In my quest to find the nerdiest things for us to do on our vacation, I researched and discovered a little place just south of Buffalo, called the Penn Dixie Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center. It's HELLA hard to find, since its street may be slightly made up and thus doesn't appear on GPS, and nobody answers the phone for you to ask. Fortunately, this one lady in a CVS by the highway lives near Penn Dixie, and she told us how to get there. Thanks, CVS lady!
I was a little worrried that, after spending almost an hour trying to find the place and shelling out almost 30 bucks to get in and rent tools, the place wouldn't be worth it.
Um...it's worth it:
It's WAY worth it:
Most recently, the Penn Dixie site was a mine for shale that was then crushed up and used in cement. Less recently, as in 130 million years before dinosaurs recently, the shale was the bottom of a tropical sea, and many little critters died there and sunk into the mud, which gradually transformed into shale, of which the top was later mined off, rendering what's beneath oh-so-visible to your average fossil hunter.
Shale is more fragile than and erodes more easily than fossils, so you can actually just walk around on this moonscape that is the Penn Dixie site and spy, among the crumbling shale at your feet, fossils wherever you look. They're plentiful--
--if you learn how to see them:
Willow and Sydney had the time of their little lives. Sydney, perhaps because she's so low to the ground already, kept spying and picking up these HUGE fossils--crinoids like the ones we find at home, sure, but also huge horn corals, and brachiopods that look just like clam shells, and pelecypods--and Willow blissfully spent time at one self-proclaimed "dig site" after another, sometimes just running to and fro giddily, not knowing where to go next it was all so exciting:
As for me, I dipped around for a while, but then I found a section of dried creek bed that had a good bit of exposed shale. Shale is so fragile that you can practically peel it up in these thin layers, and if you run out of fault lines to start peeling up at you can just give the shale a little thunk with your hammer and you've instantly got a ton of brand-new fault lines. So I grubbed happily right alongside the babies--
--primarily on the look-out for trilobytes, which I have become obsessed with. I didn't luck out enough to find a whole trilobyte, but I did manage to ease numerous partial trilobyte fossils out of their slate resting grounds.
Thank goodness that it eventually started to pour down rain, because otherwise we would have spent the entire day there at Penn Dixie, Matt growing increasingly crazy with frustration at our lack of getting back on the road. Getting back on the road is Matt's main source of amusement when we travel, and he does not as a rule enjoy anything that might hinder us getting back on the road where we belong. He tolerated with good nature a brief visit to Past and Present, a little fossil shop temptingly near Penn Dixie, and then back on the road we got.