June 2, 2012

Aquarium in Stone

We drove east from Idaho today through an expansive landscape.  Alas, we left the state without visiting the potato museum.  We just didn’t have time to do everything!  We made a detour in order to drive along the west shore of Bear Lake, which straddles the Idaho-Utah border.  Sometimes called the Caribbean of the Rockies, Bear Lake is twenty miles long and is a beautiful shade of blue.  Although we enjoyed the lake views, the neighboring communities did not tempt us to linger.

Storm Clouds Looming Over the Wide Open Spaces
Bear Lake
We kept driving, picked up the Oregon Trail once again and crossed into the wide open spaces of southwest Wyoming.  One more national park was on our agenda, Fossil Butte National Monument.  We’ve visited several national parks where fossils are the focus, including Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and John Day National Monument. Fossil Butte is my new favorite, at least as far as the fossils are concerned, although John Day still wins out on scenery.

Fossil Butte National Monument preserves an extraordinarily rich and diverse fossil deposit dating back fifty million years.  What makes Fossil Butte so special is the fact that the fossils found here are among the world’s most perfectly preserved remains of ancient plant and animal life.  

The displays at the visitor center are exceptionally well-presented, and we just couldn’t believe the incredible detail of the fossils on view.  Nine-foot palm fronds, countless fish species and softshell turtles were just a few of the fossils that we looked at in amazement. Many fish even retained their entire skeleton, teeth, scales and skin.  It seems fitting that Fossil Butte has often been called an Aquarium in Stone.  No one knows for sure what events led to the preservation of Fossil Lake’s animals and plants, but many scientists believe that an essential ingredient was burial in calcium carbonate.

The Fossilized Plant Wall
Over 20 Species of Freshwater Fish Have Been Identified
An Amazing Amount of Detail Has Been Preserved
Even Fossils of Turtles Have Been Found
Another very cool feature at Fossil Butte is a Journey Through Time that records events in the Earth’s history beginning 4.5 billion years ago.  The timeline starts on the entrance road and continues along the railing outside the visitor center.  Here the timeline follows the Earth’s history as it evolved into what we know it today.  It was fun to spot some of our favorite events.  Other national parks known for their fossils were also placed in their respective places in time.

The Beginning of the Journey Through Time
The Journey Through Time Continues at the Visitor Center
Fossil Butte, for Which the Park Was Named, Can Be Seen Behind the Timeline
The landscape at Fossil Butte is also impressive, particularly its namesake feature.  Many of the fossils came from Fossil Lake, which today is a flat-topped rock butte that stands near the center of the ancient lake.  We took the scenic drive into the high country where we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the butte and surrounding sagebrush-covered hills.

An Impressive Landscape


  1. Soft shell turtles... Are those like soft shell crabs? I'm getting hungry. ha ha LV

    1. LV, You are just too funny!!! I think the turtles may have been just a wee bit bigger than soft shell crabs, but who knows. My mother used to make the best soft shell crabs. Such great memories! Sarah