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Earlier this summer, my father and I took a rather spontaneous trip down to Texas…from Newton, IA. Although it was quite a drive, it was well worth it in the end. We started the drive at around 6 p.m. at night, which I would never do again. Since the drive is 11 hours we were quite tired when we arrived in Ladonia, Texas. That did not dampen our spirits tho!
The aim of this trip was to collect fossils while managing not to get bit by anything poisonous or hurtful. We succeeded on both accounts. The first section consisted of us getting from Newton, IA to Ladonia Fossil Park, TX which was our first fossil stop. We took the following route:
And I know what you are thinking…yes, there was that much construction. However, we were never stopped on the road, just a lot of one lane driving. Now, if you recall once you get into Oklahoma at some point a toll road begins; we maybe would have seen it during the day, but we definitely did not see it at 3 in the morning as we got our picture taken by the overhead camera on the interstate. Now, the police didn’t chase us and we were not imprisoned, we simply paid as we exited the toll road and got a receipt (which the toll man told us to keep as we would be receiving a fine by mail for blowing past the first gate…a fine which never came). A couple examples of toll receipts are shown below:
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Make sure you have at least $10 of cash in your car if you do not have a PikePass; toll booths only take cash; and you do not want an additional fine! If for some reason you live near Newton, IA and take the above route you will spend exactly $5 on toll roads (assuming the rates do not change).
LADONIA FOSSIL PARK, LADONIA TX:
If you are a beginner fossil hunter (which we were) this park is PERFECT for you, persons of all ages, or persons with families. There is pull off gravel parking with a small overhang for vehicle protection (shown below):
When we attended the park it was still quite early in the morning and nobody was there; however, we did go back a couple times later in the weekend and there were a few people sifting about. All in all it was a peaceful place to hunt. A photo of the walk from the parking lot to the river bed is shown below:
The stairs are very friendly and it is quite easy to maneuver. Sometimes the riverbed is voluntarily flooded, so it is best to check the Ladonia Fossil Park website before attending just to confirm there are no raging waters from flash floods or voluntary flooding. While we attended the park at the peak of summer (it was very dry), I imagine there would be more moisture during the winter months but I cannot confirm this. Additional pictures of the riverbed are shown below:
At first the site may seem empty, or devoid of fossils, but with a little determination this is certainly not the case. After some research, we focused our search in the bed of the river instead of the walls and we found some cool stuff for the amount of time we were there. You can see above that there are little mounds of rock, this rock is shale and breaks up into tiny pieces, an example of this is below:
After using this method of disrupting the shale you can eventually find some pretty cool clusters of imprints and fossils such as the section below:
All in all we pulled some pretty cool pieces of baculite out of the riverbed as well as a single shark tooth; in addition, we took home some fossils of shells and some larger pieces of shale. The collection is shown below:
MINERAL WELLS FOSSIL PARK, MINERAL WELLS TX:
This park is more remote and you will lose cell signal once off the main road (if that is important to you). If you thought Ladonia was easy to maneuver, Mineral Wells is even easier. The gravel parking lot features ample room, portable toilets, picnic benches, and a large permanent shade tent. In addition, there is a board detailing the fossils you can find pictured below (it is very informative, education, and a great learning opportunity for all ages):
When you enter the park there is a gradual slope that allows for easy access into the abandoned gravel pit, the slope even has a railing! Shown here:
Now, this park was a little easier, but it was so much fun! Almost all of the fossils are right on the surface…no digging required! You can find everything on the information board plus much more. At this location (and Ladonia) you will want shade protection as the summer Texas sun can cause major sunburn! All in all, this park is best for younger fossil hunters but still great for all ages. There is very little climbing required; but, if you enter the tall grass keep a watchful eye for slithering creatures!
Finds from Mineral Wells are shown below (there are a couple nearly pristine brachiopods; there are over 100 more fossils not pictured. They are everywhere at this place!):
POST OAK CREEK, SHERMAN TX:
While this location is not a dedicated “fossil park”, it sure should be. At this site you will be searching for shark teeth. This site is the most difficult of the three to find as there is no gravel parking lot, sign, or indicators to its location. The easiest way to find it is to plus “Travis St. Sherman, TX” into your GPS. Once you are on Travis St. (off the highway) follow it until you come to a bridge (near the edge of town), there is only one bridge on the road. Once you are at the bridge, simply pull to the side in the grass and park (there is a mechanics shop on the other side of the grass field where you park.
After exiting your vehicle (and watching for traffic on the main road!) walk to the right of the bridge where there is a mowed opening leading to the descent into the river bed. This is the semi-difficult part, there are no steps or railings leading to the river bed so be careful while descending! I have no photos of this but an excellent resource for this site can be accessed by following the link. I enjoyed this sight the most as it involved a little more thinking, digging, and water! Plus, the river bed has ample shade to protect you from that scalding Texas sun!
Photos from our finds at Post Oak Creek are below:
In addition, you can find oysters, coral, and many other fossils that are not shark teeth at Post Oak Creek. The link above describes some of these finds in detail.
ADDITIONAL TIPS AND TRICKS OF THIS FOSSIL TRIP:
ESSENTIAL ITEMS CHECKLIST:
ITEMIZED CHECKLIST HERE: Texas Fossil Park Checklist
Accommodation we utilized: We stayed at the Trail Dust Inn (Sulphur Springs, TX). The hotel is managed by Best Western and was excellent. When you initially pull up, the hotel may seem dingy but it is actually quite nice if you don’t mind swatting a few flies in your room. We booked the room through travelocity for $68/night. It beat camping out in the heat for sure! Trust me, after a long day of fossil hunting you will want a place to relax.
Pictures of the hotel are below along with the link to their booking page here:
WAYS TO LABEL YOUR FINDS:
MAP OF THE FOUR MAIN LOCATIONS IN THIS POST:
Sulphur Springs >>> Ladonia (45 Minutes)
Sulphur Springs>>> Sherman (1 Hour 30 Minutes)
Sulphur Springs>>> Mineral Wells (2 Hours 30 Minutes)
Finally, some quick pictures from the car of the Dallas – Fort Worth skyline are below in addition to a video of some lightning taken at Ladonia Fossil Park:
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***Creative commons license the above mentioned is under.