Since this might be the last warm Friday for this fall, I wanted to spend a good portion of the day outside. (Of course, this has been my excuse for packing up school and heading out every Friday for the past two months, but shhhhhh....)
Following a tip from a friend, we headed up to Ceasar Creek State Park for an afternoon of fossil hunting. We did our devotions in the morning, got our morning chores done, packed up some lunches and headed out.
Having been told that we needed a permit to collect fossils, we headed toward the nature center first, and so were fortunate enough to encounter Ceasar Creek Pioneer Village, which was located right across from the long gravel drive to the nature center.
Of course, this late in the season, on a weekday, none of the building were open, but we had fun peering in through windows....
...and I loved reading the signs that told the story of each house.
We were also fortunate enough to run into one of the volunteers, who gave us information on a family membership (just $25 for the family for the year), handed us a schedule of events for 2011, and invited us to come back for the Christmas Candlelight Walk on Dec 4th. Oh yeah :)
We left the pioneer village and drove down the long drive to the nature center....which we discovered was closed due to an off-site program. I was set to break state park regulations and take fossils home with us with or without a permit, but my law-abiding daughter was distraught by this plan. So we agreed to compromise by going to look for fossils, and then coming back after our fossil hunt in hopes that the nature center would be open and we could get a permit.
So we left and drove the seven miles or so to the spillway. The spillway was excavated when the dam was first construction as an emergency run off area in case of flooding. The excavation uncovered layers of a limestone rockface loaded with fossils. Signage in the spillway directed us to the visitor's center (which was not the same as the nature center) to obtain our permit.
Excited again, we hopped back in the van and drove over the van to the visitor's center on the far side of the lake. Inside, I filled out the brief form for a free fossil permit (name, state of residence, vehicle description and license plate number). The park worker explained the rules to me (no using tools of any kind on the rocks, including sticks and other rocks; no climbing on the limestone layers, they are fragile and dangerous; and you may only keep a fossil which fits in the palm of your hand.) We also received a field guide with illustrations, names, and information of the kind of fossils we might be likely to find.
While I was doing this, the kids started exploring the visitor's center. It was very cool and very well done. Not only were there samples of all the different sorts of fossils, there were many other interactive displays as well. There was a historical display about the native peoples and the first pioneers, complete with artifacts, both real and replicated (including a life-sized dug out canoe.) There was a section on the animals of the forest and the food chain. There was a large aquarium with fish, and a smaller habitat with turtles. There was a two-part exhibit about locks, one section allowed you to operate the gates and the valves which corresponded to a animated diagram showing the working of the lock as you tried to get the boat safely through the change in water level. The other section was a table with wooden cargo ships and two locks with moving doors and a crank to move the 'water' inside the lock up and down.
We spent much longer than we anticipated just exploring the visitor's center, which really was a free museum.
Finally, field guide in hand, we headed back out to the spillway to look for fossils. The spillway itself is a rather barren flatland.
But Toa of Boy wasted no time digging up rocks.
After a trip back to the van for her sunglasses, Sweetling was ready to join us....
Now, I've taken Sweetling on a fossil hunt before at a local "fossil" park, and we were really disappointed in the scarcity of fossils. So, I wasn't that optimistic for our success here. But my doubts were unfounded. We found an amazing abundance of fossils everywhere. Nearly every rock that we walked over, turned over, or picked up were loaded with fossils.
We had a great time collecting fossils. (I let each child make a pile of fossils, yes, a pile cause there were that many really good ones. At the end, I told them they could keep one of each kind of fossil...using our cool field guide to identify them of course.)
Of course, fossil collecting held some people's attention longer than some other people's attention, but that's ok.
I called us finished after an hour of hunting. By then, it was a little after three, I wanted to check out the gorge side of the dam, and we were also going to try to squeeze in a trip to the playground before making the hour drive home.....which I was hoping to pull off before Friday rush hour traffic set in.
We drove to the park area downstream of the dam and headed out over a pedestrian bridge,
where we discovered that the water was much too slow moving for a game of pooh sticks.
But, when we have more time, I'd like to come back to hike along the creek.
All in all, an awesome day, and a field trip I'd definitely recommend to others.
For other great ideas, check out Field Trip Friday on Live the Adventure