Adventures Finding Fossils

Our youngest son isn’t much into hunting, but he sure loves fishing. As a kid, he couldn’t wait to head out every weekend into the wilderness to camp and fly fish the river, or the native brook trout pond. If the river was running high for rafting, we’d go fly fishing on the pond where we kept a canoe. That worked until it got too windy, or the fishing too slow. One thing I learned about keeping kids interested in the outdoors is to not to force it on them, so when he’d had enough fishing, we’d packed up and take rides on many of the logging roads.

An impromptu stop at a small gravel pit for a break and lunch led to finding fossils. From that day on, it became a game to find fossils at every place we stopped or camped. Hunting for fossils is like hunting for treasure, especially for kids, and our youngest son became particularly fond of our adventures. Each week, we’d add our best finds to our rock wall when we got home.

In Maine, we don’t find dinosaur fossils, but we do have plenty of shell and plant fossils to be found. Plant fossils can be more difficult to find, and they don’t always remain intact due to finding them in softer clay-like sedimentary rock that hasn’t completed the entire fossilization process, but they’re still fun to find because we’d find so many different kinds of shells and plants.

Fossil so soft that I could rub the fossil away…but didn’t. Found right at our campsite.

When the river is at fishing level, there are lots of rocks exposed and it’s perfect for fossil hunting. When I come prepared, I have a rock hammer on hand to inspect rocks, but most of the time I’m holding a fly rod, so I stuff the find into my gear bag or waders to bring it back to the campsite, or I find a bigger rock to try to smash it open. The latter isn’t the best way to do that without eye protection, but sometimes I just can’t help myself and most of the time it’s unsuccessful.

Over the years, we’ve learned you can stop just about anywhere, and with a bit of searching, find some type of fossil. We’ve done it so much; it’s become habit and to this day, sans the kids, no trip is complete without a fossil hunt. Some of our best finds are when we least expect it, such as in the middle of a clear-cut at the top of a mountain or on the side of road in a boulder!

Crinoid fossil found while driving on a road. Best fossil ever!

The lasting effects of all of those fossil-hunting trips came to fruition this past fall. The youngest son, now an adult, works out-of-state and travels a lot through the mid-west. To my surprise, on one of his trips home, he brought me a bagful of fossils from Missouri and Iowa, which I keep in my fossil bowl on our dining room table.

I hope you’ll add fossil hunting to your list of must-dos with the kids and family. You don’t need to be an expert; you just need to be willing to search. I can attest that the more time you spend in the outdoors, the more you’ll connect each other, and just maybe they too will surprise you with mementos of the times spent together in the woods.  

fossilized crinoid stems…so intricate and tiny. I used my macro setting to get this picture.

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