Digging for Fossils

Fossils found at the Wheeler High School fossil beds in Fossil.
Fossils found at the Wheeler High School fossil beds in Fossil.
Photo by Nat West

Fossil, Oregon, lives up to its name

written by Joni Kabana

Are you an explorer? Would you like to dig for fossils in a place that is relatively unknown? Then head to the tiny town of Fossil in the land where time forgot. Here you can find fossils in a hillside formed some 30 million years ago by volcanic activity. What was once a lush region with lakes and waterways is now a paradise for rock hounds and fossil lovers.

Diggers have found more than thirty different species of plants, insects and fish, some designated as being extinct. No excavation experience is necessary—just bring some patience and a rock pick, trowel and chisel. If you don’t happen to have these on hand, you can borrow equipment on site.

This fossil bed was discovered during the building of Wheeler High School in 1949 when builders noticed a large amount of fossilized rock as they were digging for the foundation. Because the fossils were so abundant, the site has been open to the public and there is no shortage of discoveries. Most rocks show leaf imprints, but digging a bit deeper results in excavating shale. Gently split that shale open, and you might just find a fossil.

While visiting this quaint little town, stop by the Fossil Museum to take a gander at its extensive collection. Then hop over to White Stag Brewery for libations and good grub. Don’t forget to step back in time at the Fossil Mercantile, an old-timey grocery store chock-full of beautiful quilts.

Another fun fact about this town: It is located at the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole.

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