Fossil excavation sites in the West reveal valuable information about the prehistoric ecosystems of the Earth and create a variety of interesting locations for group tour visits.
Florissant, Colorado boast a wide variety of wildlife from the late Eocene Epoch, which was about 30 million years after the age of dinosaurs. The site, which is open year round, has a diverse mix of more than 140 fossilized species of tress and other plant life and over 1,100 fossilized insect species. Fossil bones, teeth, shells, and feather impressions reveal the existence of mollusks, fish, birds, opossums, mesohippus (an ancestor of the modern horse), and oreodonts (extinct pig-like animals). Petrified sequoia stumps can be seen on the Walk Through Time trail, and Petrified Forest trails. There are over 14 miles of easy to moderate trails through ponderosa pine forest and mountain meadows. Admission is $3 for seven days. 719-748-3253.
Hot Springs, South Dakota features the gigantic skeletal structures of the Columbian and woolly mammoths, as well as the giant short-faced bear, camel, llama, prairie dog, wolf, fish, and numerous invertebrates. Tour information features the Mammoth Site and Ice Age geology, paleontology, and paleoecology. After the 1/2 hour guided tour you are invited to stroll the sidewalks of the dig area at your own pace. It is recommended groups allow an hour or two for the visit. The Mammoth Site Museum is handicap accessible, with ramps along the tour route. Admission is $6.25 for ages 60 and over, $6.75 for ages 13 to 59. 605-745-6017
The unit of the John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon has a Paleontology Center featuring exhibits, interpretive programs and audiovisual presentations on fossils, geology, and the processes of paleontology. Fossil Museum Talks are presented year-round throughout the day and upon request. Sheep Rock Talks are offered during the summer daily and on the weekends in the fall and spring. These 20-minute talks feature an aspect of the monuments fossil story and begin at 1 p.m. at the visitors center. Fossil bed auto tours are given once per month, spring through fall. Join a ranger for a two-hour road trip into the fossil beds. Admission to the site is free. 541-987-2333,
Fossil Butte National Monument in Kemmer, Wyoming offers two selfguided trails in the park and features a visitors center with a variety of exhibits. These include a full-color mural that depicts how life may have been 50 million years ago, along with two videos presenting the fossil resources of the area and a discussion on the quarrying and preparation techniques used to prepare specimens. There are exhibits of more than 80 fossils that have been found in and near the park, including a 13-foot crocodile, the oldest known bat, and a mass mortality of 356 fish. It is recommended that groups plan 45 minutes to an hour at the visitor center to view the exhibits and videos, one hour to hike the Fossil Lake Trail and 2-3 hours for the Historic Quarry Trail. Admission is free and the site is handicap accessible. 307-877-4455.