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Foxy Fossils (of Leaves)

Figure 1: Alder leaf fossil from the Eocene Era, collected at Stonerose Interpretive Center.

Dead things are cool. Especially when they are, at the same time, rocks. You've probably read Big Sexy Rocks (Part 1), so I won't bore you with the aforementioned details on the duality of fossilization (and how terribly erotic is it to the mind). What I will do is show you some nifty things I found at Stonerose Interpretive Center recently, and how glorious everything about that place is [Figure 1].

The dig site at Stonerose, which is located in Republic, WA, is surprisingly smallish [Figure 2] but definitely delivers the goods. Lots of online resources will give you these details, but for those of you who don't feel like skipping over to those, allow me to captivate you with the basics:

Figure 2: Dig site at Stonerose Interpretive Center, Republic, WA.

1) They are a non-profit with tons of outreach and research involvement.

2) There is a $10 fee and a sign-in database.

3) They will lend you the hammer, pick, and a box to carry your finds back in.

4) You must run your finds by them before you take off so they can identify them.

5) They will confiscate anything rare or of a certain value for research/educational/museum purposes (I did say they are a non- profit so don't lose your shit over this facet).

6) You get to keep only 3 fossils, but the rest goes to a good cause (see aforementioned causes).

7) It's kind of in BFE and the site has no attached camping, so come prepared to find camping or other day/night plans [Figure 2].

8) Naturally, donations are welcome (spread the love, guys).

Figure 3: Display of notable scientific finds made by diggers at Stonerose dig site.

The building itself is smallish, and looks as though it was once two houses that were bought separately and slowly conjoined into the center and museum. Speaking of which, I did not manage to peruse the museum half of it, while I was there I was too busy ogling the dig site. I dunno, I'm just a patron. Figure 3 is one of several displays in the center with notable scientific discoveries made by diggers at Stonerose. Pretty metal (clearly, I am not a die hard metal fan). Also, there are the typical displays of common finds beside the description of the site's geologic significance. I did not take a photo of the entire array, as I was occupied getting the introductory schpeel from the marvelous employee...Galdys? I think it was Galdys. I was uber excited at the displays and the history talk and didn't ask her to repeat her name. My bad, but I did get some fly info.

Figure 4: Sediment shelf at Stonerose Interpretive Center, Republic, WA.

Let's talk Eocene Era. Fifty million years ago, following the KT Extinction, there was a huge explosion of flora and smaller animal life. Makes sense, after all there was less competition for resources considering most life was thrown out the window with the kitchen sink. Massive, sprawling forests erupted like projectile vomit from the soil, and shed their bits hither and thither. There was also the good fortune of a catastrophic tsunami (or possibly another storm event, but there was geologic evidence found for whatever horror it was to the forests out here at the time) that swept through and buried metric crap-tons of plant and animal litter with sediment and debris. This whole shebang created the marvelous deposits excavated here, in Republic. The site is a fat disaster of broken and discarded slates of sediment and fossil fragments, and the shelves are wide enough for several large groups to get in a day's worth of digging [Figure 4].

Figure 5: Collection box of assorted and fragmented finds.

The drive alone is practically worth the trip. Gliding through the steppe, rolling along baby mountains and heading into their midst, while chiseled peaks slowly climb up around and into a broad western sky. Then, you get there and rip off your Burkenstocks for worn-out hiking boots and have a frickin' ball [Figure 5]. Among the finds are newly discovered species of plants and marine animals! If you find it, they name it after you. I saw some decently sized, new-to-science specimens in their display. Once, a large prehistoric lake also covered the area, so the marine fossils are not a huge shocker. Plus, I picked up a sweet-ass Enchodus tooth while I was in the shop. Yet another reason to go: bones to be worn.

I only dug for three-ish hours, but the goods were plentiful and the company, excellent [Figure 2]. Lots of little kids engulfed in the fun, and even better, more adults running after and around these kids, plus some visiting students. All of us equitable in our joy and decisive digging. I would like to think as much, anyway, because the pursuit of knowledge and experiences such as these are rare and to be treasured. If sensation creates perception, and perception cannot exist without conception, where do we catalogue the recreational fossil diggers of the world? The question came to mind during my hours of careful (and less than careful) chipping at layers on my chosen stretch of shelf. I assisted two others in their extractions, and bantered with a few parents on my way out about the spoils and nature of our activity. And you know.... most of them had no idea why they were attracted to do this. I found this astoundingly bizarre. One pair of parents poked through my box as I inquired about their time that day. The father responded gayly, "We saw it on a map and thought to check it out." He added that none of the family members expected to have such a wonderful time, considering the heat and their lack of experience.

I just remember thinking, "Lack of experience? It's not an active research location (according to Gladys), you paid $25 to come and do their work for them!" Unfair, yes, as I know this pair was just being kind and making small talk. It was generous of them to give me the time to stop and chat, at all. But like... there are a million things to do with your kids and in your spare time. I love this crap, and will probably die hearing the words, "Tori's talking about rocks again..." but that the new generation is already being indoctrinated is titillating. That's an incredibly strange series of words. Think I'll leave it that way. Adds something to the paragraph.

Indoctrinated is too strong a word. After all, you can make that claim to anything while a human child grows. My understanding is that you never know what's gonna stick in their wee brains until later, when it surges up in a furious tirade of repressed childhood passion. I don't know much about it. That's not something I have ever experienced (#pantsonfire). This brings it all home with my bragging about mediocre fossils I paid to find, along with those I wish I could have brought home but gladly left to be enjoyed with the kiddies.

Figure 6: Sassafras leaf fossil, insect damage can be seen along the edge and in the small dots along the veins.

First up, the diseased sassafras leaf, identified as Sassafras hesperia [Figure 6]. This one is super fly for several reasons. Primarily, the diseased bit. I saw a corner of it and spent the better part an hour freeing the rest from the shelf, only to see half of it was hellbent on staying put. While the kindly gentleman working the identification station, Andy Burkett, worked on gluing together my alder leaf, I pointed out that I could see evidence of two different damages to the specimen [Figure 7]. After a beat, Andy excused himself and took my sassafras to confer with a coworker. He came back a few minutes later, while I basked in the glow of admiring visitors at having one of my finds confiscated (I say it like that, but imagine a shy piece of fruit beginning to perspire in the sudden heat of summer). What I had observed as insect bites (the little pimple-like dots in Figure 6) were deemed as much by the other guy at the center. Andy elaborated, "I thought for a second they were egg sacks, like from insects that do that to leaves, and not just places where they have drank the sugar from the leaf. Anyway, it's probably too small for them to be egg marks, so you get to keep it." He smiled apologetically, and handed me back the object of his brief intrigue. I had to leave it, though, since I wanted both sides of my alder leaf and the cool pine cone.

Figure 7: Stonerose employee, Andy Burkett, identifying a piece of alder leaf fossil.

Next, is the cover photo, my marvelous alder leaf, Alnus parvifolia [Figures 1 & 8]. These two were the best part of the whole experience, and I struck this fossil gold about an hour into my dig. Figure 8 was taken mere heartbeats after those pieces fractured into my cradling palm as I worked my chisel out from between the loosened slabs. Pretty basic fossil, but I was trying to take large slabs out together in order to come home with at least one complete specimen. This, I did, and my loved ones and unloved ones haven't heard the end of it. Super. Awesome. Time. Anyway, there's a bit of buggy chewing on the very end of this one, and you can't even see it in either Figure 1 or 8. Mostly, I just think it's dern pretty and should be marveled at for what it is: the brilliant prize of a determined rockhound on one long day of dirty decompression.

Figure 8: The first half of an alder leaf fossil extracted from a shelf at Stonerose.

Finally, the third of my take-home selections: the pine cone, Metasequoia occidentalus [Figure 9]. This is another "nice one" according to Andy because not only is it also in a single piece (e.g. did not require glue), but you can actually see the crisscrossing lines of the 'lil baby cone that would have potentially flourished into. Good stuff, right there. This one I struck within, like...ten minutes of my dig. So, although the foot traffic is heavy, please check out Stonerose, because the bounty overfloweth.

Figure 9: Sequoia pine cone in early stages of development.

So, in the end, everything about this experience won it 10 stars in my book. I plan to go back, and hopefully lasso another human or two to come with me. Keep in mind, it's not a highly central location. It was a solid 7 hours of driving the day I came here, and I dug for 3 hours, then chatted up the staff for another hour. It will keep you busy, and it will keep you free. If fossils get your rocks on, that is. It is my dearest wish that if it isn't, that it may become so.

Happy Hounding!