Fossil Hunter Wanna-Be

We really know very little about fossils and fossil hunting. My Dad is a historian. He may not call himself that but he is. He's officially an attorney and CPA but in his spare time he has taught himself about genealogy, astronomy, dinosaurs, and fossil hunting - all fascinating glimpses into our history. He got us interested in fossil hunting as he talked about how Texas was once under water and how later dinosaurs are thought to have lived here. Sounds exciting and I wanted to learn more. We've learned about how fossils are made and what kind of fossils we are likely to find in this area.

A friend of mine who blogs as Screwed Up Texan told me about a cool place to go fossil hunting. Check out her blog posts about it HERE and HERE. She told us about Ladonia and the North Sulphur River. This area is rich with fossils from the Cretaceous Period.

In reference to the North Sulphur River, Roy Appleton stated in the Dallas Morning News, 2004, "The river and creeks attract scientists and hobbyists, who have taken untold specimens to museums and home displays. Hundreds of species of marine plants and animals, many dating back 78 million to 80 million years, have been documented, as have remnants of life on land -- from arrowheads and spear points to mammoth bones and mastodon teeth."

That excites me and makes me want to go fossil hunting right now! I love the thought of finding something in nature like shark teeth and mammoth bones that haven't been touched before and that are millions and millions of years old - right there in my hand. How cool is that?

But we really know very little about fossils and even less about how to find them. We're just fossil hunter wanna-be's. But that didn't stop us from driving about an hour and a half away to the middle of nowhere in the hottest part of the year to go digging in a river bed for fossils in Ladonia. Sounds crazy, right? It was. But it was also really fun!

We found a bridge that crossed over the river and we were wondering if this might be a good spot to park. Then we happened to see this little parking lot and sign...

Sounds like we're in the right place. But before I tell you more, I have to digress...because when you have two little kids you're mind is very used to digressing. Nicholas found this incredible spider hanging out in his web on the covered parking spot (yes, there is covered parking here!).

That picture is cool but it doesn't give you perspective of just how huge this guy is. I tried to get a picture of Stuart's hand near the spider but I didn't want him to get any closer than this. Just trust me - it was a really big fella!

Ok, back on topic...

I apparently have my children trained to be fossil hunters and I don't even know it. We were barely out of the car and our 21 month old was already collecting rocks for us to take home!

We took the worn little path from the parking lot to the river. It was a very short walk and easy compared to what followed.

From what I've heard, getting down into the North Sulphur River is the hardest part of fossil hunting there because the banks are tall and the sides are steeps. The place we stumbled upon is supposedly one of the easier places to go down because there are "stairs". Hmmm, yes, technically these are stairs that we went down.

There were actually two choices in stairways...Giant, concrete steps that were each about 2 feet high with no hand railing. The steps were so high that if you aren't really tall then you probably have to sit down on each step and slide off the edge to make it down safetly. Next to the concrete steps were rocky steps covered in chicken wire for traction (these are hard to see because of the vegetation but they are there). Stuart miraculously made it down the concrete steps while holding Rachel and Nicholas and I ventured down the chicken wire steps where I got a big gash in the palm of my hand, which was especially nice since we were just about to go digging in the mud! On the subject of injury, it should also be noted that we usually have great cell phone coverage but we had minimal if no coverage out at the river which worried this mom as we ventured into totally unknown territory and unsure how we were going to make it back up the staircase from hell even uninjured, not to mention if someone got hurt!

All drama about the staircase aside, we were all delighted to eventually find ourselves in the river bed of the North Sulphur River! There were rocks everywhere, along the river bed but also up the sides of the bank. There were spots ahead of us with water but we started off in a dry section of the river.

Rachel decided to tackle an especially difficult fossil hunt - a discarded piece of manmade concrete with rocks embedded throughout. She kept trying to just pick up the rocks! I love a toddler's naive perception of the world!

Nicholas was totally in his element! He had a fossil collecting bag in hand (really just a plastic grocery bag!) and we let him wander on his own as long as he stayed in our sight.

Rachel and Daddy found lots of neat looking rocks. We really didn't know what to look for so we picked up anything that seemed to stand out and looked different than other rocks around it.

Nicholas, aka Monkey Boy, decided to try to climb the river bank but just kept sliding back down. These are really steep sides with crumbly dry dirt that shifts easily.

I was excited to be here yet I was also overwhelmed about what to do once I got there. Do I just aimlessly walk around while looking down hoping to find something? If I were to sit down and just start digging somewhere, how do I find a spot to dig in such a vast area? Do I look in the dry spots or should I sift throught some dirt in the shallow waters? Do I search the bottom of the river bed or along the sides of the river bed? So many questions and no preparation ahead of time meant that I had to just pick something and go for it. So I did a little of it all. I walked around some with Rachel but she kept getting distracted and lagging behind. So I sat down and just picked a spot to start digging.

Of course, then Rachel decided to start wandering off again so I had to follow. It made it challenging for me to do any fossil hunting myself but she had a great time picking up rocks and digging in the mud with my weed remover tool (it was one of the few things I had on hand that I thought might help with shallow digging!).

Nicholas used my little hand trowel for digging.

Rachel got a little upset at times if she got her hand dirty or her shoes muddy or the time she slipped in the mud and landed on her bottom in the standing water. I really don't know where she got this girly attitude because I'm totally a tom boy when it comes to playing outdoors, especially in the mud. But she was able to get used to it and even had fun.

We only stayed out there for about an hour because of the heat. We knew we had to start heading back before we got too tired because you need to save some energy just to make it out of the river bed. Of course, Rachel was quick to fall asleep once we got back on the road to go home. It was a hot and tiring day for all of us.

I don't know that we have any cool fossils per se but we at least found some neat rocks. I wish we could have stayed longer and collected more goodies but this was a good trip for scouting the area and getting our fossil hunting feet wet (literally!).

I need to search online to find out what some of these rocks are. There is a lot of information on the internet if you have the time to spend learning about them. If you know what any of the items in these pictures are, please leave me a comment to help me identify them. Thanks!

I'm not sure what this is but it has an interestingly smooth curve to it.

I found a lot of these cylindrical black rocks with this unusual angled tip. These may be baculites which are like uncoiled ammonites.

I just think this rock is cool because you see distinct layers in it.

I love the markings on this rock.

This one is very light. Possibly a piece of wood?

This one feels like a rock but it looks like a piece of old wood that had been painted white.

I'm not sure if these last ones are anything special but they just stood out as something different.

Here are some interesting websites that discuss fossil hunting in the North Sulphur River.

Fossilosophy -

Pete Patterson Fossil Park -

North Sulfur River Field Trip -

Theduardo -§ion=blog&blogid=1&showentry=2

Nautiloid -

We're going back to the river in a couple of months when it gets a little cooler. That will give us a little more time to learn about the fossils we should be looking for and to learn more about what to bring and what to do when we get there. Just from this experience, I would recommend bringing plenty of water to drink, hiking boots, hat, cell phone in case of emergency, sunscreen, bags for collecting fossils, small digging tools, a screen or sand toy like we used for sifting through the dirt and sand, and a spare pair of clean shoes (and even clothing) for when you make it back to the car - and of course, I would also recommend NOT going in 100+ degree days in August!


  1. Awesome pictures! The spider in your photo is an Orb Weaver spider...they make that distinctive zig-zag in the web middle. And the Orb Weaver was the inspiration for Charlotte in Charlotte's Web!