This past weekend, Bob and I went to Caesar Creek State Park to do a little hiking. However once we got there, we happened upon this amazing spillway that was just full of fossils.
In case you are wondering, this is basically a gigantic ditch. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed it to safely channel water from the Caesar Creek Reservoir in the event of flooding. The floor and one wall of the spillway consists of limestone and shale bedrock (dolomite).
The bare bedrock is incredibly desolate looking.
Despite the scant soil, one species of flowering plant was blooming here and there across the spillway floor. I was amazed that anything could grow right out of the bedrock like that. It’s as if this little flower were an explorer laying claim to the land on behalf of the plant kingdom.
The sign said that visitors to the park were allowed to collect fossils here if they went to the Nature Center and requested a free permit to do so. We didn’t have a permit at this point, so I thought that I would have to be happy with just collecting a few photos of fossils.
The first photo is me photographing a fossil in the bedrock;
the second photo is what I was photographing.
Following this we went to the nature center to get a trail map. I was surprised at how big the nature center was. Once we went inside I was also surprised that a portion of the nature center was very much like a museum with glass-encased exhibits that featured themes ranging from geology, to natural history, to Ohio’s early history, to the engineering of the dam. Here are a couple exhibits that focused on fossils that were found at the spillway.
The above fossil was excavated from the spillway area and is considered to be one of the finest Ordovician fossils discovered in the U.S. The Ordovician period occurred nearly one-half billion years ago. What is now Ohio was then the floor of a shallow sea. According to State Symbols U.S.A., the largest trilobite fossil on display at the Smithsonian was also excavated in Ohio and is a fossil specimen of the same species. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were excavated from the spillway area too. Because of these significant finds, in 1985 Ohio designated this species of trilobite as the official state fossil.
Although I thought we were unlikely to go fossil hunting, I went ahead and requested a fossil hunting permit while I was there. Here’s what it looks like.
After going on another hike, we were ready to pack it in for the day. It had been a hot day, and we had a longish drive ahead of us before we’d be home again. Nonetheless since the spillway was on the way, we decided to briefly stop and do a little fossil-hunting. We agreed to take home the best fossil we could find in ten minutes; our permit specified that the fossil had to fit in the palm of a hand.
I encountered a few rocks that were about the size of a sheet of paper… too large to keep as a souvenir, but let me show you what they were like.
As my ten minute countdown went on, I would walk around with a fossil in my hand till I found a better one. Then I’d put the old one down, pick up the new one and continue looking.
At the end of ten minutes I ended up with the one at the top of this post. One of the things I liked about it was that I had just learned about “horn coral” and this rock had a very prominent one in the corner. Plus since it was in the corner, I could turn the rock around and see the fossil in “3-D” whereas most other fossils seemed “2-D” since only a single surface was visible.
It now sits in my curio cabinet next to some normal curio items (figurines, dishes, vases, etc.) and some not-so-normal items (a cast-iron toy car, some flint arrowheads, a miner’s lamp from an earlier era, etc.). I can’t believe that I was able to find such a nice fossil in such a short period of time. Plus it was more fun finding it myself than it would have been to buy it or even receive it as a gift.
This would be a great place to take kids. I’m guessing that all the local schools probably take their students here for field trips, but it is sufficiently fun, interesting, and educational that it’d be worth taking your kids here even if you live farther away. Those homeschooling their children should consider doing a field trip of their own here. Plus once you get to Caesar Creek State Park, there are plenty of other things to do.
For what its worth, I found my fossil over by the rubble near the cliff. And I will close out with a photo of a fellow, fossil-hunter which also gives you a better idea of what the cliff’s like.
- The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has published Travel back in time on a fossiling trek! in which the author recommends other sites where fossils can be found and also gives some pointers to help you get the most out of your search.
- I just discovered that there is such as word as fossiliferous, as in “The Caesar Creek spillway is well-known for its fossiliferous bedrock.”
Update: Satellite View of Caesar Creek spillway