I was thrilled to learn about a fossil park located a half hour away from Mason City in Rockford, Iowa through the local blog Travel With Sara.
The Fossil and Prairie Park includes Rockford Brick & Tile Company’s abandoned shale pit that’s located on a fossil bed dating back to the Devonian period (416-359 millions years ago). The park also features 60 acres of virgin prairie, restored wetland, and old kilns.
One of the most astounding facts about the park is that it permits visitors to collect fossils for personal use (but not to sell). Supposedly, it’s one of the only parks in the country that allows this. Friends from north Iowa mentioned they visited the fossil park in grade school and I see it’s also popular field trip for college students.
On this warm, fall Saturday, I had the whole quarry to myself.
The sunny afternoon was windy like North Dakota. As I drove down the gravel trail into the park, grasshoppers ricocheted off of my car. They sprung around each footstep and I was scared one would land on me that I actually considered jumping back into my car and going home.
Fortunately, I pressed on. I zipped my hoodie up tightly and forged ahead towards the quarry.
The prairie landscape opened into a small gorge. The fields rippled in gravely hills towards a pond filled with stunning water so blue that its color reminded me of photos I’ve seen of the Blue Lagoon of Buxton, England.
Visitors are not encouraged to dig for fossils since they are literally scattered everywhere. All one has to do is rummage through the loose gravel. I brought a small plastic hand shovel and poked around the crevices.
Some of the hills are steep and the gravel makes them slippery to climb up or down. I’d be nervous about taking small children to the site in case they lost their footing and tumbled down a crevice or picked up a piece of litter, but I can imagine it would be fun for older children as long as they were supervised.
It felt eerie to explore the fossil quarry alone, but I soon found myself climbing around the hills and poking piles of dirt. I climbed down near the water and collected a handful of fossils. When I got home, I made my husband promise to return with me.
I never imagined there would be a public fossil park near our home, let alone one so unique as to charge no admission and allow personal collecting.
If you find yourself near Mason City and Clear Lake, consider stopping at the Fossil & Prairie Park.
Official Website: Sparse in information
Lost In Iowa-Devonian Day Trip Document: Thorough document with photos.