Paleontology hot spots around the state.
By Eva Frederick
Texans prize their history, and rightly so. It’s a special feeling to look down at the ground beneath your feet and know that it was once trod by Native Americans in hot pursuit of bison, settlers fleeing in the Runaway Scrape or legendary ranchers herding their cattle. But the Texas ground holds a record that goes far beyond human history — these paleontology hot spots around the state provide a fascinating glimpse into what came before us.
Ladonia Fossil Park
Located an hour and a half northeast of Dallas in the pebbly bed of the Sulphur River, Ladonia Fossil Park is one of the few locations in Texas where fossil-finders can take home their haul. Common finds include ammonites and shark’s teeth. There are no facilities at the park, so make sure you bring plenty of water if you visit. Happy hunting!
Big Bend National Park Fossil Discovery Exhibit
The arid canyonlands of Big Bend National Park seem to be the opposite of an ocean, but over the course of millions of years, the land that makes up Texas’ largest national park has been a warm and shallow sea and an inland floodplain. The inhabitants of these landscapes and more are displayed in an open-air building (opened in January 2017) designed to mimic the rusty color palette of the surrounding desert landscape.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
A visit to the Waco Mammoth National Monument will take you straight back to the Ice Age. This paleontological site offers visitors a view of a nursery group of Columbian mammoths that drowned in the floodwaters of the Bosque River between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago, as well as an Ice Age camel and the tooth of a saber-toothed cat.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Back when the limestone banks of the Paluxy River were just mud on the edge of an ocean, dinosaurs left tracks that would remain for millions of years. Many of the tracks are in the river, so be prepared to get your feet wet to see them. Five main track site areas have been mapped in the park. The park has plenty of other attractions, too, including trails and life-size dinosaur sculptures.
Texas Memorial Museum
Creatures whose remains have slept in Texas’ bedrock for millions of years are given new life in the Texas Memorial Museum. After poring through the drawers of prehistoric specimens, mosey on over to the Onion Creek mosasaur. This large swimming dinosaur was found by students at the University of Texas in 1935, and has been on display at the museum since 1965.
Find More Fossils At:
Mineral Wells Fossil Park
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Witte Museum • San Antonio
Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary • McKinney
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
Whiteside Museum of Natural History • Seymour
Get involved: Paleontology fans of every age can join local groups to find fellow fossil enthusiasts. The Dallas Paleontological Society welcomes “serious amateurs” to its monthly meetings, outreach events and volunteer efforts (like preparing hundreds of egg carton “fossil kits” for students at Texas schools). The Paleontological Society of Austin hosts monthly field trips and an annual fossil show with educational opportunities for kids. There are similar societies in most major cities in Texas.