What to Expect When Visiting a Fossil Dig Site

It’s probably safe to assume that most people have never been fossil hunting—or at least most have never uncovered a fossil themselves. If you’re about to go fossil hunting at a dig site for the first time, you may be wondering what to expect. If you’re not yet familiar with the local quarries near Kemmerer, check out a list here


First, How Did So Many Fossils End Up Near Kemmerer?

There were three great lakes that existed in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado 52 million years ago that are now dried up, leaving fossils in lake sediments that turned into rocks known as the Green River Formation. The smallest lake of the three, Fossil Lake, was in southwest Wyoming. Since the bottom of the lake was salt water it acted as a natural preservant for the dead fish and animals that sank to the bottom. The National Park Service says, “The fossils are among the world’s most perfectly preserved remains of ancient plant and animal life.”

Where Do You Begin?

While you can only go fossil hunting with a private quarry, not the National Park Service, it’s still recommended that you go check out the Fossil Butte National Monument visitors center before going out with the private quarry you choose. They have a myriad of information, fossils on display, fossil preparation demonstrations and even allow the public to view professional paleontologists at work. 

Once you decide on a quarry and arrive at the dig site, you’ll most likely have to sign a waiver since you’ll be using chisels and a rock hammer. The quarry might also provide hard hats, safety glasses, gloves and field guides to identify any fossils you find.

After you get the technicalities out of the way, your guide will give you a quick introduction into how you will use your tools and where to find the fossils. They’ll likely tell you that it’s best to split the rock down into its smallest size, creating the potential to find as many fossils as possible.


Go Split Crazy

Once you understand the basics you’ll be set free to roam the isles of rocks that the quarry has pulled from the sides of the Green River Formation. For the next hour, or for however long you booked your tour, you can choose small rocks or big rocks and break them down looking for fossils that no other eyes have seen before.

There are LOTS of fossils in the Green River Formation, so as long as you are patient there is a good chance you will find something. Fossil Safari in Kemmerer says, “Most people find enough fish to satisfy their appetite in the first two hours.” 


Take it Home

The best part of fossil hunting is that the quarries will let you take home any common fish that you find, regardless of its size. It’s a good idea to bring an empty box or something to wrap a fossil with if you decide to take it home.

While rare species must stay at the quarry, it’s still a possibility that you could discover one out there. Rare species include crocodilians, stingrays, turtles, shrimp, bats and mammals. Some of these fossils you can find at the Fossil Butte National Monument visitors center, such as the 13-foot crocodilian.

What to Bring

The fossil dig sites tend to be a bit of a drive from town, so make sure you use the facilities before heading out. Some of them may have outhouses, but no guarantees. Definitely be sure to bring water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. The dig sites are usually higher in elevation than town, so bring warm layers and gloves in case they don’t provide those.


There is an abundance of knowledge to take in about the different fossils and why they’re in that part of Wyoming. Whether you’re there to learn about the rich history of the area or you’re looking for an educational activity to entertain your kids, fossil hunting is a fun—and somewhat addicting—activity for all ages and abilities.

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Tobey Schmidt