5 Historic (and Prehistoric) Adventures in Fossil Basin

Proudly donning the fingerprints of the past, Diamondville and Kemmerer, Wyoming, brim with history… and pre-history! Just one day in Fossil Basin takes you on a journey from the prehistoric past and back to the present, without ever forfeiting modern amenities.

Here are five exciting stops for a historically good trip:

1. The Fossil Country Frontier Museum

Kick-off at the Fossil Country Frontier Museum to prep you for the day ahead. With exhibits displaying the history of Kemmerer and Diamondville, a replica coal mine; bootlegging stills and wine presses; J.C. Penney antiques; and fossils, the museum offers an in-depth look at Fossil Basin’s rich history.

Make your way through the exhibits, find your bearings, and prepare for the next few stops out in the field.

2. The Private Fossil Quarries

You probably learned at the Fossil Country Frontier Museum that millions of years ago the area was a prehistoric subtropical lake. In place of Kemmerer and Diamondville’s population of about 3,500 people, the area was instead populated by prehistoric fish, reptiles, bats, and birds. 

With the perfect conditions for preservation, Fossil Basin’s Green River formation now yields some of the best-preserved fossils in the world and offers an impressive image of life long before humans roamed the planet. 

Head out to Fossil Basin’s private fossil quarries and dig for yourself! Who knows what you’ll find!

3. Fossil Butte National Monument

Perhaps you’ll find yourself surprised by how quickly you can unearth a fossil at the private fossil quarries. Well, you aren’t alone in that sentiment: The Green River Formation’s fossil bounty was first discovered by workers on the Union Pacific Railroad… on accident! A few workers passed their fossils on to Paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope started identification of the fossil species. 

As word spread an amateur collector, Robert Craig, began quarrying the area. Soon, several other collectors joined him and the Green River Formation fossils showed up in museums and renowned collections across the globe. 

Congress established Fossil Butte National Monument in 1991 in an effort to protect the area and its incredible paleontology. Today, the national monument is open for viewing and enjoyment by the public as well as for research by a few permitted paleontologists. 

The monument includes hikes through historic fossil quarries and an incredible visitor’s center with exhibits of the area’s most unique fossils.

4.  The J.C. Penney Mother Store

Now, it’s time to head back into town and learn about Kemmerer’s more modern residents. The next stop… J.C. Penney!

You might wonder why a J.C. Penney is worth seeing—odds are you’ve been in one before. Well, fun fact: the first-ever J.C. Penney was opened in Kemmerer and it’s still operating today!

James Cash Penney lived in Kemmerer during its peak as a mining town. He got his start in retail as a part-owner of the Golden Rule dry goods store. In 1909, he bought out the owners and opened a storefront in Kemmerer. 

In less than ten years, Penney opened over 30 stores and consolidated them under the name J.C. Penney. At its peak, there were 2,000 J.C. Penney stores across the U.S., filling millions of shoppers’ closets with clothes, shoes, home goods… you name it! 

The original J.C. Penney store still stands in downtown Kemmerer. Unlike its huge department store counterparts, the mother store is a small-town locale decorated with antique pieces from its earliest days of operation. 

Stop in to shop and check out the fascinating antiques, including an original pulley system used to deliver cash receipts!

5. The Homestead Museum

Head down the street from the J.C. Penney Mother Store and you’ll find Penney’s quaint historic home, the Penney Homestead Museum. 

After his death in 1978, his long-time home was established as a historic landmark and restored to its most authentic state. The home is decorated with many Penney family antiques, including a baby cradle and a stack of storage crates from the J.C. Penney store.  

James Cash Penney’s influence clearly lives on in the Fossil Basin community. All within walking distance of one another sit the still operational mother store, the Penney homestead museum, and the recent addition of a bronze sculpture of J.C. Penney in Kemmerer’s town park.

There you have it, five fascinating stops from the Cenozoic period to the Old West mining days and back! It’s easy to see that Fossil Basin is truly a treasure trove of rich and experiential history.

Take this historic and prehistoric tour of Fossil Basin and gain a whole new understanding of the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun!”

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