Date of visit: May 30, 2011
Population: 473 (2010 Census)
The town of Fossil is near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which is composed of three different units spread out over nearly 14,000 acres. In addition to encompassing some crazy and beautiful geological features, the three units of the monument are the site of many well-preserved plant and animal fossils from a 40-million-year period. Paleontologists have found fossils of nuts, fruits, roots, branches, and seeds as well as more than 100 species of mammals, including rhinoceroses, mastodons, dogs, cats, horses, camels, and rodents.
The public is not allowed to collect fossils in the monument, but in the town of Fossil, anyone can pay a $5 fee and dig for fossils behind Wheeler High School. The rocks there used to be at the bottom of a shallow lake some 33 million years ago and were exposed during the leveling of the baseball field in 1949. Most of the fossils found here are leaves and branches, ancestors of modern sycamore, maples, oaks, rose, and alder. You won’t find fossils of the larger animals that would have roamed that ancient lake shore, but sometimes salamanders and small fish have been found. How cool is it that you can find fossilized plants by digging around in rocks that are millions of years old, that used to be mud in the bottom of a lake?