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Microadventure: Day trip to Stonerose for fossils

Posted on July 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

Photo credit: http://stonerosefossil.org/

By Rachel Edmondson

Even though I’ve lived in the Spokane area for over 15 years now, every once in a while I find out about something and wonder how I’ve never heard about it before. This past fall I learned about the Stonerose Interpretive Center. While it’s a bit of a drive from Spokane (about 2.5 hours from downtown to Republic, Washington), the drive is beautiful, and it is definitely doable as a fun, family day trip.

So what exactly is Stonerose? Stonerose is a fossil site where impressions of plants, insects, and fish can be found. The organisms found there lived nearly 50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch. At that time, the current city of Republic was part of a lake. As sediment built up, organisms were trapped in what is now layers of shale. While this is fascinating in and of itself, the part that I was shocked to find out was that not only can you visit, you can actually search for fossils yourself!

When you arrive, your first stop will be the Stonerose Interpretive Center where you can learn more about the fossils and the history of the site. This is also where you will buy your site admission sticker and get an overview from staff on how and where to dig. You can bring your own tools if you’d like, but hammers and chisels are also available to rent.

When we arrived, my kids were so excited to start “digging” for fossils that they had a hard time focusing on all of the information found at the Interpretive Center. So after a brief overview, and learning the rules for the site, we quickly headed out to see what we could find.

At first my kids were very excited. It kind of felt like we were playing a scratch ticket game. Will this be the rock that has a fossil inside? You could practically feel their anticipation. But it took a lot longer to find a fossil than they expected it to, and my kids began to feel pretty frustrated.

I’d highly advise warning your kids that finding fossils will take a lot of hard work and time. Also, you may want to let your kids know they won’t actually be digging. Instead, you’ll be chipping apart layers of shale, and this skill definitely has a bit of a learning curve. I wouldn’t recommend this as an activity for any kids under the age of 6, and even my older kid needed a lot of help getting the shale to split apart.

Once my kids found their first fossil, their excitement was well worth the wait and hard work.

When we were done at the fossil site, we brought our finds back down to the Interpretive Center. A staff member identified the items we had found and gave us a reference sheet with the names of our fossils. Each person who had paid to dig got to choose 3 items to take with them. It is pretty amazing that fossil impressions from almost 50 million years ago are now residing in my home!

Overall, our trip to Republic to hunt for fossils was a fun day of anticipation and discovery. My kids love their fossils and have asked if we can go back again someday.

If you decide to plan a trip, you’ll definitely want to check out the Stonerose website before you go. There’s more information on the fossil site and how to prepare for your visit.

Have you discovered a new place recently? What are your favorite day trips with kids? I’d love to see your recommendations in the comment section!

Rachel Edmondson

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