There is a riverbed in East Texas where you can hunt for and collect all sorts of fossils!
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We respect Leave No Trace.
Before I begin, I want to make it clear that we believe in and adhere to Leave No Trace principles. We pack out what we pack in, always. Fossil collecting is a frowned upon and often an illegal activity in most wild spaces. That said, there are a few places in Texas where fossil collecting is legal and even encouraged! We explored one of those places and came away with an amazing day and some incredible specimens.
A brief history.
The area known as NSR Fossil Park is located just outside of the town of Ladonia, Texas. It is about an hour and thirty minute drive northeast of Dallas. The fossil park is within the river bed and feeder creeks of the North Sulphur River.
This section of the river is well known for it’s Cretaceous and Pleistocene era fossils. On our first outing we weren’t entirely sure what we would find. After spending more time researching, we learned that fossils range from types of shells, crustaceans, mastodons, mammoths, and yes, even Mosasaurs and Pleiosaurs. The Mosasaurus is the dinosaur featured in Jurassic World as it leaps out of the water to snatch the shark. While finding huge and perfect specimens is somewhat rare, the fossils are plentiful at Ladonia. You can even find them just by walking slowly and looking down!
The site is also frequented by the Dallas Paleontological Society. Their website has a wealth of resources put together by their members and I would HIGHLY encourage you to peruse their site as you do your own research. The same society published a book back in 2001 that is a fossil guide specific to Ladonia, and I was quite lucky to find a copy at Half Price Books online, for a great price and not the current price on Amazon. If you aren’t able to find the book, there is a wonderful presentation on the area on the paleontological society’s site, you can find it HERE. You can also learn more in the very active Facebook Group dedicated to the park.
Adventure for everyone.
The days we went to explore and fossil hunt were absolutely ideal spring weather, mid to upper 70’s (F) with little to no humidity. Texas summers can get oppressive and I wouldn’t recommend going in July or August. If you go, get there at sunrise and head out around noon. A quick water crossing and within minutes we were already finding fossil fragments. Our kids looked for fossils, then built a dam, then looked for fossils, then went splashing all over, then back to fossils, and repeat, repeat, repeat. There wasn’t a single complaint the entire day. And true to form for us, we didn’t stop to eat until nearly 3 pm. The riverbed itself is quite beautiful and when set against blue skies it’s a great place to spend your day. Just remember to look up every once in a while to give your neck a break. On our second outing I found a shark tooth and a Mosasaur tooth fragment! Pay close attention to where you step, because you never know what may be within view!
Know before you go.
There are some important things to keep in mind before vising the Ladonia Fossil Park. This is not a novice adventure, however, with appropriate planning it can be a great time for everyone. Remember:
- You are entering a wild river, which is prone to flash flooding. Most of the time, the water is very low and easily traversed. However, in the event of rain upriver, the situation can become dangerous very quickly. Ideal conditions are for the measurements to be below two feet. You can read the river levels HERE. Check the levels a few days before your trip, the day before, and the day of. Also check the weather forecast.
- Accesibilty – the stairs leading down to the river from the Highway 2990 bridge are VERY steep. At times, the steps have nearly three vertical feet between them. There is a rock area next to the stairs to go down as well, but be on the lookout for poison ivy along those rocks. Our kids (9 and 6) were able to handle the steps just fine. My advice – go slow and be extra cautious. Have an adult go down in front of the kids.
- Go to the bathroom before you get there. There are no bathroom facilities at the parking lot and you are exploring in a riverbed with little to no coverage for bathroom breaks. If you have to go, please follow Leave No Trace principles for cat-holes and packing things out.
- Bring more water than you think you need, and bring additional water to leave in your car. It can get hot very quickly and there is not any shade. The water itself is very warm, especially during summer months. I also recommend bringing a packed lunch and lots of snacks. Our favorite – apples and pears, cut up and stored in a Stasher bag with an ice pack.
Fossil Hunting Necessities.
We went into our adventure as if we were prepping for quartz crystal digging. We quickly learned that we were over prepared, at least when it came to the tools. Here are the things you’ll need for a successful day at NSR Ladonia Fossil Park:
- Plenty of water. Our kids each wore their own Camelbak backpack full of water. My husband and I both carried our own as well.
- Sunhats for everyone, our favorites are from Sunday Afternoons.
- Snacks, snacks, snacks. And lunch. Our go-to is peanut butter and honey sandwiches or tortilla roll ups, stored in Stasher bags, and inside and insulated bag with a cold pack.
- Sturdy footwear. You will be walking in and crossing water. We have worn rain boots and also water shoes. For me, I prefer wearing my trail running shoes. For our kids, closed toe water shoes work best. My husband wore his closed toe Merrel river shoes. Lone Cone rain boots make a great option as well. Good traction is important. Old athletic shoes work great!
- Be sure to leave water in your car so you have some on your trip home.
- Bring a change of clothes that’s easy to change into as there are no bathrooms in the parking lot.
- Towels to dry off and a bucket or garbage can to put all the wet and muddy shoes or clothes in for the ride home.
As more and more of our lives are spent in front of screens, I hope this post encourages you to step away for a break. A little outdoor adventure is good for everyone, of all ages.
Here’s to adventuring a little closer to home.
Adventure close to home or take it on the road?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about traveling during COVID-19.
You can read about our canoe and camp adventure HERE.
Take a little peak into our homeschooling HERE.