Hunting For Fossils in Virginia, 2007

In September we took a weekend trip to two sites to hunt for fossils. The trip was organized by an outfit called Fossil and Nature Trips and provided us with guides that included both professional and amateur paleontologists and geologists.

We stayed at a cabin in Westmoreland State Park. It was a nice two-bedroom cabin with a screened porch and A/C.

Manly found it comfortable...

Here he is looking up from his book.

......but neither he nor Rory liked putting on the required bug spray.

We didn't get to explore Westmoreland Park much, but it looks very nice. There is a pool, sandy beaches, canoe and paddle boat rentals, miles of hiking trails and stunning views.

Saturday morning we traveled with our group to Stratford Hall, home of Robert E. Lee. The beaches under the up-to-140 foot cliffs, formed during the Miocene era, have many fossils; including the full skeleton of a 15-million-year-old whale and other long-extinct sea creatures. The cliffs are prone to landslides and, because of this danger, are closed to the public. However, our group had permission to explore the beaches at the base of these cliffs and look what we found!

Loads of sharks teeth! Most of them 14 million years old. All but the top row were found at the Stratford Hall cliffs. We also found one fossil invertebrate. It was identified as some sort of cephalopod, but I'm still looking for an exact i.d. We had hoped to find ancient crocodile teeth, but had no luck on that. The photo of the beach is where we did our searching. It was beautiful and much cooler than the surrounding land. No wonder the rich folk like the Lee's had their houses on the river! And get a load of the view! Our guides also took us by boat to examine two fossils currently being excavated from the cliffs: one of an ancient type of porpoise and the other a shark.

Here is Dodge at lunch break. He is a bit blurry. I think that's a security feature.

And here are the kids waiting for lunch. Rory is busy staying hydrated.

As an added bonus, it was blue crab mating season and there were many blue crabs in the shallow water just off the beach. They were fun to watch and to chuck pebbles at. Also large numbers of Bald Eagles -- maybe they were after the crabs?

On Sunday morning we checked out of our cabin and headed to Carmel Church (near the intersection of Rt.'s 301 and 1). Located here is one of the most significant fossil deposits on the Virginia Coastal Plain. The Carmel Church Quarry is one of the richest vertebrate fossil sites east of the Mississippi. The 14 million-year-old Calvert Formation deposits at Carmel Church contain at least five species of whales and two dozen shark species, as well as manatees, crocodiles, turtles, birds, and bony fish.

This was a hot sunny day, and without the cooling breeze off the Potomac River we were baking. We also did not find as much cool stuff. We found a couple of shark teeth, ½ of a megalodon tooth, parts of a vertebrate skeleton, whale poop, and large unidentifiable bones (we left them in the cliff).

Here's Manly horsing around on the gravel debris pile while we wait for our orientation.

And here's Rory doing the same thing.

Apparently, if you visit this site after a rain, the fossils are just lying there atop the debris piles because the rain has washed the sand and dirt away. Well, this summer was drought so there wasn't much action there.

We hope to take another trip with this outfit next Spring, maybe sooner, and collect more fossils. We had a blast, and to think it was only two hours from home!