers with loads of corals, brachiopods, crinoids, bryozoans, and mollusks (gastropods, pelecypods, and ammonoid cephalopods). This photograph, by the way, was originally snapped with a Nikon 35mm camera.

   
Click on the images for larger pictures. Both photographs shot at Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, California. Left to right--A desert adventurer--my late father--stands on the west side of Lost Burro Gap at the exact contact between two Paleozoic Era geological periods. The brownish outcrop at lower right lies at the very top of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation; it is therefore very latest Devonian in geologic age. Behind my father, everything within view lies in the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. Geologic age of the precise point where my father stands is 358.9 million years--transitional Devonian to Mississippian age. Right--The individual is probably difficult to spot, but he's standing at roughly three-quarters the way up the slope at the geologic contact between the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation; everything from where he stands down to ground level is the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation everything above him, to the skyline, is the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. Both photographs, by the way, were originally snapped with a Nikon 35mm camera.

Click on the image for a larger picture. At Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, California. Note the seeker of mid Paleozoic Era paleotology up on the "bench," about three quarters the way to top of the photograph. He is standing in the latest Devonian section of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation, several feet below its contact with the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone (all darker colored rocks to the skyline above the reddish-brown zone roughly three quarter the way to top of image). That upper few feet of the Lost Burro Formation here consists of a brown and pinkish-brown weathering shaly quartzitic dolomite which produces stunning specimens of a spirifer-type brachiopod that paleontologists originally described as Cyrtospirifer--a genus re-identified as Eleutherokomma by Devonian brachiopod specialist Dr. Robert B. Blodgett. Additional Late Devonian brachiopods from the uppermost Lost Burro Beds include Tylothyris cf T. raymondi Haynes, "Camarotoechia" aff. "C" doplicata (Hall), Cleiothyridina cf C. devonica Raymond, and Productella. This photograph, by the way, was originally snapped with a Nikon 35mm camera.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A view generally southward to mostly the east side of the dirt path through the southern end of Lost Burro Gap. Exposed here is at the exact contact between two Paleozoic Era geological periods. The brownish outcrop at lower left lies at the very top of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation; it is therefore very latest Devonian in geologic age. Behind that point, lies the bluish Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. Geologic age of the precise point where the Lost Burro and Tin Mountain meet is 358.9 million years--transitional Devonian to Mississippian age. Photograph courtesy "Destination4x4".

Click on the image for a larger picture. Near the type locality (where a geologic formation was first described in the scientific literature) of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation at the southern end of Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, California. The view here is west from the junction of Hunter Mountain Road and the primitive jeep track that takes off to Rest Spring Gulch. Roughly the lower one-third of the mountainside is composed of the Lower Silurian to Lower Devonian Hidden Valley Dolomite (which contains locally abundant corals and brachiopods); a little more than a third of the middle portion of the mountain is the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation--a stromatoporoid sponge-rich sequence of dolomites, limestones, sandstones, quartzites and shales that bears common brachiopods, crinoid debris, bryozoans, and an occasional gastropod (famous Orecopia, as a matter of fact). Darker "sliver" of strata to skyline, above the lighter band of Lost Burro Formation, consist of dark blue limestones and shales belonging to the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain limestone--an incredibly fossiliferous Paleozoic Era unit that contains an amazing diversity of solitary and colonial corals, gastropods, trilobites, ostracods, brachiopods, crinoids, bryozoans, and goniatites ammonoids. The photograph, by the way, was originally snapped with a Nikon 35mm camera.

Funeral Range Locality

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Click on the image for a larger picture. Geology field trip participants hike to exposures of the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone in the Funeral Mountains, Inyo County, California. The area lies on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is open to hobby collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils. The Tin Mountain Limestone begins here directly above that narrow inclined reddish-brown band just below the peak; that is the upper part of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation, and thus everything below that point belongs to the Lost Burro Formation. Tin Mountain Limestone forms the very peak here in view and can be followed all the way down the right slope to the hill directly above the head of the field trip participant seen at farthest right of photograph. That narrow band of massive dark blue limestone observed overlying the Tin Mountain Limestone, just below the peak and forming the ridgeline along the right side, is the younger Mississippian Perdido Formation--a narrow "sliver" of which also caps the Tin Mountain limestone at the hill above head of the field trip participant nearest right edge of picture. Image courtesy Dave Smith.

Click on the image for a larger picture. The light-colored material is a localized bioherm (mudmound) in the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone in the Funeral Mountains, Inyo County, California. The locality lies on BLM (Bureau of Land Management)-administered land is therefore open to hobby collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils. Photograph courtesy James St. John.

Click on the image for a larger picture. A geologist is examining strata in the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone, Funeral Mountains, Inyo County, California--an area that lies on BLM (Bureau of Land Management)-administered public lands and is therefore open to hobby collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate fossils. This is in fact famous member t2, which is a medium dark gray limestone that weathers to shades of medium gray; brachiopods are common near the base, while corals become more abundant toward the top, with microfossils--foraminifers (single-celled animals that secreted a geometrically intricate shell) and conodonts (minute tooth-like structures--unrelated to modern jaws or teeth--that served as a unique feeding apparatus in an extinct lamprey-eel-like organism)--associated with both the brachiopods and coelenterates. Relative prevalence of corals in unit t2 is best judged by the fact that all five of the following forms show up in most collections secured from it: Rylstonia, Homalophyllites, Syringopora, Vesiculophyllum, and Caninia. Photograph courtesy James St. John.

Images Of Fossils

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Click on the images for larger pictures. Left and right--Specimens of silicified Syringopora (replaced by the mineral silicon dioxide), an extinct tabulate coral (sometimes called affectionately a "spaghetti coral") from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone locality near Towne Pass, Inyo County, California; collected on public lands before the paleontologically rich exposures there were assimilated into the borders of Death Valley National Park. Photograph at right, by the way, was originally snapped with a Nikon 35mm camera--then, digitally remastered and eventually edited and processed through photoshop (creating the black background, for one). Image at left taken with a Nikon CoolPix 995 digital camera, then edited and processed through photoshop (adding the black background, for one).

 
Click on the images for larger pictures. Left to right--A chunk of Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone that bears pieces of coral "pasta" from the extinct "spaghetti" coral called Syringopora; image originally snapped with a Nikon 35mm camera, then digitally remastered and eventually edited and processed through photoshop (adding the black background, for one). Right--an extinct hexacoral called Lithostrotionella from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. Photographed with a Nikon CoolPix 995 digital camera; later edited and processed through photoshop (creating the black background, for one). Both specimens came from the locality near Towne Pass before the paleontologically rich exposures on public lands there were assimilated into the expanded borders of Death Valley National Park.

   
Click on the images for larger pictures. Left to right. Crinoid columnals from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone, Funeral Range public lands area, Inyo County, California; the five-sided, star-like structure in the center of each columnal is where the axial canal existed in actual life--the central nerve and circulatory system that extended through the crinoid column; photographed with a Nikon CoolPix 995 digital camera. Right--Silicified crinoid stems (replaced by the mineral silicon dioxide) embedded in a bioclastic matrix from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone, Funeral Range public lands area, Inyo County, California; photographed with a Nikon CoolPix 995 digital camera. Both images edited and processed through photoshop (creating the black background, for one).

   
Click on the images for larger pictures. Left to right--Silicified crinoid columnals (replaced by the mineral silicon dioxide) embedded in a bioclastic calcium carbonate matrix from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone, Funeral Range public lands area, Inyo County, California; originally photographed with a Minolta 35mm camera, then digitally remastered and eventually edited and process with photoshop (adding the black background, for one). Right--A spirifer-type brachiopod from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone. From the Tin Mountain locality near Towne Pass before the paleontologically rich exposures on public lands there were assimilated into the expanded borders of Death Valley National Park; originally photographed with a Minolta 35mm camera, then digitally remastered and eventually edited and processed with photoshop (adding the black background, for one).

   
Click on the images for larger pictures. Left to right--Lattice-style bryozoans on a chunk of limestone from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone; from the Funeral Range public lands area, Inyo County, California. Photographed with a Nikon CoolPix 995 digital camera; edited and processed with photoshop (creating the black background, for one). Right--Ostracods (a diminutive bivalved crustacean) from from the Lower Mississippian Tin Mountain Limestone, Inyo County, California, dissolved free of their calcareous matrix with a solution of diluted acid; exact locality unknown--photograph is courtesy a specific web page.

Click on the images for larger pictures. Left and right--"Spaghetti" stromatoporoids called genus Amphipora--an extinct variety of calcareous sponge--observed in the Middle Devonian section of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation at Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, California. Image at left originally snapped with a Nikon 35mm camera, then digitally remastered--and eventually edited and processed through photoshop (creating the black background, for one); photograph at right taken with a Nikon CoolPix 995 digital camera and later edited and processed through photoshop (creating the black background, for one).

   
Click on the images for larger pictures. Left and right--Two views of the same extinct stromatoporoid calcareous sponge observed in the Middle Devonian section of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation at Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, California. Image at left is a "head-on" perspective of the top of the two conical structures seen in photograph at right. Both photographs taken with a Nikon CoolPix 995 digital camera and eventually edited and processed with photoshop (creating the black background, for one).

   
Click on the images for larger pictures. Left to right--A spirifer brachiopod called genus Eleutherokomma observed in the Upper Devonian section of the Middle to Upper Devonian Lost Burro Formation at Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, Into County, California; originally photographed with a Nixon 35mm camera, then digitally remastered and eventually edited and processed through photoshop. Right--An extinct tabulate coral called Halysites observed in the Lower Silurian section of the Lower Silurian to Lower Devonian Hidden Valley Dolomite in the vicinity of Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, California; originally photographed with a Nikon 35mm camera, then digitally remastered--and eventually edited and processed with photoshop (creating the black background, for one).

   
Click on the images for larger pictures--and scientific names for the specimens numbered. Left and right--Conodonts (greatly magnified) that technicians--with permission from the National Park Service--dissolved out of the Lower Silurian section of the Lower Silurian to Lower Devonian Hidden Valley Dolomite at its type locality in Hidden Valley, just south of Lost Burro Gap in Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, California. Conodonts are minute structures--unrelated to modern jaws and teeth--that served as a unique feeding apparatus in an extinct lamprey eel-like organism. Photographs courtesy a specific scientific publication.

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My Other Web Pages

My Music Pages

  • The Acoustic Guitar Solitaire Of Inyo: A Cyber-CD: Listen to me play 30 covers of some of my favorite songs on an acoustic 6-string guitar; it's all free music.
  • Beyond The Timberline--A Cyber-CD: Listen to me play 32 selections comprised of covers and original tunes on acoustic 6 and 12-string guitars; it's all free music.
  • The Distant Path--A Cyber-CD: Listen to me play 32 acoustic guitar covers and original compositions; it's all free music.
  • Inyo And Folks--A Musical History--A Cyber-CD: My parents and I play 110 selections; it's all free music.
  • Acoustic Stratigraphy--A Cyber-CD: Listen to me play 34 covers of some of my favorite songs on 6 and 12-string guitars; it's all free music.
  • Back To Badwater--A Cyber-CD: Listen to me play 32 covers and original compositions on 6 and 12-string guitars; it's all free music.
  • For an all-text page that includes all 332 of my guitar mp3 files placed on the Internet, go to All Inyo All The Time. That's where you'll find access to all of my musical selections, in order of their appearance on the Web--from my first Cyber-CD ("The Acoustic Guitar Solitaire Of Inyo") to the last, "The Rarities And Alternate Recordings Of Inyo."
  • Inyo 7--A Cyber CD Listen to me play 30 covers of some of my favorite songs, plus originals (all free music).
  • The Rarities And Alternate Recordings Of Inyo--A Cyber-CD Listen to me play 32 seldom-heard, rare, alternate recordings of some of my previously released tracks.
  • Jump on over to my page It's A Happening Thing--Music From The Year 1967. Includes YouTube (and other sources) links to all songs that charted US Billboard Top 100 in year 1967 (close to a thousand, as as matter of fact), plus links to records that bubbled under US Billboard's Hot 100 charts that year (releases that placed #101 to #135); peruse, too, my extensive personal database of year 1967 music.

Paleontology-Related Pages

Web sites I have created pertaining to fossils

  • Fossils In Death Valley National Park: A site dedicated to the paleontology, geology, and natural wonders of Death Valley National Park; lots of on-site photographs of scenic localities within the park; images of fossils specimens; links to many virtual field trips of fossil-bearing interest.
  • Fossil Insects And Vertebrates On The Mojave Desert, California: Journey to two world-famous fossil sites in the middle Miocene Barstow Formation: one locality yields upwards of 50 species of fully three-dimensional, silicified freshwater insects, arachnids, and crustaceans that can be dissolved free and intact from calcareous concretions; a second Barstow Formation district provides vertebrate paleontologists with one of the greatest concentrations of Miocene mammal fossils yet recovered from North America--it's the type locality for the Bartovian State of the Miocene Epoch, 15.9 to 12.5 million years ago, with which all geologically time-equivalent rocks in North American are compared.
  • A Visit To Fossil Valley, Great Basin Desert, Nevada: Take a virtual field trip to a Nevada locality that yields the most complete, diverse, fossil assemblage of terrestrial Miocene plants and animals known from North America--and perhaps the world, as well.
  • Fossils At Red Rock Canyon State Park, California: Visit wildly colorful Red Rock Canyon State Park on California's northern Mojave Desert, approximately 130 miles north of Los Angeles--scene of innumerable Hollywood film productions and commercials over the years--where the Middle to Late Miocene (13 to 7 million years old) Dove Spring Formation, along with a classic deposit of petrified woods, yields one of the great terrestrial, land-deposited Miocene vertebrate fossil faunas in all the western United States.
  • Late Pennsylvanian Fossils In Kansas: Travel to the midwestern plains to discover the classic late Pennsylvanian fossil wealth of Kansas--abundant, supremely well-preserved associations of such invertebrate animals as brachiopods, bryozoans, corals, echinoderms, fusulinids, mollusks (gastropods, pelecypods, cephalopods, scaphopods), and sponges; one of the great places on the planet to find fossils some 307 to 299 million years old.
  • Fossil Plants Of The Ione Basin, California: Head to Amador County in the western foothills of California's Sierra Nevada to explore the fossil leaf-bearing Middle Eocene Ione Formation of the Ione Basin. This is a completely undescribed fossil flora from a geologically fascinating district that produces not only paleobotanically invaluable suites of fossil leaves, but also world-renowned commercial deposits of silica sand, high-grade kaolinite clay and the extraordinarily rare Montan Wax-rich lignites (a type of low grade coal).
  • Trilobites In The Marble Mountains, Mojave Desert, California: Take a trip to the place that first inspired my life-long fascination and interest in fossils--the classic trilobite quarry in the Lower Cambrian Latham Shale, in the Marble Mountains of California's Mojave Desert. It's a special place, now included in the rather recently established Trilobite Wilderness, where some 21 species of ancient plants and animals have been found--including trilobites, an echinoderm, a coelenterate, mollusks, blue-green algae and brachiopods.
  • Early Cambrian Fossils Of Westgard Pass, California: Visit the Westgard Pass area, a world-renowned geologic wonderland several miles east of Big Pine, California, in the neighboring White-Inyo Mountains, to examine one of the best places in the world to find archaeocyathids--an enigmatic invertebrate animal that went extinct some 510 million years ago, never surviving past the early Cambrian; also present there in rocks over a half billion years old are locally common trilobites, plus annelid and arthropod trails, and early echinoderms.
  • A Visit To Ammonite Canyon, Nevada: Explore one of the best-exposed, most complete fossiliferous marine late Triassic through early Jurassic geologic sections in the world--a place where the important end-time Triassic mass extinction has been preserved in the paleontological record. Lots of key species of ammonites, brachiopods, corals, gastropods and pelecypods.
  • Fossils In Millard County, Utah: Take virtual field trips to two world-famous fossil localities in Millard County, Utah--Wheeler Amphitheater in the trilobite-bearing middle Cambrian Wheeler Shale; and Fossil Mountain in the brachiopod-ostracod-gastropod-echinoderm-trilobite rich lower Ordovician Pogonip Group.
  • Paleozoic Era Fossils At Mazourka Canyon, Inyo County, California: Visit a productive Paleozoic Era fossil-bearing area near Independence, California--along the east side of California's Owens Valley, with the great Sierra Nevada as a dramatic backdrop--a paleontologically fascinating place that yields a great assortment of invertebrate animals.
  • Late Triassic Ichthyosaur And Invertebrate Fossils In Nevada: Journey to two classic, world-famous fossil localities in the Upper Triassic Luning Formation of Nevada--Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and Coral Reef Canyon. At Berlin-Ichthyosaur, observe in-situ the remains of several gigantic ichthyosaur skeletons preserved in a fossil quarry; then head out into the hills, outside the state park, to find plentiful pelecypods, gastropods, brachiopods and ammonoids. At Coral Reef Canyon, find an amazing abundance of corals, sponges, brachiopods, echinoids (sea urchins), pelecypods, gastropods, belemnites and ammonoids.
  • Fossils From The Kettleman Hills, California: Visit one of California's premiere Pliocene-age (approximately 4.5 to 2.0 million years old) fossil localities--the Kettleman Hills, which lie along the western edge of California's Great Central Valley northwest of Bakersfield. This is where innumerable sand dollars, pectens, oysters, gastropods, "bulbous fish growths" and pelecypods occur in the Etchegoin, San Joaquin and Tulare Formations.
  • Field Trip To The Kettleman Hills Fossil District, California: Take a virtual field trip to a classic site on the western side of California's Great Central Valley, roughly 80 miles northwest of Bakersfield, where several Pliocene-age (roughly 4.5 to 2 million years old) geologic rock formations yield a wealth of diverse, abundant fossil material--sand dollars, scallop shells, oysters, gastropods and "bulbous fish growths" (fossil bony tumors--found nowhere else, save the Kettleman Hills), among many other paleontological remains.
  • A Visit To The Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed, Southern California: Travel to the dusty hills near Bakersfield, California, along the eastern side of the Great Central Valley in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, to explore the world-famous Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed, a Middle Miocene marine deposit some 16 to 15 million years old that yields over a hundred species of sharks, rays, bony fishes, and sea mammals from a geologic rock formation called the Round Mountain Silt Member of the Temblor Formation; this is the most prolific marine, vertebrate fossil-bearing Middle Miocene deposit in the world.
  • Middle Triassic Ammonoids From Nevada: Travel to a world-famous fossil locality in the Great Basin Desert of Nevada, a specific place that yields some 41 species of ammonoids, in addition to five species of pelecypods and four varieties of belemnites from the Middle Triassic Prida Formation, which is roughly 235 million years old; many paleontologists consider this specific site the single best Middle Triassic, late Anisian Stage ammonoid locality in the world. All told, the Prida Formation yields 68 species of ammonoids spanning the entire Middle Triassic age, or roughly 241 to 227 million years ago.
  • Fossil Bones In The Coso Range, Inyo County, California: Visit the Coso Range Wilderness, west of Death Valley National Park at the southern end of California's Owens Valley, where vertebrate fossils some 4.8 to 3.0 million years old can be observed in the Pliocene-age Coso Formation: It's a paleontologically significant place that yields many species of mammals, including the remains of Equus simplicidens, the Hagerman Horse, named for its spectacular occurrences at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho; Equus simplicidens is considered the earliest known member of the genus Equus, which includes the modern horse and all other equids.
  • Field Trip To A Vertebrate Fossil Locality In The Coso Range, California: Take a cyber-visit to the famous bone-bearing Pliocene Coso Formation, Coso Mountains, Inyo County, California; includes detailed text for the field trip, plus on-site images and photographs of vertebrate fossils.
  • Fossil Plants At Aldrich Hill, Western Nevada: Take a field trip to western Nevada, in the vicinity of Yerington, to famous Aldrich Hill, where one can collect some 35 species of ancient plants--leaves, seeds and twigs--from the Middle Miocene Aldirch Station Formation, roughly 12 to 13 million years old. Find the leaves of evergreen live oak, willow, and Catalina Ironwood (which today is restricted in its natural habitat solely to the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California), among others, plus the seeds of many kinds of conifers, including spruce; expect to find the twigs of Giant Sequoias, too.
  • Fossils From Pleistocene Lake Manix, California: Explore the badlands of the Manix Lake Beds on California's Mojave Desert, an Upper Pleistocene deposit that produces abundant fossil remains from the silts and sands left behind by a great fresh water lake, roughly 350,000 to 19,000 years old--the Manix Beds yield many species of fresh water mollusks (gastropods and pelecypods), skeletal elements from fish (the Tui Mojave Chub and Three-Spine Stickleback), plus roughly 50 species of mammals and birds, many of which can also be found in the incredible, world-famous La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles.
  • Field Trip To Pleistocene Lake Manix, California: Go on a virtual field trip to the classic, fossiliferous badlands carved in the Upper Pleistocene Manix Formation, Mojave Desert, California. It's a special place that yields beaucoup fossil remains, including fresh water mollusks, fish (the Mojave Tui Chub), birds and mammals.
  • Trilobites In The Nopah Range, Inyo County, California: Travel to a locality well outside the boundaries of Death Valley National Park to collect trilobites in the Lower Cambrian Pyramid Shale Member of the Carrara Formation.
  • Ammonoids At Union Wash, California: Explore ammonoid-rich Union Wash near Lone Pine, California, in the shadows of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Union Wash is a ne plus ultra place to find Early Triassic ammonoids in California. The extinct cephalopods occur in abundance in the Lower Triassic Union Wash Formation, with the dramatic back-drop of the glacier-gouged Sierra Nevada skyline in view to the immediate west.
  • A Visit To The Fossil Beds At Union Wash, Inyo County California: A virtual field trip to the fabulous ammonoid accumulations in the Lower Triassic Union Wash Formation, Inyo County, California--situated in the shadows of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
  • Ordovician Fossils At The Great Beatty Mudmound, Nevada: Visit a classic 475-million-year-old fossil locality in the vicinity of Beatty, Nevada, only a few miles east of Death Valley National Park; here, the fossils occur in the Middle Ordovician Antelope Valley Limestone at a prominent Mudmound/Biohern. Lots of fossils can be found there, including silicified brachiopods, trilobites, nautiloids, echinoderms, bryozoans, ostracodes and conodonts.
  • Paleobotanical Field Trip To The Sailor Flat Hydraulic Gold Mine, California: Journey on a day of paleobotanical discovery with the FarWest Science Foundation to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada--to famous Sailor Flat, an abandoned hydraulic gold mine of the mid to late 1800s, where members of the foundation collect fossil leaves from the "chocolate" shales of the Middle Eocene auriferous gravels; all significant specimens go to the archival paleobotanical collections at the University California Museum Of Paleontology in Berkeley.
  • Early Cambrian Fossils In Western Nevada: Explore a 518-million-year-old fossil locality several miles north of Death Valley National Park, in Esmeralda County, Nevada, where the Lower Cambrian Harkless Formation yields the largest single assemblage of Early Cambrian trilobites yet described from a specific fossil locality in North America; the locality also yields archeocyathids (an extinct sponge), plus salterella (the "ice-cream cone fossil"--an extinct conical animal placed into its own unique phylum, called Agmata), brachiopods and invertebrate tracks and trails.
  • Fossil Leaves And Seeds In West-Central Nevada: Take a field trip to the Middlegate Hills area in west-central Nevada. It's a place where the Middle Miocene Middlegate Formation provides paleobotany enthusiasts with some 64 species of fossil plant remains, including the leaves of evergreen live oak, tanbark oak, bigleaf maple, and paper birch--plus the twigs of giant sequoias and the winged seeds from a spruce.
  • Ordovician Fossils In The Toquima Range, Nevada: Explore the Toquima Range in central Nevada--a locality that yields abundant graptolites in the Lower to Middle Ordovician Vinini Formation, plus a diverse fauna of brachiopods, sponges, bryozoans, echinoderms and ostracodes from the Middle Ordovician Antelope Valley Limestone.
  • Fossil Plants In The Dead Camel Range, Nevada: Visit a remote site in the vicinity of Fallon, Nevada, where the Middle Miocene Desert Peak Formation provides paleobotany enthusiasts with 22 species of nicely preserved leaves from a variety of deciduous trees and evergreen live oaks, in addition to samaras (winged seeds), needles and twigs from several types of conifers.
  • Early Triassic Ammonoid Fossils In Nevada: Visit the two remote localities in Nevada that yield abundant, well-preserved ammonoids in the Lower Triassic Thaynes Formation, some 240 million years old--one of the sites just happens to be the single finest Early Triassic ammonoid locality in North America.
  • Fossil Plants At Buffalo Canyon, Nevada: Explore the wilds of west-central Nevada, a number of miles from Fallon, where the Middle Miocene Buffalo Canyon Formation yields to seekers of paleontology some 54 species of deciduous and coniferous varieties of 15-million-year-old leaves, seeds and twigs from such varieties as spruce, fir, pine, ash, maple, zelkova, willow and evergreen live oak
  • High Inyo Mountains Fossils, California: Take a ride to the crest of the High Inyo Mountains to find abundant ammonoids and pelecypods--plus, some shark teeth and terrestrial plants in the Upper Mississippian Chainman Shale, roughly 325 million years old.
  • Field Trip To The Copper Basin Fossil Flora, Nevada: Visit a remote region in Nevada, where the Late Eocene Dead Horse Tuff provides seekers of paleobotany with some 42 species of ancient plants, roughly 39 to 40 million years old, including the leaves of alder, tanbark oak, Oregon grape and sassafras.
  • Fossil Plants And Insects At Bull Run, Nevada: Head into the deep backcountry of Nevada to collect fossils from the famous Late Eocene Chicken Creek Formation, which yields, in addition to abundant fossil fly larvae, a paleobotanically wonderful association of winged seeds and fascicles (bundles of needles) from many species of conifers, including fir, pine, spruce, larch, hemlock and cypress. The plants are some 37 million old and represent an essentially pure montane conifer forest, one of the very few such fossil occurrences in the Tertiary Period of the United States.
  • A Visit To The Early Cambrian Waucoba Spring Geologic Section, California: Journey to the northwestern sector of Death Valley National Park to explore the classic, world-famous Waucoba Spring Early Cambrian geologic section, first described by the pioneering paleontologist C.D. Walcott in the late 1800s; surprisingly well preserved 540-510 million-year-old remains of trilobites, invertebrate tracks and trails, Girvanella algal oncolites and archeocyathids (an extinct variety of sponge) can be observed in situ.
  • Petrified Wood From The Shinarump Conglomerate: An image of a chunk of petrified wood I collected from the Upper Triassic Shinarump Conglomerate, outside of Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado.
  • Fossil Giant Sequoia Foliage From Nevada: Images of the youngest fossil foliage from a giant sequoia ever discovered in the geologic record--the specimen is Lower Pliocene in geologic age, around 5 million years old.
  • Some Favorite Fossil Brachiopods Of Mine: Images of several fossil brachiopods I have collected over the years from Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic-age rocks.
  • For information on what can and cannot be collected legally from America's Public Lands, take a look at Fossils On America's Public Lands and Collecting On Public Lands--brochures that the Bureau Of Land Management has allowed me to transcribe.
  • In Search Of Vanished Ages--Field Trips To Fossil Localities In California, Nevada, And Utah--My fossils-related field trips in full print book form (pdf). 98,703 words (equivalent to a medium-size hard cover work of non-fiction); 250 printed pages (equivalent to about 380 pages in hard cover book form); 27 chapters; 30 individual field trips to places of paleontological interest; 60 photographs--representative on-site images and pictures of fossils from each locality visited.

United States Geological Survey Papers (Public Domain)

Online versions of USGS publications

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