Fossil Butte National Monument
|Fossil Butte National Monument|
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Fossil Butte National Monument
|Location||Lincoln County, Wyoming, USA|
|Nearest city||Kemmerer, WY|
|Area||8,198 acres (3,318 ha)|
|Established||October 23, 1972|
|Visitors||16,552 (in 2011)|
|Governing body||National Park Service|
Fossil Butte National Monument is a United States National Monument managed by the National Park Service, located 15 miles west of Kemmerer, Wyoming, USA. It centers on an extraordinary assemblage of Eocene Epoch (56 to 34 million years ago) animal and plant fossils associated with the smallest lake — Fossil Lake — of the three great lakes which were present at that time in what are now Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. The other two were lakes were Lake Gosiute and Lake Uinta. Fossil Butte National Monument was established as a national monument on October 23, 1972.
Fossil Butte National Monument preserves the best paleontological record of Cenozoic aquatic communities in North America and possibly the world, within the 50-million-year-old Green River Formation — the ancient lake bed. Fossils preserved — including fish, alligators, bats, turtles, dog-sized horses, insects, and many other species of plants and animals — suggest that the region was a low, subtropical, freshwater basin when the sediments accumulated, over about a 2 million-year period.
Coal mining for the railroad led to the settlement of the nearby town of Fossil, Wyoming. When the fossils were discovered, miners dug them up to sell to collectors. In particular, Lee Craig sold fossils from 1897 to 1937. Commercial fossil collecting is not allowed within the National Monument, but numerous quarries on private land nearby continue to produce extraordinary fossil specimens, both for museums and for private collectors.
The Fossil Butte National Monument Visitor Center features over 80 fossils and fossil casts on exhibit, including fish, a crocodile, turtle, bats, birds, insects and plants. A 13-minute video is shown about the fossils found at the site and what scientists have learned. Interactive exhibits let visitors create fossil rubbings to take home, and a computer program discusses fossils, geology and the current natural history of the monument.
During the summer, lab personnel prepare fossils in public. Summer activities also include ranger programs, hikes, paleontology and geology talks, and participation in fossil quarry collections for the park.
A Junior Ranger program can be completed by children aged 5–12 (with exercises scaled to the child's age) in 3–4 hours. A highlight is hiking 3/4 mile up the butte to the dig, where interns from the Geological Society of America talk about their excavation and let children help them flake apart sedimentary deposits to discover fish fossils and coprolites.
List of fossil species recovered at Fossil Butte National Monument
- Asterotrygon, an extinct stingray
- Priscacara spp
- Knightia spp
- Diplomystus spp
- Heliobatis radians, an extinct stingray
- Afairiguana, and extinct anole
- Bahndwivici, and extinct crocodile lizard
- A crocodile
- An alligator
- A turtle
Priscacara liops from FBNM
Heliobatis radians fossil from FBNM
Priscacara liops fossil from FBNM
Notogoneus osculus from FBNM
Other NPS Cenozoic Era sites in the western U.S.:
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon
- Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Idaho
- Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fossil Butte National Monument.|
- National Park Service: official Fossil Butte National Monument website
- Photo tour of FBNM, from USGS
- Paleontology of Green River fossils, from University of California, Berkeley
- Geologic travel guide from American Geological Institute