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Park Pick: Under the Ancient Ocean

Eisenhower State Park's fossils offer a glimpse of life long ago.

By Kate Saling

Before setting out on our hike, I go over some ground rules. Stay on the trail. No touching three-leaved plants. Respect the wildlife. Yes, even the snakes.

Then there’s the hardest rule for enthusiastic rock hounds to follow: no keeping the fossils that you find. Every resource, from flowers to feathers to fossils, is protected so that everyone has the chance to discover and enjoy it.

All around us at Eisenhower State Park in North Texas, we see tangible links to this ancient past and imagine the world beneath an ocean where schools of ammonites swam, mosasaurs hunted for food, and shells of oysters, clams and snails littered the sandy sea floor.

Eisenhower

Whether at rapid or glacial speeds, Earth undergoes change. On our hike, we look for evidence of these changes and try to figure out what the land may have looked like during the Cretaceous Period, more than 66 million years ago.

As we make our way over the rocky path, cries of “look at this!” fill the air. Our pace slows as we bend down to hunt as we walk. We’re looking for ammonites, some of the most prized fossils. An extinct group of cephalopods related to today’s squid and cuttlefish, ammonites were tentacled creatures with coiled and patterned shells. Their spiraled shells look like the spiraled ram horns crowning their namesake — an Egyptian-Greek god called Ammon — leading them to be called ammonites by the people of that time. Like many visitors to Eisenhower State Park, we marvel at the variety of curled shapes to be found in chalky white limestone.

When not looking down, visitors can look out beyond the edge of the forest to view broad skies and deep-blue waters. From our perch on the limestone bluffs, we can see across Lake Texoma all the way to Oklahoma. To the east, a sharp unnatural line, the Denison Dam, connects our two states. By damming the Red and the Washita rivers, the Army Corps of Engineers created a lake to prevent the destruction caused by annual flooding, a move supported by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Flood Control Act of 1938.

The dam’s completion in 1944 brought swift and drastic changes to the landscape. This new large lake provided recreation as well as habitat for fish and shorebirds.

To reach Eisenhower State Park, travel an hour and a half north of Dallas on U.S. Highway 75. Other activities to enjoy at the park include swimming, boating, fishing, geocaching, picnicking and camping. For more information, call park headquarters at (903) 465-1956 or visit tpwd.texas.gov/eisenhower.

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