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Busted!: Foxy Fossil Finds Fall to Friendly-Fire

Figure 1: A Land Trust notice cleverly hidden on a prominent tree along the Columbia river bank in Knappton, WA.
Figure 2: The sign posted by the Columbia Land Trust warning visitors to be respectful and not burn down the rest of the state with frivolous fires.

Question: What does a blogger do when one of their posts is read by a professional who informs them that the Knappton area along the Columbia River is now officially closed to collectors, and so technically speaking all of the fossils they posted about and harbor in their closet are, in fact, stolen goods?

Answer: They blog about it.

Prepare yourselves for that story.

In an attempt to rope potential mentors and purveyors of intellectual goods into my orbit of blogging, I made an oops. It's not the first time something like this has happened, either. Rockhounding, as with any right and proper lifelong passion, can result in the influx of monetary gains. In other words, if you play your cards & rocks right you could fund your nature hobby and fill a museum with your glorious spoils, but the process does involve a lot of legal and permissive egg-shell walking. This can be a fine line to tread when the professional and hobbyist groups often sit on opposite sides of the isle. Real quick -just to clarify before we get down to the dirty business- the title reference to "friendly-fire" is mostly a result of my addiction to alliterations than a commentary on essentially narking on myself to one of the few authorities on local fossil collecting.

On the day of my fruitful adventure through the thorn bushes and bramble insulating the Columbia river from the civilized highway, there was a sign [Figure 1]. A sign so appealing to this rockhound's wide-eyed fossil fury as to make it entirely unintelligible to the brain. That's being generous. More correctly, Bristol and I saw & read the sign, but as the location was listed in detailed accuracy in Gem Trails of Washington, I breathed easy knowing any warning to trespassers excluded myself or my affiliates [Figure 2]. Can you say, "Check your privilege," much?

Figure 3: Agatized ammonite fossil from the Knappton, WA area ablong the Columbia River.

Cleverly thinking to myself, "Well, I'm not doing any of that (meaning camping, lighting fires, or distributing trash) so we should be good," we continued the march onward to a beach literally littered with foxy fossils [Figure 3]. As the rightful overlord of this blog, I decree that we will glide entirely past this entitlement and the implications it presents on my existence as an educated 26-year-old in a world where people now charge their cigarettes with a computer and every other person is a slave to the camphor in their chapstick (look it up). Words for another time.

It is safe to say that those who are on the up-and-up about No Man's Land and mining claim distributions are those that have a professional stake in the biz. Being a conservationist, it is certainly embarrassing to learn that I may need to box up my precious concretion babies and deliver them as a lump sum testament to my negligent adventuring at the feet of the Columbia Land Trust authorities. In many ways, I am excited and fascinated as to the process of collecting, returning, and communicating with this particular branch of land management. Usually, when a coworker has to write up or report a land use transgression, it is on the number of fish on a boat, the location of a poacher, the protection of an endangered plant's

location, or any number of similar tragedies of the commons.

As for the indirect authorities, Mr. Bruce Thiel is a darling. I mention his work in Stone Soup, for those of you whom read it. His request to be sent the link to my post including his photos was flattering, and his follow-up message warning me about the collection site in Knappton was also greatly appreciated. He is going to keep me posted on the progress of his interactions with the Columbia Land Trust. He even told me about the monthly meetings of the regional fossil enthusiast group at the Rice Museum of Rocks & Minerals*.


Figure 4: Agatized snail fossil from the Knappton, WA area along the Columbia River.

We are all familiar with The Lion King, right? That scene where Simba asks about the shadowed place, and Mufasa tells him to never go there. Changed my life. Well, maybe not that scene, but we of the 20-something generation, being privileged enough grow up on that kind of influential cinematography, all inferred what No Man's Land meant from Mufasa. It wasn't a good thing.

Well, Mufasa, we went to the elephant graveyard. However, the repercussions were less immediate than an eruption of chorally gifted hyenas. Out of respect for Mr. Thiel, I will include only the gist of the Columbia Land Trust's current policy regarding the 400 acres of river frontage now under their management. Simply put, "they do not allow fossil collecting."

So, while I wait for the report on where and when to give back my (truly) pilfered nature booty, let us all remember to take an extra half second of consideration for our surroundings. It's easy to get side-railed and sloppy about our site choices -especially when they promise some of the biggest and sexist of rocks [Figure 4]. There is still some collecting for specimens allowed under controlled circumstances at the Knappton location, though. Researchers studying the Lincoln Formation, for example, can collect, identify, and distribute crabs and mammals fossils from this and similar locations. More than fair, considering these removals do not monetarily benefit anyone in particular but fuel a more complete understanding of the region's history.

In times as these, I find it comforting to turn to my chosen assemblage of lifestyle gurus, like the Dalai Llama: "When you like a flower, you pick it to bring home. When you love a flower, you water it daily" [His Holiness the Dalai Llama, multiple occasions (probably)]. Or perhaps, more accurately, Dumbledore: "Only a person who wanted to have it, have it but not use it, would be able to get it" [Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone]. May be foxy fossils rest in peace with their brother's in the arms of wherever they ultimately end up.

Happy Hounding!

(and double check your sites)

Rock Rat


A special thanks and my undying gratitude to Bruce Thiel for his kindness, grace, and contributions to the museums his works have filled. You are The Man and a paleological inspiration!