Rockhounding and fossil hunting in the American Plains
May 24, 2010 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Where should we rockhound and fossil hunt on our road trip through the Midwest and Great Plains states?

Later this summer, we have a rough idea to drive from Pittsburgh to St. Louis to Denver/Boulder to Fossil Butte to Yellowstone to the Badlands to Minneapolis to Chicago to back home.

We're set on what to do in the Badlands and the major cities along the way (thanks, Ask!) but it's between the cities where we're lost.

1) Where along the way should we hop off the interstate for legal rock hounding and fossil hunting? We're good on Indiana sites but not the rest. We have long enough for this road trip that we don't mind going off interstate for extended periods.

2) Dinosaur Monument is pretty far out of our way. Should we go anyway? We have extended family in Phoenix, so we'll probably do a Utah road trip from there some day.

3) While we're discussing it, what else between cities might we not want to miss? Other interests include ecosystem-gazing, hiking, photography, looking at art, and peoplewatching.
posted by arabelladragon to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Caesar Creek in Ohio! I found some really awesome horn coral and trilobites there when I went on a field trip back in middle school.
posted by olinerd at 8:07 AM on May 24, 2010

Best answer: Being a rockhound, you might be interested in Pipestone National Monument. It's not going to be the most interesting or epic thing you've seen on this incredible trip, but since you're going through my area, I thought I'd try to help. This is a small national park with light hiking, cultural displays and some local kitsch. The unique stone which is quarried here is used for sacred pipes used by Native Americans. Pipestone, MN is about 40 minutes north of I-90 at the Minnesota/South Dakota border. I don't know if it will be worth the jaunt or not, but you might find it interesting. As far as I know, you are not allowed to remove pipestone from the park unless you have a quarrying permit.

There are also many wind turbines in the area if you are interested in getting a close-up view of one of those.
posted by bristolcat at 9:33 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fossil Sites may be a good resource. The area outside of Chicago is home to the Mazon Creek fossil beds. The Mazonia-Braidwood State Fish & Wildlife Area allows fossil collecting (permit required, free).
posted by borkencode at 10:15 AM on May 24, 2010

Grab a DeLorme gazeteer for each state, they usually note rockhounding sites on topo maps and give some idea what you might find in a specific index.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:15 AM on May 24, 2010

I have to second Caesar Creek in Ohio -- it is a state park where collecting is legal. Pretty nice stuff.

I was surprised to see bristolcat recommend Pipestone National Monument - I had forgotten about it. I took a summer roadtrip out west before grad school (geology) and we ended up at Pipestone for longer than expected and really enjoyed it and the area around it.

I was going to recommend trying to get in on the Thornton Quarry (I-80 passes over it) near Chicago...but the next slots they have available for their tours is June 2012....oh well.....

If I think of anything else I will post
posted by rvrlvr at 6:11 PM on May 24, 2010

Response by poster: Updating for anyone in the future:

Because we ultimately wound up covering over 6000 miles and didn't always know where we were going from day to day, it got too expensive to pick up books ahead of time.

We found the best source for information was the Bureau of Land Management offices in each of the Western states. They gave us rough public land maps (which were adequate for our purposes) and brochures on the laws. We also found the Roadside Geology books, available in the libraries as we passed through, to be a huge help. People out west were pretty likely to have an amateur interest in geology. We found that not only did most small town museums have a display of things from the area, if we just started talking to people they usually knew where we should go look. Finally, when we were lucky enough to track down an area with cell coverage, we googled the name of the small towns we were near and got lucky a couple of times.

The best stuff was west of the Missouri River. Kemmerer, WY is an absolute must-go for anyone who's into fossils.

For where we wound up in Wyoming and South Dakota, we were definitely glad we'd brought our four wheel drive car. Also, in Western South Dakota you flat out can't go out if it's been raining. They make kitty litter out of that mud for a reason.

We enjoyed Pipestone and wouldn't have gone out of our way for it, so thank you for the recommendation. It was also interesting to see a place of compromise after having traveled through areas that are still sore.

We're going to save Caesar Creek for some other time, since we live in Western PA.
posted by arabelladragon at 12:32 PM on June 23, 2010

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