Fossil Collecting in Southern
The desert southwest is an excellent fossil observation
area. Collection for personal study is permissible on most public lands in
Nevada. There are also a few specified collection areas in eastern California,
but much of the outcroppings west of Pahrump fall within the "California Desert
Protection Act" and can be observed but not collected by the casual explorer.
Most of the fossiliferous layers near Pahrump are made up of
Cambrian and Ordovician limestones and shales. Prominent examples of early
trilobites and other rare organisms are common in the accessible Carrara
formation layers in the surrounding hills.
Some of the material we have collected this past year is shown in the following
photographs. We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Craig Stevenson of
NDOW who has steered us to some fine collecting locations and has given us the
benefit of his expertise in identifying the traces of these important creatures.
Thin shale layers in the Carrara formation west of Pahrump. These layers
sometimes contain plentiful trilobites and other fossil parts.
Thin layer of fossil parts from the previous photo location at the "Pahrump
Trilobite fossils from the
"Pahrump Hills #1" site.
More trilobite parts from "Pahrump Hills #1."
Fossil imprints between
layers. One is the mirror of the other. It pays to look in adjacent layers
after finding a specimen. These are from the "Mt. Montgomery" site.
These trilobite fossils were
unearthed from very soft shale layers near Sunrise Mountain east of Las Vegas.
The material was treated with a special hardener to preserve the fossils. We
now use Elmer's Glue which accomplishes the same thing but is much less
While I was splitting shale
layers in a Pahrump Hills wash below, Sally hiked to the top of a ridge and
found this interesting piece with trilobite remnants.
These are fossil Crinoids that
inhabited the shallow seas north of Pahrump about 400-500 million years ago.
Unlike the shale layer trilobites, these fossils were preserved by
"replacement" of the impressions with a calcite material.
Fossil-collecting areas are dwindling due to their closure by our government
entities. Unscrupulous people have gone into these areas to remove large
amounts of material for sale, necessitating this unfortunate result. For
example, the once-famous cliff areas along the western shores of Chesapeake Bay
have been closed to collectors because fossils were literally mined and taken
out by the truckload. Hopefully, this won't happen in Nevada. Vertebrate
fossils (fish, reptiles, mammals, etc.) can no longer be collected on public
lands except as part of approved research efforts.
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