Fossil Bowl – July 2021

We’ve been wanting to check out the Fossil Bowl in Clarkia, Idaho for a while, and when the hot temperatures finally dropped for a brief second, we headed out to Clarkia to hopefully find some nice fossil specimens!

This is fee dig, $10 per person, no time, weight, or specimen limit. Leaf, fish and small mammal fossils have been found at the Fossil Bowl. The site is also a motocross track, of the same name. The fossils were discovered when the track was originally being dug out, at that time for the purpose of snowmobiling. It’s probably best to stop by this site when there is not a motocross event going on because they can be loud and dusty. This certainly isn’t a road cut up a quiet logging road. Information on events happening at the Fossil Bowl can be found on their facebook page.

Collection of vertebrate fossils on public lands is prohibited, however this site is privately owned, so this is a rare chance to collect non-plant fossils. In our search, we didn’t find anything non-plant, but the leaf fossils were incredibly plentiful. The rock was very easy to split with a hammer and butter knife and most rocks had partial leaves or other plant material like twigs or conifer needles. We split a lot of rock and found that the best strategy was to try to cleanly separate layers in as big of rock as possible in order to maximize the chance of finding a whole specimen. We found many, many partial leaves and only one whole leaf in our entire day searching. However, the variety and quantity of the fossils was very interesting and not something that can be found anywhere else in the area.

We have very minimal fossil knowledge, but some of the fossils here are reportedly so well preserved that when the rock is split the leaf can be red or brown before turning black from oxidation. There’s a wide variety of leaf types and care must be taken to preserve the fossils after they are collected.

The site is easy to find and the large wall with the fossils is easy to spot. It’s a good idea to call ahead before making the drive out to the site because wet weather can make for poor fossil hunting conditions and a motocross event could make for an unpleasant time. Plus, you’re unlikely to have phone service at the site so better to plan ahead than potentially waste your time. We called ahead and were told to start working the fossil wall when we arrived and the person running the site would be around, but we didn’t see anyone other than some people riding dirtbikes and another person who came to search for fossils. There were no signs as to how to pay or how much to pay or any information anywhere. This may be atypical, as we’ve heard of others who have been shown where and how to find fossils and given a little more information than we got.

This is a fee dig but don’t expect much instruction or hand-holding when you come out here. Some tools are supposedly available for use, but best to bring your own. A thin butter knife or putty knife and a hammer are ideal here. There are two walls with fossil bearing rock, one is further down the road from the main wall that is more easily visible. We didn’t know this, as there is no signage, but we heard that the second wall is where the vertebrate fossils are found. We certainly found no vertebrate fossils in the first wall, so that may be true.