Also known as the “Aquarium in Stone,” the Fossil Butte National Monument in Kemmerer, Wyoming is well known for having some of the world’s most preserved fossil specimens. Considered by many to be one of the most important sites of its type, it is an educational and eye-opening experience. The fossils were originally discovered by miners who were digging to find the town of Fossil, Wyoming in the late 1800s.
The national monument was created in 1972 to promote and protect the paleontological heritage of Fossil Butte. Today, less than 2% of the premises of Fossil Lake is managed and protected by the National Park Services, which makes the national monument more important than ever.
What makes the fossils so extraordinary is the unparalleled quality of their preservation. It is said to be a result of a combination of factors like the type of lake sediment present (fine grained and quiet water) and the fact that the water conditions present excluded scavengers. This means that the fossils were preserved in an articulated form (meaning that all of the bones are still in place instead of being scattered).
The fossils are divided into categories. Guests should try to see as many as possible. Below are the categories and some of the highlights.
Fish - Fossils of fish are the most common find at Fossil Butte. In fact, there have been 27 different species that have been discovered there! Among the diverse species of fish fossils are two stingray species (Heliobatis radians and Asterotrygon maloneyi), a Paddlefish species (Crossopholis magnicaudatus), and more.
Mammal - Not the most frequently found fossil but possibly one of the most important (as they help explain not only the environment but also the biodiversity present over 52 million years ago). There have been two bat species, two different odd-toed ungulates/hoofed mammals, and more.
Reptile - 15 different types of reptile species have been found at Fossil Butte, including a snake species called Boavus idelmani, two crocodiles, three lizards, and eight turtles.
Amphibian - Although only two different amphibian species have been identified onsite, they are still an important part of discovering history. The two species found are a species of frog called the Aerugoamnis paulus and an aquatic salamander called the Paleoamphiuma tetradactylum.
Arthropod - These creatures are also known as invertebrates (species without a backbone/spine that have an external skeleton, segmented bodies, and jointed appendages). Shrimp (Bechleja rostrata), Crayfish (Procambarus primaevus), and many different types of dragonflies and damselflies have been found at Fossil Butte.
Plant - Several plant species have been identified on site, which are helpful because they help determine the climate at the time the fossil was created. It is, however, difficult to be able to differentiate species type due to how they decay. A few of the species found on site are Gyrocarpus and the Palmites species of Palm.
Bird - There have been over 30 species of bird fossils found at Fossil Butte as well, belonging to more than 20 different bird families. Some of the species found are the Shoreline Bird (Pseudocrypturus cercanaxius) and four different species of Parrots.
Children are welcomed at the national monument, and there are several activities that have been designed specifically for them.
Fossil Quarry - Offered in the summer on Fridays and Saturdays, children can help the staff look for fossils at the research quarry. Although they cannot keep any found fossils (however, fossil rubbings are encouraged), they still will gain a larger understanding of fossils and the scientific information that is collected from finding them. Children should make sure to wear comfortable shoes as there is a half mile hike to get to the site.
Junior Ranger - The junior ranger program is a favorite of many of the children who visit. Even for those who cannot visit, the national monument teams with the park service to offer a Web ranger program so no one feels left out. For those that can visit, the junior ranger program takes around an hour to complete and is free of charge. Children who complete it will receive their very own junior ranger park badge!
While visiting the national monument, make sure to check out the bookstore and take home not only a souvenir of the visit but also something to help better understand fossils! There are also stuffed animals, apparel (t-shirts, hats, etc) and other gift items that help support the care and maintenance of the monument.
Fossil Butte National Monument, 864 Chicken Creek Road, Kemmerer, WY, 83101, Phone: 307-877-4455
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