Paleontology is just as interesting of a topic in this modern age as it was back in the late 1800s, when dinosaur fossil hunting fueled astounding new theories concerning natural history. Nevada and Utah are both rich with prehistoric fossil hunting sites and several recent finds have caused ancient history to be rewritten.
Dinosaur and mammoth fossils have recently been discovered in places like Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Tule Springs, Nevada. Even the old ghost town of Berlin, Nevada is the home of a gigantic Ichthyosaur fossil that was discovered not long ago. Most of Nevada and Utah were once covered with vast oceans and lakes that eventually turned into lush forested swamps in prehistoric times. Just taking a short stroll in the desert will result in finding long extinct sea shells, shards of petrified wood and maybe even a few bits of ancient dinosaur bones.
Fossil hunting is heavily regulated and permits must be drawn if anything more than looking for bits of agate or ancient sea shells is on the agenda. Even collecting bits of petrified wood can result in costly penalties in some protected areas, so it is best to check the regulations ahead of time.
Most regulations concerning fossil hunting on public lands are meant to protect the fossils in their natural state, so these majestic indicators of the past can be enjoyed by future generations. Respecting paleontology site preservation policies is the best thing to do when going on a fossil viewing venture in Nevada or Utah. The fossil beds provide clues about climate change and adaptation, which may help humanity to survive well into the future. This is why protecting the vast fossil beds of Nevada and Utah is so important, especially during corrupt political times when gas fracking and mining threatens these priceless resources.
Back in 2013 when I photographed the fossil bed area at Tule Springs, the discovery of mammoth bones and tusks had just taken place at this site and the BLM officially designated the area as a protected paleontology site. By 2014 the Tule Springs Fossil Beds were given National Monument status, because this was such an important paleontology site. The old BLM site that I once visited is now officially called the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, so now this little known destination is easier to find on a map.
Tule Springs State Park is located at the northwest edge of Las Vegas, so visitors can easily break away from the grind to get some fresh air in this desolate area that borders upon the city limits. When traveling on Highway 95 North, there are signs for the Floyd Lamb State Park and Tule Springs. Heading north from the I-215 Beltway on North Durango Drive is the easiest way to find both the Floyd Lamb State Park and the BLM Paleontology Site.
The Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (BLM Paleontology Site) is located about a half mile north of Tule Springs State Park, where North Durango dead ends at Moccasin Road. Roadside parking was all that is available back in 2013, but that may have changed after this area gained National Monument status. Both the Floyd Lamb and Tule Springs State Parks are nearby, so facilities and more parking are within reach.
The Nellis Air Force Base Test Range, Desert National Wildlife Range, BLM Territory and Paiute Reservation all border upon the northwest end of the Las Vegas Valley. As can be imagined by the sound of these territory names, there is nothing but wide open spaces beyond the edge of the city. When hiking or horse back riding in the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument region, it pays to keep an eye out for no trespassing signs, because ending up on the wrong side of the fence at the Air Force Test Range can result in some scary moments when the jet fighters roar by.
Archaeological discoveries have been found at the Floyd Lamb State Park, Tule Springs State Park and the old BLM Paleontology Site, so this is a very rich fossil bed. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is a nice place for hiking and looking at the remains of fossilized prehistoric creatures. Paleontology is a great topic for children, because kids naturally take interest in anything to do with dinosaurs. Children also like to actively look for fossils and this is a healthy way for a family to spend a day.
The way the rules read, digging for fossils is not allowed and any fossils found must be left in place when exploring the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument. However, there are educational fossil dig tours and ventures that the rangers and local educational institutions provide for visitors. More information about guided tours and educational digs can be found at the corresponding websites.
As always, be sure to pack plenty of water and some nonperishable food when going out for a Mojave Desert venture, especially during the hot summer months. Rattlesnakes and scorpions like to hide under rocks during the daytime, so it pays to be wary when poking around. Wearing a wide brim hat definitely helps to protect the face from the bright sun, while inspiring the “Indiana Jones” mode. Looking for old prehistoric bones in the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is a good educational experience and it is a great way to spend the afternoon in the wide open spaces!
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