We're back from two fantastic and productive days at the Penn Dixie site near Buffalo, NY. We packed all the necessary items to make sure we had all we needed:
This gives a fairly good idea of the kinds of fossils one is likely to encounter at Penn Dixie. Penn Dixie was once a quarry that is now owned and operated by the Hamburg Natural History Society. It boasts a lot more than just fossils, including ornithology, astronomy, and plenty of nature paths - but by far one of the biggest draws is the massively exposed 380 million year old shallow marine environment just teeming with fossils that visitors are allowed to extract and keep with the only limit being how much one can carry or fit in the car.
The volunteer staff are second to none. They are dedicated, immensely helpful, friendly, engaging, and passionate about fossils. For a nominal entry fee (adults $9, children under 12 $7, children under 2 free), you get full access for the day. I would advise trying it out for a day, and if you could see yourself coming back again (and again), consider the more cost-affordable option of buying an annual membership, which also has the benefit of supporting the incredible array of programs they offer, such as Digging with the Experts.
So here I am with PD volunteers Jay and "Dr Phil." Jay and I know each other from The Fossil Forum and we arranged that he'd show me around. We spent the whole day doing what any fossil collector would do: seek and collect fossils.
Here's a view of the site itself. You can easily pick up some of the fragments and likely come across trilobite fragments, horn corals, or brachiopods. For more hardcore fossil nuts like myself, bring some tools and have at the layers: dig about a foot or two of overburden and start making a bench. from which to haul out large shale slabs from the Windom Member of the Moscow Formation.
Here's a fairly representative and typical assemblage of trilobite moults, a few horn coral, and some worm burrows. I spent a lot of the day continuing on the bench started by my compatriot Canadians the week before. They had a rock saw, but in all fairness, I was the rock saw this time using a lot of sledge-hammer/chisel and pry bar action.
Talk about beginner's luck. I wasn't even looking for nautiloids, but I managed to split open a slab and find this fragment of a fairly large predator, Spyroceras. It may be one of the biggest ones ever found at the site.
More beginner's luck: full specimens of Greenops boothi are not easy to find compared to the large number of Eldredgeops rana. I am fairly positive that this one will be full once I prep it by removing the matrix obscuring its head. This is a bit of a contrast from where I usually hunt at Hungry Hollow since Greenops is generally the dominant trilobite in the Widder Formation.
On the first day Deb and I came away with so many trilobites that they wouldn't all fit in a single photo. This four-panel spread shows some of our best. If you look carefully, you can see some full prone Eldredgeops, plenty of rollers that need to be prepped out (and some prone ones I think may be full - but only my prep skills will determine if this is true). We also have a bucket of material encrusted with rollers that we still need to split and practice prepping on. I'll show some closeups of some of the trilobites below:
There are a lot more pics, of course, but this is a good sample. Upper left is a small cluster of popped out rollers; upper right an assemblage that might prep out nicely; bottom left a prone missing its pygidium; and bottom right a buried roller beside an impression of another roller. Not bad for the first day! We got there at about 11 am and went right until almost 5 pm. We were pretty whipped after breaking rocks... in the hot sun, I fought the law and... ok, no, but it was pretty physically demanding work for an awesome reward!
Mass extraction exercise. On the left is just getting started on day one, and on the right, I've already taken out a smaller slab from a bench I was continuing in a productive layer to get the morning started. You can see the bench behind my left boot. By the end of the day, I managed to remove about 15 or more 2'x3'x1' slabs just using chisel, pry-bar, sledge-hammer, and sheer force. I was looking for an assemblage today, so wasn't going to fool around with smaller chunks; instead, I threw them in a growing pile of discards, encouraging others to sift through them while I drove, wiggled, tanked, hauled, smashed, and split. At one point I managed to lift a slab of well over 200lbs, walk it away from my bench, place it with the bedding plane up, and start the process of splitting. Yes, I was the hulk - but, boy, did I pay for it after!
This is a view from the pit on the northwest side. This trench had been dug out almost to the water table level for the Dig with the Experts event back in May, perhaps the biggest one ever with the most ambitious excavation.
There are so many more pictures. We did find a lot more trilobites on the second day, but I want to begin prepping them before posting more pics (for the next blog entry). Here is just a mini slideshow of various scenes at Penn Dixie: