RV trip part 7: driving and finding fossils

Making our way home from Colorado involved three days of driving. I didn't want it to just be a rush home though with nothing to look forward to (as if being home wasn't enough) so I planned a few interesting stops. A hint:

Before getting to that though, I'll summarize the good and bad parts of the driving.


In case you've forgotten, we were driving in a 23' RV. Luckily all of the surprise roads (gravel, dirt, hidden) were behind us, and there were only highways. Here are some of the notable parts, bullet-point style:
  • Interstate 70 through the Rockies is quite impressive. Deep canyons, often beautiful river cascades, much general rockiness.
  • It's also quite busy, and traffic was a lot heavier than I wanted.
  • Most (all?) of the towns off I-70 in this part of Colorado were not designed with even small RVs in mind. We exited twice to try and get lunch, but had to give up both times as there was no place to park a larger vehicle. (We ended up lunching in a rest area parking lot)
  • Highway 9 is quite scenic -- as I suspect most highways through the mountains are -- but it was painful having to go through towns like Breckenridge, where the speed limit dropped to 30 and there were many stoplights. Nothing makes a red light seem unbearably long like knowing you have 5+ more hours to drive.
  • When you see a sign telling you the distance to the summit of a pass (for instance, "Hoosier Pass, 2.7 miles. Elevation 11,542 ft") this really means "RV drivers get ready for a long, difficult climb in your slow vehicle".
  • There was one unexpected switchback leading to one of these passes. Lots of hairpin turns. Luckily the speed limit was very low -- small RVs are good at low speed limits when climbing mountains; less worry about holding up cars behind us.
What made this part of the drive more stressful was that we had a destination that closed at 5 or 6 PM and we needed to get there about an hour before that. GPS told us we didn't have many minutes to spare.

Where were we headed? Florissant Fossil Quarry.

A fossil quarry you say? Yes, we were going to dig for fossils!

I have to apologize here, as I took no photos of the place itself -- all of these photos were taken after we were back home. That's what the mix of eagerness to get out of the RV after hours on the road, excitement about an anticipated activity, and the pressure of a few more hours of driving to come does to you: it makes you ignore the camera. (It makes you crabby too, but we won't go into that.)

Luckily other visitors did not skip the photos:

Thank you unidentified visitor! (Photo apparently originated in 2011 at the dormant blog dee-ramblingroads.blogspot.com)

The quarry consists of an exposed wall of shale from which the owners excavate rock occasionally. There are several piles of rocks that you can choose from, and you pay by the hour ($10 per person) to sit at picnic tables and split the shale pieces and hope you find something cool. You don't actually break rocks from the wall.

Since we arrived relatively late in the day the owner (Nancy, I believe) picked out some "good" rocks for us and quickly showed us what to do. She also advised us not to get too fussy with trying to peel every layer from every chunk of shale. Instead she suggested we split a rock at a random point and then move on to the next one. "An hour goes by quickly" she said.

She was right!

We did find a few fossils while there, just leaves. Nothing too exciting:

We didn't split everything we collected though.

She not only boxed up that and what we had already split, but gathered a dozen more chunks from the piles for us to investigate at home. I thought this was especially generous since they also sold "grab and go" bags of rocks to split at home -- the only other visitors while we were there bought one of those.

I should point out that Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is nearby, but we did not have a minute to spare in our schedule to visit there.

So here's the fossil "hunting" technique in photos.

First, you choose a rock:

Then you look at the edge for a likely place for it to split easily:

This one needed no tools, just fingers to pull it apart:

More often than not, you get to see the blank inside of a rock.

Sometimes though you see something and wonder if it is a fossil...

...or just something that might look like one. (That's a small cedar leaf fossil above we were told)

In case you find something worth saving:

We have plenty of rocks left to split, so I'm still hoping for a really exciting find. An insect would be fantastic, or a fish, but even "better" things have been found here: Nancy found a bird fossil once!

This was a nice break from driving, and when I get some time I'm going to start peeling more layers from our box of rocks.

On this day though (August 25) it was back on the road for a few more hours...

(one more post will wrap things up I think)


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Salty Pumpkin Studio  – (October 17, 2017 at 5:59 AM)  

Wow, looks like a very interesting and fun way to spend time. I'd love to fossil hunt. Some of the quarries in Vermont have fossils.

outlawgardener  – (October 17, 2017 at 9:34 AM)  

What a fun activity! Sorry you didn't have more time to spend but it looks like you made the best of it. Hope you find something really great in the rocks you brought home!

danger garden  – (October 17, 2017 at 11:26 AM)  

That photo of the lady sitting at the picnic table could have been taken in Republic, WA, where Andrew and I went on a dig years ago (http://stonerosefossil.org/). We both found a few leaf fossils. If you find anything really good then you have to give it up and you only get to take home three on any given day. Of course it is free...

Kathy G  – (October 18, 2017 at 12:32 PM)  

Having grown up near Florissant Missouri, I've always found it fascinating that there was a city with the same name in Colorado. It looks like fun.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (October 19, 2017 at 10:43 AM)  

What a great find. I'd love to do something like that one day.

The rocks are beautiful--I wouldn't mind having a truckload for the garden!

Rebecca  – (July 12, 2018 at 10:22 PM)  

How fun! It reminds me of quartz crystal hunting in Arkansas.

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