After Fossil Butte I passed this sign that said, “Fossil Fish Gallery” and of course had to stop. It was someone’s house, granted it was a large one. Out front there was a huge set of dinosaur footprints and some petrified wood. This promised to be interesting.
Going in there was a huge slab on the wall with dozens of fish on it. I climbed the stairs into the shop and saw a teenage girl tending counter. There were fish everywhere, big ones, little ones, delicate ones, all beautifully displayed. There was an absolutely enormous gar, its scales still visible. Not long after entering another woman appeared and started talking with us. She had the brash fast-talking ways of a Yankee, but claimed to be homegrown here in Kemmerer. She told us that she grew up near here on a ranch and that she never knew what treasures she was sitting on top of, stating as children she would lob the fossils like Frisbees at each other’s heads. She claimed many thousands of dollars of fossils got ruined in this fashion. Now she made a living off them, saying her husband was part and partial to setting up Butte National Monument Park itself, and that is why they were allowed to keep the massive gar. (State legislations require all “rare” fossils to be surrendered to scientific institutions.) She was a funny woman, showing us around, and showing us the difference between the fossils in the “18 inch layer” and the surrounding layers. Then she told us she took people up to the quarry seven days a week, from 9am to noon to dig, for a fee slightly higher than that of Fossil Safari. She had nothing good to say about Fossil Safari. She brought us to her basement where she had a number of fossils dug up at fossil safari. Apparently a couple people had come in the day before with these uncut, mediocre fossils they had dug up at Fossil Safari. She said she wasn’t even sure if they provided tools for these people but they didn’t provide any means of cutting them down to size. The fish dug up here were in better condition, they were at the dead center of the ancient lake, and preserved by petroleum seepage. They did not look like the silhouettes of fish that were sitting sad and neglected in this basement, donated for the young children to find in the rubble pile out back.
Penny, the woman answering all the questions, turned to me and inquired if I was always this quiet. Pretty much. This should be taken as a compliment, I found the conversation hat fascinating. Before I knew it I was booking an appointment with “the boys” to go to their quarry. It was slightly more expensive but way more personal, with only four people going up with each guide. And to add to the charm I was put in a group without children as, “There must be a reason you don’t have children!” What a funny comment.
I had to wait two days for the appointment and after the dig I bought a little “grade A” kit from them. It contains a fish fossil so deeply embedded in a piece of rock from the 18 inch layer that it has to be neatly and carefully chiseled and scratched out to see it. This sort of tedious work has always relaxed me. I very much wanted to try it.
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