Fossil Collecting in Southern Nevada

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.

Paper shale
Thin shale layers in the Carrara formation west of Pahrump. These layers sometimes contain plentiful trilobites and other fossil parts.

Fossil parts
Thin layer of fossil parts from the previous photo location at the "Pahrump Hills" site.

PH trilobites
Trilobite fossils from the "Pahrump Hills #1" site.

PH2 fossils
More trilobite parts from "Pahrump Hills #1."

Pos and neg
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.

SM trilobites
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 expensive.

Sally's rock
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.

Final comments: 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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