One-hundred years after the creation of Yellowstone National Park, another Wyoming site was added to the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1972: Fossil Butte National Monument. It is dedicated to 50-million-year-old fossils found in an ancient subtropical lakebed, including plants (like palms and ferns) and animals (like turtles and lemurs).
NPS museum, film, Fossil Lake Trail, Historic Quarry Trail
Even 50-million years ago it was windy in Wyoming! The excellent preservation of the fossils may be in part due to high winds that kept surface water well-oxygenated while deeper waters were stagnant. If you need to get out of the wind, head into the visitor center to see fossil fish, turtles, and other species on display. On the deck outside there is an awesome timeline that traces CO2 levels and life on Earth throughout geologic time.
Take the steep steps up the Historic Quarry Trail to find fish fossils still in the rocks. There is no shade along the trail, but even in the summer the weather is usually not that hot at 7,000 feet in elevation. From the picnic area, the 1.5-mile Fossil Lake Trail leads to aspen groves.
Get up close with fossils that stand out against the white bedrock in the NPS museum or on the Historic Quarry Trail. On private land nearby, you can pay to excavate your own fish fossils that you get to keep.
Entrance road is paved
None within the National Monument, but to the north Bridger-Teton National Forest provides opportunities for dispersed camping.
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