6 Weird Animal Fossils You Can Find At National Parks
Few things have the power to transport your imagination back in time the way fossils can. From ancient seas that receded long ago to the forests dinosaurs once prowled, the prehistoric world comes to life through fossils. Head to one of these national parks and take a trip back in time to the ancient world.
A lot of people head to Grand Canyon National Park for the views, but one of the park’s most remarkable secrets is on a much smaller scale. Once at the bottom of a vast sea, the canyon's foundation, limestone, consists of the remains of ancient sea shells. The exposed rock strata of the canyon harbor fossilized sea creatures that span an enormous amount of time, from stromatolites dating back 1,200 million years to the comparatively recent bottom-dwelling trilobites that lived 500 million years ago.
Imagine if someone found your footprints 200 million years from now. What would they deduce about your lifestyle? That's essentially what scientists have been trying to do for decades at Zion National Park – decoding some of the most well-preserved dinosaur tracks in the world to find out a little more about what life was like during the Triassic period. Head to the park's St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site and see what you can figure out for yourself.
One of the newest entries into the National Parks System, Waco Mammoth National Monument spans about 100 acres along the Bosque River in Texas. Beneath the park's wooded landscape, paleontologists have found several species of animals, likely killed and preserved during a series of ancient floods. The remains are roughly 70,000 years old – practically new by fossil standards – and include the only nursery herd of Columbian mammoths ever discovered, with at least 19 individuals of varying ages.
Petrified Redwood Tree
In the unassuming mountain valleys of this Colorado national monument, one of the most diverse treasure troves of fossils in North America is preserved. From tiny fossilized insects and spiders to some of the largest petrified redwood tree remains in the world, more than 50,000 specimens representing more than 1,700 different plant and animal species have been found at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
The White River area of Badlands National Park is the resting place for an enormous variety of ancient mammal fossils, ranging from deer- and antelope-like mammals to prehistoric camels and rhinoceroses. Most of these remains date back roughly 35 million years to the late Eocene and early Oligocene epochs, during a time when a mysterious extinction event similar to the one that killed the dinosaurs affected plants and animals all over the planet.
If you want to see the remains of dinosaurs that once roamed North America, there is simply no better place than Dinosaur National Monument. Straddling the border between Colorado and Utah, this park includes hundreds of paleontological sites that have yielded some of the richest dinosaur fossil beds in the world. The "Wall of Bones," reopened for public viewing in 2011, includes more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils still embedded in the rock. Other fossils, like those of the carnivorous Allosaurus and the spike-tailed Stegosaurus, have been reconstructed in the Quarry Exhibit Hall.
New species continue to be discovered in national parks across the country, bringing the lush forests and seas of prehistoric North America a little more clearly into focus. Don’t miss a chance to explore this fascinating history within the parks and let your imagination run wild!
Photo credits: National Park Service, Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0, Cliff and Jean Dickey/NPS