Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Paleontology is just as interesting of a topic in this modern age as it was back in the late 1800s and early 1900s when dinosaur fossil hunting fueled astounding new theories concerning natural history.  Nevada and Utah are both rich with prehistoric fossil hunting sites and several recent finds have caused ancient history to be rewritten. Dinosaur and mammoth fossils have been discovered in places like Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Tule Springs, Nevada. The Petrified Forest National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Great Basin & Range National Monument also have provided plenty evidence of the ancient past in recent years. Even the old ghost town of Berlin, Nevada is the home of a gigantic Ichthyosaur fossil that was discovered not long ago. Most of Nevada and Utah were once covered with vast oceans and lakes that eventually turned into lush forested swamps in prehistoric times, so it is no wonder that just taking a short stroll in the desert will result in finding long extinct sea shells, shards of petrified wood and maybe even a few bits of ancient dinosaur bones.  

Fossil hunting is heavily regulated and permits must be drawn if anything more than looking for bits of agate or petrified wood on the earth surface is on the agenda.  Even collecting petrified wood can result in costly penalties in some protected regions. Most regulations concerning fossil hunting on public lands are meant to protect the fossils in their natural state, so these majestic indicators of the past can be enjoyed by all and this includes future generations.  Respecting paleontology site preservation policies is the best thing to do, when going on a fossil viewing venture in Nevada or Utah. The fossil beds provide clues about climate change and adaptation, which may help humanity to survive well into the future. This is why protecting the vast fossil beds of Nevada and Utah is so important, especially during corrupt political times when oil fracking and mining threaten these priceless resources.  

Back in 2013 when I photographed the fossil bed area at Tule Springs, mammoth bones and tusks had just been discovered at this site and the BLM had just officially designated the area as a protected paleontology site. By 2014 the Tule Springs Fossil Beds were given National Monument status, because this was such an important paleontology site. The old BLM site that I once visited is now officially called the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, so because of the higher status this little known destination is now easier to find on a map.

Tule Springs State Park is located at the northwest edge of Las Vegas, so visitors of this city can easily break away from the city grind to get some fresh air in this desolate desert area that borders upon the city limits.  When traveling on Highway 95 North, there are signs for the Floyd Lamb State Park and Tule Springs.  Heading north from the I-215 Beltway on North Durango Drive is the easiest way to find both the Floyd Lamb State Park and the BLM Paleontology Site.  The Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (BLM Paleontology Site) is located about a half mile north of Tule Springs State Park, where North Durango dead ends at Moccasin Road.  Roadside parking was all that is available back in 2013, but that may have changed soon after this area gained National Monument status. Both the Floyd Lamb and Tule Springs State Parks are nearby and these places to offer facilities and parking as well.  

The Nellis Air Force Base Test Range, Desert National Wildlife Reserve, BLM Territory and Paiute Reservation, all border upon the northwest end of the Las Vegas Valley.  As one can imagine by the sound of these territories, there is nothing but wide open spaces beyond the edge of this city.  When hiking or horse back riding in the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument region, it pays to keep an eye out for no trespassing signs, because ending up on the wrong side of the fence at the Air Force Test Range can result in some scary moments when the jet fighters roar by on a practice bombing run.  

Archaeological discoveries have been found at the Floyd Lamb State Park, Tule Springs State Park and the old BLM Paleontology Site, so this is a very rich fossil bed. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is a nice scenic place for hiking and looking at the remains of fossilized prehistoric creatures.  There are plenty of places to rent horses in this area and finding a tour guide is not hard to do. Paleontology is a great topic for children, because kids naturally take interest in anything to do with dinosaurs.  Children like to actively look for fossils and this is a healthy way for a family to spend a day.

The way the rules read, digging for fossils is not allowed and any fossils found must be left in place when exploring the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument. However, there are educational fossil dig tours and ventures that the park rangers and local educational institutions provide for visitors. More information about guided tours and educational digs can be found at the corresponding websites.  

As one can see, Las Vegas is not just all about gambling and partying.  Las Vegas is a world class cultural destination with a vast wealth of natural resources.  Many local Las Vegas residents never step foot in a casino, because there are so many other worthwhile activities to do.  Rock collecting and looking at prehistoric fossils out in the desert are two popular activities that many of the local people enjoy.  While hiking in the mountains that surround Las Vegas, it is relatively easy to find gemstones in decomposing granite.  Sometimes flecks of gold can even be found in mountain dry steam beds. Petrified wood and agate can be found lying around in the desert just about anywhere and where there is petrified wood, fossils will likely be nearby.  

As always, be sure to pack plenty of water and some nonperishable food when going out for a Mojave Desert venture, especially during the hot summer months. Rattlesnakes and scorpions like to hide under rocks during the daytime, so it pays to be wary when poking around. Wearing a wide brim hat, just like an archeologist, definitely helps to protect the face from the bright sun, while inspiring an “Indiana Jones” mode. Looking for old prehistoric bones in the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is a good educational experience and it is a great way to spend the afternoon out in the wide open spaces of the majestic Mojave Desert terrain!


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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