Tucked away deep in the landscape just beyond the western edge of Mineral Wells is a fossil hunter’s paradise. Everyone from amateur enthusiasts to professional paleontologists enjoy collecting treasures at this fossiliferous hidden gem.
Though the fossils are more than 300-million years old, they were only just discovered in 2010. The site was formerly the borrow pit to the city’s landfill (not the landfill itself), that closed in 1993. After 20 years of erosion in the pit, tiny fossils began to surface, and fossil lovers took notice while hunting fossils in the area.
Cool, Texas, just east of Mineral Wells, was an area well-known to paleontologists because of a geological unconformity that divides their fossil era from that of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Fossils in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are 200-million years old while fossils found in the Cool and Mineral Wells area predate dinosaurs; the remnants are those of ancient sea life rather than of dinosaurs that walked on land.
At the urging of the Dallas Paleontological Society (DPS), the Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce, City of Mineral Wells and the DPS collaborated to create the Mineral Wells Fossil Park as a place for fossil and science lovers to enjoy and learn. This city park is especially appealing because unlike most roadside dig sites, it is large, wide open, clear of cumbersome vegetation, and there’s no danger from traffic!
Recently celebrating its 12th anniversary, the Mineral Wells Fossil Park remains a free city park that is open to the public year-round from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., daily. Not only are visitors sure to find fossils, once they know what to look for, but visitors get to keep them – for personal use only. It’s one of few places in the United States where visitors can take their finds home.
According to Brittanica.com, finds from this historic seabed are from the Pennsylvanian Period, a time marked by “significant advance and retreat by shallow sea.” The fossils are of plants and animals that were buried in sediments as the land shifted to create the Palo Pinto Mountains throughout the county.
Visitors won’t unearth the bones of dinosaurs at this site. Instead, they’ll find an abundance of crinoids (sea lilies), echinoids (urchins), corals and sponges, and trilobites (arthropods). The rare find is a coveted shark’s tooth.
When heading out to the park for a time of fossil hunting, there are a few things to keep in mind. While there are some shaded picnic tables up top, the actual “dig” pit is wide open with no shade, so carry plenty of water and sunscreen. And the term “dig” is used loosely as digging is actually less productive than simply collecting the fossils you find on the surface, especially after a good rain. That’s why only small hand/garden tools are allowed. No shovels or pickaxes are needed or permitted.
The annual Crazy Fossil Dig event is hosted at the park on the third Saturday of October. Members of the Dallas Paleontological Society share collecting techniques and help visitors identify their finds. Representatives from Visit Mineral Wells have Fossil Explorer Kits, scavenger hunts and more.
Visit Mineral Wells
Mineral Wells Fossil Park
2375 Indian Creek Road
Mineral Wells, TX 76067
Dallas Paleontological Society
Founded in 1984, the Dallas Paleontological Society is a group of professional and amateur paleontologists who want to exchange information, interact, and continue their education in paleontology.