Wyoming’s Fossil Butte National Monument: A Hidden Gem

knightia_eocaena

Those of you that read my blog regularly will know that I am an avid stamp collector: passport stamps, National Parks stamps, just about any kind of stamp that shows where I’ve been.  Call it a cheap souvenir, but they’re a lot easier to store and display than fridge magnets (though I’ve got a few of those too…..)

large-26000 Passport_collectors_edition

Recently I was thumbing through my National Parks Passport book, which is a handy place to keep all your stamps from the parks, national monuments, national historic trails, national forests, and so.  I noticed a place that seemed pretty remote, but looked interesting, so I decided to do a road trip to see it.  It was Fossil Butte National Monument, in southwestern Wyoming, and I’m here to tell you: it is worth a trip!

To get there from east or west,  you’ll need to get on Interstate 80.  From Cheyenne you head west, and from Reno you’d head east.  You can also get there from Salt Lake City: just take I-15 until it meets up with I-80, and head east.  Coming from the north (Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana) your best bet is I-84 to its junction with I-80, then head east.

Fossil Butte area map

I started from Evanston WY, which is in the extreme southwest corner of Wyoming, and right on I-80.  I’ll give you the directions from Evanston.  It’s about 59 minutes from Evanston to Fossil Butte NM.

Head east on I-80, driving about 14 miles to Exit 18.  Get of the freeway here and follow the signs for US 189 North, toward Kemmerer.   You are now driving through one of the least-densely-populated areas in the US!  You’ll stay on that road for about 35 miles: on a good day, you might see 5 vehicles in all that time.  (I say “vehicles” because most people out here drive trucks: cars are in the minority here!)

US 189 sign

You’ll start to see the brown signs for Fossil Butte.  After the 35-mile drive, you’ll turn LEFT onto US Route 30 West.  If you get to Diamondville, you’ve missed the turn! 

Drive on US 30 for around 10 miles.  This is an interesting area: lots of old coal mines and ghost towns.  Not many people live out here.

2017-09-01 12_10_47-Maps - Fossil Butte National Monument (U.S. National Park Service)

 

You’ll be following the signs to Fossil Butte, turning right onto a county road that will seem like an unpaved highway to nowhere, but stay on it!  Soon you come to Fossil Butte!

Fossil Butte NM sign

Keep an eye out on the right for some very interesting geologic history markers as you approach the monument: they’re worth reading!

The first thing that you come to is the Visitor’s Center.  Here you can watch two really interestinging videos on how fossils are found and prepared; see over 300 fossil exhibits and (in the summer months) see fossil preparation demonstrations by the ranger archaeologists.  

Fossil Butte Visitor's Center

One the coolest things at Fossil Butte is somewhat visible on the right hand side of this picture.  What looks like the railing is in fact the geologic history of the Earth!  It starts right at the parking lot sidewalk, and wraps all the way around the Visitor’s Center (that building on the left.)  It has some amazing information and you could easily spend an hour or more here, just reading about the different eons and ages and all that.  Here are some pictures to give you an idea.  (I took about 50 pictures of this, because it was so interesting, but I’ll only put a few here!)

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(Did you notice what that entrance sign said: “9 inches = 1 million years”!  Every 9 inches of that timeline equals a million years of Earth’s history: incredible!)

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(It’s sobering to note that, during the Triassic Period, 83% of all genera went extinct.  That’s 83% of every living thing!)

You get the idea.  There are even places on the timeline that show where cats and dogs first developed (cats are older!)  It’s something to see, this timeline: you will learn a lot!

Inside the Visitor’s Center, don’t forget to get your park stamp!  They have a couple of really nice ones, and some dinosaur stamps for the kids!

fb pass stamp

But the real reason you come to Fossil Butte is, or course, for the fossils!  I’m not going to go into a long discourse on fossils, or talk about all the cool ranger programs and hikes they have at Fossil Butte, but I am going to show you some of the great fossils they have there.  I’ve never seen anything like it!

Fossil Butte snake

(First off, let me say that all these fossils were discovered here!  This is a 42-inch snake: nearly 4 feet long.)

Fossil Butte fern

(Some kind of ancient fern.  It’s amazing how well preserved it is.)

Fossil Butte turtle

(This is a MASSIVE soft-shell turtle.  5 feet six inches long (1.7 meters): NOT something I’d want to meet in the water!)

Fossil Butte exhibit

(This is one of the exhibit areas: they are really well done.)

Finally, I thought I’d add this Fossil Butte video that I just found.  I think it’s really well done.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to one of America’s great national parks.  If you are ever near southwestern Wyoming, I highly recommend a detour to see Fossil Butte National Monument: you won’t regret it!

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