Fossil Discovery Center: Only 2 hours from MH

August 30, 2012

Many Californians know about the world renowned La Brea Tar Pits which is a must see for a science geek like me. However, few people know about a surprisingly excellent fossil museum located only 1 hour and 50 min south of Mountain House on highway 99 near Chowchilla. To be honest, I’ve been to a lot of natural history museums where the “fossils” are reproductions of famous fossils and the real fossils are less impressive than what can be found during a visit to a rock hound show. With low expectations, my family and I entered the little Fossil Discovery Center and were blown away. The first thing I asked the guide who seemed a little surprised to have visitors at that time of day

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was “Is that real?” referring to the massive Mammoth bones in the center of the room. Yes, was the answer.

It is a little diamond of a museum because a foundation runs it, but more importantly because it is sitting on a massive fossil bed that is gradually being uncovered as Madera County expands it’s landfill. The massive bed of fossils was discovered back in 1996 when an earth scraper operator noticed discoloration in the dirt. Upon further investigation a Columbian Mammoth tusk was uncovered. The museum opened October 13th, 2010.

During our tour the guide was friendly and very informative. The museum video gave a good overview of what the Central Valley looked like a half a million years ago when these fossils were living animals. Another person related to the actual dig site and fossil recovery also came up and greeted us halfway through our tour. He shared his enthusiasm of walking behind the earth moving equipment and being to spot fossil after fossil at the local landfill. Today the scientists have a good understanding of the depth of the Fairmead fossils but they still don’t know the size of the fossil bed, only that it is massive. Scientist now recognize this site as one of the leading Pleistocene fossil beds.

The $8 price is very reasonable. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.

The Central Valley is full of fossil sites and I will post of some locations where fossils can be seen without moving dirt very near Mountain House in the future. Unfortunately, most of the really awesome fossils in the Central Valley are buried under 50 feet or more of dirt. My grandfather, who worked on the great California water projects, spoke about finding a major fossil as they dug the canals.





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