Posted in Geology, Nature

Licensed to Hunt Fossils

I found this fossil after ten minutes of searching.

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.

Parking lot at entrance to the spillway

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).

This information was on one of the signs near the parking lot.

The bare bedrock is incredibly desolate looking.

The barren floor of the spillway

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.

Flower growing on limestone bedrock
If anyone knows what species of wildflower this is,
let me know. I am in awe of it.

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.

Photographing a fossil in the bedrock
This is the fossils embedded in bedrock that 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.

This is a fossil of a trilobite (its specific species is the Isotelus Maximus); the fossil was nearly as large as a dinner plate.

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.

I found a horn coral fossil. It’s in the upper, left corner
of the rock that I’m holding at the top of this post.

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.

Besides giving us permission to hunt fossils, it also lays out some rules
such as not using tools and not taking large fossils.

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.

What a cool rock!

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.

Behold my “3-D” fossil.

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.

A fossil-hunter in action
Additional information
  • ODNR: Fossil Hunting in Ohio — Discusses good sites for fossil hunting in our state.
  • 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

View Larger Map

More on Warren County

© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

9 thoughts on “Licensed to Hunt Fossils

  1. I live in the Columbus area and have been collecting local fossils along streams since i was a kid. I have a 3 inch horn coral that I found along Big Walnut creek. It appears to have ancient barnacles attached to it. I hope to see Dale G at the next fossil show.

    1. Holly, thanks for the feedback. I looked into the matter further. At, they describe the upper flower petal of Yellow fumewort as being “toothed”, which doesn’t seem to be the case for the mystery flower on this page. Here’s one of the photos from this page showing the toothed, upper petal:

      Macro of yellow fumewort

      On the other hand, I published a photo of “Yellow fumewort” in this post: April Wildflowers at Lake Katharine State Nature Preserve, except I called it “Yellow Harlequin”. However the scientific name for the two are the same, so your comment introduced me to a new, common name for the same flower. Below I’ll excerpt my photo from the Lake Katharine post:

      Yellow fumewort

      And for comparison, here’s a look at the mystery flower on this page:

      Unidentified flower

    1. Art, thank you for stopping by! I was just looking over your site. You do some very interesting work. And let me congratulate you on escaping the city! If you ask me, the best side is outside. 🙂

    1. Sally, as you can probably tell from the post, Bob and I had no idea that all these fossils were here. We actually had driven to the area to check out Caesar Creek State Nature Preserve because we were told that the Gorge had 100 foot-tall limestone cliffs. After hiking there, we decide to try a trail at Caesar Creek State Park, and we stumbled across the fossil “field” by accident. I’m glad we did, and I’m happy to publicize this as an attraction in its own right. I’m convinced that the local schools must do field trips here, and I can picture school buses letting off the children here. It would be like going to an Easter egg hunt where all the kids go off in their own direction looking for an “Easter egg” (in this case, a fossil), and there are so many fossils that everyone would find one. 🙂

  2. Very interesting, again! I loved the line – “It were as if this little flower was an explorer laying claim to the land on behalf of the plant kingdom.” Great photos, writing, everything. 🙂

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