Fossil Fish Dig – Kemmerer Wyoming

On Thursday morning I was back at Ulrich’s Fossil Gallery to go out fossil fishing. I were guaranteed 6-8 full fish specimens.

I went out with a teenage boy, Dylan, whose summer job it was to work the quarry, and a friendly middle aged couple named Lynn and Bill. I drove in a beat up old truck up a dirt road that led straight to the center of the mountain. Let me tell you, the ride was steep! At one point we passed two or three antelope.

“What pretty animals.” Bill exclaimed, before asking if it was legal to hunt them. It was. Shame, they were very pretty. I refrained from asking what the little rodents dashing across the road were. I didn’t really feel like looking like an idiot. That’d be like someone coming up to me in NH and asking what the squirrels were.

Anyway! I came to the quarry, which was a small section where rocks could be seen piled up like sheets. I were given a hammer and chisel and given a quick demonstration before being given the opportunity to pick one of three spots. I chose the one I could climb on.  It was the first rock I found the first fish, three actually, although two were “exploded” and could no longer really be identified as fish. Apparently not only full skeletons are preserved in the fossilization process, but sometimes piles of decomposed goo are as well. Decomposed goo or not I was proud of my first find, and the little skeletal fishy was perfect in my eyes. Besides, the exploded fish didn’t actually count as normal people don’t like to keep them…

It took a while but eventually I found a partial big fossil, a mioplosus, a somewhat rare find here.

After this the rock got real fragile. Apparently it had gotten wet at some point and some of the layers were flecking off like paper, revealing fossils that in no way could actually be preserved. This was frustrating, I dug through all of that and back down to the hard layers. Apparently the “18 inch layer” where all the commercial digging was done had the consistency of concrete. That’s where the professionals dug with heavy machinery and of course I wouldn’t be chipping away at that layer. I found the allotted amount of fish I was promised, in three different species, knightia, mioplosus, and diplomystus. All except the mio were a few inches in length and preserved wonderfully. I was very happy with the finds. Over on the other side of the quarry another group had found three monster fish, complete too. One had to be extracted with a saw. All this and I felt bad for the couple who was in our group who found substandard fossils, all tiny, many very fragile, and not a hell of a lot of them. They were such a sweet couple too!

Coming back from the dig was an adventure all its own. Imagine being in a beat up old truck going down such a steep hill that looking out of the back of it you couldn’t see the road behind you, just fresh mountain air. Now imagine going down that same hill knowing that the road was only vaguely the width of the vehicle you’re in and any mistake would result in you toppling off the side and rolling down the mountain. Nerve racking! I made it though, as Dylan told us why his truck’s roof was slashed to bits. “Some of the other guys up here sometimes get bored and test their new blades on the ceiling…”

I was super pleased with my finds. I wasn’t really expecting much. The trilobite dig was a lot of fun (and a completely different experience, being in different rock) but this had its own charm. I even found myself rather liking the little fish that once swam around here, eons before my existence. I was told of a dinosaur dig in Montana but the funds were running thin. Perhaps I’ll come back for that someday. Still, the fish quarry people insist that customers on the “fossil tour” (trilobite, fish, and dinosaur digs) said their fish digging was the best of the three. We’ll see!

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