Travels in the American Southwest
Ichthyosaur State Park
SR884, 23 miles east of Gabbs (SR361)
Road factor/Accessability - Paved, last 3 miles graded dirt
~306 miles from Las Vegas

Located next to the ghosttown of Berlin, this attraction features fossils of Ichthyosaurs, prehistoric reptiles that lived in water over 180 million years ago. Robin, our guide, summed it up simply; "Think of dolphins...With attitude!" Having six inch teeth, some of these creatures grew to over sixty feet in length. Think needle nose pliers, capable of crushing hard-shelled nautiloids and ammonites with ease. Their jaws would have been four feet long making them King of the Water. This marvelous state park, created in 1957, contains the largest complete fossils of this species ever found.

Ichthyosaur State Park  Ichthyosaur

While similar to dolphins in speed, mobility, giving birth rather than laying eggs like reptiles and possessing a blowhole, the comparisons rightly end there. Oversized eyes indicate that this creature hunted by sight, not sonar as do dolphins. The ichthyosaurs found here are classified Shonisaurus Popularis, the name derived in honor of the surrounding Shoshone Mountains. As fossils of the ichthyosaur are found throughout the world (except Antarctica), it is thought that these mighty reptiles were at the top of the aquatic food chain.

Ichthyosaur Post CardAccording to legend, a resident of nearby  Berlin was using a fossilized vertebrae as a door stop. A passing traveler realized that the doorstop wasn't just a rock. It was sent to the University in California. By 1954, Dr. Charles Camp from Berkeley had uncovered dozens of specimens. The actual site of his diggings is protected by a large barn-sized structure. Tours help those with no experience fully appreciate the ichthyosaur's size. Without our guide's experience, I wouldn't be able to tell a fossilized ichthyosaur from a run-of-the-mill rock! One amazing sight was half of a fossilized scapula (shoulder blade). The other half was some six feet away being on the other side of a geologic fault line. The fossilized bone, separated eons ago attests to the power of  tectonic plates as they shift. In 1965, the dig ended and the fossil bed was intentionally left in its incomplete state of excavation. The tail of one exposed ichthyosaur disappears into a six foot ledge of rock, no doubt resting as it has done so for millennia.
 

Main | Trip Reports | E-mail | Natural & Prehistoric Sites