Last year I watched an episode of Antiques Roadshow that featured fossils from the Mazon Creek area in Illinois. I promptly looked it up and discovered it’s only about an hour and a half away from our little house on the prairie. I bookmarked the info and vowed to make a trip there as soon as we had a second vehicle. Back in February that process started and I immediately contacted one of the homeschooling families that we do a lot of activities with about making a trip up there. They loved the idea so much that one of the parents, Jeff organized not only the trip, but assistance from the Geology department at the University of Illinois.
Jeff put together a powerpoint presentation on the subject. It covered the Mazon Creek area and types of fossils, why the fossils exist there, and even a long timeline of fossil records. The geology department gave him samples of what to look for and types of fossils we would probably find. Best part was the map and location of a great fossil hunting site. The kids (and parents) were wiggly with excitement. Last week we finally made that trip.
There are dozens of lakes and ponds tucked away in the area. The location the geology department sent us to was a bit off the path. We found the lake and went through the woods to the fossil location. Much of the area was overgrown and hard to hike. On our way to the site we found morels and saw lots of butterflies. The lake was really deep and you could see huge bass fish swimming around right next to the waters edge. There was such a steep drop off. There were only a few other people there and they were fishing in boats.
It didn’t take long to fill our buckets. You are allowed one 5 gallon bucket per person and we filled one about 2/3 of the way up. Carrying it out was quite a challenge. We took a route along the water to get out and there were tons and tons of fossils on the waters edge. So we ended up filling the buckets even more on the way back to the car. Once you know what you are looking for it was easy to find them.
Many of the fossils are encased in round rocks called concretions. By freezing them on water for two days they open up and reveal the fossil inside. We mostly found jellyfish. Lots and lots of jellyfish! One of the families found some fern fossils. There are some other creatures we are still trying to identify.
We are already planning on going back sometime soon and have lots of other people interested in visiting the area. Now if I could just figure out what to do with all of these fossils!